Tag Archives: Graham Smith

➤ The Bowie factor at the Blitz: glamour, drama and collage couture

Iain Webb at St Martin’s School of Art in 1977 — photographed by fellow student Stephen Jones who went on to become an international hat-maker

❚ FOR TODAY’S HUFFINGTON POST, Iain R Webb, former Blitz Kid and later Times of London fashion editor, writes of the imminent photo-book about the tumultuous fashion and music scene that emerged from London’s Blitz Club in 1980. We Can Be Heroes by Graham Smith is a fascinating documentation of the demimonde nightclub scene from punk through New Romantic and out the other side… Webb writes:

It is certainly fitting that Smith has chosen the Bowie lyric as the title of his book because Bowie is to thank for inspiring the transformational theatrics employed by the Blitz Club regulars. In the early 1970s Bowie brought glamour and drama to rock music at a time when it was difficult to tell if the denim clad hairy on stage had nodded off during the drum solo. He was a shrewd style thief, an ardent advocate of collage couture. One of the only musicians to survive the vicious tongue-lashing of punk, it was Bowie who helped fuel the electro soundtrack of the 80s’ subterranean underworld. His Berlin trilogy of albums — Low, Heroes and Lodger — explored the neue world of Kraftwerk and machine Muzak. Although let’s not forget to credit Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer who had been knocking out the electronic beats in the gay clubs of many a twelve-inch single / continued online

➢ A new book about 1980s club kids by Iain R Webb
at The Huffington Post

➢ When Iain met Stephen, London traffic stopped
and St Martin’s stood still

A sample spread from We Can Be Heroes by Graham Smith: his photos here show Blitz Kid style-leaders Kim Bowen, “Boy” George O’Dowd and Stephen Linard


❏ Will you help ensure publication of We Can Be Heroes by buying your personal copy today? Graham Smith’s book is the definitive history of early 80s nightclub music and style, which were the last manifestation of Britain’s collaborative youth culture. Alongside Graham’s superb photographs is racy text by Chris Sullivan, fabled host of Soho’s long-running Wag club, plus much other celebrity commentary.

Unbound is a new “crowd-funding” company run by three young dynamos well versed in publishing who are ensuring high-quality printing in Germany of this 320-page hardback using 180gsm paper, all in time for Christmas, priced £30. Visit Graham’s page at Unbound to discover why your immediate contribution towards the cost of the limited first edition is so important that the book will carry your name as an early supporter.

➢ £30 buys you the hardback first edition of We Can Be Heroes and your name printed inside — £50 buys an autographed copy and there are many other perks including a de luxe edition

❏ iPAD, TABLET & MOBILE USERS PLEASE NOTE — You be see only a tiny selection of items from this wide-ranging website about the 1980s, not chosen by the author. To access fuller background features and site index either click on “Standard view” or visit Shapersofthe80s.com on a desktop computer. ➢ Click here to visit a different random item every time you click


➤ A taste of the 80s Blitz Kids — this photo book captures their unseen glory

Sullivan and Smith at last night's exhibition: man in the middle is king of the posers and Blitz Club host, Steve Strange. Photography by Shapersofthe80s

❚ THE HEROES SHOW IS ON THE ROAD. As of last night the Smith/Sullivan definitive history of 80s clubbing We Can Be Heroes had raised 36% of its “crowd-funding” target required to ensure publication goes ahead. Hence last night’s selling exhibition of Graham Smith’s photography from 30 years ago, most of which has never been seen. His family and friends joined the slebs at the party (video below) hosted by Inside Events in Notting Hill.

Smith said his favourite image on sale last night was on the cover of the book: showing Blitz Kids Clare Thom and a scene-stealing George O’Dowd claiming centre stage by gesturing with both hands and competely masking the face of the second girl beside him, designer Michele Clapton. (Prints are priced from £150 to £450 according to size — inquire by mailing to grsmith [@] mac.com)

Smith was in the thick of the New Romantic underground taking photos as London nightclubbing revolutionised British pop music and made stars out of Boy George, Sade, Spandau Ballet and scores more new bands. Sullivan was a key player as stylist, host of Soho’s infamous Wag club for 19 years and leader of Blue Rondo à la Turk who had a 1982 chart hit with the soundtrack to our video, Klacto Vee Sed Stein. Broadcaster Robert Elms has written an intro, and there are forewords by Boy George, Steve Strange and Gary Kemp.

The 21st-century way to publish high-quality, short-run numbered editions is to secure sales in advance of publication. So visit Unbound Publishing to place your order which will secure your name in the first edition — and other perks.

Graham Smith in selling mode: can he persuade 22-year-old Bill de Melowood to buy his print of Steve Strange drinking with a bunch of Cardiff dockers? Photography by Shapersofthe80s

Partying family: Graham Smith and wife Lorraine at right, with their daughter Carla and boyfie John. Photography by Shapersofthe80s

❏ iPAD, TABLET & MOBILE USERS PLEASE NOTE — You may see only a tiny selection of items from this wide-ranging website about the 1980s, not chosen by the author. To access fuller background features and site index either click on “Standard view” or visit Shapersofthe80s.com on a desktop computer. ➢ Click here to visit a different random item every time you click


➤ Boy George says the 70s were the best time ever to be a teenager — yep, really!

➢ The Guardian is the first paper off the mark to report Graham Smith’s imminent photo-book on 80s clubland, We Can Be Heroes — with an opinion piece today from Boy George

1980: Clare Thom, Philip Sallon and George O’Dowd on a coach trip to Margate. Photograph by Graham Smith/grsmith@mac.com.jpg from his book We Can Be Heroes

➢ Graham Smith’s intimate portraits perfectly evoke a time when the world seemed destined to be taken over by the young with only the help of a spot of eyeliner — slideshow at The Guardian

➢ We Can Be Heroes is a proposed “crowd-funded” book of pictures that won’t get printed until 1,200 people purchase a copy in advance. To contribute, visit Unbound.co.uk

❏ iPAD & TABLET USERS PLEASE NOTE — You are viewing only a very small selection of content from this wide-ranging website on the 1980s, not chosen by the author. To access fuller background features and topical updates please view Shapersofthe80s.com on a desktop computer


1976–1984 ➤ Creative clubbing ended with the 80s and Smithy’s book needs your help to tell the tale

Michele Clapton, Graham Smith, Le Beat Route, Chant No 1, video, We Can Be Heroes, photography, youth culture, Unbound,books,

Graham Smith gets Spandau Ballet in his sights during the filming for their Chant No 1 video at Le Beat Route in July 1981: his then girlfriend fashion designer Michele Clapton sizes up the Shapersofthe80s camera technique, and it’s true that Smithy did walk away with more pix in focus than we managed

❚ THREE FROM A SELECT PLATOON of musketeers who hustled and toughed their way through the vile swamp of the 1970s, then through the gilded portals of the 80s, met up in a BBC radio studio today to reminisce about their larks as teenagers in London. They were plugging a new book titled We Can Be Heroes, the most inspirational of David Bowie’s songlines, so we’re already talking outsiders, groomed by 1976’s punk ethos of do-it-yourself whose fashion statement had been expressed through the medium of trousers.

➢ Hear today’s discussion about
We Can Be Heroes with Elms, Smith and Sullivan
at BBC London 94.9 (starts at 30 mins in)

Their coffee-table book looks set to be the definitive account of 80s clubbing, told through previously unseen photographs and anecdotes from fellow musketeers who propelled the Blitz Club bandwagon and transformed British music, fashion, nightlife and much of the media. They are the very pioneering spirits Shapersofthe80s has tried to document and honour on this website, but where your reporter was always the observer looking in, the 100 or more boys and girls contributing to this new book were themselves the workers of the miracles in 1980. They are more entitled to tell the tale than the pompous writers of pop-cultural history who were never there as witnesses (one “author” plagiarised my own coverage of the 80s ruthlessly, reportage and analysis, without giving one word of credit). As a breed, they have chronicled the dawn of the 80s dismally. What they always miss is the ribald fun of staying up all night. We Can Be Heroes might just get this chapter of British history right, for once.

After the post-punk wave of electronic, industrial and synth-pop had redefined the scope of a new soundtrack for UK youth through Billy’s, The Blitz and select clubs up North, Chris Sullivan, Graham Smith and Robert Elms determined to nudge musical tastes in a more hummable direction. They created a fork in the branch of clubbing’s evolutionary tree by developing the then novel notion of one-nighters with three successive ventures during 1980, at St Moritz, Hell and Le Kilt. (Remember, long before Time Out had nightlife listings pages, London offered only one hip club-night per week.) At these three the dance rhythms were drawn from prewar musicals, rockabilly, Latin and funk, and sartorial styles shifted swiftly and dramatically from futurist to Hollywood romance. Bobbing in the wake of art-school theories about deconstruction, their clubnights were in themselves a fightback against the top-down dictates of middle-aged moguls in fashion, music and media. Just like Alexei Sayle and the “alternative” comedians making their reputations live at The Comic Strip in 1980, fury was addressed to the marketing of trendiness itself.

Chris Sullivan, club-host, deejay, Wag club, Blue Rondo, pop music,We Can Be Heroes, youth culture,

At home in Kentish Town Chris Sullivan chooses the right zootsuit for today’s mood: his wardrobe is legendary, his taste impeccable, and his influence immeasurable. Shapersofthe80s shot this for his first Evening Standard interview in June 1981

❚ I ALWAYS SAID THEY’D DO WELL, especially that Chris Sullivan, oh yes. I said it when this imposing and pointedly stylish Welshman first shook my hand in Rumours, Covent Garden’s trendiest bar in 1980, and made some tart remark about the lowlifers who produced the newspaper sticking out of my pocket, the Evening Standard, until I mentioned I was one of them, when he very kindly decided to discount me personally because I’d been sharp enough to find my way into the same bar as him, so, welcome, and he’d have a Carlsberg thanks very much (all lagers being equally bland and boring then, not having yet matured into status drinks).

It was all a wind-up. He’d been told exactly what I did for a living, and I thought, he’ll go far. And waddayaknow? One day he’d be a cossack, then he’d be Maurice Chevalier, then he was reinventing the zootsuit while doing fashion at St Martin’s. Next day he was singing and dancing into the pop charts in Blue Rondo à la Turk — the daftest seven-piece “bunch of nutters” (his words) Britain had seen since Edmundo Ros. Suddenly, and for the next two decades, he was hosting the Wag as the hippest club in the land that played the hippest black music. As he said on the radio today: “Since when would somebody put a 22-year-old working-class bloke like me in charge of one of the biggest West End nightclubs? We were all kids. We went out and had a go. Empowerment is what’s important about this story.” In the past he has expressed great satisfaction at denying entry to the Wag for the smugger elements in the rock press — those “white middle-class punks who couldn’t dance and hated black music” and destroyed the prospects for his band Blue Rondo.

Ultimately Sullivan became a journalist, much in demand across all sectors of the press, while remaining a leading club deejay. It’s an understatement to call him a character. Elms today acknowledged that, as much as anyone in the country, Sullivan “was at the forefront of all of this”. Frankly, I’m happy to acknowledge him as the Number One shaper of the subcultural 80s in the UK, principally for his energy, his impeccable taste and a million-and-one nuanced responses to the society around him — plus one of the longest and most influential of contact books. Best of all: he also laughs a lot.

❚ THAT BOB ELMS WAS ANOTHER ONE you didn’t want to shut up. It wasn’t a criticism to call him a motormouth because most of what he said was hugely entertaining as we stood at one of the rare bars with a 1am drinks licence in those days, usually accompanied by a couple of other movers and shapers evaluating the ever-evolving hairstyles and footwear in a club (“No, it’s not just a white sock. It’s a sock with a Mod legacy.”) Britain’s subcultural heritage and all associated musical soundtracks were the adrenaline that drove him to trace roots, analyse trends and formulate preposterous ideas about The Next Big Thing, just like a journalist, or indeed the LSE politics graduate he became.

Robert Elms, We Can Be Heroes, youth culture, books,Unbound,

Robert Elms on the train to Glasgow and his future: We were heading for Blue Rondo’s Scottish gigs on the day their first single Me and Mr Sanchez was released, Nov 6, 1981. He’s sporting the haircut that won him the audition to front TV yoof shows. © Shapersofthe80s

He’ll go far, I thought, he’ll be the next Benny Green (look him up!). And you know what? Two minutes later he was all over the coolest magazine ever, The Face, chronicling the exceedingly noisy and high-visibility youth movement known as the New Romantics, whilst adjusting his own natty garb to suit and, yes, throwing out a catchy name for a pop group, Spandau Ballet, which legend says the pals had conjured from graffiti glimpsed on their journey of discovery to Berlin in 1979.

It was definitely his wacky brushcut that got him in front of TV cameras as one of the first cockney-sparra presenters on the street-cred yoof shows that 80s media churned out in response to the revolution that came surging up from the dance underground. As somebody never short of an opinion, he too was always up there among the top shapers of his age, so it was an effortless morph from style arbiter to author and travel writer Robert Elms, who landed the plummest job in local radio 20 long years ago at the BBC’s London station, and only yesterday was also being one of Radio 4’s “own correspondents” reporting the last bullfight in Barcelona.

As predicted, Elms has inevitably grown into a dead ringer for man-of-the- people, the late lamented Benny Green, jazz-lover, raconteur for his dandy tribe, talking head on Stop the Week/Loose Ends and all-round good egg.

siouxsie sioux,punk rock, Graham Smith, We Can Be Heroes, youth culture, books, Unbound

Siouxsie and the Banshees, photographed in 1977 by Graham Smith, from his book We Can Be Heroes. Souxsie was an original member of the Bromley Contingent that led Graham and his mates into the clubs of Soho

❚ THEN THERE’S THE QUIET ONE with the cheery smile. That Graham Smith, nice lad (before the third pint). (Only kidding, Graham. Still nice even after the 16th.) Always carried a camera. Funnily enough he carried the same state-of-the-art Olympus OM2 SLR as me, and we were both trying to get the hang of Ilford’s HP5, a superduper fast new B&W film that was so sensitive it meant you could shoot in nightclubs without a flash, well, in theory. You did tend to end up with a lot of blurry images, but the trouble was if you used a flash you just got a frame full of bright ghouls for faces and it was years before I dared ask the paparazzo Richard Young for the secret of shooting nightclubbers with flash from about 3 feet without bleaching them into ghosts. (Answer: stop right down to f22 and push the film in the developer — crucial advice in 1980 and totally without meaning to today’s digital snapper.) One of the reasons most of our pix are in B&W was because there was no colour film in 1980 that didn’t require equatorial amounts of sunlight, so shooting nightlife was a black art.

When I met him Smithy was already designing the publicity and taking the artful first band snaps of Spandau Ballet, so when his minimalist record sleeves counted as coursework and won him a first-class degree from Camberwell, I thought, he’ll go far. He then did the same for our clubbing friend Sade, the fashion designer who became a global icon as a singer, and in time he won awards as a magazine art director.

He and his lovely wife Lorraine met on a dancefloor and still have the hots for the arcane dance moves of Northern Soul. So it’s more than apt that today he’s the prime mover behind this coffee-table book packed with 500 of the immaculate, usually in-focus pix from his youth, most of which have lain in a dusty old box unseen by anybody since they were shot. What he’s bravely done over the past two years is interrogate dozens of the other clubbing musketeers, mentalists and Blitz Kids for their first-hand versions of how the 80s shaped their lives, and turned dozens of them into popstars and household names with their hands on the levers of power.

Brighton, Papillon, toga party, soul boys, soul girls, soul music,dancing,nightclubbing

1979 toga party at the Papillon, Brighton: these were the soul boys and soul girls who made the British dance scene spin. Photograph by Paul Clark at Facebook

❚ ELMS HAS KNOWN SMITH since he was 11 and Sullivan since 16. All are now family men and feeling 50, hence the need to spill the beans before they forget. Despite my own efforts (sob!) writing a nightlife column in The Face, and later with Shapersofthe80s online, Smithy doesn’t think his generation’s teenage achievements have been adequately reported as a slice of social history. He’s thinking of that fabulous book on the 60s Mods. In all honesty, he’s right. In late 1980 I walked into both Omnibus and Proteus with a proposal for a tome about the nightlife revolution titled “Heroes For the 80s”, evidently too ahead of the curve for them to take a risk with this newcomer, who was then rightly miffed only months later to see The Book With No Name emerge from one of their in-house teams! Ouch. Since then, I have told the 80s creation myth in outline many times — most fully though even so with necessary shortcuts in The birth of the New Romantics for the Observer Music Magazine — and we have had a handful of individual biographies, the most gripping being by Midge Ure and Gary Kemp (and the most horrific by Boy George). But the saga of 80s clubland really belongs to the teenage dance fiends and soul fans who had amassed in the 70s and set sprung maple floors a-bouncing across the nation.

Birth of the New Romantics — The Observer Music Magazine, Oct 4, 2009. Pictures © by Derek Ridgers

Historians and rock journalists from middle-class backgrounds by and large don’t have a clue why social mobility is an impossible dream among what’s traditionally called the working class. In today’s interview Sullivan reminded us that the trio behind We Can Be Heroes all came from working-class homes (except that Smith’s dad had a fish-n-chip shop, thus strictly speaking he was in trade and already upwardly mobile). Essentially, he said, self-empowerment (yonks before the word had become a politically correct buzzword) was a liberating force in an era when expressing yourself and being creative was actively discouraged by your elders as being “above your station”. For each pal in this trio, punk had rattled the cage guarding that convention. That’s why Smith’s starting point in his book is 1976, the year punk stamped its Doc Martened foot and kick-started his photographic reflexes.

In one of our first conversations way back when, Elms’s interpretation was that, against the black cloud of recession and unemployment rising to 3 million, his generation were shrewdly turning what were once regarded as hobbies into livelihoods. My own analogy has always been that their nightclubs were effectively well-organised factory floors and job centres. Everyone who came to dance could, if they had the wit, shimmy out into the daylight with the promise of work on a “Variety Of Projects”. It was the Blitz Kids who invented the phrase and its acronym as a verb, to VOP, and vopping is what made the 80s belong to the young — and especially to the “Common People” immortalised by Jarvis Cocker. They staged a social and industrial revolution the elders and the mainstream decision-makers could not ignore in the opening years of the decade, no doubt about it. The last-minute shift in the remit of Channel 4 when it launched in 1982 was clear proof.

We Can Be Heroes gives the voppers their turn to be heard. Their fruity language and their rough-house antics are going to appall the unsuspecting middle-class reader, ha-ha-ha.

❏ Shapersofthe80s will be following through with more of their clubland adventures soon…


❏ The digital age means that short-run, quality books such as We Can Be Heroes can be published to high production standards if enough funds are raised in advance. So when you visit Graham Smith’s publisher Unbound.co.uk, you will be invited to pay now for a book that will not be printed at all unless a break-even target is reached. It’s an innovative sales pitch, it’s very 21st century, and as of today they need another 988 pledges upfront, within the next 42 days if the book is to be out for Christmas. For a basic £30 you will receive a beautifully cloth-bound 325-page hard-back printed on substantial paper — plus your name listed as a Supporter in the first edition. You can pay more for further treats. The company Unbound was founded this year by three dynamic young men with considerable experience of traditional publishing, QI writers John Mitchinson and John Pollard, and Crap Towns author Dan Kieran. Their own track records have encouraged Britain’s leading publishing house of Faber & Faber to offer support by running on titles which prove successful through Unbound first editions.

❏ Three popstars created by the Blitz Club scene have endorsed the book by writing their own forewords in it: Boy George, Steve Strange and Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet. Robert Elms has written an intro, while the main text is by Chris Sullivan. Graham has sweated blood to secure the voxpops.

➢ November catch-up: links to media coverage of We Can Be Heroes

➢ Videos of Robert Elms and Chris Sullivan telling their “Ribald tales of excess”

We Can Be Heroes, photography, youth culture, nightclubbing,books,Unbound,Graham Smith, Chris Sullivan,

Latest cover for Graham Smith’s history of clubland featuring Clare with the Hair and George O’Dowd before he became Boy


➤ Index of posts for January

Boy George, John Themis, Bishop Porfyrios , icon,

Two-way exchange: Bishop Porfyrios reclaims his church’s 300-year-old icon of Christ in London, while as a thankyou, Boy George receives a modern version of Christ Pantokrator (right) from composer John Themis. Photo © AP

➢ George Michael celebrates his golden years of Faith

➢ Reliving the Blitz: two pocket fanzines and a request from Rusty Egan

➢ “Too posh for pop” — Grandpa Waterman condemns two decades of musicmakers

➢ 1981, Why naked heroes from antiquity stood in for Spandau on their first record sleeves

➢ Ferry backed by three bass players, Roxy back on the road — how cool is that?

Japan pop group, Mick Karn, Hammersmith Odeon , 1982, Sounds ,Chris Dorley-Brown

Karn onstage at Hammersmith Odeon, November 17, 1982: Japan’s final UK tour. Photographed for Sounds © by Chris Dorley-Brown

➢ 1981, The day they sold The Times, both Timeses

➢ George makes saintly gesture over stolen icon

➢ 1981, How Adam stomped his way across the charts to thwart the nascent New Romantics

➢ Life? Tough? At the Blitz reunion, Rusty delivers a message to today’s 20-year-olds (TV news video)

➢ The unknown Mr Big behind London’s landmark nightspot makes his return to the Blitz

➢ Va-va-vooom! goes the world’s smallest portable record player

➢ F-A-B! Thunderbirds stamps are go!

➢ Julia and Gaz share their secrets for ageing disgracefully

Return To The Blitz , Steve Strange, Rusty Egan, Red Rooms, Blitz Kids, New Romantics

Motormouths back in action: Strange and Egan interviewed on BBC London news in the club where they once reigned. Such were members’ powers of self-promotion at the Blitz, Egan said, that it was the 80s equivalent of Facebook Live!

➢ 2011, Strange and Egan return to the Blitz to kick off the 20-tweens

➢ 200 new acts tipped for the new year in music

➢ Most popular bits of Shapersofthe80s during 2010

➢ Farewell Mick Karn, master of the bass and harbinger for the New Romantics

➢ Prescott says Postlethwaite’s Brassed Off speech inspired New Labour in 1997

➢ Discover Ubu while Christopher Walken takes flight to Fatboy Slim

➢ Happy New Year from Frosty The Snowman and The Ronettes — and hear the smash that changed the sound of 60s pop

➢ List of posts for December 2010

The Ronettes, Phil Spector, Frosty the Snowman, Be My Baby, Wall of Sound, 1963

The Ronettes in 1963: beehive hair-dos and producer Phil Spector