The Blitz club in Covent Garden was ground zero for the movement that came to be known as the New Romantics, an identity that perhaps represented the most forceful rejection of the premises of punk music, which was then on everyone’s lips. Where the punks preached scruffy confrontation and anarchy, the New Romantics veered in an escapist direction, stressing the rarefied forms of yesteryear (most often the 1930s) and an abiding (even a political) belief in actual beauty with a capital B.
The Blitz Kids looked to Roxy Music and David Bowie for inspiration, adopting a sartorial flair that included flaming mascara, outrageous accessories, zoot suits. The Blitz club spawned the New Romantic acts Visage and Spandau Ballet, among others, but nature of the scene was insular—the whole point of the weekly meetups was to parade oneself for all the others who had gathered for the occasion. Gigs didn’t have to be promoted because word of mouth would fill any chosen room.
In May 1980 Strange, Egan, and Chris Sullivan of the band Blue Rondo à la Turk opened Hell, which had a darker feel than Blitz. At Hell, as Dave Rimmer writes in New Romantics: The Look, “many of the Blitz crowd pursued an ecclesiastical theme: dark robes, white faces, a look that prefigured Goth.” At Hell you would hear acts like the Pop Group, Defunkt, the Cramps, and A Certain Ratio, but its “anthem” was “Contort Yourself” by James White and the Blacks. Hell only lasted a few months, and by early 1981 the hot spot had become a joint started by Chris Sullivan and Graham Ball called Le Kilt, which was where BBC sent Robin Denselow to do his report.
Tellingly, the report begins with the strains of Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “Manhattan” as Sullivan carefully dons his tailored duds. A few minutes later, Steve Strange bellows the words “Nobody should knock fantasy!” in fervent defense of the New Romantic ideology in an overt embrace of escapism—and why not?
Gary and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet are on hand, Gary in particular speaking with palpable edge about the demands the New Romantic movement places on the participants (for they must dress up as much as any performer). We get a glimpse of Spandau Ballet filming the video for the early single “The Freeze.”
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Nightclubbing’: A collection of photos of London’s New Romantics scene, 1979-1981
Early photos of Boy George, Steve Strange & more at the club that launched the New Romantics