Former door-girl at the Blitz: “Your Look isn’t extreme enough, you’re not coming in!” Janet Lyon guards the door to Lucy Bell’s photo gallery in St Leonards where vintage Blitz Kids gathered to view themselves in their prime
+++ ◼ EVERY TUESDAY FOR A YEAR as the 1980s dawned, Steve Strange had been declaring a “private party” in the shabby Blitz wine bar near London’s Covent Garden. Inside, precocious 19-year-olds presented an eye-stopping collage, posing away as stiletto-heeled vamps dressed for cocktails in a Berlin cabaret. Others came as wicked witches, kohl-eyed ghouls, futuristic man machines. Bored by the nihilism of punk with its message of “No future”, these school-leavers were determined to shape a future for themselves. At the Blitz only outrage secured entry: and some Blitz Kids spent the whole of Tuesday perfecting their Look.
Last Thursday in Sussex, previously unseen images taken in 1980 inside the club by ex-Time magazine photographer Terry Smith went on show and for sale for the next six weeks. In the spirit of the Blitz, we set up a snap of Janet Lyon with a red rope barrier on the door at Lucy Bell’s gallery for this week’s Private View. Back in the day Janet helped Steve Strange to vet new arrivals by judging how much wit and outrage they had invested in their Look. Turn inside to read our report on the vintage Blitz Kids and others who made it past the door. . .
Listen out at 8am tomorrow: Sue Tilley at home with the Crocker miniatures
❚ WHAT A BRILLIANT WAY to promote a good cause! Every fan of Sue Tilley will instantly recognise these tiny models on her table top in Bethnal Green. Here she is depicted asleep on the sofa in the studio of Lucian Freud and on the painter’s 1995 canvas titled Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (Sue’s occupation at that time) (supervising, not sleeping!). Not only did Ms Tilley become a face about the 80s known as Big Sue by vetting on the doors of London’s wildest club-nights, but soon after was made a notorious muse in the paintings of the German-born Freud who died in 2011. A grandson of Sigmund Freud, he fled Nazi Germany with his family in 1933 to be granted British citizenship, settle in London and become widely considered as the pre-eminent British artist of his age. In 2008 his painting of Sue set a world record auction price for a living artist when it sold for $33.6m.
Sue’s urgent message is: “I’m sure that you all listen to Inspirit on BBC Radio London on Sunday mornings… Anyway I’m on tomorrow at about 8am talking about Red Cross Refugee Week. This year’s awareness campaign conveys a really important message: that refugees have made huge contributions to all aspects of life in this country.”
The spectacular clay models were created as street art in collaboration with the British Red Cross for Refugee Week (June 17–24) by Leeds University sociology graduate Marcus Crocker who chose to remember the roots of some very famous people. He says the tiny sculptures celebrate the huge impact that refugees make on British history and they are scattered around London near sites with which they are associated (Freud outside National Gallery; Italian-born Richard Rogers as architect of the O2 dome; Zanzibarian Freddie Mercury at Dominion theatre).
Sculpture by Marcus Crocker outside the National Gallery: recreating the artist Lucian Freud painting his famous portrait of Sue Tilley, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995). Photography Matthew Percival
This small: sculpture by Marcus Crocker outside the National Gallery
As a self-taught artist, Crocker says he decided recently on making sculptures that look at social problems and address them in a new way. An earlier series, Winter Warmer, highlighted the struggle faced by the homeless in cold weather.
Sue says of the Red Cross campaign: “Modelling for Lucian was an unforgettable experience for me and to have that time recreated in street art is fantastic. The models are incredible. The UK should be proud of giving refugees the opportunity to rebuild theirs lives in society.”
Posing for the press: Sue Tilley, whom Lucian Freud painted in Benefits Supervisor Sleeping 1995 (left), seen at the Lucian Freud Portraits exhibition this week at the NPG. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images Europe)
❚ YESTERDAY SHE WAS QUIETLY CHUFFED on her Facebook page. This morning she’s a hot topic in the national papers. And for the next four months Sue Tilley is all over the National Portrait Gallery in a retrospective exhibition of the British painter Lucian Freud, who died last year. The 80s nightclub doorgirl known as Big Sue is famously the subject of Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, the most valuable painting ever to be sold by a living artist. Freud’s nude portrait of Sue — since promoted from benefits supervisor to manager of a Jobcentre Plus in central London — acquired its unique status after it went under the hammer for $33.6m (£17.2m) to Roman Abramovich, the ninth richest person in Russia, at Christie’s New York in May 2008.
She said at the time: “My life’s changed overnight. I’m beside myself, but then lovely things are always happening to me. Still, I’m not surprised — in a way, I always thought this might happen. I love that painting.” There are four paintings of Sue in the new exhibition. She said: “I like two of them, I don’t mind one of them and I hate one of them.”
London clubland knew Sue from vetting the door at Taboo, Leigh Bowery’s now-fabled one-nighter, on Leicester Square from 1985 to 87, as well as the Abba night off Hanover Square. After Bowery — a performance artist and “an icon of outrage” — had become a model for the painter Freud, he introduced them and Sue also posed for a series of portraits in the mid-90s. After Bowery died of Aids in 1994, she was invited to write his obituary for The Guardian, which directly inspired his biography, Life and Times of an Icon, which was published by Hodder in 1997.
SUDDENLY ON FACEBOOK
The first most of us knew of this new round of fame was an uncharacteristic namedrop on Facebook about 9pm on Weds… Sue Tilley I just met Kate Middleton and she was completely lovely. Michael D Herbage She just texted the Queen with excitement at meeting you! Claire Lawrie Was she signing on? David J Deaves She didn’t pose naked for Lucian, did she? Alison Atkinson Maybe you could ask her to hook you up with her brother-in-law! Amanda Foxley Wow — just saw u on tv here in Australia, fantastic! Tami Longhurst Hi Sue, Just saw you on the evening news at the National Portrait — they said that Kate met Sue Tilley Lucian’s “most famous sitter”. Fantastic.
Crying out for speech bubbles: Sue Tilley meets Kate aka Duchess of Cambridge, with NPG director Sandy Nairne. (Photo by Jorge Herrera/WireImage)
Finally Sue couldn’t resist posting the photo of herself talking to the Duchess of Cambridge, aka Kate Middleton, wife of Wills, our future king.
Facebook Thurs 4pm… Sue Tilley Right… now I’m really showing off. [Posts the above pic, wow!] Charlie Condou Kate’s saying, “Didn’t we meet once in the loos at Kinky Gerlinky?” Sue Tilley Charlie, you’ve hit the nail on the head… Then she said, “Do you wanna come up Trannyshack afterwards?” I asked her where she got all the jokes she puts on Twitter! Dean Bright I saw you on News at 10. Emma Peake Thrilled to see your Christmas necklace making its royal debut — a vicarious delight! Sam McKnight She’s eyeing your do. Mark my words the “Big Sue” will be the new Pob! Gary Irwin Is that Sven Goran Eriksson? David Power Sue, are you inviting her to Taboo?
Laters… Sue Tilley After all yesterday’s excitement I’ve now got to spend today finishing packing… It is a bit weird that tonight will be my last night in this flat I have lived in for 30 years… a lot of ghosts are going to be rattling about… Just paid maybe my last visit to Camden Town as a resident… Saw Rob the handsome contestant from the last British Bake Off, then a fabulous tranny and then a gorgeous lorry driver shouted “I saw you on the telly yesterday” … I’m going to miss the funny old place.
Benefits Supervisor Sleeping was bought by Roman Abramovitch, the Russian tycoon and Chelsea FC owner, for a record £17.2 million. Freud died last summer, aged 88, and Miss Tilley described him as “a marvel, really, a complete one-off”. She said: “Do you know, there wasn’t one bad moment sitting for Lucian, excepting the painting when I was lying on the floor — that wasn’t overly comfortable. But it was such an interesting experience. He’s a person you’ll never meet again. Really, he did what he wanted and that was that. I think that’s a trait to be admired. I wish more of us were crazy enough to do that. ”
➢ Duchess of Cambridge carries out first public engagement
without Wills “ The 30-year-old duchess is taking advantage of the prince’s controversial six-week deployment to the Falkland Islands in order to make her mark as a working member of the Royal Family. [Kate] studied history of art at St Andrew’s University, where she met Prince William, coming away with an eminently respectable 2:1. ” (The paper noted she was wearing Jimmy Choo “Cosmic” heels.)
➢ Lucian Freud Portraits runs at the National Portrait Gallery, London, Feb 9–May 27 — 130 paintings and works on paper loaned from collections throughout the world, from the 1940s right through to his last, unfinished work. Born in Berlin, he was the grandson of Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis, and moved to London to escape Nazi oppression in 1933, though Sigmund did not flee until 1938. Lucian was known for his intense portraits, especially of nudes, and Time magazine critic Robert Hughes proclaimed him “the greatest living realist painter”.
Vintage deejays at Vintage 2011: original Blitz Kids such as Princess Julia and Chris Sullivan will be spinning the vinyl to recreate legendary 80s club soundtracks from the Blitz to the Wag
+++ ❚ VINTAGE 2011 IS A MUSIC AND DRESS-UP festival indoors at London’s Southbank Centre (so without the mud), curated by Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway. This three-day party from Friday July 29 celebrates seven decades of British cool from the 1920s to the 80s. Taking its lead from the Festival of Britain (1951), the blurb says there is no single creative focus, just hours of music, fashion, film, art, design and dance each day.
All levels of the Royal Festival Hall are transformed into a multi-venue playground, with ten vintage nightclubs such as The Soul Casino, Let it Rock, The Torch Club and The Leisure Lounge. New this year are The Studio, Prohibition Room, The Bunker Club and the North South Divide. In total there’ll be 70 live performances, 150 deejays, exclusive catwalk shows with Jo Wood and Pearl and Daisy Lowe; decade specific make-overs; vintage food and cocktails and 250 sellers at the vintage marketplace. Each day sees a major Revue in the main auitorium: Heaven 17, Alan Wilder and Thomas Dolby, for example, in Friday’s Electronic Revue… Percy Sledge in Saturday’s Soul Revue… David McAlmont, Sandie Shaw and more in Sunday’s Hit Parade.
Sue Tilley: catwalk show celebrating 80s nightlife
Now take a deep breath. On the Friday at 6pm Cavalcade of the 80s is a catwalk fashion show presented by Sue Tilley, Leigh Bowery’s biographer and Lucian Freud model. Sue says: “Bodymap are showing about six outfits with models including Barry Kamen and Les Child… There is going to be an Antony Price dress… Kim Jones is lending some Leigh Bowery originals… Rachel Auburn is recreating one of her outfits. And there’s the second performance this year after 28 years of the 80s club sensations The Trindys.” The models will include friends from the 80s plus new club kids Daniel Lismore and Felicity Hayward. [“My idea of the 80s”— Sue Tilley interviewed at Dazed Digital]
On Saturday the RFH Penthouse venue goes “back to the futurists” and the New Romantic Blitz Club era with 80s three genuine Blitz Kid super-deejays Princess Julia, Jeffrey Hinton and Mark Moore.
At her blog The World of Princess Julia, the doyenne of clubland deejays gives a quick rundown on how she graduated from the Blitz Club cloakroom to the wheels of steel and says of Vintage: “I think I’ll play a mixture of music that has played a part in my deejay career. It will range from post-punk electronica, disco, retro pop, dance and anything else I find at the bottom of my handbag.”
Classic Album Sundays and Bowers & Wilkins present the Best British Albums at Vintage in four two-hour listening sessions each day in the St Paul’s Pavilion. At 7.30 on Saturday Mark Moore will be introducing Joy Division’s Closer album and the record will be played in its entirety (from vinyl of course) over fab B&W audio kit.
Funk royalty: Chris Hill (left) plays the Vintage festival, but what about Robbie Vincent?
For Sunday night in the Penthouse Chris Sullivan — the original Wag Club host for 19 years and Uber-Shaper of the 80s — recreates the funkier, post-Romantic spirit of Le Beat Route (1980–83, zoot suits) and the Wag (1982+ ripped jeans and Celebrity Squares) along with other gods among dance deejays Paul Murphy and Jay Strongman (who also plays Warehouse on Friday and Let It Rock, Saturday).
Over in the Soul Casino the funk legend that is Chris Hill joins the legends who are Norman Jay and Colin Curtis. Tsssss! Have the Hemingways got any inkling of exactly how many galaxies of star quality they have booked?
In all likelihood, Sullivan says: “There might well be a bit of dancing.” When asked what he’s going to play first to get feet kicking, he responded: “Might well be one of THE great recordings, Eddie Kendricks – Keep on Truckin. Lyrically it’s just there. What a Bobby dazzler!”
Ticket prices are frankly a sting, starting at £60 (wince!), since you are the star turn at this DIY event, but dedicated followers of fashion not yet squeezed by the recession aren’t likely to complain.
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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
➢ WELCOME to the Swinging 80s ➢ THE BLOG POSTS on this front page report topical updates ➢ ROLL OVER THE MENU at page top to go deeper into the past ➢ FOR NEWS & MONTH BY MONTH SEARCH scroll down this sidebar
❏ 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”.
SEARCH our 800 posts or ZOOM DOWN TO THE ARCHIVE INDEX
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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