Tag Archives: Ultravox

1981 ➤ Hot days, cool nights, as Blue Rondo join the new Brits changing the pop charts

Blue Rondo à la Turk , pop music, 1981

Blue Rondo’s official debut in Chelmsford, June 1981: Moses Mount Bassie, Christos Tolera and Chris Sullivan front the seven-piece. Photograph © Shapersofthe80s

◼ “GET IN THE BACK OF THE VAN,” I was told on this day 30 years ago. “You’re coming for a ride.” Graham Ball was a club host empowered to open the trendiest of doors in Soho, so “No thanks” was not an option. “I’ve got a new band to show you. And you’re not quite going to believe what you’ll hear and see.” He was, apparently, now also a manager. We arrived in blisteringly hot sunshine at a characterless modern pub in Chelmsford, Essex, well away from Soho clubland, and there of course were the rest of The Firm — the handful of sharp young dudes at least half the age of the grunters who dominated the pop industry, all being groomed by Spandau’s 23-year-old Steve Dagger to inherit the mysteries of management for a new generation of bands.

Assembling an assortment of instruments onstage were five, six, no, seven of the most variegated musicians you felt might belong in a special institution for their own safety. I had been invited to write the first piece about the craziest combo  inspired by London’s Blitz Club, which had closed the previous autumn, and by this summer they were but one among the slipstream of bands erupting on London’s burgeoning nightlife scene. From their opening vocals — “Oo-oo, aa-aa, mm-mm ah!” — Blue Rondo à la Turk were sensational, and my review appeared in the second issue of New Sounds New Styles. It took only three months before Rondo signed a deal and charted in November.

➢ Read that first review of Blue Rondo as they create a buzz with their new Latin sounds — from NSNS August 1981

This was the summer
of New Romance

Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Duran Duran, 1981

Leaders of the Romantics in 1981: Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Duran Duran

ON THIS DAY in 1981 the UK charts were bursting with the new generation of image-conscious British groups who whose linking of soul and electro-pop were to change the style and the rhythm of pop charts for ever. . .

Ultravox were enjoying their fifth hit single All Stood Still.
Linx were enjoying their third hit Throw Away the Key.
Spandau Ballet were enjoying their double-sided third hit single, Muscle Bound/Glow. At Easter they had also signalled their new funky direction by introducing Chant No 1, which would become London’s clubbing anthem and reach No 2 later this summer.
Duran Duran were enjoying their second hit Careless Memories.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark were enjoying their second hit Messages.
Japan were charting with The Art of Parties.
Landscape were charting with Norman Bates.
Shalamar (with honorary Brit and body-popping pioneer Jeffrey Daniel) were charting with A Night to Remember.

➢ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s: 100+ acts who set the style for the new music of the 1980s

Light of the World were charting with I’m So Happy.
Imagination were charting with their debut Body Talk.
The Human League entered the charts on this day with Empire State Human.
Depeche Mode’s second single New Life was soaring towards No 11.
Visage’s second hit single had just fallen out of the chart.
❏ Likewise Heaven 17’s debut Fascist Groove Thang.
❏ Likewise Altered Images’ debut Dead Pop Stars.
❏ Likewise Level 42 with their second hit, Love Games.
❏ And the honorary Brit, Kid Creole, was heading into the charts with his Coconuts and their debut single, Me No Pop I — a compulsively danceable new sound on Antilles introduced to London last year by i-D co-editor Perry Haines.

New Romantics, bands, Swinging 80s,Japan the band, pop music, Depeche Mode, Altered Images

Going Romantic in 1981: Japan the band, Depeche Mode, Altered Images

Oh, and two nights earlier at Le Beat Route I’d snapped the new boy in George O’Dowd’s life enjoying their first date. Nobody dreamt that George and Jon Moss would one day be putting together their own band.

♫ VIEW fine Northern Soul footwork from Rondo mentalists in this performance of Me and Mr Sanchez shot at the Venue in London:
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1981 ➤ New Romantics have their day — rearranging the deck-chairs at the posers’ ball

People’s Palace, Valentine Ball, New Romantics

Valentine ball, 1981: last gasp for the New Romantics. Photographed © by Caroline Greville-Morris

❚ VALENTINE’S DAY 1981 was not so much the Woodstock of the New Romantics movement, but more akin to a Scouts and Guides jamboree in a giant ornamental wigwam in north London. Instead of boasting proficiency in camping and camouflage, a few hundred suburban Romantics fluffed up their frills and plastered on the Pan Stik to parade their skills in masquerade and maquillage. The “People of Romance”, as the tickets described them, paid £3.50 for a long evening starting at 5pm. They were expected to hold their own as stars alongside the cult’s budding bands at a venue renamed for a day The People’s Palace.

Astoria Finsbury Park, church, cinema, London

Andalusian fantasy: balcony view of the 1930 Astoria Finsbury Park, now restored. Photographed 2008 © hjuk/Flickr

An auditorium in Finsbury Park made the perfect backdrop. When it opened in 1930, the Astoria was one of Europe’s flagship cinemas seating 3,000 people. Its gloriously kitsch interior architecture depicted an Andalusian village whose rooftops and twisted barley-sugar pillars climbed towards a horizon and the starlit indigo ceiling way above balcony level. For a decade from 1971 the theatre had become a live rock venue, hippily renamed the Rainbow, where finally the stalls had been deprived of seats in favour of dancing audiences. Later the very year it hosted the People’s Palace, the place was to fall into disuse for a decade and a half, before being rescued and restored by a Pentecostal church.

People’s Palace, Valentine Ball, New Romantics, Steve Strange

Steve Strange at the People’s Palace, 1981: plus loyal acolytes Myra, Judi and Mandy. In a fleeting fashion show, Judi showed six outfits which along with others for Strange’s videos helped shape the New Romantics silhouette. Photographed © by Caroline Greville-Morris

Thirty years ago today, posses of over-the-top Romantics incongruously wandered its vast auditorium and bars and cavernous Moorish lobby in search of photo opportunities. It seemed at times as if photographers outnumbered the cast. Richard Young, king of London’s celebrity snapperazzi, had arranged two sheets to create an impromptu studio where he was immortalising the generation who relished calling themselves posers, garbed from top to toe in bejewelled, befeathered lace and velvet and ridiculous hats.

People’s Palace, Valentine Ball, New Romantics

Performance contracts for the People’s Palace, 1981: Shock were paid £500, Metro £250 and Depeche Mode £50. Source: Rusty Egan archive

The soundtrack throughout was the latest electronic pop, spun on Rusty Egan’s turntables as well as played live onstage. On this Saturday Ultravox were arriving at No 2 in the singles chart with Vienna, and here at The People’s Palace they were topping a bill booked by the event’s promoters, Egan and Steve Strange, to capture the zeitgeist, even as the duo planned their next clubbing venture following the closure of their Blitz nights.

Much as Midge Ure protested about his band qualifying as New Romantics, in February ’81 any band toting synths ticked the box. Among supporting acts the then unknown Depeche Mode opened the live sets for a handsome fee of £50 in their first major performance off the clubbing circuit, one week before releasing their debut electro-single Dreaming of Me.

Metro band, pop, Future Imperfect, record sleevesPeter Godwin revived the new-wave band-name Metro, surfing in on the strength of their 1980 album Future Imperfect, followed by the dance troupe Shock, dressed by Birmingham’s Kahn and Bell, as exponents of the robotic dance-style across Britain’s clubland where their single Angel Face was a dancefloor hit.

Steve Strange had hoped to stage a splashy fashion show too, though according to Judi Frankland — who had featured with her outfits in Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video the previous summer and is visible second from right in the masthead for Shapersofthe80s — “The other designers pulled out at the last minute and as I was still under Steve’s spell he made me carry on and do a ‘show’ alone with a mere six outfits. When he pulled me onto the stage, ohhh that still makes me cringe! However the one good thing I got out of it was being on the same stage as my faves, still to this day, Depeche Mode. I keep bumping into lovely Dave Gahan every few years in the most unexpected places.”

Meanwhile most of the original Blitz Kids — who had animated the Bowie credo that behind a mask you can be anyone you wish — wouldn’t be seen dead at The People’s Palace. In the wake of chart success by Spandau Ballet and Visage, they were competing in a calculated dash towards fame and fortune in clubland, glossy mags and the music biz, whose singles charts by the summer of 1981 welcomed Landscape, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, The Human League, OMD, Level42, Duran Duran, Heaven 17, Altered Images and Imagination.

Like Midge, we can argue ad finitum whether these acts all technically counted as the New Romantics bandwagon, but they did play dance music, not rock — which defines the reformation that fundamentally vanquished rock to change the sound of the 80s charts — and all benefited from the momentum, as ABC’s Martin Fry later acknowledged. Most of them would, however, set about shaking off the hollow Romantics label in favour of their own musical tastes as soon it had served its purpose. For the moment, like the Titanic heading unwittingly towards its iceberg, the preening Lord Foppingtons and Lady Buxoms at the Rainbow were unaware that theirs was the last real gasp of The Cult That Had Gone Too Far. By Valentine’s Day 1982, there were so many new fashion factions that they would never have turned up for the same ball.

People’s Palace, Valentine Ball, New Romantics, Astoria Finsbury Park

Frills, tassels and hats: Arrivals at the New Romantics ball, 1981. Photographed © by Caroline Greville-Morris

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2011 ➤ Reliving the Blitz: two pocket fanzines and a request from Rusty Egan

Shock dance troupe, Angel Face, RBRB,rare vinyl ,

Shock’s 1980 12-incher, Angel Face b/w R.E.R.B. — rare vinyl costing £58.21 from Black Rhythm Records in the Netherlands

reVox, magazine, theblitzclub, Blitz Club Records, Rusty Egan, Ultravox, Shock, Tik & Tok❚ re:VOX #12 IS A FAT special issue of Rob Kirby’s pocket magazine dedicated to 80s electronica, which celebrates the 30th anniversary earlier in January of the release of Ultravox’s hit single Vienna. This 40-page issue tracks the origins of Vienna as a monster hit that set a benchmark for pop’s new wave, both musically and with its innovative, cinematic video.

There is a lengthy interview with Barbie Wilde of Shock, the mime/dance troupe whose single Angel Face was produced by Rusty Egan of Visage and Richard Burgess of Landscape who also produced Spandau Ballet’s first records (today a director for Smithsonian Folkways, the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington). The Shock B-side R.E.R.B. is the first re-release by the new label Blitz Club Records — here’s a 30-second clip of the 2011 extended version:

In re:VOX Barbie describes the emergent mime scene inspired by visiting Paris in the late 1970s, and being involved at the age of 19 with Tim Dry in the formation of Shock in 1979, along with Robert Pereno, Lowri-Ann Richards, Karen Sparks and Sean Crawford (later Tok of Tik & Tok) and how all paths crossed at the Blitz, resulting in Shock becoming dance figureheads for the New Romantics. In October 1980 Barbie didn’t have much fun dodging explosions as she ran around Beckton Gas Works with Tok when they added romance to Ultravox’s video for Passing Strangers, one of the first pop promos directed by Russell Mulcahy, in which moustachioed Midge Ure thinks he’s Clark Gable.

Midge Ure, Sean Crawford, Barbie Wilde, Ultravox, video, Passing Strangers

Midge, Sean and Barbie: Ultravox’s video for Passing Strangers, 1980, which would later be runner-up for the Best Video award in the British Rock and Pop Awards

Tik & Tok,Tim Dry, Sean Crawford

Robo-mimes Tik & Tok: Sean Crawford and Tim Dry

Tim Dry, another ex-Shock performer, continues the saga of how in 1980 he span off to form the white-faced robo-mime duo Tik & Tok with Sean Crawford who was already familiar on London’s fashionable streets as a robot character called Plastic Joe. Dry had been completely unaware of the Blitz as a “secret underworld the rest of London was oblivious to” (along with the indolent record industry to whom the scene came as a monumental surprise once it exploded).

He gives full credit to Robert Pereno as the social networker who was key to both acts getting bookings on the clubbing circuit, and persuaded Tik & Tok to ditch disco in favour of cutting edge Euro-synth music. The duo made £30 from their first street performance outside San Lorenzo, the smart Beauchamp Place restaurant. From that pavement debut, television, fame and fortune beckoned…

Steve Strange, Rusty Egan, Return to the Blitz, clubbing, theblitzclub

Steve Strange: reliving his former glory on the door for the Return to the Blitz party, Jan 15. Captured from video by Shapersofthe80s

Kirby has also produced a separate 16-page issue, re:VOX #13, to report the Blitz Club Reunion party itself, held at the site of the original 1980 club on Jan 15 jointly to launch the book Remembering Eden by Jus Forrest and Helen Waterman, as well as Egan & Strange’s website for their label Blitz Club Records. Rob gives his first-person account of the party, confessing that he was too young to be one of the original Blitz Kids and reminds us that he’d fallen in with Rusty quite recently as an obsessive archivist who can trace every track Rusty had ever played as the Blitz club’s deejay. They have already shared their playlists with Graham Smith, the designer of Spandau Ballet’s graphics whose anthology of 80s photographs, We Can be Heroes, is published in September by DJhistory.com

Each issue of re:VOX costs £1.50 from Rob Kirby, 2 Bramshott Close, London Road, Hitchin, Herts SG4 9EP

WHICH TRACKS WOULD YOU LIKE ON
A BLITZ CLUB COMPILATION?

Klactoveesedstein , Blue Rondo a la Turk , latin, funkEgan plans to produce a Blitz Club album, not of the usual suspects who are wheeled out on 80s compilations, but artists as cutting-edge as those Rusty was so eagle-eared at finding on his travels through Europe in the late 70s. “Not 12-inch disco remixes,” he says. “Our clubs played great weird music like Can, Neu and Magazine.”

He is inviting lovers of Billy’s, Blitz and Club for Heroes music from 1978 to 1981 to propose the key tracks they think made London’s clubbing scene so inspirational. He names as examples the German version of Bowie’s “Helden” (1977) that he played relentlessly at Billy’s, RAF by Snatch featuring Brian Eno (1983) and Eno’s own King’s Lead Hat (1978), Television’s Little Johnny Jewel (1975) which he says has “great drums” from Billy Ficca, Klactoveesedstein by Blue Rondo a la Turk (1982), and the French model Ronny’s If You Want Me To Stay (1981).

Send your track suggestions to Rusty Egan through the contact page at
theblitzclub,Blitz Club Records, Rusty Egan

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