Tag Archives: Wag club

➤ Sullivan’s manifesto for the Rebel Rebel life

Club-host and artist Chris Sullivan: as he renders himself sporting Dennis-the-Menace T-shirt in NYC 1981 and as he is today in Portobello Road

NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW that Chris Sullivan – legendary Welsh frontman of Soho’s Wag Club which he founded in 1982 – switched from the fashion course at St Martin’s to pursue painting instead. Despite his instinctive sense of style, he says today: “I was great at the design and fashion drawings, but not very good at actually making things, stuff like sewing and pattern cutting. So I moved over to fine art. At the time I kept on being in the newspapers, and the college didn’t care what I did, just happy another St Martin’s student was getting press. It was good for their PR.”

It also positioned him as a pivotal influence on the whole British youthquake that transformed London nightlife, music and fashion in the Eighties, while his own mantra of “One look lasts a day” has propelled him through such guises as flaneur, deejay, journalist, nightclub host, pop star, northern soul dancer, style commentator, entrepreneur and fashion designer. A terrific route-map to the Sullivan cosmos occupies 12 pages of the April issue of GQ magazine, blessed with a photo-portrait by David Bailey.

Click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

This month Sullivan publishes his third book, an anthology of “people and things that broke the mould” titled Rebel Rebel: How Mavericks Made the Modern World. What he dubs a “paperback manifesto” is an excuse to celebrate his own outsider approach to life: never having a proper job and always staying one step ahead of the pack. The book was launched in 2015 as a crowd-funded project through Unbound Books and for reasons unknown it seemed to take four years either to raise the cash or finish the writing, at which point Sullivan says there was still no money set aside for photographs of the 60 subjects he was profiling (some new, some vintage). “So I said I’ll paint or draw them, all these people like Rod Steiger, Fela Kuti, Louise Brooks, Orson Welles, David Bowie. . .”

In the mix are criminals (Brilliant Chang, Allan Heyl), musicians (Charlie Mingus, Joe Strummer), actors (Robert Mitchum, Anita Pallenberg), artists (Egon Schiele, Man Ray, Jackson Pollock), directors (Kenneth Anger, Wong Kar-wai), photographers (Horst, Weegee, Capa), as well as iconic items such as Levis, the pork pie hat and the white T-Shirt.

“Because I was so worried as the deadline loomed,” Sullivan says, “I did 35 illustrations for the book, really quickly b-b-boom! Then a friend Barnsley saw one of a zoot suit I wasn’t using for a chapter on outsider clothing, and he snapped it up. Before I knew it someone else was asking could they have one, then I did another one as a commission and stuck that up online and since then I’ve had more than 10 commissions to do these paintings.” Some of the results are here for all to see, inspired by time spent in New York back in the day. What the Rebel Rebel book contains will be revealed any minute now.

David Bowie, books, Unbound, Chris Sullivan, illustration

David Bowie: Sullivan’s illustration of the Thin White Duke for his Rebel book

➢ Meanwhile here’s a taster of a chapter from Sullivan’s
forthcoming book Rebel Rebel on the curious life of the common or garden sun-glass

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➤ My own Rondo moment immortalised by Sullivan, the grand Wag of Soho

portrait painting,

Immortalised on canvas: Chris Sullivan’s portrait of the face behind Shapersofthe80s

ONE OF THE BRAVEST things I’ve ever done – apart from disagree with a newspaper editor – was to pose for my portrait, as mine is the kind of family who can’t boast even one ancestor committed to oil on canvas. So when Eighties uber-Wag Chris Sullivan offered to paint me in the style of one of his band Blue Rondo’s wittily cubistic 12-inch record sleeves, I jumped at the chance to look like any of those cool guys on Me And Mr Sanchez in 1981.

So here I am [up top] and the result is strangely hypnotic, if not actually cubistic – “More vorticist than anything else,” says Chris, though we agreed perhaps closer to the audacious David Bomberg’s later work and that suits me down to ground, a rebel 20th-century style that veers towards abstract and also hints at dynamism. Chris posted the portrait at Facebook and amazing numbers of people said he’d caught the eyes very well, and going by this photo that he took when he handed the canvas over to me last week, I am bound to agree!

Blue Rondo à la Turk, Chris Sullivan, artwork, sleeve,

The Sullivan style on a Blue Rondo sleeve from 1981, itself a convincing echo of Picasso’s Tres Musicos of 1921

How it came about was through his new book Rebel Rebel which comes out in April (after a gestation lasting about four years!). He invited friends to crowd-fund the project through Unbound Books and when I saw that the prize offered for the topmost pledge was a Rondo-esque portrait, I snapped it up (never forget Sullivan switched from fashion onto the fine-art course while at St Martin’s and turned out a lot of visual material right through the 1990s, quite apart from designing the dreamworld interior of his Wag Club in Soho).

We discussed all this and more when he asked me onto his Soho Radio show last month for nearly an hour and a half. Somewhere between Bowie’s TVC15 and Was Not Was’s Wheel Me Out, I dared to ask whether the approaching deadline for his book being published and finishing this portrait had provided a trigger for his recent return to painting and drawing. We’ve seen a sudden outpouring of witty caricatures of his friends in a mix of paint and pencil and ink flying around on the web. He almost agreed, saying: “It certainly got my chops together, put it that way. . . I’m not trying to be Rothko or Caravaggio, but I’ve always been a big fan of George Grosz and even Picasso did some caricatures.”

My A3-sized portrait is much more fully worked up in acrylic and crayon on canvas than Sullivan’s fun drawings on paper and even though he started chortling sarcastically when I said I’d wanted him to paint me not out of vanity but for love of Rondo, the fact is I’m chuffed to bits to own an image that makes a substantial statement about his talent. It certainly raises an eyebrow when friends come visiting.

JAWING on ART AT SOHO RADIO (@55 MINS)

Chris Sullivan, Sullivan’s Suits, Soho Radio, interview, DJ,

Chris Sullivan: spinning the discs on his show Sullivan’s Suits at Soho Radio while interviewing me on January 30. (Photo by Shapersofthe80s)


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➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Sullivan the wag changes hats at the touch of his paintbrush

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➤ Sullivan the wag changes hats at the touch of his paintbrush

Chris Sullivan, Swinging Eighties, Carioca, Blue Rondo a la Turk, Wag Club

Carioca then and now: left, the cover for Chris Sullivan’s band’s 1982 single Carioca and, right, his new upfront reworking for 2019

Chris Sullivan,Leah Seresin, caricature,

Leah Seresin and mum Deirdre, newly painted by Sullivan

WHO IS CHRIS SULLIVAN THIS WEEK? That all-round creative dynamo who drove much of the Swinging Eighties and ran the influential Wag club for 19 years epitomised that New Romantic era by declaring “One look lasts a day”. Suddenly he is enjoying another creative spurt. Fans will have noticed a series of bold and comic painted caricatures of his friends appearing on Facebook this month. As affectionate portraits they speak for themselves. But then last week he posted one called Carioca, inspired directly by the 12-inch single sleeve for his band Blue Rondo a la Turk. It was included in their album Chewing The Fat which dates from 1982.

Fans will also recall that Sullivan as vocalist not only put the band together as a septet of crazy soul-jazz-latin musicians on a 0-to-10 sliding scale of eccentricity where all of them scored at least an 11 – but he also painted every one of their vinyl record sleeves in his own playful version of cubism. So here above we can now compare his restrained vamp Carioca from 1982 with her current rather more in-your-face madame for 2019. So what’s this all about, Chris?

Bear in mind Sullivan was one of that gang of St Martin’s heroes who put London clubs such as the Blitz, Beat Route and the Wag on the map from 1980 on, and had studied first on the college’s fashion course, then switched to fine art. I am off to Soho to find out and will be reporting back. . .

Chris Sullivan,caricature, Soho, beats, art,

Sullivan caricatures: A pair of what the painter calls Beat Peeps from Eighties New York

STEPPING OUT TO CARIOCA ON
THE ITV SHOW RAZZMATAZZ 1982

➢ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s:
Yours truly writes the first magazine feature about Blue Rondo a la Turk as they created a new buzz with Latin sounds and an extreme suited dude look – from New Sounds New Styles in August 1981

➢ Razzmatazz, the weekly pop show beamed out to 6 million ITV viewers from Tyne Tees TV in Newcastle

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1983 ➤ When The Face led the cultural agenda

art schools, The Face, magazine, fashion, style, music, nightclubbing, cuttings, subcultures, analysis, history, Swinging 80s, London

London,Chris Sullivan, Dirt Box, Mud Club,Wag club,Dencil williams, Phil Gray , Ollie O’Donnell,White Trash,Philip Sallon,Nightlife, Rob Milton, The Face,Swinging 80s, clubbing

The Face No 39, July 1983 © Nick Logan/The Face Archive

◼ 1983 PROVED TUMULTUOUS for British youth culture. By December, London’s leading club deejay Jay Strongman declared “This was the year of Go For It”, after 17 new British pop groups lorded it in the US top 40 chart that autumn, while our spirited fashionistas were making waves around the world, with Princess Diana playing ambassador for the classic designers, and Boy George pushing the wilder extremes of street style. Among major features I wrote for The Face was February’s cover story The Making of Club Culture, and in the Evening Standard Posing with a purpose at the Camden Palace, a centre spread on the runaway megaclub hosted by Strange and Egan.

Nightlife was a burgeoning story as black beats took over dancefloors everywhere and Manchester’s tearaway megaclub was the Hacienda, despite the oppressive clean-up being imposed by the city’s infamous Chief Constable. Clubbers from across the nation swarmed in to create a grand coalition of all the cults – “your complete i-D line-up, minus the Worlds End spendthrifts”. In my January report for The Face one inmate bemoaned Hacienda music as  “too funk-based” though another, a flat-top lad called Johnny Maher, revealed his secret, despite having launched some new indie rock band minutes earlier. “I schlepp to funk,” he said.

The Face, journalism, RCA, government, cuts, costs, education, fine art, painting, printmaking, film-making, music schools, fashion, Henry Moore,

© Nick Logan/The Face Archive

In July The Face published a major piece of reportage, Art on the Run, prompted by numerous friends in fine-art education, and billed it as a “shock report” on the Conservative government’s debilitating squeeze on the art schools. Ironically in the same issue my regular Nightlife column identified the four hottest clubland teams as a Who’s Who in the New London Weekend: “Not since the Swinging Sixties had London nightlife reverberated to such a boom.” These clubs were the unofficial job centres that kept a generation in freelance employment and introduced the verb to vop into the language (derivation: “What are you up to these days?” – “Oh, a Variety Of Projects”). Some of that effort was fuelling the rise of computer games which in the June issue Virgin assured me was “the new pop industry”!

 Oliver Peyton , Brighton, nightclubs, The Can, The Face, reviews

Brighton hotspot 1983: Ian, Oliver Peyton and Kate hosting The Can (Photo Shapersofthe80s)

My Nightlife column in The Face’s October issue featured Brighton’s trendiest hotspot (seconds before the very word trendy passed its sell-by outside the Greater London stockade). The Can was presided over by a young Oliver Peyton with Andy Hale as the deejay breaking funk there. Years later Oliver thanked me for this exposure and said he would never have come up to London and started opening restaurants without The Face’s prompt! (One of the few people who have ever thanked me for writing about them! Cheers, Oliver.)

Jay Strongman , DJ, The Face, magazine, interview

Jay Strongman in 1983: ruling London’s three hottest turntables

By this fertile year’s end I had FIVE indicative pieces of reportage published in the December issue of The Face including a detailed rundown on the new dance music by club deejay Jay Strongman, plus news of the imminent Westwood/ McLaren break-up which I’d scented from body language backstage at their Paris runway show.

The launch of the first London Fashion Week that same October confirmed that British street style was being feted in the international spotlight, yet it begged the question how on earth had this suddenly come about? Click through to our inside page to read the feature investigation that set out to answer such questions, by asking decision-makers in the industry to identify the best of Britain’s young designer talent under the headline Eight for ’84. . .

The Face, magazine, fashion, style, music, Eight for 1984, cuttings, subcultures, analysis, history, Swinging 80s, London

From The Face No 44, Dec 1983 © Nick Logan/The Face Archive

First published in the Evening Standard, Nov 4, 1983

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➤ Thank you, George, says Paul Simper. You left me wanting to dance like you

George Michael, Aldo Zilli, Paul Simper, birthday party, Wham!, London, nightlife, clubbing, Lilli Anderson, Alex Goddson, Sam McKnight, Josie Jones

Simper’s 25th birthday at Aldo Zilli’s Il Siciliano in Soho: visible faces clockwise from front left: Lilli Anderson, Alex Godson (standing), Sam McKnight, the host (standing), Josie Jones, George Michael. Photo by Simper

Paul “Scoop” Simper arrived in London as a cub
journalist who soon became a backbone of No1, one
of the two leading pop magazines covering the
Swinging 80s. He also became a face about clubland
and in the years after he first met George Michael,
when Wham! was launched, became friends.
Shapers of the 80s is pleased to publish Scoop’s very personal tribute to one of the UK’s leading superstars who died this week

OF COURSE HE HAD TO LEAVE US ON CHRISTMAS DAY. As a pop lover, especially one raised in the 80s, George Michael has been a part of mine and so many people’s Christmases for years.

This one was no exception. Nipping up the high street to the supermarket for one last shop on Christmas Eve, there was something both joyous and comforting about hearing him – not just as Wham! but on his lonesome giving us December Song and on Band Aid – whilst trolling up and down the aisles for a bottle of fizz and a few more festive nibbles.

If anything, this year he’d felt ever more present. A pre-Christmas gathering of my old 80s pals had stirred up memories of Whambley – that perfect pop farewell on the sunniest of days in ’86 in front of 72,000 adoring but heartbroken fans when George and Andrew signed off at the top of the charts (both albums and singles) with their friendship still intact.

Wham! fans came in all shapes and sizes. Not long ago I’d been listening to a bootleg of The Final concert, lovingly recorded and shared with me by No1 magazine’s then editorial assistant Dave Ling, later of Metal Hammer, a heavy metaller through and through, who made an honourable exception when it came to George and Andrew.

As I think about it now, not being a Wham! or George fan has always been a bit of a deal-breaker. One early relationship of mine came to a very swift end when she questioned my love of George. My pal June Montana (lead singer with Brilliant and gatekeeper on the Limelight’s VIP bar, who was actually a bona fide friend of his) and I were like the George gestapo. We could sniff out a non-believer at 100 paces.

Part of that devotion came from the fact that in 80s London clubland, Wham! were never really cool. They were outsiders. They were from Bushey, Hertfordshire. As a country lad from Wiltshire I felt a kinship, particularly with George.

He was a year younger but for both of us our first introduction to the game-changing London club scene of the early 80s was Le Beat Route – a Soho club I was gagging to go to the second I saw Spandau Ballet’s Chant No1 video, the anthem for this pop moment.

In the last interview I did with George, in 2006, when we were talking about Spandau, he remembered the thrill of going down for the first time to what was then the hottest club on the planet and actually sighting both Steve Strange (on the Space Invaders) and Tony Hadley (at the bar).

George Michael, Geri Halliwell,, birthday party,

George’s 35th birthday where Simper was deejaying dressed as a Spice Girl angel: George was obliged to introduce him to Ginger Spice. Photo by Simper

Le Beat Route was where Andrew Ridgeley came up with the “Wham! Bam! I am a man!” rap. It was where George would perfect his pair dancing with Shirlie Holliman to D-Train, Was Not Was and Evelyn “Champagne” King. It was the inspiration for Club Tropicana.

Of equal importance though had been Saturday Night Fever – the movie that rang the death knell for disco for the cool kids of the underground dance scene but for those in the sticks in our teens the first pulling back of the curtain (even though it was actually set in faraway Brooklyn) on a thrilling new world. On reflection, it’s perhaps surprising that George never covered a Bee Gees song, with the exception of side project Boogie Box High’s Jive Talkin’, but he was always a massive fan, applauding their return to the top of the charts after a lengthy absence with You Win Again and marvelling, after a visit to Barry Gibbs’ home in Miami, that he was the only man he’d met who took even longer over his hair than George did.

Friday nights at Le Beat Route were just about over by the time I first interviewed George and Andrew in October ’82, although Wham! did throw one last Christmas party there to celebrate leaving their first record company, Innervision. Instead it was now The Wag on Wardour Street, which, as Wham! took off, increasingly became George’s place to hang out, unbothered.


If Chant No1 belongs to Le Beat Route, then The Wag at Christmas ’84 is where I think of for Wham!’s Everything She Wants. It was where I first heard deejay Fat Tony play the 12-inch mix with its glorious, expanded middle eight, which George had handed him that night to test out on the dance floor. From its rapturous reception and the delighted look on George’s face you could see he’d got the confirmation he was after. Like Chant, he’d delivered his club classic.

First at Melody Maker, then at No1, I was lucky enough to get my fair share of interviews with George. In early No1 days that included him going on a Blind Date with Keren Woodward from Bananarama which ended with him popping up to the 26th floor of IPC magazine’s HQ in King’s Reach Tower to play us a just-finished mix of Bassline (later retitled A Ray of Sunshine) on our tinpot stereo system.

They were more innocent, uncomplicated times in terms of pop coverage but even once Fleet Street turned its attentions to him and much of that side of it became more wearisome, he continued to be one of my favourite pop stars to interview, funny and forthright, as I hope the two interview clips attached here illustrate.

GEORGE/SIMPER 1987 INTERVIEW ON BEING CAMP:

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GEORGE/SIMPER 1987 INTERVIEW ON UNDERPANTS:

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Thanks primarily to June – “Don’t forget Simper!” she’d holler – I saw him more socially once Wham! finished and his solo career began. Merry Chianti-filled nights at Aldo Zilli’s two Dean Street restaurants, Il Siciliano and Signor Zilli’s, and dancing to his records at Brown’s and later Abba, the weekly Hanover Square one-nighter run by June and Fat Tony.

I loved the fact that he danced to his own records. After all if you can’t dance to your records why should anyone else? Fellow clubber and George fan Bayo Furlong reminded me that George always danced exactly like George Michael – the soul boy steps, the arms aloft, the finger and toe points, the hips shake, the swivel, the spin – which is even more brilliant. He was the singing, dancing embodiment of his own Wham! mantra (Wham!tra?) “Enjoy what you do”!

And what a voice. Of his generation, take your pick between him and the other George, for greatest white male soul singer of the 80s. It was there as early as Wham! ballads Nothing Looks the Same in the Light and Club Tropicana B-side Blue and grew on Careless Whisper and A Different Corner. His duets with Aretha Franklin and Mary J Blige – ringing endorsements in themselves – raised the bar again only for him to reach even higher with the likes of Older, You Have Been Loved and Jesus to a Child.

He said himself that he wasn’t the most prolific of writers. Two Wham! and four solo albums of original material and rarely much left over for B-sides (though Fantasy is a little gem) but as a pop star he aced it – twice over.

First in the perfect pop group, two teenage buddies who remained in spirit, sound and success as Wham!-like from the opening volley of Wham Rap! and Young Guns to the last howl of The Edge of Heaven. Then a second time, making the daunting leap from teen idol to internationally successful solo artist, barely breaking a sweat where so many others have fallen.

He told me he’d set himself the goal of joining the then 80s elite of Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen. If the Faith album was his Thriller, with its 25 million sales, he went one better than MJ, surpassing it artistically with Older. And, despite the subsequent fall-out with Sony over record sales, Listen Without Prejudice Vol I – which includes the gorgeous Bacharach-style ballad Cowboys and Angels – isn’t too shabby either.

As our careers both went in different directions, I got to interview him less, but deejay for him more. Fat Tony got me on board to help out with George’s 30th birthday celebrations and I was there again for his 35th in 1998. Both had fancy-dress themes, the latter one Cowboys and Angels, and good sport that he was he didn’t bat an eyelid when I asked him, dressed in a fetching Spice Girl Union Jack bathing suit and wings, to persuade a reluctant Geri Halliwell to do a photo with me.

“He’s a bit strange,” George explained to Ginger Spice, “but he’s a very old friend.”

I’ll settle for that. He did a lot more for me than I’m sure I ever did for him. Dancing to Everything She Wants – dancing like him to Everything She Wants – still gives me more pleasure than most things in life.

At the time of that last Spandau interview he was in the studio still working on his final studio album, Patience. When he played me Flawless (Go to the City) I knew he’d got me again.

It’s no good waiting. You’ve got to go to the city.

That small-town thrill. The anticipation for those Beat Route, Saturday Night Fever moments was still somewhere in our DNA.

I was back in the countryside, tucked up in bed at my mum’s, when I heard he had gone. I only ever went to his house in Goring once, one Boxing Day thanks to June and another good pal, his wonderfully considerate PA Shiv Bailey. He sent a car for me and the only way it could have been any more perfect is if Richard and Judy hadn’t just departed. Otherwise it was all my Last Christmas joy rolled into one.

So thank you, George, for all those happy Christmases, and for everything else you gave.

SIMPER’S OWN GEORGE PLAYLIST AT SPOTIFY




➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
Britain stunned by sudden death of George Michael, our biggest pop superstar of the 80s

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
2016, Soho’s young guns remember George Michael

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