Tag Archives: Chris Sullivan

➤ Sullivan & Elms relive their clubland double act

Chris Sullivan, Robert Elms, talk, Standard Hotel, London, history, nightlife, memories

Ribald and passionate: Sullivan and Elms capping each other’s stories with gusto

CATCH UP ON TWO CLUBLAND WAGS Chris Sullivan and Robert Elms, who sat on a pair of wonky stools in public last summer and entertained an invited crowd as each capped the other’s stories. Both are renowned for having shaped the style revolution of the Swinging Eighties and their subject was the ever-changing face of London.

Writer/artist Chris Sullivan is nominally a Welshman who revealed roots that led to a grandfather who’d been a bouncer at the capital’s Windmill Theatre, while BBC London broadcaster Robert Elms is a paid-up Cockney in all but the Bow Bells bit, with a mum who was a clippie on the buses at age 15.

➢ Tune into Portobello Radio for Sullivan & Elms
at 11am on Sunday 31 May, and again for a repeat
on Wednesday and Friday 3+5 June at 7pm

2020 ➤ Steve Dagger recalls Spandau Ballet’s fifth gig and why it detonated their lift-off

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A picture from the Shapersofhe80s archive: sharply styled Spandau Ballet in 1980 playing the dramatically lit Scala cinema concert that eventually brought the record companies scrambling to sign them. (Photograph © by Steve Brown)

40
YEARS
ON

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Spandau Ballet’s performance at the trendy Scala cinema on 13 May 1980, their manager Steve Dagger recalls how the event propelled his unsigned band towards the charts and to stardom. Prompted by the waves the band had been making, this – only their fifth live concert – was recorded by London Weekend Television and provided lift-off for the band’s ambitions.

Their first shows were always mounted in secrecy and in novel venues such as the Blitz Club in Covent Garden, which was rapidly becoming the focus for the hippest young people in London who had yet to become known as the New Romantics. The story of those sensational early days is extracted here with Steve’s permission from the full version on the band’s website.

Spandau Ballet, 20th Century Box, Scala cinema, pop music

Spandau at the Scala cinema, May 1980: bass-player Martin Kemp surveys the wild dancing by the audience of Blitz Kids captured for TV by 20th Century Box

Steve Dagger writes:

❏ 40 YEARS AGO, on a warm London May evening, at the Scala Cinema, which was then situated on the rather nondescript Tottenham Street, in the heart of what is now Fitzrovia, Spandau Ballet and its previously underground sub-sect of youth culture emerged blinking into the daylight.

Steve Dagger, Spandau Ballet, live concert, pop music

Spandau manager Steve Dagger on the road with the band in 1980

Before the show, the crowd, previously not seen en-masse outside of a nightclub, spilled over the pavement clutching drinks from the nearby pub and eying each other up as they arrived, each dressed in their own highly personalised version of the heightened street fashion/plundering of the history of style/Fritz Lang vision of the future that was going to be dubbed “New Romantic” or “Blitz Kids”. All the stylistic cards were being thrown up in the air in a post-modern reset to prepare for a new decade. The event had been advertised by our version of social media, word of mouth, as were all our early shows.

It had the atmosphere of a bizarre red carpet event before a film premiere. There was a TV crew filming and interviewing the arrivals. There were photographers recording the scene. Spandau Ballet were to play live and the performance and the audience were being filmed by LWT for a Janet Street-Porter documentary as part of a TV series called 20th Century Box. The audience was joined by various journalists, photographers and media people, including Radio 1 DJ and TV presenter Peter Powell, numerous record company execs including impresario Bryan Morrison. It was a potent mix which we could have only dreamed of six months earlier before our Spandau Ballet rebirth and was entirely consistent with our title of “The Next Big Thing” and the hottest unsigned band in the country and the new decade.

Since their first performance as Spandau Ballet at the Blitz five months earlier, the band’s career trajectory had been such that it seemed to have been fired out of some powerful pop culture cannon. A lot had happened! We had exploded from a standing start like Usain Bolt.

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Spandau at the Scala: Blitz Kids arrive in high style to watch the band perform in an auditorium for the first time, captured by 20th Century Box

At that first Blitz show in December 1979, Chris Blackwell, legendary founder and owner of Island Records – the world’s coolest record company – had approached me offering to sign the band “on the spot”. It was a hugely seductive and exciting opportunity but there was a deal to be done.

Accompanied by our newly appointed lawyer, Brian Carr, the band and I went to meet Chris at the Island HQ in London, a large relaxed converted villa on St Peter’s Square in Hammersmith. Posters and gold and platinum discs of Bob Marley, Roxy Music, Stevie Winwood and Grace Jones greeted us. Chris showed us around. He was charming and smart. It all seemed so right. For a while. He introduced us to Nick Stewart, an A&R man who was to be our point person. He had the demeanour of an army officer. I think he was a friend of Chris’s from public school. He listened to our ideas about the band – it seemed very hard to explain the band’s ethos to him. Chris was not a UK resident at the time and had a limited time in the country each year. We would be dealing with Nick day-to-day. Not good. Then they showed us the terms of the deal they were proposing.

We retired for lunch at a local Chinese restaurant with Brian to consider it. I suppose it was an OK deal for a new band, but both Brian and I thought we could do better. We went back to Island HQ after lunch and after a short discussion about the terms, on a pre-arranged cue from Brian, we turned down the deal and ended the meeting abruptly and walked out. It was spectacular! Their jaws dropped. It showed huge confidence on our part. It was a bold effective tactic. It did mean however that we were very shortly in Hammersmith Broadway, on foot, without a record contract.

Although there was a vigorous discussion about the wisdom of this move with the band and myself later that evening, so powerful was our newly acquired self-confidence everyone soon settled down. Shortly afterward Chis left town for Paris or Jamaica and although we kept in contact and he maintained interest, we didn’t sign to them. We were soon to be distracted by other suitors and opportunities.

Spandau Ballet, 20th Century Box, Scala cinema, pop music

Spandau at the Scala: the moment the band began playing, the audience filled the aisles with their dancing, captured by 20th Century Box

Meanwhile, our progress continued apace. Days after the visit to Island the band played their second show as Spandau Ballet at Mayhem Studios Battersea at a multi-media event party organised by a number of our friends and now collaborators from the Blitz. It was in effect the first Warehouse Party Brand that would morph eventually into the ubiquitous rave format. There were art-house and porn films projected onto the ceiling, DJs, alcohol, drugs, Spandau Ballet and hundreds and hundreds of people crammed into a relatively small space. The combined word of mouth powers of Chris Sullivan, Graham Ball, Robert Elms and Graham Smith reached every hip club person in London. Blitz Kids, Soul Boys and Rockabillies. All soon to merge together into “Club Culture”. It was rammed.

Hundreds couldn’t get in. It was bloody chaos. The band performed and were well received, but most people that were there couldn’t see them, it was so crowded. But that wasn’t the point. The value to us was that we were for the second time in as many weeks performing at the epicentre of hipness in the new London. Even if you hadn’t seen the band or even couldn’t get in, everyone knew that Spandau Ballet had played there. It was most certainly an event.

On New Year’s Eve as the 80s started, I remember feeling utterly satisfied with the band’s progress in the last month. We were right in the sweet spot of being the coolest band in the hippest scene in London. The decade seemed to be opening up before us. Great, but what next? . . . / Continued at Spandauballet.com

Spandau Ballet, 20th Century Box, Scala cinema, pop music

Spandau at the Scala: their audience of dancing Blitz Kids confirmed their status as the hottest unsigned band in the land, captured by 20th Century Box

ELSEWHERE AT SHAPERS OF THE 80S:

➢ A selective timeline for the unprecedented rise and rise
of Spandau Ballet

➢ Spooky or what? The amazing revelation that two bands went by the name of Spandau Ballet

➢ Private worlds of the new young setting the town ablaze

➢ Just don’t call us New Romantics, say the stars of the Blitz

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➤ Thanks, Steve, for my invitation to the Swinging 80s

Blitz Kids, New Romantics, Observer Music Magazine, Derek Ridgers,Spandau Ballet, Steve Dagger, Steve Strange, Tipping points,London, Media, Politics, Pop music, Swinging 80s,,

The Observer Music Magazine, Oct 4, 2009. Pictures © by Derek Ridgers

40
YEARS
ON

ALSO THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY
OF STEVE STRANGE’S DEATH

WHEN MY PHONE RANG IN JANUARY 1980, little did I realise its message meant: “Put out the cat. You’re coming to the party of your life.” The voice on the other end spoke without pausing: “My name’s Steve Strange and I run a club called the Blitz on Tuesdays and I’m starting a cabaret night on Thursdays with a really great new band…. they combine synthesised dance music for the future with vocals akin to Sinatra, they’re called Spandau Ballet and they’re going to be really big. . .”

➢ Click through to continue reading Yours Truly’s eye-witness account of Spandau Ballet, the Blitz Kids and the birth of the New Romantics at The Observer Music Magazine

➢ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s:
The Invisible Hand of Shapersofthe80s draws a selective
timeline for the break-out year of 1980

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➤ A double act is born – Sulls & Elms, take a bow!

Chris Sullivan, Robert Elms, talk, Standard Hotel, London, history, nightlife, memories

Ribald and passionate: Sullivan and Elms capping each other’s stories with gusto

TWO LIFE-LONG PALS, both born raconteurs and clubland wags, sat on a pair of wonky stools this week in public and for an hour had an invited crowd roaring as helplessly as themselves as each capped the other’s stories. The subject was the ever-changing face of London and their faces were those of writer/artist Chris Sullivan (nominally a Welshman who revealed roots that led to a grandfather who’d been a bouncer at the capital’s Windmill Theatre), and BBC London broadcaster Robert Elms (a paid-up Cockney in all but the Bow Bells bit, whose mum was a clippie on the buses at age 15). Both are renowned for having shaped the style revolution of the Swinging Eighties. Now they had taken over a snug corner of the library lounge at the Standard Hotel in King’s Cross, a venue which prompted some ribald tales of their mis-spent teens.

Topics ranged from the East End to West End. There was much mention of food from the era before London became cuisine capital of the world: Elms remembered the early pizza parlours that served your American Hot with a whole baked potato and coleslaw all on one plate. “Which Italian ever had that?” he howled. From the audience, David Rosen recalled Blooms in Whitechapel as an essential kosher eaterie when its walls were blessed with photography by Bauhaus star Moholy-Nagy.

Chris Sullivan, Robert Elms, talk, Standard Hotel, London, history, nightlife, memories

A wrapt audience for Sullivan and Elms: familiar faces from their colourful circle of London friends

For half a century Soho had been the red-light district and as a result, Elms said, by the mid-70s civilised people had given up on the centre of town. Only a public outcry in 1973 protected the 19th-century neo-classical buildings of Covent Garden as the market prepared to relocate to Nine Elms. He added: “London was going to be knocked down after the market moved out and this generation of Londoners [the audience] saved it by our creativity.” It was for instance the place where the seminal New Romantics Blitz club-night opened in 1979, a year before the desolate central market reopened as a shopping centre.

The lack of affordable nightclubs for teenagers in 1979 also drove Bob and Chris to initiate their own pioneering ad hoc parties at the Mayhem print warehouse featuring snake-charmers and blue movies projected onto the ceiling as their “crash course for ravers”. These parties were free, Bob confessed, because they never dreamed they could charge people admission. Chris became so animated at this point he was falling off his stool with laughter.

Of Soho’s Wag club, the pivotal black music nightspot he ran for almost two decades, Sullivan reminded us: “London was a dodgy place. Coming into Soho was taking your life in your hands. The only reason we were able to take over the Wag was because it was a no-go area. About three months after it started, a prostitute got her throat cut outside the Pizza Express by her pimp. People forget it was dangerous. Back then you could be attacked in Soho for wearing the wrong clothes.” Consequently, Elms added: “That Blitz/Wag generation were pretty tough.”

Today the sentimental pair remain firm fans of “the greatest city on earth” but then, they both revel in making things happen wherever they go.

London, history, Durex, shop, Wardour Street,

Condoms by the gross: legendary Soho shop-front

❏ Throwaway revelation: The landmark 18-foot wide DUREX sign that graced a Wardour Street shopfront almost opposite the Wag, and had serviced the needs of timid schoolboys for generations, today belongs to Valentine Morby!

Chris Sullivan, Robert Elms, talk, Standard Hotel, London, history, nightlife, memories, books, publishing, rebels, Canongate, Unbound,

Their latest books 2019: Sullivan’s from Unbound, Elms’s from Canongate

➢ Chris Sullivan hopes this jaw-jaw event will continue with other old friends occupying the guest stool. Keep an eye on his social media

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: Robert Elms the storyteller on why some stories are “too good to check”

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➤ Sullivan’s manifesto for the Rebel Rebel life

Club-host and artist Chris Sullivan: as he renders himself sporting Dennis-the-Menace T-shirt in NYC 1981 and as he is today in Portobello Road

NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW that Chris Sullivan – mischievous Welsh frontman of Soho’s Wag Club which he founded in 1982 – switched from the fashion course at St Martin’s to pursue painting instead. Despite his instinctive sense of style, he says today: “I was great at the design and fashion drawings, but not very good at actually making things, stuff like sewing and pattern cutting. So I moved over to fine art. At the time I kept on being in the newspapers, and the college didn’t care what I did, just happy another St Martin’s student was getting press. It was good for their PR.”

It also positioned him as a pivotal influence on the whole British youthquake that transformed London nightlife, music and fashion in the Eighties, while his own mantra of “One look lasts a day” has propelled him through such guises as flaneur, deejay, journalist, nightclub host, pop star, northern soul dancer, style commentator, entrepreneur and fashion designer. A terrific route-map to the Sullivan cosmos occupies 12 pages of the April issue of GQ magazine, blessed with a photo-portrait by David Bailey.

Click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

This month Sullivan publishes his third book, an anthology of “people and things that broke the mould” titled Rebel Rebel: How Mavericks Made the Modern World. What he dubs a “paperback manifesto” is an excuse to celebrate his own outsider approach to life: never having a proper job and always staying one step ahead of the pack. The book was launched in 2015 as a crowd-funded project through Unbound Books and for reasons unknown it seemed to take four years either to raise the cash or finish the writing, at which point Sullivan says there was still no money set aside for photographs of the 34 subjects he was profiling (some new essays, some vintage). “So I said I’ll paint or draw them, all these people like Rod Steiger, Fela Kuti, Louise Brooks, Orson Welles, Anita Pallenberg, David Bowie. . .”

In the mix are criminals (Brilliant Chang), musicians (Lemmy), actors (Robert Mitchum), artists (Egon Schiele, Jackson Pollock), directors (Martin Scorsese), photographers (Robert Capa), as well as iconic topics such as film noir, Berlin in the Twenties, Levis, the pork pie hat, the Zoot Suit and the white T-Shirt.

“Because I was so worried as the deadline loomed,” Sullivan says, “I did 35 illustrations for the book, really quickly b-b-boom! Then a friend Barnsley saw one of a zoot suit I wasn’t using for a chapter on outsider clothing, and he snapped it up. Before I knew it someone else was asking could they have one, then I did another one as a commission and stuck that up online and since then I’ve had more than 10 commissions to do these paintings.” Some of the results are here for all to see, inspired by time spent in New York back in the day.

As for the book’s other 400-odd pages, they read like Sullivan in his element. Vigorous prose and serious research substantiate his invitation to “an exceptional party” of cultural giants. Take Capa for instance, who “captured a world and it was Capa’s world”, according to John Steinbeck. Sullivan empathises: “He seems like a chap with whom you’d want to hang out, chew that fat and then go on a humongous bender – a man who was charismatic, brave, egalitarian and funny.” It’s intense stuff that exonerates malcontents and free-thinkers. Ultimately, wag as a tag is not the last word.

David Bowie, books, Unbound, Chris Sullivan, illustration

David Bowie: Sullivan’s illustration of the Thin White Duke for his Rebel book

➢ Read the odd taster from Sullivan’s book Rebel Rebel at Unbound

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