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Nightclubbing: Fascinating 1981 BBC news report on the New Romantics
12:02 pm

Spandau Ballet
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.

Chris Sullivan
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).

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider
12:02 pm
‘Posers’: Vintage doc takes a stroll down the King’s Rd. looking for New Romantics, 1981

The Blitz Club where the Eighties were invented.
Punk was boring. Punk was dead. Punk stopped being interesting when it became chart music. In its place came New Wave—which was really just more of the same played with jangly guitars by bands with a taste for Sixties music. The next really big thing was the utter antithesis of punk. Elitist, pretentious, preening, vain, camp yet utterly inventive.

It was called “the cult with no name”—because nobody knew what to call it. It didn’t fit any easy categorization. There were soul boys, punks, rockabillies, with a taste for dance music and electronica all in the mix. It was the press who eventually pitched up with the tag New Romantics which stuck.

I was never quite sure what was supposed to be romantic about the New Romantics. They weren’t starving in garrets or brokenhearted, writing poetry, indulging in absinthe or committing suicide by the dozen. They were all dolled-up to the nines, flaunting it out on the streets—demanding to be seen.

It had all started with Rusty Egan and Steve Strange running a club night playing Bowie, Roxy Music and Kraftwerk at a venue called Billy’s in 1978.

Egan was a drummer and DJ. He was in a band with ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock called Rich Kids which featured Midge Ure on vocals.
Strange had been inspired to move to London and form a punk band after he saw the Sex Pistols in concert. He moved out of Wales and formed The Moors Murderers. The band included punk icon Soo Catwoman, guitarist Chrissie Hynde and Clash drummer Topper Headon. Together they recorded one notorious single “Free Hindley.”

The same year, Egan, Strange and Ure formed Visage—which was to become a catalyst for the New Romantics in 1980 with their hit single “Fade to Grey.”
Visage: Steve Strange, Midge Ure and Rusty Egan in 1978.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, so let’s be kind and rewind.

1978: Egan and Strange move their club night to a wine bar-cum-restaurant-cum-dance-club called the Blitz. Egan was the DJ. Strange was on the door. Strange has a strict door policy. No one gets in unless they dressed like superstars.

More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
12:35 pm
Lipstick and powder: Boy George presents a Top 10 of New Romantics

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.


Previously on DM

‘The Chemical Generation’: Boy George’s documentary on British Rave Culture

Part 2 of Boy George’s Top 10 plus more memories from the Blitz Kids, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
08:21 pm