◼ 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 schtupp to funk,” he said.
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”!
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 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. . .
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’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:
GEORGE/SIMPER 1987 INTERVIEW ON UNDERPANTS:
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.
Click pic to open the Wham Rap! video in another window … “Man or mouse” Andrew Ridgeley establishes his clubbing credentials – along with sidekick George Michael – in the opening shots of the Wham! video by reading this very Face cover story on Club Culture that you’re about to read!
THE MOST READ FEATURE ARTICLE AMONG 890,000 VIEWS SINCE THE LAUNCH OF SHAPERS OF THE 80s
➢ Spandau Ballet, the Blitz Kids and the birth of the New Romantics — This much-recycled account originally penned by Shapers of the 80s tells who did what to make stars out of a club houseband, change the rhythm of the UK charts — and ultimately rejuvenate the British media. The obsessive fashionistas behind one small club in London in 1980 went on to dominate the international landscape of pop and fashion, while putting more British acts into the US Billboard charts than the 1960s ever achieved. Spandau Ballet songwriter Gary Kemp responded: “A superb piece. It will be referred to historically.”
➢ Three key men in Boy George’s life – In 2010 the BBC turned the pop star’s teens ’n’ twenties into a 90-minute drama of foot-stamping, chair-throwing, cry-baby tantrums over his self-confessed “dysfunctional romances”, all of which he had documented in his eye-wateringly frank 1995 autobiography, Take It Like a Man. Shapers of the 80s summarises George O’Dowd’s stormy lovelife.
At home in Kentish Town Chris Sullivan chooses the right zootsuit for today’s mood: his wardrobe is legendary, his taste impeccable, and his influence immeasurable. Shapersofthe80s shot this for his first Evening Standard interview in June 1981
On TV in 1984: Wag club host Chris Sullivan talks of his love for jazz (BBC)
❚ DEEJAY AND WAG CLUB FOUNDER and reinventor of the zoot suit Chris Sullivan writes today: “My first radio show on Soho Radio tomorrow from 4 till 6pm …. Tune in online for an afternoon tickle…. and please like the page if you can. I’d be most grateful.”
“ The show would be called Sullivan Suits and would cover all the music I come across each week on my quest as a DJ that might be Scorpio by Dennis Coffey, You and Me By Slave, Hustlers Convention by the Last Poets or re-edits by Joey Negro such as Same Old Scene by Roxy or stuff that I refind such as Manhattan Fable by Babs Gonsales, Light My Fire by Erma Franklyn. These would be backed up by old favourites such as A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash, Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, Kooks by David Bowie. Howling Wolf, Little Walter, Aretha etc etc.
“ I’d throw in odd facts, stories and hoaxes. All in all it would be whatever suits me and the listener that day. I would also get a guest from time to time and get them to pick a few tracks – Mark Powell, Phil Dirtbox, Kevin Rowlands, Bernie from Groucho, Mark Hix etc and perhaps discuss Soho and swop stories. ”
❏ Launching at 2pm Weds May 7,Soho Radio is a new independent radio station with 24/7 live streaming and pre-recorded programming from its own shop/cafe in Great Windmill Street, next to Paul Raymond’s Windmill Club. Wave to the Cuban Brothers and later to Sullivan through the studio’s large shop window onto the street. The station says it aims to provide an eclectic mix of the vibrant and diverse which this district of central London is renowned for – breaking underground acts and bringing together musicians, artists, film makers, chefs, poets and local piano tuners. Nowhere does the website says who’s behind the radio station, so until it proves itself we’d better assume it’s some Russian oligarch, as usual these days.
TALKING OF THE WAG, HERE’S A RARE OLD VIDEO
❏ Newly posted at YouTube,here’s a supercool glimpse inside Chris Sullivan’s Wag club on Wardour Street when it was London’s landmark nightspot during 1984. Monday nights were given over to the clubland’s most fashionable music craze – jazz! This segment comes from the BBC2 Whistle Test music programme on the Jazz Room when David Hepwoth ventures into the Wag to meet clubland’s jazz deejay Paul Murphy, old-timers Slim Gaillard and Will Gaines, Jerry IDJ, Dr Bob Jones, Robert Elms, among others. While club dudes complain “There’s no good pop music around at the moment” we see the American vocalist and true legend Slim Gaillard boogeying on the Wag’s dancefloor and also in a great vintage clip from 1946 singing his “groovy orooney” number, Dunkin’ Bagel.
Chris Sullivan comments: “I’ve never seen this … but then again I really didn’t like the interviewer hence my lack of enthusiasm in our chat.”
At the Wag in 1984: jazz deejay Paul Murphy, and American trouper Slim Gaillard (BBC)
Me and Mr Sanchez: 1981’s debut chart hit for Blue Rondo à la Turk with cover art by former Wag club host Chris Sullivan
❚ PROMISES! PROMISES!All-round clubbing maestro Chris Sullivan has been faffing away for a year since he got his hands on the original master-tapes of his stand-out Latin-funk dance-band of 1982, Blue Rondo à la Turk. Going public on Facebook today, he dares to promise a re-release of their first album Chewing The Fat this spring (having originally mooted it for last spring), meanwhile posting online a punchy fresh mix of their debut chart single, Me and Mr Sanchez.
Sullivan said: “This is a remix we’ve done for our forthcoming bonus remix CD to accompany the first ever CD release of Blue Rondo’s first album Chewing The Fat on May 5.” Then comes the killer punch: “We’re looking to license it to a TV company for the World Cup… any ideas? It’s a no brainer and the original was used in Brazil by Globo TV for the 1982 World Cup but this is a better mix.”
A year ago he was downloading the whole Rondo catalogue fresh off the original tapes, saying: “First time anyone will have heard them digitally – other than disc dubs, of course. Looking back and listening to the tunes (especially the Heavens are Crying mix) what astonishes me is the f***-you-we’ll-do-our-thing approach.”
Since then Sullivan has released a handful of mixes from the putative new album, including an earlier mix of Mr Sanchez about which he acknowledged that the dean of swing, ex-Rondo guitarist Mark Reilly, “did the lion’s share”.
➢ Choose “View full site” – then in the blue bar atop your mobile page, click the three horizontal lines linking to many blue themed pages with background articles.
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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