Out of the ashes of Punk came the New Romantics, rising like a painted phoenix over London’s club scene. From clubs like Billy’s and Blitz, where Steve Strange and Rusty Egan played Bowie, the Velvets and T.Rex, and Boy George was the coat-check guy, came the New Romantics. Clubbers known as the Blitz Kids, who were made-up and beautiful, and knew imagination was more important than money when it came to having fun.
The Blitz Kids were Steve Strange (Visage), Rusty Egan (The Rich Kids), Boy George (Culture Club), Tony Hadley, Martin Kemp, Gary Kemp, John Keeble, Steve Norman (Spandau Ballet), Tony James, James Degville (Sigue Sigue Sputnik), Siobhan Fahey (Bananarama), Marilyn, Princess Julia, Isabella Blow, Stephen Jones and Michael Clarke, and together they were the generation of New Romantics.
Last year, in the Guardian, Priya Elan talked to some of the “movers and shakers behind the scene that spawned the New Romantics.”
STEVE STRANGE, BLITZ CLUB HOST, VISAGE FRONTMAN: By 1977 I’d gotten very bored by punk. It’d become very violent. The skinheads and the National Front had moved in.
RUSTY EGAN, BLITZ DJ, VISAGE MEMBER: The punk venues got invaded by football hooligans wearing Le Coq Sportif clothes. They’d call us “poofs” because we weren’t dressed in a normal way. Hence why we formed the club. It was for those ex-punks who liked Lou Reed, Bowie and Iggy.
SS: It was about being creative, we wanted to start something that didn’t have anything to do with punk.
RE: It was a horrible time of recession. Covent Garden was isolated and badly lit. But then you’d walk into the club and it was like “Ta-da!” Everyone was drinking and taking poppers. The atmosphere was like Studio 54.
SIOBHAN FAHEY, BLITZ CLUBBER AND BANANARAMA MEMBER: We’d spend the whole week preparing our outfits for the club. We’d go and buy fabrics, customise our leather jackets, make cummerbunds, find old military things and throw them together in a mix of glam, military and strangeness. It was all DIY because we didn’t really have any money to properly eat. We lived off coffee and cigarettes, really.
RE: The song that became the anthem of the club was Heroes by Bowie. “Just for one day” you could dress up and be more than what Britain had to offer you.
SS: Nobody should knock escape and fantasy, dressing up like a Hollywood film star because they’re getting away from it, escaping the nine to five.
LEIGH GORMAN, BOW WOW WOW MEMBER: It was an incredibly striking place, more overwhelming than any film set you can imagine. Everyone was so dressed up. Steve Strange was in full Elizabethan costume. There was another woman dressed as Marie Antoinette.
SF: Everyone would look incredible, it would be like walking into a room of exotic freaks: Boy George, Marilyn, Steve Strange, Princess Julia. I mean, everybody in there went on to become culture icons, but at the time we were just teenagers, coming out of the punk scene and bored as hell.
RE: It was like being at a big happy fancy dress party. We were happy because tomorrow we’d be on the dole. It was different to anything else that was going on at the time. You wouldn’t hear terrible music or be patronised by a horrible person from the 70s with a satin jacket or have a personal appearance by Tony Blackburn. We were playing electronic music like Kraftwerk because we fucking loved it, not because we were being paid to.
SS: I ran a very tight ship in terms of my door policy. I wanted creative-minded pioneers there who looked like a walking piece of art, not some drunken beery lads. People would ask, “Why aren’t we getting in?” and I’d hold a mirror up and say, “Have you looked at yourself?” It would actually make a lot of people try a lot harder to get in and maybe a week or two later, they would be able to come in.
RE: Boy George was the coat-check guy at the club. He was like the pied piper; 50 kids would follow him around. He was a real star, like Marilyn; they were living in a squat on the dole but they were walking around saying, “I am a star.” They were loving the attention. When Culture Club brought out the single White Boy it didn’t do anything. George was selling clothes in a shop on Carnaby Street telling the customers, “I’ve got a record out, you’d like it! It’s reggae-ish!” It took them about three flop singles before Do You Really Want To Hurt Me came out.
SF: Steve Strange got into a bit of a weird power trip when he was on the door. It was really nerve wracking, and you didn’t know if you were going to get in or not. And then once you did get in you had lots of people being bitchy. I remember pushing my way through to get to the loo and this guy went, “Oooh! It touched me!”
SS: The best move I made was turning Mick Jagger away at the door.
RE: Michael Jackson and Bowie came to the club for the music. [Island founder] Chris Blackwell came once. And if you looked at Grace Jones’s album Warm Leatherette, it’s filled with all the songs I was playing at the time – Private Life and Love Is The Drug.
SS: David Bowie came to the club and hand-picked me to be in the Ashes To Ashes video. I was totally in awe. The makers asked me to meet them at 6.30pm at the Hilton Park Lane and I thought we would be going something really exotic. We ended up on Southend beach! He closed the beach, so at least that was glamorous. Bowie’s known as a very clever thief, that’s why he turned to the Blitz, because he wanted to be part of London’s most happening scene. Latterly, word spread and the press was trying to pin a name on to us. They variously called us The Cult With No Name and blitz kids. Finally they came up with new romantics.
SF: It’s funny, we’re in a recession now and I feel like we’ve got back to the DIY mood of the Blitz time. I do think the affluence and crazy marketing of the 90s killed people’s creativity. It was all like, “You’ve got to have this or you’re nobody.” Now we’ve come full circle and I love it.
Here’s Boy George on Channel 4’s Top 10 series, hosting a run down of the acts best associated with New Romanticism, Visage, Duran Duran, Japan, Adam and the Ants, ABC, Soft Cell, Spandau Ballet, The Human League, Ultravox, Marilyn, and Culture Club.
Previously on DM