The two Welsh soul-boys, one straight, one gay, who shaped the future of 80s clubland: Chris Sullivan went on to run Soho’s Wag club for 19 years… And Steve Strange, whose Blitz legacy landed him and deejay Rusty Egan the mighty Camden Palace in 1982
+++ ◼ IN 1980 THE BLITZ CLUB ENTERED its second year: here was your invitation to the Swinging 80s, where daily life would never sound or feel the same again. Paris and New York had taken the cultural lead during the recessionary 70s; now London was to become the creative powerhouse as Britain rode out dark times and its youth culture leapt back into the world spotlight.
In February 1979, the axis of Steve Strange as Tuesday-night greeter and Rusty Egan as deejay had graduated from Billy’s in Soho to the Blitz in Covent Garden. This was a bar decorated with Second World War austerity that was thought to echo the down at heel 70s: bare floorboards, gingham tablecloths, hanging lights with dusty enamel shades, framed pictures of our wartime leader Churchill.
In the post-punk no-wave vacuum, the Blitz’s manager, Brendan Connolly, had been struggling to promote intimate cabaret, and the dressy crowd fostered at Billy’s were cabaret incarnate. Nevertheless it took a full year before the new spirit of optimism expressing itself through fashion caught the attention of the savvy media which in April 1980 included photographer Terry Smith shooting for TIME magazine.
Now in retirement, Terry has exhumed rolls of his film and chosen the best of his colour slides for Shapers of the 80s to publish exclusively. Earlier this week we unveiled 20 of his choice images inside the Blitz and today we showcase a further ten. More to follow on Tuesday.
+++ ◼ A SURPRISING NEW CACHE of photographs of the Blitz Club in colour has been discovered from the spring of 1980 when TIME magazine asked British photographer Terry Smith to turn his lens on the nightlife posers at Covent Garden’s Blitz Club. They were to become feted as the New Romantics.
Tuesdays at the Blitz were all ritual. Everyone supped and danced on the same spot every week according to some invisible floorplan: downstairs near the bar stood the boys in the band (no make-up), their media and management by the stairs, credible punk legends such as Siouxsie Sioux along the bar, suburban wannabes beside the dancefloor.
Deep within the club, around Rusty Egan’s deejay booth, were the dedicated dancing feet, the white-faced shock troops, the fashionista elite – either there or near the cloakroom, ruled first by Julia Fodor (still going strong as deejay Princess Julia) and later by George O’Dowd (known today as ex-jailbird Boy George). Downstairs, the women’s loo was hijacked, naturally, by boys who would be girls. Upstairs on the railway banquettes might be respected alumni from an earlier London: film-maker Derek Jarman, artists Brian Clarke and Kevin Whitney, designers Antony Price and Zandra Rhodes…
+++ ◼ AN ENORMOUS NEW CACHE of photographs of the Blitz Club in colour has been discovered from the spring of 1980 when the UK media started to take an interest in the Tuesday-night antics of the nightlife posers at Covent Garden’s Blitz Club. They were to become celebrated as the Blitz Kids by some and as New Romantics by others. Until this moment it has been easy to count the number of surviving professional pictures ever taken inside the Blitz during its 20-month life – all of them in black-and-white – and the total doesn’t even approach 100.
Now a call to Shapers of the 80s by the British photographer Terry Smith has unearthed probably 300 more images, commissioned by Time magazine. Many of them are in glorious colour, shedding extra light on the creativity of the night-owls who were in the throes of transforming the fashion and pop landscape of Britain in the Swinging 80s.
Shapers of the 80s today showcases the first of four batches of Terry’s pictures capturing the Blitz in colour, while a selling exhibition of his black-and-white images is preparing to open on 7 June in St Leonards-on-Sea.
Incognito on the Northern Line: Philip Sallon and popstar Jarvis with mystery man
❚ WHO ARE THE TWO DASHING MEN in the life of Philip Sallon, the well-known 80s Mud club host, Dollis Hill socialite and Grade 1 listed National Treasure who doubles as a Different Person Depending On Day of Week? My exclusive sources papped the celebrity eccentric earlier today, dressed as Pinocchio, the Italian woodcarver’s apprentice who was created as a wooden puppet but dreamed of becoming a real boy. Ironic or what?
Despite being a household name on five continents, Pinocchio Sallon does normal things like popping into his local Aldi for cheese slices and hunting down two-for-one bargains. He queues for the bus and commutes into town on the Northern Line, like any other Londoner. The big surprise is to see him travelling in the company of Jarvis, the bearded geek and singer with Britpop group Plop. But a question mark hangs over the identity of the third man, a handsome silver fox of striking aspect and expensively veneered teeth, who Jarvis has clearly taken a shine to.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear tomorrow’s Bazaar column in the Currant Bun speculating on the name of Jarvis’s new squeeze.
Aldi essentials … Most pix by Paul Sturridge
Sallon snapped on the London underground … Pinocchio drawn by Nadir Quinto
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MORE INTERESTING THAN MOST PEOPLE’S FANTASIES — THE SWINGING EIGHTIES 1978-1984
They didn’t call themselves New Romantics, or the Blitz Kids – but other people did.
“I’d find people at the Blitz who were possible only in my imagination. But they were real” — Stephen Jones, hatmaker, 1983. (Illustration courtesy Iain R Webb, 1983)
“The truth about those Blitz club people was more interesting than most people’s fantasies” — Steve Dagger, pop group manager, 1983
“See David Johnson’s fabulously detailed website Shapers of the 80s to which I am hugely indebted” – Political historian Dominic Sandbrook, in his book Who Dares Wins, 2019
“The (velvet) goldmine that is Shapers of the 80s” – Verdict of Chris O’Leary, respected author and blogger who analyses Bowie song by song at Pushing Ahead of the Dame
“The rather brilliant Shapers of the 80s website” – Dylan Jones in his Sweet Dreams paperback, 2021
A UNIQUE HISTORY
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❏ Header artwork by Kat Starchild shows Blitz Kids Darla Jane Gilroy, Elise Brazier, Judi Frankland and Steve Strange, with David Bowie at centre in his 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes
VINCENT ON AIR 2022
✱ Deejay legend Robbie Vincent returned to JazzFM on Sundays 1-3pm in 2021… Catch Robbie’s JazzFM August Bank Holiday 2020 session thanks to AhhhhhSoul with four hours of “nothing but essential rhythms of soul, jazz and funk”.
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UNTOLD BLITZ STORIES
✱ If you thought there was no more to know about the birth of Blitz culture in 1980 then get your hands on a sensational book by an obsessive music fan called David Barrat. It is gripping, original and epic – a spooky tale of coincidence and parallel lives as mind-tingling as a Sherlock Holmes yarn. Titled both New Romantics Who Never Were and The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet! Sample this initial taster here at Shapers of the 80s
CHEWING THE FAT
✱ Jawing at Soho Radio on the 80s clubland revolution (from 32 mins) and on art (@55 mins) is probably the most influential shaper of the 80s, former Wag-club director Chris Sullivan (pictured) with editor of this website David Johnson
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