Tag Archives: Steve Strange

1982 ➤ Strange takes UK clubbing mainstream

Koko, Camden Theatre, Camden Palace, nightclubbing, music venue, fire, architecture, Music Machine,

Steve Strange in 1982: for ever being filmed at Camden Palace

40
YEARS
ON

❏ In the same season that Next opened its first shops in Britain to bring colour to the high street, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan went mainstream with their first mega-club venue for the growing generation of nightlifers who had discovered that dressing up could change your life. On this day in April 1982, Strange & Egan began fronting what became the Camden Palace a couple of nights a week, way north of London’s West End. This huge Edwardian theatre was most famous in the postwar years as BBC radio’s studio for recording the Goon Shows.

Within its first year and open five nights a week, the Palace came to offer easily the best night out in London because, as well as the usual delights, this poser’s paradise won a reputation for offering more. The world’s media and photographers learned this was the fashionable place to find the next big thing and on the crowded stairways here, posing truly began to pay its way…

During 1982 mega-clubs began appearing across the country, from the Hacienda in Manchester to Rock City in Nottingham and the Academy in Bournemouth. Click below to read my report in the Evening Standard nailing how streetwise New Romantic followers set about expressing their inner talents in ways that helped transform rampant unemployment into a jobs market in which the young began to thrive…

Camden Palace, nightclubbing, Steve Strange

First published in the Evening Standard, 11 May 1983

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1983, A silly hat and a calculated look might be
the best career move you’ve ever made

London, nightlife

Palace forecourt 1983: in their circle of peers everyone in this picture is a household name. Picture © by David Montgomery

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
2020, Second time unlucky as fire ravages
the former Camden Palace nightspot

➢ 2022, On 29 April Koko, the renamed Camden Palace,
reopens as a state-of-the-art venue after massive refurbs
including a new roof garden. Arcade Fire plays live

Koko, nightclub, London, reopens, live venue

Koko in 2022: a roof-terrace bar as part of its £70m refurbishment

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2021 ➤ So what’s the Bowie premium as Judi’s Ashes hat goes for sale?

Steve Strange, Judith Frankland, Blitz Kids, fashion, Ashes to Ashes, David Bowie, pop video,

Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video 1980: Steve Strange at left and Judi Frankland at right, wearing the hat going for auction on 7 December. (Video © 1983 Jones Music / EMI Records Ltd)

Updated on 6 December 2021

❚ A FAMOUS OWNER can certainly bestow prestige on a work of art. Indeed when Bowie’s own contemporary art collection went for auction at Sotheby’s in 2016 there was an online frenzy to snap up most of the 147 items – at prices which were mostly two to four times greater than the auctioneer’s top estimates. Some artists managed to attract TEN TIMES their top asking price, specifically Picasso, Kokoschka, Gill, Alexander Mckenzie, David Jones, Stephen Finer, Clive Shepherd, Eric Heckel, Johann Garber, Ivon Hitchens, Maurice Cockrill.

You could call those sizeably inflated extra costs a “Bowie premium” and a lot of people were prepared to pay hair-raising prices depending on their determination to own a piece of Bowie’s legacy.

Step forward Steve Strange, or rather since Steve is sadly no longer with us, step forward fashion designer Judi Frankland, one of the wildest of clubland’s Blitz Kids, best known for some of her fab 1980 degree collection immortalised in Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video. There, Steve Strange sports more than one hat, most famously the ornate veiled head-dress made of stiffened lace on a metal frame by Stephen Jones, worn with Judi’s black wedding dress in long shots. But he also sports another smaller, snugger hat in certain chorus close-ups on the beach and later in the studio.

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1980, Bowie recruits Blitz Kids
for his Ashes video

This titfer had initially been thought to be the one described today by a London auctioneer as a “wide pleated chiffon band and large taffeta bow to rear”, which is being offered for sale on 7th December for £200-£300. Designed by Judi to coordinate with her degree-show collection, the hat was, she says, made by Fiona Dealey and Richard Ostell together in the days when student pals helped out on each other’s major collections. Both of them boast significant reputations today.

An initial description and provenance had been provided by the seller, who is not known to Judi. Since first posting, however, the auctioneer initiated a long phone conversation on Monday with Judi, from which it turns out that the hat for sale was worn by Judi herself in the video as the bow arrangement at rear had originally stood high in the air, whereas today it is folded flat. So two or even three price premiums come into play here to determine the market value of this chic little titfer 40 years after Judi designed it. For making it famous, a Bowie premium of two to four times the estimated price, would bump its worth up to, say, £900; plus a Steve Strange premium for sporting Judi’s collection in the Ashes video shoots. And now perhaps a Frankland premium too!

Judith Frankland, Blitz Kids, fashion, Ashes to Ashes, Kerry Taylor Auctions,

Former Blitz Kid Judi Frankland: Her latest voile and taffeta creation with capelets is crowned with a hat of maribou feathers… Right, her 1980 hat for sale with chiffon band and taffeta bow, photographed by Kerry Taylor Auctions

So what is a Steve Strange premium worth? Remember that other auction last March when Auction Antiques in Exeter sold an Issey Miyake suit belonging to David Bowie, which he supposedly discarded in the Blitz Club after burning it with a cigarette (yet the date cited, 1982, was long after the Blitz had closed!)? Steve Strange took it home and following his death in 2015 it was inherited by his long-time friend Jayce Lewis who subsequently offered it for sale via Auction Antiques who reckoned it could fetch an estimated £10,000-£15,000. Trouble was, in this sale there were so few bids that it yielded only £8,000, which you could interpret as the “Strange premium” proving to be more like a forfeit of 36%. Apply that to Judi’s hat and its possible worth comes down to around £576. Which is better than nothing, obvs. Now we hear that absent-minded Judi herself sported the hat in Ashes to Ashes, so we really ought to sprinkle some Frankland stardust on the price so let’s say it’s worth £700 to a buyer!

hats, Judith Frankland, Blitz Kids, fashion, Ashes to Ashes, David Bowie, pop video,

The Frankland hat for sale in 2021: here in the bonfire scene in Ashes to Ashes

Kerry Taylor Auctions in London sells vintage fashion worn by such celebs as Princess Di and Amy Winehouse. And next week they’re selling Judi’s long-lost hat as Lot 155A in their Passion for Fashion sale. The website tells a tale of its current owner Roz Corrigan wearing it on the eve she met her future husband. Aw, sweet.

Dear old Judi can’t even remember how the hat vanished from her Cranley Gardens flat way back when. “I have no doubt it’s my hat,” she tells me, having seen the photos online. “It was possibly crushed in my wardrobe as I was as bad as Steve was with my frocks.” She recalls how her sensational black wedding dress had returned from the seaside video location covered in mud and make-up and vanished into the recess Steve Strange called his wardrobe, never to be seen again. She adds however: “That hat would never have stood a chance of surviving if it had stayed with me and not been given away.”

➢ The Kerry Taylor auction Passion for Fashion starts at 1pm on Tue, 7th Dec 2021, both in Bermondsey (booking essential) and online

UNCANNILY AS PREDICTED HERE,
JUDI’S HAT GOES FOR £700

Updated on 7 December 2021
❏ The hat-trick of hot names Bowie/Strange/Frankland meant that during a speedy round of intense bidding at today’s international online auction, Judi’s chiffon-taffeta number hit exactly the hammer price of £700 which we predicted yesterday. So well done Ms Frankland for beating the auctioneer’s mid-point estimate by 280% !!! In real money the hammer price grosses up to £1,050 after premium and VAT are added.

Coincidentally, in this Kerry Taylor auction of 265 fashion items from many nations and periods, among the household names selling either side of Judi’s 1980 hat, about 30 items performed remarkably well. Four garments bearing the 1970s Biba label sold for about four times their top estimates, as did an Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell chiffon dress. Half a dozen Vivienne Westwood outfits (Pirates/Punkature) went for at least twice their estimates amid fiercely competitive bidding, while a sensational Issey Miyake moulded breastplate from 1980 clocked £32,000. What proved shockingly disappointing was to see a string of striking John Galliano skirts and jackets from around 1986-88 only just hit their estimates, while one delicious woollen pouch dress from his Forgotten Innocents collection on offer for £10,000 failed to reach its reserve with a bid of “only” £7,500, so remains unsold!

Michael Reason, Melbourne Museum, fashion, collector,

Michael Reason: who placed the top bid for Judi Frankland’s 1980 hat at auction this week

AND THE WINNER IS
MICHAEL IN MELBOURNE

Updated on 9 December 2021
❏ So now we know who won Judi Frankland’s chiffon-taffeta titfer in Tuesday’s auction. Michael Reason posted his comment (below) glowing with pride at now owning a talisman from Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video, “which has meant so much to me since I first saw it as a gay teenager in the 1980s”. We’ve been hearing more about him…

Michael grew up in Tasmania, moved to Melbourne to study and is today the Curator of Leisure and Social Spaces at Melbourne Museum. Because Australia’s time difference placed the auction in the early hours, he says, “I almost didn’t bother staying up, as I had this feeling that such an iconic piece of fashion/music history would command a four-figure sum. I mean, what else is ever going to turn up from the Ashes to Ashes video? The ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition came to Melbourne in 2015, just before he died, and the Pierrot suit was featured, but I’ve never seen anything else.

“I was actually more excited that the hat was worn by Judith in the video, rather than Steve Strange, as I’ve always admired her work. I’m sure it will end up in an appropriate gallery one day, but I will certainly enjoy it until then.”

Twiggy Boutique, minidress, fashion, Dolce & Gabbana, Joanna Lumley, Michael Reason,auctions,

Garments previously bought at auction by collector Michael Reason: Twiggy Boutique duck-egg blue synthetic minidress, 1967-70; and Dolce & Gabbana floral print jacket worn by Joanna Lumley as Patsy in TV’s Absolutely Fabulous in 2000. Photography courtesy of Kerry Taylor Auctions

As a lover of fashion and design, Michael adds: “Our sister organisation, the National Gallery of Victoria, collects more internationally, and with a narrower definition of fashion. I recently donated two items to them, a Vivienne Westwood toile dress and a Twiggy Boutique mini-dress.” He also acquired through Kerry Taylor Auctions a floral print D&G jacket worn by Patsy in three episodes of Ab Fab, Patsy’s D&G shoes and fishnet stockings from another, plus Anne’s costume from Little Britain.

Recently he has been working with Australian fashion designer Jenny Bannister, “known for her interest in upcycling and trashion”, he says, with much of her clothing now part of his Museum’s collection.

Best news of all, Michael adds: “I was thinking that I’d look at having Judith’s bow unstitched, to try and restore its original silhouette. I’m sure it could be done without causing damage.” It’s a proposal Judi greets with delight: “I hope Michael does put the bow right. Why on earth anyone stitched it flat, I don’t know. The silhouette is what made it so fabulous.”

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

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: 2011, A swelle hello from upstart Judith

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2001 ➤ Blitz Kids nail the rites for a Tuesday night out

Blitz Kids, New Romantics, Spandau Ballet, pop music, fashion

Before the phrase New Romantics had been invented: Blitz Kids queue for Spandau Ballet’s second pivotal concert at the Scala Cinema in May 1980

20 & 40
YEARS
ON

❚ BBC4 REMINDED UK AUDIENCES this week how entertaining were many of the Blitz Kids who set the New Romantics ball rolling 40 years ago. When the documentary The New Romantics: A Fine Romance was made in 2001, these talking heads were of course 20 years younger than they are today and full of fizz.

However BBC Manchester fell for some faulty memories that had gelled into mythological “truths” to create several laugh-out-loud howlers in the voice-over script as the price of believing odd Blitz Kid fantasies. Another irritation, amid much classic vintage footage, was the repeated montaging of film footage irrelevant to the Blitz club-night run by gender-bending Steve Strange and electro-deejay Rusty Egan, mainly because no more than about 11 minutes of live footage inside the Tuesday-night Blitz exist, and only one of which was used in this doc. That’s history for you. Set in video.

At least we can enjoy the many gnomic quips tossed out by the stars of 1980’s clubworld during the 48-minutes of A Fine Romance…

St Martin’s designer Fiona Dealey on the New Romantic credo: “Dressing for the Blitz was REAL THEATRE. It wasn’t just another uniform.”

Blitz Kid Stephen Linard’s trade secret: “Make-up was the big thing: make-up and Elnett. We used to get our make-up DONE FOR NOTHING down at Selfridges at half-past five and the girls there would do a makeover on you.”

Steve Strange on the term New Romantics: “I’d rather call it THE CULT WITH NO NAME, because the papers can never put one finger on it.”

Rusty Egan on gender confusion at the Blitz: “By the end of the night you’d hope to go home with someone – same sex, opposite sex, NO SEX AT ALL, you were never quite sure.”

Spandau manager Steve Dagger on their music: “Over the period 78-79 in the rehearsal studio the band gradually changed from a rock-pop sound to a modern SYNTHESISED TYPE DANCE SOUND.”

Duran’s Nick Rhodes on first seeing Spandau Ballet live in Birmingham in 1980: “We saw them play at the Botanical Gardens and when we left we were smiling. We just said: WHAT’S THAT ABOUT?”

New Romantics, Duran Duran, pop music, frilly shirts, Top of the Pops

Happy even to work “New Romantic” into their lyrics: frilly Duran Duran’s debut on Top of the Pops in March 1981

“Boy” George O’Dowd: “Duran Duran brought the FRILLY SHIRT through to the masses.”

Gary Kemp on shooting Spandau Ballet’s video for Chant No 1 at the Beat Route club in 1981: “That was our LAST HOORAH – Spandau being part of this movement.”

Spandau manager Steve Dagger on the early 80s: “There was this COLOURFUL BANG which revitalised pop culture and fashion and London as a swinging city.”

Robert Elms on the clubbing revolution initiated by the Blitz Kids: “It introduced one-off nightclubs, warehouse parties, the deejay as the centre of attention, clubs where they tell you you can’t come in UNLESS YOU LOOK RIGHT. None of that had existed before.”

George O’Dowd speaking as an old Boy: “Strange and Egan were the gruesome twosome of the time – the HINGE AND BRACKET of New Romanticism.”

➢ View A Fine Romance (BBC Manchester 2001,
last shown 2015, on iPlayer now for another month)

➢ Says one observer: “If you stepped out and didn’t get
abuse, you hadn’t done it right” – Daily Mail review, 2001

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
How real did 1980 feel? Ex-Blitz Kids give verdicts on the TV play about Boy George, Worried About the Boy in 2010

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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.

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

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 [Corinne] ‘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.

Bowie,Ashes to Ashes , video,Blitz Kids

Bowie’s chorus near 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 leaves 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.

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

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 O’Dowd and Michele Clapton, 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 £35,000 (about £151,000 in today’s money). The whole dreamscape was enhanced with 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.

At the time 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 Gretchen Fenston his hat, while 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 grosgrain 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. All would soon be finding fame in the fashion business, with Elise becoming one of Premier’s leading models.

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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.”

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

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, which was originally titled People Are Turning to Gold… Bowie storyboarded the visuals himself (“actually drew it frame for frame,” he said) to include 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 JCB bulldozer (that Bowie had spotted parked up near the beach and hired on impulse) to signify “oncoming violence” and 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”.

All of which suggested a surreal sweeping away of the past, capped by the unleashing of the dove as an emblem of ritual cleansing, and so paving a way for the future. In September 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)

FRONT PAGE

➤ 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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