Tag Archives: Ashes to Ashes

1980 ➤ Why Bowie came recruiting Blitz Kids for his Ashes to Ashes video

40
YEARS
ON

❚ TODAY WAS THE DAY in 1980 when London’s now fabled Blitz Club was blessed by a visit from David Bowie. He came with a purpose – to whisk away four of the most outlandish Blitz Kids to strut with his pierrot through the video for his new number, Ashes to Ashes, from an imminent new album. It earned each of them £50, helped Bowie to No 1 in the singles chart the following month and boosted demand for black ankle-length robes among trendsetters.

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Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Blitz Kids as chorus to Major Tom

Every Tuesday for 16 months, king of the posers Steve Strange had been declaring a “private party” in the cheap-and-cheerful Blitz wine bar near Covent Garden, along with his co-host Rusty Egan who was pioneering Elektro-Diskow dance music as deejay. Your Look was everything and outrage ensured entry. Inside, precocious 19-year-olds presented an eye-stopping collage, preening away in wondrous ensembles, in-flight haircuts and emphatic make-up that made you feel normality was a sin. Hammer Horror met Rank starlet. These were Bowie’s offspring, individualists who had taken him at his word to be “heroes just for one day”, living amusing lives, creating disposable identities, and wearing looks not uniforms. Now, on this day, their god came among them with the very serious mission of paying homage to some of his bizarre principal characters and moving himself on into the next phase of his life… Unwittingly the Blitz Kids would become his little helpers.

Russ Williams, John Lockwood, Andy Bulled, Tommy Crowley, David Bowie, Blitz Kids, Swinging 80s,nightlife

Bowie at the Blitz Club 1980: Russ Williams, John Lockwood and Andy Bulled papped by Tommy Crowley

Memories of Tuesday 1 July vary. The 21-year-old Steve Strange found himself requesting extra security to stem what the soon-to-become pop singer Andy Polaris also records in his diary as a “minor riot”. In contrast, the coolest heroes in the club refused to pander to the great star and merely contemplated their drinks.

Strange writes in his autobiography, Blitzed: “We had no prior warning, and [Bowie] arrived with two other people and his PA Coco [Schwab], whom I didn’t think was very nice.” The guests whose names Strange forgot were, according to the Polaris diary, singer Karen O’Connor (daughter of comedian Des) and painter-photographer Edward Bell, who designed the cover artwork for the imminent Scary Monsters album and singles.

Strange’s book claims: “We managed to sneak them into the club the back way to avoid a fuss and usher him upstairs to a private area. David himself was charming and asked if I would join him upstairs for a drink when I had finished on the door. I wanted to go straight away, but, annoyingly, I had to do my job first and stay at the door.”

The book continues: “Word soon spread like wildfire that David Bowie was there. He was probably the reason most people at the club had got into pop music in the first place. He had changed his look and his sound so many times, there were more than enough images to go round. The alien from Low and The Man Who Fell To Earth, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Ziggy Stardust. He was the one person that everyone there would cite as an influence, even more important than punk.

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Bowie’s chorus at Hastings, July 1980: Polaroid snapped by a crew member on the beach during filming of Ashes to Ashes with Blitz Kids Steve Strange, Darla-Jane Gilroy, Judi Frankland and Elise Brazier keeping warm in a mackintosh between takes. When they got back to London, they all went clubbing at Hell

“He said it was a great scene and asked me if I would like to appear in the video for his next single, Ashes To Ashes. He also asked me if I could suggest a make-up artist for him, and I recommended Richard Sharah, the man who did my make-up. He said: ‘I’d like it left to you to pick the clothes you are going to wear, and to choose three other extras for the video.’ This was the most important moment of my life. I rushed around and found Judith Frankland, Darla-Jane Gilroy and another girl [Elise Brazier] for the video.” Here, as with so much of his flaky book, Strange’s memory leave the rails. Other witnesses suggest subtle variations to his account…

Enter the next witness, Ravensbourne graduate Judith Frankland, designer of Steve Strange’s Fade to Grey outfit and of two gowns worn in the Ashes video which were inspired, she says, by the nuns in The Sound of Music and coincidentally had been unveiled in her sensational degree collection “Romantic Monasticism” at the Café Royal during June. She says: “In a wonderful twist of fate, Steve was resplendent in my black wedding outfit that night and was chosen straight away. He was asked to select people he felt could be right. Bowie did see George O’Dowd but as I remember he was wearing his big leather jacket look that night, so he was out. I was invited as was Darla up to the table where David and Coco were sitting and offered a glass of champagne. Darla and I were both dressed in a similar ecclesiastic style, Darla in her own black outfit with white collar, and we were also asked to take part for what at that time was a decent sum of money for penniless, decadent students.

“We were told Coco would call us the following day with the details. I woke the next day thinking I’d dreamt it and you know I guarded that communal pay phone on the landing like a rottweiler until she did: be outside the Hilton the next morning, Thursday, she said, at some ungodly hour, fully dressed and made up the same way I had been at the Blitz, and to get the coach to a secret location.

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Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Blitz Kids as Greek chorus (© Jones Music / EMI Records Ltd)

“When we arrived at the beach near Hastings [not Southend, as Strange reports], the crew was set up and David Bowie greeted us dressed in the pierrot outfit he would be wearing. He coached us for a few minutes on the words we were to mime and then the day was spent in what we Lancastrians call sinking sand, sloppy sand, and the further out we got on the beach the messier and sloppier and muddier it was. I wore flats which was a wise choice. Then we were up and down that field with the bulldozer and every time we had to do a take it had to back up and the field got muddier. The bulldozer wasn’t that close but if he’d stepped on the gas we would all have been gonners.

“We were finally told we had all ‘done well’ and set off in the coach straight from the shoot to Hell [Strange’s Thursday club-night with a sacrilegious flavour] – well, home first to get freshened up. Steve dropped off his very muddy wedding dress and Hell was a rowdier night than usual. Steve brought one of the labourers from the bulldozer site with him and dressed him up in a Modern Classics suit. The poor guy was disturbed by it all, to say the least.

“We’d also been asked to go to the Ewart Studios in Wandsworth that weekend to shoot another scene – the kitchen with Major Tom in the chair and us providing the chorus. This involved an explosion behind us four as we faced the camera. We were told to duck out and run after we had mimed our lines or we could be hurt. This was difficult in a hobble dress, so I hoisted it up as high as I could and got ready to run. Quite a sight for the superstar sat behind me! Health and Safety would be all over that now.

“May I add that at the studios David Bowie joined us mere mortals in the canteen. Yummy. What a nice man he was, well he was to me, very kind and patient with us all.”

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London’s Cafe Royal, 1980: Judith Frankland’s graduation show climaxed with a wedding dress in black and white taffeta, brocade, velvet and satin. All crowned by Stephen Jones’s veiled head-dress. As worn by Blitz Club host Steve Strange in the Ashes to Ashes video. (Niall McInerney’s slides scanned by Shapersofthe80s)

CRUCIAL MOTIFS DECODED

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St Martin’s Alternative Fashion Show in May 1980: Stephen Linard’s “Neon Gothic” collection modelled by his most stylish friends, Myra, George and Michele, with Lee Sheldrick in white as a space-age pope

❏ Co-directed by Bowie and David Mallet, location scenes for Ashes to Ashes were filmed on 3 July 1980 at Pett Level, a stony beach on marshlands about six miles east of Hastings in East Sussex, known to Mallet since he was a boy. The drama of waves splashing against a towering cliff excited him. The video was the most expensive music video made to that date, costing £250,000. The whole dreamscape was enhanced with the solarising effects from the then novel Quantel Paintbox to create a visual enigma, echoing a distant past, yet suggesting “nostalgia for the future” in Bowie’s own words.

When Bowie dropped in on the Blitz, the fashion mood had darkened for post-punk no-wavers. Black was back in gothic style without that word being applied, mostly. One exception was Stephen Linard who stole the annual Alternative Fashion Show in his second year at St Martin’s with his “Neon Gothic” collection in May 1980, when the event was coordinated by Perry Haines. Fellow Blitz Kids modelled a stylish collision of Space 1999 meets liturgical gothic, strutting to the Human League’s newest release, Empire State Human. Among them, Lee Sheldrick, the gifted eminence gris behind so many other students’ creations, had also shaved his head bald to become the embodiment of Nosferatu the Vampyre. The following week Steve Strange teamed up with fellow Welsh soul-boy and Camberwell student Chris Sullivan to open a no-holds-barred club-night at Hell with the invitation “to burn in Hell – demoniacal dress is desired”. Bowie knew what he was looking for.

One of Bowie’s long-standing collaborators, Natasha Korniloff, designed his pierrot costume for the video, and he gave Richard Sharah a free hand to design the make-up. On the night of Bowie’s visit to the Blitz, Steve Strange and Judi Frankland were sporting her graduation garments, Strange in the black wedding dress crowned with a Stephen Jones head-dress and veil made of stiffened lace on a metal frame. Judi recalls: “The wedding dress was the reason Steve and I got close. He called me up wanting to buy pieces of the collection. He also bought a jacket he wore on the cover of Fade to Grey and gave me a credit on the sleeve. That dress, all sand, sea and mud, ended up in the bottom of Steve’s wardrobe. It had a stand-up collar that was caked in his makeup. Never wore it again though he got some money off the video people to get it cleaned. The veil also got squashed in his wardrobe.”

Darla-Jane Gilroy wore an ecclesiastical black velvet dress designed and made by herself, silk grograin coat and white collar with crucifix, plus a Stephen Jones hat. Elise Brazier personified a ballerina in a party frock plus tantaliser in her hair. This and another hat came from Fiona Dealey and Richard Ostell who would soon be finding fame too.

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Stephen Linard: sporting a wooden cross by Dinny Hall and the rabbinical outfit that caught Bowie’s eye in July 1980

Stephen Linard supplies his own footnote to that great Tuesday at the Blitz. “Bowie actually sat at the bar next to my sister Bev, with me on the other side of her and I told her “Don’t look. Be cool.” So of course she looked, she was only 17. So did I. I was only 21. I was in all my Jewish rabbinical gear and Bowie’s PA Coco asked if I would be in the Ashes to Ashes video, but they wanted us up at the crack of dawn and were only offering £50! Anyway, I was on a warning at St Martin’s over attendance, so I had to say No.”

Steve Strange has the last word: “It seemed like a very long day for a three-minute film. I was delighted when I was handed my wages of £50 by a member of the production team. I didn’t tell them, but I would have paid them to have appeared in a video with David Bowie.”

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Storyboard for Ashes to Ashes, 1980: The opening scene of pierrot on the beach sketched by Bowie to guide his co-director David Mallet

BOWIE’S OWN VISION WITHIN THE ASHES

❏ Bowie’s brief to David Mallet for the video was simply: “A clown on a beach with a bonfire.” Yet you can be sure Freud would have a field-day turning over every mortal motif in Ashes to Ashes… Bowie storyboarded the visuals himself (“actually drew it frame for frame,” he said) from the pierrot of his Lindsay Kemp era, the number of “Madmen” in his own family symbolically in a padded cell, his first hit Major Tom the spaceman now in an exploding kitchen with his own Greek chorus, the images of mourners round a funeral pyre, the menacing JCB bulldozer (that Bowie had spotted parked up near the beach and hired on impulse) seemingly pushing along the Blitz Kids in the pierrot’s wake like a funeral procession pulsating with a mother’s invocation “to get things done…” Not to mention the song’s title itself, derived from the burial service in the English Book of Common Prayer which commends: “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.

In September of 1980, Bowie revealed his thinking to NME: “The sub-text of Ashes To Ashes is quite obviously the nursery rhyme appeal of it and for me it’s a story of corruption. When I originally wrote about Major Tom I thought I knew all about the great American dream and where it started and where it should stop. [Now] the whole process that got him up there had decayed and he wishes to return to the nice, round womb, the earth, from whence he started. It really is an ode to childhood, if you like, a popular nursery rhyme.”

Years later, Bowie told author Nicholas Pegg that with Ashes to Ashes he was “wrapping up the Seventies really” for himself, which “seemed a good enough epitaph”. On Bowie’s death his lifelong friend George Underwood called him an emotional, passionate person: “He had created this fierce storm, but he was the only one in it.” Take your pick.

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The year the Blitz Kids took their first steps into the headlines

Ashes To Ashes, David Bowie, video, pop music,Ashes To Ashes

Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Bowie’s pierrot getting out of his depth

FURTHER READING

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The Blitz Kids WATN? No 37, Judith Frankland

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The Blitz Kids WATN? No 28, Stephen Linard

➢ Blitzed! The Autobiography of Steve Strange (2002)

➢ Edward Bell’s Connection

➢ The future isn’t what it used to be, by Angus MacKinnon
in NME, 13 September 1980

➢ Chris O’Leary’s impassioned survey of the Bowie catalogue

Ashes To Ashes, David Bowie, video, pop music

Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Bowie’s pierrot at Pett Level in Sussex with “mum” (© Jones Music / EMI Records Ltd)

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➤ V&A celebrates Steve Strange as the poser who put the pazazz into 80s nightlife

Blitz Kids, New Romantics, fashion, pop music, Swinging 80s, archive, nightlife, Steve Strange, Keith Lodwick, lunchtime lecture, V&A museum,

Giving this week’s V&A Lunchtime Lecture, May 2018: Curator Keith Lodwick in full flow. . . On-screen, Bowie’s Pierrot costume displayed in the V&A’s 2013 exhibition Bowie Is, with Steve Strange and other Blitz Kids pictured in Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video in 1980

80S POP-STAR FRIENDS OF STEVE STRANGE turned out this week for a unique event at the V&A, the UK’s premier museum of art and design. The weekly Lunchtime Lecture was titled Steve Strange: From Blitz Club to Top of the Pops, and was delivered by Keith Lodwick, curator of Theatre and Screen Arts, to an audience that included singer Clare Grogan, ABC’s Martin Fry and his wife Julie, Jennie Matthias from The Belle Stars and Fifi Russell from Yip Yip Coyote. Steve’s mother Gillian Harrington and his sister Tanya had travelled from Wales with PR Amanda Lloyd to attend the occasion with other family members.

The talk traced Strange’s flamboyant life from Wigan Casino, through glam-rock and punk, to hosting a landmark club-night at Billy’s jointly with deejay Rusty Egan, then another at the Blitz in 1979–80. This was the club-night that Band Aid organiser Midge Ure has described as “the beating heart of the electronic dance music that led the 1980s.”

Strange said of his strict admissions policy on the door: “I wanted creative-minded pioneers who looked like a walking piece of art.” Indeed, the club became Strange’s own catwalk for sporting outrageous outfits by both the leading designers of the day and London’s budding fashion students. Lodwick said: “He once told a journalist ‘I am on stage 24 hours a day’. Steve, who died in 2015, remains one of the enduring figures of the New Romantic period.”

Click any pic below to view larger in a slideshow

Lodwick reminded us of the pop pantheon Strange was joining at the museum when he extended “a huge thank-you to Gill, Tanya and Amanda for being a link in the chain that enabled the V&A to acquire Steve’s archive and costumes two years ago. The family donated mainly clothes from the 2000s – including designs by Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. Steve’s costumes join those worn by Sandie Shaw, the Beatles, Mick Jagger, Marc Bolan, Jimmy Page, Elton John and Adam Ant.”

We watched two video clips which underlined Strange’s obsession with image-making: the music video for his band Visage’s hit Fade to Grey in which he is transformed into a snake; and a documentary in which milliner Stephen Jones suggests that berets he made for both Strange and for the Princess of Wales coupled them “as a fashion force together”.

Lodwick concluded: “Steve’s legacy will live on for being central to re-energising the club scene in London – pushing forward electronic music, fashion, photography and pop.”

➢ Elsewhere at Shapersofthe80s: Strange days, strange nights – first report on the Blitz from Yours Truly in 1980

➢ Elsewhere at Shapersofthe80s:
2015, Original Blitz Kids say farewell to Steve Strange – read exclusive tributes to the King of the Posers

➢ Read the story of Spandau Ballet, the Blitz Kids and the birth of the New Romantics at The Observer, by Yours Truly

Blitz Kids, New Romantics, fashion, pop music, Swinging 80s, archive, nightlife, Steve Strange, Keith Lodwick, lunchtime lecture, V&A museum,

At this week’s V&A talk: Some of the women in Steve Strange’s life. . . From the left, sister Tanya Harrington, Monica Towner, Rachelle Boyle, Eve Ferrett, Kimbo at centre next to Steve’s mum Gill, Jennie (Belle Stars) Matthias (almost hidden at back), Wendy Tiger, Alison Graham, Amanda Lloyd far right

➢ Talks, lectures, conversations and pop-up events at the V&A

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➤ A sensational portrait of Bowie as the man who shaped our responses to an age of shattered dreams

David Bowie, genius, pop music, obituary, Major Tom, The Economist, alienation, annihilation, 1970s, Space Oddity, music videos, Apollo 11,

1969: “This is Ground Control to Major Tom / You’ve really made the grade / And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear”

➢ Today’s issue of The Economist pulls out the plum – a superb obituary casting David Bowie as a wonderful epitome of alienation who saw a way through the world’s fears of imminent annihilation:

IN JULY 1969 men walked on the moon, a technological leap all but unthinkable 50 years before. Three years later they abandoned it, and have renounced all return ever since. What boosters saw as the great opening act of the space age turned out to be, in effect, its culmination. Within a few years presidential corruption, economic stagnation, military ignominy and imagined catastrophe had warped post-war America’s previously impervious belief in progress, a belief that had resonance across the then free world. After Apollo, the future would never again be what it used to be.

The Economist, Space Oddity, David Bowie,tributes, David Bowie’s greatest years began nine days before Apollo 11 touched down in the Sea of Tranquillity, with the release of his single Space Oddity; they ended 11 years later, with the single Ashes to Ashes. Over that decade he used imagined futures to turn himself into something contradictory and wonderful — an epitome of alienation with whom the alienated flocked to identify. In doing so, he laid bare one of the key cultural shifts of the 1970s: the giving up of past dreams. . . / Continued online

“In Space Oddity Major Tom, floating in a most peculiar way, had been an isolated spaceman;
by Ashes to Ashes his isolation was a junkie’s”
– The Economist

David Bowie, genius, pop music, obituary, Major Tom, The Economist, alienation, annihilation, 1980s, Ashes to Ashes, music videos,

1980: “Ashes to ashes, funk to funky / We know Major Tom’s a junkie / Strung out in heaven’s high / Hitting an all-time low”

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: “I’m not a rock star” Bowie often said – No, David, you were a messiah

OVER TO YOU, MAJOR TIM:

➢ Update on the first Friday of the new era AD (After David), Britain’s first official astronaut Major Tim Peake takes his first walk outside the International Space Station

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2016: The British astronaut Major Tim Peake – sporting the Union Jack on his shoulder – takes his first spacewalk at 2pm today from the International Space Station (via NASA Television)

NOT FORGETTING COMMANDER CHRIS HADFIELD


❏ This is the cover version Bowie called “possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created”, recorded by Commander Chris Hadfield on board the International Space Station in 2013.

Today’s hits on mainstream media!

➢ Tim Peake on live NASA Television

➢ David Bowie Breaks Adele’s Vevo record

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➤ “I’m not a rock star” Bowie often said – No, David, you were a messiah

David Bowie, death, obituaries, tributes, rock music, Man Who Fell to Earth, media, videos, films,

A humanoid alien comes to Earth with a mission… What a spooky coincidence that David Bowie played the alien Thomas Jerome Newton in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth

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Today’s Times: the masks and the man behind them

◼ ALL 10 BRITISH NATIONAL NEWSPAPERS filled their front pages today with the death of David Bowie at 69 – and so did scores of newspapers overseas. The last pop star whose death justified such deification was Jacko in 2009; and the last British pop star to do likewise was John Lennon, in 1980. The Times of London dedicated 18 pages including an outer broadsheet wrapper to honouring Bowie, plus an editorial comment as blessing. The Guardian topped that with 20 pages, plus the most enlightened editorial comment of them all. Not only did this misfit megastar and cultural icon radiate consummate flair as a performer but he displayed “an instinctive affinity with his times”. He had a “way with the zeitgeist”.

All media, notably social media, captured the dominant sentiment of generations of fans suddenly plunged into mourning. Again and again they claimed: He changed my life. . . He taught me how to be myself. . . David was my inspiration. . . David was my tutor. And most could quote their own favourite song lyric expressing their faith: Oh no, love – you’re not alone. . . Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it. . . It’s only for ever, not long at all. . . All you’ve got to do is win. . . We can be heroes just for one day.

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Blanket coverage: Bowie on all UK front pages… Image updated 14 Jan to include news magazines

➢ ‘THE WORLD HAS LOST AN ORIGINAL’ DECLAREs THE GUARDIAN – MORE OBITUARIES AND KEY VIDEOS INSIDE AT SHAPERS OF THE 80S

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➤ Nowt so Strange as Stephen John Harrington

Steve Strange, Steven Harrington, Blitz Kids, New Romantics, nightclubbing, Swinging 80s, London, fashion, pop music, Visage, tributes

Steve Strange: Precocious club host and the face of synth band Visage, he changed British nightlife for ever

RIP Steve Strange
28 May 1959–12 Feb 2015

King of the Posers, Leader of the Blitz Kids,
co-founder of the Blitz Club,
PIED PIPER FOR THE NEW ROMANTICS,
catalyst for London’s fashion and pop
explosion in the 1980s

“ I chose to become famous and I work very hard at promoting myself. For me going out at night is work ”
– Steve Strange,
speaking to the Evening Standard in 1983

Iain R Webb, original Blitz Kid, later fashion editor of The Times and other publications, pays tribute to Steve Strange, who died in Egypt earlier today:

Steve gave us somewhere to go and beyond the crazy costumes and caked on make-up (maybe because of the…) made us each believe we had someone to be. He burned bright and we followed that light like moths to a flame – Billy’s to Blitz to Hell to Club For Heroes to Camden Palace… Oh, how we danced. His maverick spirit will never fade

Kim Bowen, stylist and former Queen of the Blitz Club, says:

“ You did create the stage on which
we all appeared ”

Andy Polaris, original Blitz Kid, and vocalist in Animal Nightlife, says:

It’s always a shock when you hear news that snatches away part of your youth. Steve Strange was not only a colourful character who had always left an impression on my teenage years. He was also a pivotal player in transforming London nightlife, along with deejay Rusty Egan. Their Tuesday nights at Billy’s club gave birth to the Blitz Club that influenced a generation of designers, musicians and artists. It’s remarkable the amount of creative talent that emerged from these clubs. It’s important to acknowledge that without Steve’s input a lot of these creative synergies might have never happened

Midge Ure, synth pioneer with Ultravox and Visage and driving force behind Band Aid, said:

Steve and Rusty created a movement in London. The Blitz and the subsequent Blitz Kids grew into a massive movement in the UK associated with fashion and image and photography. You could stand in the Blitz Club and look around you and there’d be future journalists and film-makers and writers and musicians, and a young Boy George taking coats at the coat check. There was something really vibrant about that, and they were responsible

Above: Steve Strange and three other Blitz Kids handpicked by David Bowie star in his 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes

➢ Read my history of Steve Strange, the Blitz Kids and the birth of the New Romantics at The Observer

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
1980, Strange days, strange nights, strange people – my invitation to the party that would last five years

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
1982, Strange takes six cutting-edge British fashion designers to show their wares to the French

Steve Strange, Steven Harrington, Blitz Kids, New Romantics, nightclubbing, Swinging 80s, London, fashion, pop music, Visage, tributes

Steve Strange in 1980: wearing Willy Brown’s Modern Classics, photographed by Derek Ridgers

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
1983, Posing with a purpose at the Camden Palace – the ultimate expression of Strange & Egan’s clubbing prowess

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