Tag Archives: Visage

➤ Return to the Blitz 2011 – London Tonight reports

◼ FLASHBACK TO 17 JAN 2011 – ITV’s six o’clock news magazine London Tonight reports on Saturday night’s RETURN TO THE BLITZ party hosted by Steve Strange & Rusty Egan. They’re celebrating the launch of their official website theblitzclub.com and a load of nostalgic New Romantics from 1979 find themselves mingling with Neo Romantics from 2011.

ITV’s intrepid entertainment correspondent Lucrezia Millarini dives into the scrum and Shapersofthe80s topped and tailed her report – all content is © itv.com … Includes three classic Blitz photographs of Boy George and Spandau Ballet by Derek Ridgers, plus one by yours truly of George and Stephen Linard

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➤ Nowt so Strange as Stephen John Harrington

Steve Strange, Steven Harrington, Blitz Kids, New Romantics, nightclubbing, Swinging 80s, London, fashion, pop music, Visage, tributes

Steve Strange: Precocious club host and the face of synth band Visage, he changed British nightlife for ever

RIP Steve Strange
28 May 1959–12 Feb 2015

King of the Posers, Leader of the Blitz Kids,
co-founder of the Blitz Club,
PIED PIPER FOR THE NEW ROMANTICS,
catalyst for London’s fashion and pop
explosion in the 1980s

“ I chose to become famous and I work very hard at promoting myself. For me going out at night is work ”
– Steve Strange,
speaking to the Evening Standard in 1983

Iain R Webb, original Blitz Kid, later fashion editor of The Times and other publications, pays tribute to Steve Strange, who died in Egypt earlier today:

Steve gave us somewhere to go and beyond the crazy costumes and caked on make-up (maybe because of the…) made us each believe we had someone to be. He burned bright and we followed that light like moths to a flame – Billy’s to Blitz to Hell to Club For Heroes to Camden Palace… Oh, how we danced. His maverick spirit will never fade

Kim Bowen, stylist and former Queen of the Blitz Club, says:

“ You did create the stage on which
we all appeared ”

Andy Polaris, original Blitz Kid, and vocalist in Animal Nightlife, says:

It’s always a shock when you hear news that snatches away part of your youth. Steve Strange was not only a colourful character who had always left an impression on my teenage years. He was also a pivotal player in transforming London nightlife, along with deejay Rusty Egan. Their Tuesday nights at Billy’s club gave birth to the Blitz Club that influenced a generation of designers, musicians and artists. It’s remarkable the amount of creative talent that emerged from these clubs. It’s important to acknowledge that without Steve’s input a lot of these creative synergies might have never happened

Midge Ure, synth pioneer with Ultravox and Visage and driving force behind Band Aid, said:

Steve and Rusty created a movement in London. The Blitz and the subsequent Blitz Kids grew into a massive movement in the UK associated with fashion and image and photography. You could stand in the Blitz Club and look around you and there’d be future journalists and film-makers and writers and musicians, and a young Boy George taking coats at the coat check. There was something really vibrant about that, and they were responsible

Above: Steve Strange and three other Blitz Kids handpicked by David Bowie star in his 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes

➢ Read my history of Steve Strange, the Blitz Kids and the birth of the New Romantics at The Observer

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
1980, Strange days, strange nights, strange people – my invitation to the party that would last five years

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
1982, Strange takes six cutting-edge British fashion designers to show their wares to the French

Steve Strange, Steven Harrington, Blitz Kids, New Romantics, nightclubbing, Swinging 80s, London, fashion, pop music, Visage, tributes

Steve Strange in 1980: wearing Willy Brown’s Modern Classics, photographed by Derek Ridgers

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
1983, Posing with a purpose at the Camden Palace – the ultimate expression of Strange & Egan’s clubbing prowess

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➤ Celebrating Midge Ure: the big-hearted old poser behind Band Aid

 Band Aid 30, pop music, recording, Midge Ure

Band Aid 30: Midge Ure yesterday conducting the artists for a new version of the song Do They Know It’s Christmas? Photograph: Band Aid Trust/Brian Aris/Camera Press

◼ TODAY AT 8pm ON THE X-FACTOR BAND AID 30 airs the fourth version of its pop smash hit, Do They Know It’s Christmas? So let’s remember the lifelong contribution of the quietest man in pop, Midge Ure, who is the true brains behind the charity project. As Bob Geldof described him on This Is Your Life: “He’s a great guy, hilariously funny though you wouldn’t know it from his old New Romantic posing. He’s got a great heart and is a great all-round good bloke.”



➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: 1984, Band Aid, when pop made its noblest gesture but the 80s ceased to swing

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: How Midge Ure helped shape the British New Wave

Midge: “There’s no doubt the early 80s was a golden age of music made by real popstars who created themselves. It was more than just padded shoulders and asymmetrical haircuts. It was a pivotal moment in our cultural history when new tech mixed with new ideas to create something really good. All in the pressure cooker environment that was the Blitz club”

Rusty Egan, Steve Strange, Midge Ure, Visage, synth-pop, new wave, electro-pop,Band Aid, Rocking the Blitz,BBC

Visage Mk 1: Rusty Egan, Steve Strange and Midge Ure in 1978 searching for sounds and styles

UPDATE: BAND AID 30 MUSIC VIDEO – PG ADVISED

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➤ The Norman-Egan squad blitzes sunny Ibiza

Steve Norman, Neil Matthews , Flexipop!

Steve Norman snapped by Neil Matthews for Flexipop! The location is Parliament Hill lido in north London in 1981. In the caption fit Steve Norman reports: “I love scuba diving. Funnily enough, I’ve never caught one yet.”

❚ A GREAT MUSICAL PARTNERSHIP lands on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza tomorrow. Fresh from their pop-up jam sessions at the Cannes film fest, two former 80s Blitz Kids – Spandau Ballet’s sax-percussionist Steve Norman plus Visage drummer and club deejay Rusty Egan – continue their working holiday in the sun. Getaway hedonists can catch their storming double act at the Nassau Beach Club on Playa D’en Bossa, fortnightly on Mondays until September.

It’s a trick they’ve been pulling at smart parties and corporate events ever since Spandau asked Egan to introduce their Reformation reunion tour performances at London’s O2 in 2009. There, as a warm-up before the show, the deejay reminded audiences of the synth soundtrack to the New Romantic era – electronic Blitz Club classics by The Normal, Gina X, Kraftwerk and the like. The chemistry was apt: Egan was co-founder of the original 80s Blitz club-night, while Spandau Ballet emerged from its members in 1979 as the house band who put the rhythms of the new decade into the charts.

After the Reformation tour, Norman and Egan teamed up to develop a deejay-led set enhanced with live saxophone, percussion and any other instruments the versatile Steve laid his hands on.

Nassau Beach Club, Steve Norman, Ibiza,performance

May 28 update: no sign of first-night nerves as Steve makes friends at Nassau Beach Club. Photograph from Kitita Pastrana (centre)

On the phone from Cannes this week Steve said: “We’re playing soulful deep house, four on the floor. With me vibing on top of Rusty’s music, it gives an audience something to focus on. It’s always nice to see somebody hit hell out of the bongos!”

For Steve this kind of bongo-bashing started in 1988. “My mate Deuce Barter said I should come down to his Passion club in Maidenhead and meet Joe Becket. We went head to head in a battle of the bongos playing live over house music and we hit it off. On the strength of that battle I asked Joe if he would like to join Spandau Ballet on the 1989-90 tour. He was gobsmacked.” Later, Joe Bongo was to become the regular percussionist in Steve’s band Cloudfish after Spandau split.

In 1993 Steve made his home in Ibiza and during 12 years there he introduced his idea of improvising live with the deejay at a club residency in San Antonio. “It was an extension of my antics with Spandau. I’m the one who moved around the stage. I’d climb up on a speaker with my sax, flying by seat of my pants, feeling very exposed up there, so I’d pull out all the stops.”

These days, though billing themselves as Electronic Beach Club, Steve insists the musical collaboration with Egan is “definitely not to be lumped in with the retro movement”. EBC have moved on from 80s sounds to contemporary club music, interspersed with current mixes of classic tracks.

He says: “I do play Spandau mixes. In an uptempo version of True by Deep Mind I just lay down the sax and Rusty drops in the Oakenfold mix and I switch to heavy percussion. We also do Fade to Grey mixed up with Magic Fly. That’s his little nod to the original Visage.”

Spandau Ballet remixed above, vintage Visage remixed below

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Last autumn, Steve scoped out the Nassau Beach Club during his first visit to Ibiza in four years and he’s basing himself there with Rusty for the summer. “It’s my second home, where I left a little piece of me. It’s where my son Jack was brought up and daughter Lara was born and I struggle to accept I’m not still there. I’m trying to convince Mrs Preston Norman to come out and drag herself away from the dog and cat at our cottage in Hampshire.

Nassau Beach Club

Nassau Beach Club

“What’s new on Ibiza is this idea of beach clubs. I remember when the Blue Marlin was just a few tables and chairs on the sand, now it’s become a nightclub on the beach. These places are springing up all over the island. After chilling out by day, people are ready to go for it by night. At the Nassau Club there’s a stage area on the beach where Rusty plays a set 5-8pm, with me raising the tempo.”

Creatively, the Norman-Egan team want to make more music together. Steve says: “I’ve done a sax track on Rusty’s album project and we still hope to do a track together.” On July 18 Steve will be a “gun for hire” joining an all-star supergroup called Holy Holy at the massive Latitude Festival in Suffolk, when London’s ICA presents Bowiefest, a celebration of the Ziggy/Aladdin year of 1973. The line-up so far features Clem Burke of Blondie, James Stevenson of Generation X, Gary Stondage of Big Audio Dynamite, Traci Hunter and Maggi Ronson on BVs.

Speculation grows around another reunion by Spandau Ballet. What can be confirmed is the epic documentary film by Scott Millaney, Soul Boys of the Western World, due out next spring. Steve promises his own exclusive discovery. “I found an old home movie from 1977 made by my dad on Standard 8. You see us pre-Spandau all performing up the road from Tony’s for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations – at a street party.” Busking, obviously!

THIS SUMMER’S SUN-AND-SEA SOUNDS

Rusty Egan, DJ, Nassau Beach Club, Ibiza

Rusty Egan in action with his Traktor Scratch Pro

❏ Hot from Rusty Egan on his Lilo: “I’m playing chilled beach mixes and remixes of classic tracks like True by Deep Mind, and electro pop such as Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work (Echoes Remix), some cool house with Grass Is Greener’s Start Again, and Lewis Lastella’s remixes of Depeche Mode’s Enjoy The Silence and New Order’s Blue Monday.”

Kate Bush remixed above, Depeche Mode remixed below


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➢ Footnote to the top pic – In Dec 1980 Flexipop! was launched as a plastic 7-inch disc with an overexcitable magazine attached. It was invented by music journalists Tim Lott and his business partner at the time, Barry Cain. It made the career of “Smudger” Neil Matthews, one-third of the official New Romantic photography contingent (along with Graham Smith and Shapersofthe80s), and his pix were exhumed late last year in archive form at a Flexipop Facebook page.

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➤ Visage: out of the 80s frying pan into the 21st-century fire

Steve Strange, Visage,Shameless Fashion

The face of Visage today: Steve Strange behaving shamelessly. Peter Ashworth Photography. Makeup by Lara Himpelmann

Visage 1979: Rusty Egan, John McGeoch, Barry Adamson, Dave Formula, Billy Currie, Steve Strange, Midge Ure. Photographed © by Sheila Rock

Visage 1979: Rusty Egan, John McGeoch, Barry Adamson, Dave Formula, Billy Currie, Steve Strange, Midge Ure. Photographed © by Sheila Rock

❚ THE STUDIO BAND VISAGE were central to defining the electropop sounds of 1980 thanks to the musical nous of Midge Ure, who had bought his first synthesiser in 1978 because he felt synths “embodied a kind of nostalgia for the future”. He’d been faffing around with Glen Matlock, Steve New and drummer Rusty Egan in the 60s-flavoured one-hit power pop group Rich Kids, and sensed an appetite in the zeitgeist for a more soulful version of Kraftwerk plus a return to melody. Intent on making vibrant dance music for the “visa age”, Ure dreamed up the name Visage, complete with simplified face as its logo,  for an new experimental band. Initially Ure rehearsed updating In The Year 2525, using up some spare Rich Kids time booked in an EMI studio. There he played around on synth and drum machine, then asked Egan to take over the drums.

They co-opted Rusty’s flamboyant Welsh pal Steve Strange as face-painted frontman to give visual expression to a range of what were being called “moderne” fashions. Dressing up in the face of a grinding economic recession was the destiny that Bowie’s children were to fulfil. Visage’s songs captured the sidelong humour and knowing irony that came to characterise the 80s, while their explosive backbeats, electronic fills and synth riffs changed the vocabulary of British chart pop. This TV generation dreamed in both sound and vision.

Supercool in ’78: Egan, Strange and Ure establish Visage

What Strange lacked in vocal proficiency he made up for in promotional value, since he soon became a walking advertisement for the cooler-than-cool clothes shop PX in Covent Garden where he was an assistant. Run by Stephane Raynor and Helen Robinson, they more than any other designers in 1980 set the template for New Romantics fashion, favouring oversized chemises, medieval doublets, breeches and frilly lace. The shop’s followers were soon dubbed posers, and the Pose Age was born. Disposable identities, portable events, looks not uniforms – for his disciples, Bowie’s imperatives became the norm.

As a studio project the original Visage lineup never played live, and was probably a case of too many cooks. In 1979 it took in four more musicians (Billy Currie, John McGeoch, Dave Formula, Barry Adamson), all of whom had loyalties to existing bands, while the creative drive came from Ure and Currie. Even so, Currie was persuading the restless Ure to help resurrect the synth band Ultravox following John Foxx’s departure. By 1982, when Ure quit Visage in favour of Ultravox, Visage had enjoyed four top-20 singles hits in the UK, two top-twenty albums with Visage and The Anvil, and a smattering of international hits with Fade to Grey.

As we now know, Ure went on to mastermind the Band Aid fundraising hit single in 1984, then the worldwide Live Aid charity concert with Bob Geldof, and duly earned himself an OBE.

Visage, Fade to Grey,albumsIn 1984 a Visage lineup comprising Strange and Egan along with newer members Andy Barnett, Steve and Gary Barnacle put out a so-so third album, but when it flopped they soon called it a day. The truth was that Visage failed to invest single-mindedly in themselves as a musical enterprise: their progress simmered rather than blazed as individuals pursued their own favoured goals. Occasional tracks sizzled on the dancefloor – In the Year 2525, Fade to Grey, Mind of a Toy, Night Train – but the band lacked unity and commitment.

❚ NOBODY CAN DENY STRANGE’S FIZZ and chutzpah which in 1979 coralled a disparate group of post-punk no-wavers and outcast fashionistas when he co-hosted the agenda-setting Neon Night at the Blitz Club in Covent Garden. It lit up London in an explosion of inventive fashion, gender-bending and ridiculous hair. As the club’s stand-out stars suddenly became media celebrities, these exponents of modern dance and stance began forcing the pace of change across the creative industries. Rusty Egan proved to be a mould-breaking deejay who often added his own Syndrum accompaniment at the turntable, and his live mixing did much to change the sound of clubland music. During the early 80s the pair went on to reshape London nightlife at two notable venues, Club for Heroes in Baker Street and the Camden Palace. At the end of the decade, dance music as we knew it was swept aside by the craze for E’s and rave. Egan then set out to make a fine reputation deejaying on London’s boutique nightclub circuit, while Strange can claim a ghosted autobiography as full of fantasy and foggy memories as you’d expect from an arch-poser who’d been out on the town every night for 20 years.

Roll forward to 2010. John Pitcher, who fronts a music services provider called MRC, established a Blitz Club record label and an associated website, and Strange and Egan launched it in January 2011 by throwing a Return to the Blitz party at the site of the former club. The event raised a few media ripples but little groundswell and only three remixes have been released in as many years. With 80s band revivals making waves all around them, that old Blitz magic had lost its charm. Egan said this week: “Pitcher registered everything for us, so he owns everything, including the website and the Visage brand.” Growing personal differences hindered collaboration between the three. These worsened last year when Egan made allegations that Strange had squandered a substantial sum of accrued Visage royalties paid via Strange and that he failed to share them among the original band lineup. This week Egan said: “Try telling John McGeoch’s daughter her dad’s [share] was spent by Strange.”

Visage, Steve Barnacle, Steve Strange, Lauren Duvall , Robin Simon

Visage 2013: Steve Barnacle, the inimitable Steve Strange, Lauren Duvall and Robin Simon. Photography © by David Levine

When Strange proposed reviving the band name of Visage after almost 30 years, neither Ure nor Egan could see the point and they disputed Strange’s right to do so. Ure told an American newspaper in January: “Visage was always something Rusty Egan and I created and controlled. The idea of doing a Visage 2 was never appealing to me so I wasn’t interested. I walked away from Visage when it got ridiculous and supremely hedonistic and I will probably leave it that way.” In response to Strange’s claim on German TV last November that Ure was collaborating on a new album together, Ure tweeted: “He is deluded if he thinks that. He knows that isn’t happening.”

EARLIER BACKGROUND

➢ 2013, A couple of slaps in the Visage
as Strange and Egan squabble

Rusty Egan remains aggrieved that Strange has not resolved recent differences. He is angry that Strange should make any claim to creative input into Visage’s lyrics and music, and maintained this week: “Strange had nothing to do with the music in The Blitz or Visage.” In January Egan said: “There has never been a Visage album without me. It’s my group and Strange is a singer. He is not Visage.”

Yet for all this, and Strange’s sad personal saga of ill-health, the vocalist has doggedly set about persuading a new circle of supporters to bring Visage back to life. In the face of widespread disbelief – the garrulous Strange’s little weakness, after all, has always been for exaggeration and melodrama – last year he announced a new “Visage” lineup, with a gorgeous singer called Lauren Duvall, plus Steve Barnacle (fretless bass) and Robin Simon (guitar). Keyboardist Mick MacNeil, from Simple Minds, was enlisted to contribute on a range of vintage analogue synthesisers which include an early Moog Source.

At last, what is being called a fourth “Visage” album titled Hearts and Knives is due to be released on May 27.

“It has been 29 years since the last Visage album and during that period it often seems like we have all lived through several lifetimes,” says Strange. Indeed, “bruised and wounded” declare the rueful lyrics of Shameless Fashion, the new group’s first single, available this week. It isn’t clear whether this refers to the very many contributors we see jostling for credits on the new “Visage” packaging. The Visage 2013 camp is probably keeping fingers crossed.

➢ A free download of the new single Shameless Fashion is available from today at the Visage website

➢ 1980 at the Blitz, Strange days, strange nights, strange people

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