Tag: Steve Strange (Page 2 of 2)

Lost Albums: VISAGE The Anvil

By the time that VISAGE’s second album ‘The Anvil’ came out in Spring 1982, things were very different for the cast who had produced the eponymous debut started in 1979, and which in early 1981 spawned the massive European hit ‘Fade To Grey’.

Midge Ure had accepted Billy Currie’s invitation to join ULTRAVOX and were now riding hide internationally thanks to the success of ‘Vienna’; sax playing guitarist John McGeoch left both VISAGE and MAGAZINE, and was now a member of SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES; keyboards man Dave Formula though remained.

Meanwhile, thanks to the success of ‘A Club For Heroes’ at The Blitz in Covent Garden and Barracuda on Baker Street, Rusty Egan and Steve Strange were about to embark on their biggest venture yet with the Camden Palace. Strange, in particular had become a bona fide celebrity and was being snapped by Paparazzi hanging out with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Elton John, Diana Dors, Marianne Faithful and Jerry Hall.

In many respects, it was unsurprising that ‘The Anvil’ appeared to lack the focus of its predecessor, but it was still a very good record. The synthesized European romanticism that had dominated the ‘Visage’ debut was omnipresent, especially with the lavish monochromatic Helmut Newton cover photograph.

But a funkier perspective had been introduced to proceedings, thanks to Strange and Egan’s growing interest in the new funk forms that had been emerging in clubland, particularly from New York. It was a direction that had been indicated on ‘We Move’, the B-side to ‘Mind Of A Toy’ and in order to authentic things further, there had been talk of ROXY MUSIC bassist Gary Tibbs joining, but he was then head hunted by ADAM & THE ANTS. Instead, original VISAGE bassist Barry Adamson rejoined, but this time as a hired hand and his subsequent contribution to half of the album was to have a profound effect.

The funkier direction also allowed Midge Ure to indulge in techniques and styles he would have never got away with in ULTRAVOX. But while VISAGE had been started in 1978 by himself and Rusty Egan as a project to make up for the shortage of suitable Euro styled electronic dance music in the clubs, he had not been naturally schooled in funk the way Rusty Egan had been as a soul boy. While the genre blend was to produce some fabulous music, the continuing musical differences would subsequently lead to a fallout between the two friends.

To the public at least, it was business as usual with the album’s launch single ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’. Very much in the vein of ‘Fade To Grey’, it was set to a drum machine syncopated by Rusty Egan’s percussive mantra while Billy Currie’s piano and ARP Odyssey made its presence felt in the solo. And reprising the prominent female vocals that featured on ‘Fade To Grey’, ex-HOT GOSSIP members Perry Lister (Mrs Billy Idol) and Lorraine Whitmarsh added their own wispy feminine touch, as they were to do throughout the album alongside backing vocals from Ure and Egan.

visage damned don't cryWhile ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ delivered what was expected, the harder edged, Teutonic salvo of ‘The Anvil’ almost certainly was not. Featuring some superb guitar work from Midge Ure and metronomic drumming courtesy of Rusty Egan minus his hi-hats, it was Steve Strange’s tale of a night out in New York’s notorious gay club of the same name. Billy Currie’s superb screaming ARP Odyssey and Dave Formula’s brassy synth riff completed the industrial revolution. It had been intended as the album’s first single and a German version ‘Der Amboss’ had already been recorded as one of the bonuses.

Rusty Egan said: “For me, ‘The Anvil’ was the lead track, ‘The Anvil’ in German (‘Der Amboss’), the 12-inch remixes… but the record company didn’t support that! They were pushing for another ‘Fade To Grey’ so they were going for ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’!” While, Polydor were not so keen to use ‘The Anvil’ as a launch pad, DIE KRUPPS’ subsequent electro metal cover in 2007 proved belatedly how seminal the track actually was!

While the following ‘Move Up’ with its hard bass sequence developed on the title track, it suffered being sat next to it, but that set the scene for the rather bizarre but enjoyable sonic sandwich of ‘Night Train’. With Dave Formula’s wobbling, detuned synth line bouncing off Barry Adamson’s bass and Gary Barnacle’s squawking sax, the funky overtones augmented by Rusty Egan’s drumming were then counterpointed by an ULTRAVOX styled piano and violin passage in the middle eight.

visage night trainWhile the elements all provided a marvellous musical excursion, Ure’s final production was perhaps not direct enough for the American club market that Egan and Strange now coveted. Ure said to Smash Hits at the time: “During the last album I kept hearing phrases like ‘commercial’ and ‘appealing to the American market’. I don’t like the ‘American market’ much”! So when ‘Night Train’ was remixed for single release in Summer 1982 by noted American disco producer John Luongo at the instigation of Egan, it spelt the end of the diminutive Glaswegian’s association with VISAGE. “I didn’t like it” he simply said.

Despite an impressive first side, even better was to come on side two with some real lost masterpieces in amongst the throng. First up was the ULTRAVOX meets CHIC hybrid of ‘The Horseman’. It certainly was interesting to hear Midge Ure aping Nile Rodgers, albeit using his distinctive flanged guitar style rather than a more traditional fluid rhythm slice.

And with Ure’s backing vocals so prominent in the mix of ‘The Horseman’, especially in the middle eight, it was almost an ULTRAVOX song in all but name. While Steve Strange’s characteristic, but occasionally dispassionate lead voice was an essential part of VISAGE’s identity, it was Ure’s input that provided the credible vocal musicality, as proven by Strange’s hopeless, undirected vocals that were on evident 1984’s disastrous Ure-less VISAGE album ‘Beat Boy’.

‘Look What They’ve Done’ was a dramatic slice of neu romance, and it was on songs like these where Steve Strange’s less tutored vocals came to the fore, suiting a colder electronic backdrop more than the misguided adventures into rock which came later.

But with the glorious ‘Again We Love’, every aspect of VISAGE’s collective talents clicked in unison, both vocally and instrumentally. From the dramatic start and the eerie, atmospheric melancholy to the stupendous percussive climax and echoey fade, ‘Again We Love’ summed up what VISAGE was all about. Yes, they were the New Romantic supergroup and were a formidable combination when firing on all cylinders. And it was this song on ‘The Anvil’ that probably got closest to recapturing the grandeur of ‘Fade To Grey’.

With that impressive trio of songs, the album took a slight dive with ‘Wild Life’. This was disappointing as the B-sides of the album’s two singles, the metronomic instrumental ‘Motivation’ and the proto-PET SHOP BOYS of ‘I’m Still Searching’, were far superior. Typically the type of rushed filler that adorned most albums of the day, ‘Wild Life’ sounded like several musical idea fragments gaffer taped together with a middle section that had Rusty Egan impersonating BOW WOW WOW! It had no proper lyric to speak of either but thankfully, victory was snatched from defeat with the beautiful, dreamy ambience of ‘Whispers’.

Featuring Perry Lister and Lorraine Whitmarsh surreally conversing like five year old girls over a hypnotic piano motif, the track’s chilling shimmers and sad synth replies were interrupted halfway through by a simple, heartfelt melody over a stark funereal beat. Its enigmatic use on a TDK TV advert featuring Steve Strange actually got it a single release in Japan. And ironically, despite Strange not appearing on the track itself, ‘Whispers’ has now sadly gained further poignancy and resonance in light of his passing on 12th February 2015.

‘The Anvil’ is possibly the most under rated album of that Synth Britannia / New Romantic period. Although it went silver in the UK and reached No6 in the album chart, it never got the artistic acclaim it deserved, no doubt overshadowed by the accomplishments of ULTRAVOX, JAPAN, DURAN DURAN, ASSOCIATES and SIMPLE MINDS at the time. While not as consistent as  VISAGE’s debut, there are certainly a number of songs on ‘The Anvil’ that are among the best of the era and truly merit reinvestigation.


Dedicated to the memory of STEVE STRANGE 1959 – 2015

‘The Anvil’ is available on CD via Rubellan Remasters at https://www.rubellanremasters.com/online-store

http://www.visage.cc/

http://www.billycurrie.com/

http://www.daveformula.com/

http://www.midgeure.co.uk/

http://rustyegan.blogspot.co.uk/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th March 2015, updated 21st March 2020

STEVE STRANGE 1959 – 2015

BlitzSteve2011aSTEVE STRANGE, lead vocalist of VISAGE and the face of the New Romantic movement has sadly passed away, aged 55.

A statement on the VISAGE Facebook page said: “We are extremely saddened to announce that Steve Strange died at 11.15 local time on Thursday 12th February, in Sharm El Sheik International Hospital, Egypt. Steve died in his sleep, of Heart Failure. Steve’s family, band members and friends are all distraught at this sudden news of his untimely death. Steve’s family request privacy at this extremely difficult time”.

Born Steven John Harrington in Newbridge, Caerphilly, he headed for London to seek fame and fortune after he saw THE SEX PISTOLS play in his hometown.

Courting controversy almost instantly, he formed a punk band called THE MOORS MURDERERS who recorded a song called ‘Free Hindley’. He then joined THE PHOTONS with whom he wrote what would become ‘Mind Of A Toy’, before working as an assistant for THE RICH KIDS whose members included Midge Ure and Rusty Egan.

When THE RICH KIDS disbanded in 1978, Ure and Egan started developing an interest in electronic music while simultaneously, Strange and Egan started a club night at Billy’s in Soho where art students, hairdressers and fashion designers could gather to a soundtrack of DAVID BOWIE, ROXY MUSIC and KRAFTWERK. First called ‘Bowie Night’ and then ‘A Club For Heroes’, the evening eventually moved to The Blitz in Covent Garden. While Egan DJ-ed, Strange acted as host with a strict door policy of admitting only “the weird and wonderful”. The clientele were initially labelled by the press as The Cult With No Name and The Blitz Kids, but were eventually dubbed The New Romantics.

Steve Strange+Midge Ure+Rusty Egan by Smanatha Reynolds

Photo by Samantha Reynolds

As work progressed on Ure and Egan’s electronic project now named VISAGE, Strange was recruited as vocalist while Billy Currie from ULTRAVOX and MAGAZINE refugees Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson also joined.

Recording an album at Martin Rushent’s Genetic Studios in Reading, VISAGE released their first single ‘Tar’ in 1979 on Radar Records. Business problems at the label stalled any potential ‘Tar’ had, but the single attracted interest from Polydor Records.

Due to all the other VISAGE members being contracted to other labels, a complex arrangement was brokered through THIN LIZZY’s management company Morrision-O’Donnell with Strange being the sole signatory on the eventual deal.

VISAGE BlitzMeanwhile in 1980, noticing some kindred spirits, DAVID BOWIE paid a visit to The Blitz to recruit extras for his ‘Ashes To Ashes’ video; among the chosen ones was Strange. The New Romantics had now gone mainstream. It was not long before VISAGE finally released their self-titled debut album and the iconic single ‘Fade to Grey’ was a hit all over Europe, becoming a German No1 in March 1981.

Further hits such as ‘Mind Of A Toy’, ‘Visage’ and ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ followed and the success of both VISAGE and The Blitz allowed Strange and Egan to move into the 1500 capacity Camden Palace in 1982 for their next club venture. But it was here than the perils of fame and fortune started to manifest themselves. When Ure, Currie and Morrison-O’Donnell bid adieu to VISAGE, it severely left the band in a fragmented state musically and managerially. Meanwhile the pressures of keeping such a large club venture profitable, while surrounded by the tempting excesses of the era, took their toll with Strange succumbing to drug related and mental health issues in the following years. There was also a fall-out with Rusty Egan.

blitz_1

Photo by Richard Price

Strange revived VISAGE in 2004 as a live act for the ‘Hear & Now’ nostalgia tours and did his public profile no harm when he won reality TV show ‘Celebrity Scissorhands’ in 2007.

There were attempted reconciliations with Rusty Egan on Living TV’s ‘Pop Goes The Band’ in 2009 and The Blitz Club Reunion event in 2011, but to no avail. Indeed, Egan had alleged that Strange misplaced VISAGE royalty payments owed to himself, Dave Formula and the estate of the late John McGeoch.

Meanwhile, a 2013 comeback album ‘Heart & Knives’ and subsequent tour featuring Strange as the only original VISAGE member drew mixed responses. Controversial right to the end, at the time of Strange’s passing, Universal Music had launched legal action for appropriating parts of the original VISAGE recordings for the recent reworked best of album ‘Orchestral’.

Chris Payne, who had co-written ‘Fade To Grey’ with Billy Currie and Midge Ure said: “I have been forthright in my criticism of the new VISAGE, but it is very sad to hear about the death of Steve Strange. I had never met him personally, although we shared something in common with the song ‘Fade to Grey’”.

What does remain of STEVE STRANGE’s legacy is his very significant contribution to popular culture. In addition to VISAGE, ‘A Club For Heroes’ spawned bands like SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB, while others regulars such as Dylan Jones, Peter Ashworth and John Galliano made their names in writing, photography and fashion respectively. MADONNA played her first UK concert at Camden Palace in 1983 while ‘Fade To Grey’ was voted ‘Song of the Decade’ on the prestigious German music show ‘Hit Giganten’ during an 80s special in 2010.

Samantha Reynolds, a regular club goer from back in the day said to TEC: “I remember Steve from those days with nothing but affection, he was always kind to me, I cried on his shoulder many a time. Peace be with him. X”


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th February 2015

VISAGE Hearts and Knives

Destroy Yourself If You Love Me…

cover idea

With the well received returns of ULTRAVOX and DURAN DURAN in the last few years, it was inevitable VISAGE would resurrect themselves. Originally a synthesized collective comprising of Midge Ure, Rusty Egan, Billy Currie, Dave Formula and the late John McGeoch, it was fronted by the face of the New Romantic scene, Steve Strange.

But on this new album, only Strange remains although Formula co-writes ‘Diaries Of A Madman’, the only track to emerge from an aborted attempt to revive the brand as VISAGE II back in 2007.

Rusty Egan was involved in the early stages of ‘Hearts & Knives’, but departed due to creative differences while despite an announcement by Strange on German TV that he was working with Ure again, the diminutive Glaswegian has distanced himself from the project although it is known he had submitted a song on condition that it involved Egan.

The absence of the key musical driving forces that gave the world ‘Fade To Grey’, ‘Mind Of A Toy’ and ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ really exposes itself on ‘Hearts & Knives’. Even an attempt to lob the iconic Compurhythm intro of ‘Fade To Grey’ onto ‘She’s Electric’ to reference past glories cannot detract from the poor quality of this album. The first two VISAGE albums were notable for their arrangements, counterpoints and musicality while layers of Midge Ure’s backing vocals propped up Strange’s lead monotone.  But like the disastrous third album ‘Beat Boy’ which saw Strange and Egan try to keep the VISAGE name alive after the departure of the ULTRAVOX and MAGAZINE crew, Strange’s voice is laid bare and simply not strong enough for a collection of songs to be based around.

visage2013Bare is a description that could be used for the music too. The production is almost demo-like; the rhythmical base is particularly thin and while it is great to hear ex-ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon again, the squawky nature of his interplay becomes irritating from being pushed too far up in the mix. And despite claims that exclusively analogue synths are used, they’re hardly noticeable with the assorted technicians seemingly unaware of VISAGE’s history.

It’s not all bad; ‘Shameless Fashion’ is unsurprisingly the single and could have come off ‘Beat Boy’ while ‘Dreamer I Know’ has unleashed melodic potential. But compared with ULTRAVOX’s ‘Brilliant’ or DURAN DURAN’s ‘All You Need Is Now’ though, ‘Hearts & Knives’ just doesn’t cut it!


With thanks to Vicky Berry at Quite Great PR

‘Hearts & Knives’ is released on 20th May 2013 by Blitz Club Records as a CD and download

Please visit http://www.visage.cc/ to obtain a free download of ‘Shameless Fashion’

The new line-up of VISAGE play Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in London on 5th June 2013

http://www.facebook.com/therealvisage


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Artwork Photo by Peter Ashworth, Portrait Photo by David Levine
13th May 2013, updated 19th May 2015

Return To THE BLITZ CLUB 2011

The Blitz Club celebrated its 30th Anniversary with a special reunion at its old site which is now The Red Rooms in Holborn, London.

its original soundtrack centred on the music of DAVID BOWIE but also included KRAFTWERK, ROXY MUSIC, ENO, LA DUSSELDORF, GINA X PERFORMANCE, ULTRAVOX, THE NORMAL, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, TELEX and MAGAZINE amongst others.

This vibrant post-punk scene, whose clientel were dubbed ‘The Blitz Kids’ and ‘The New Romantics’, became the catalyst for several bands including SPANDAU BALLET, CULTURE CLUB and of course, VISAGE as well as assorted fashion designers and visual artists.

Hosted by its founders Steve Strange and Rusty Egan, among the special guests attending tonight’s party are SPANDAU BALLET’s Martin Kemp and John Keeble, Martin Kemp’s wife and WHAM! backing singer Shirlie Holliman, SPANDAU BALLET manager Steve Dagger and renowned photographer Peter Ashworth whose striking images adorn the covers of SOFT CELL’s ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’ and ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’, ASSOCIATES ‘Sulk’, EURYTHMICS ‘Touch’ and the very first VISAGE album.

Also reunited for the first time in many years were members of The Blitz Club dance troupe SHOCK including Carole Caplin, LA Richards, Tim Dry aka Tik from TIK & TOK and Barbie Wilde who appeared in ULTRAVOX’s ‘Passing Strangers’ promo video with the absent Sean Crawford aka Tok.

After an initial DJ set by Rusty Egan, PARADISE POINT took to the stage to deliver a lively performance with their bassist Roman Kemp following in the footsteps of his father Martin by playing The Blitz Club. His mum Shirlie looked on proudly. Despite at least three members of the group looking barely old enough to be playing on licensed premises, they were impressive with a polished danceable pop style that wholly suited the occasion.

Singer Cameron Jones has a charismatic confidence which should see PARADISE POINT fill the gap in the market for a smart boy band that actually plays their own instruments. During the interlude to remove the stage to reveal the dancefloor proper, both Steve Strange and Rusty Egan took to the mic to thank everyone for attending. Rusty even took great delight in mentioning The Electricity Club by announcing: “These guys know more about the music I play than I do!!” Merci beaucoup Rusty!

The old Blitz Club dancefloor filled as its original resident DJ spinned classic after classic with many songs from the original Blitz Club playlist.

It was quite surreal to not only be hearing the 12 inch mixes of ‘Fade To Grey’, ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ and ‘R.E.R.B.’ in the very place that helped inspire them, but to also be in the presence of the very people that were involved in their genesis and recording.

However, one particular highlight with a modern twist occurred when the EMP 09 dance remix of ULTRAVOX’s ‘Visions In Blue’ was warmly received by the crowd.

With the essential inclusion of DAVID BOWIE’s ‘Heroes / Helden’, ‘The Model’ by KRAFTWERK, OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’, JOY DIVISION’s ‘She’s Lost Control’ and a bit of BRYAN FERRY et voila… this was the perfect combination to celebrate nearly four decades of fantastically inventive avant pop music.

julia & rustyNext to take the decks was Princess Julia who famously appeared in the iconic ‘Fade To Grey’ promo video with Steve Strange. Again, it was surreal to see the pair standing together in the DJ booth.

Onlookers were even treated to the former Steven Harrington doing some impromptu miming over the soon-to-be released reworking of VISAGE’s ‘Frequency 7’ which now features extra lyrics borrowed from HEAVEN 17’s ‘Temptation’.

This is a song which incidentally also has Blitz Club connections as it was Rusty Egan who recommended Carol Kenyon to Messrs Marsh, Ware and Gregory when the Sheffield trio were seeking a soulful backing vocalist for their then yet-to-be completed 1983 single.

Meanwhile Princess Julia’s set was varied, ranging from the not entirely unexpected like DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ to the biggest surprise of the night, FANCY’s cult Euro hit from 1983, ‘Slice Me Nice’. The various Germans and Scandinavians, who have made the journey specially to be at this reunion tonight, were particularly appreciative!

But with the landlords The Red Rooms reverting to their usual source of income as a table dancing establishment, it was time for The Blitz Club, like Cinderella, to make its exit before midnight. The whole night was terrifically friendly with lots of great electronic pop music and many attendees got into the spirit of things by togging up as New Romantics, Peacock Punks or in the case of The Electricity Club, 1950’s German bank clerks!

The Return To The Blitz Club 2011 couldn’t have been any better. With ULTRAVOX having just signed a new recording deal with Universal Music and plans also for a new VISAGE album, the legacy of The Blitz Club is alive and well! Tonight really was a Club For Heroes!


Rusty Egan’s DJ setlist

THE KNIFE Pass This On
THE STOOGES I Wanna Be Your Dog
THE BLUE NILE Headlights On The Parade
THE HUMAN LEAGUE Being Boiled
TOM TOM CLUB Genius Of Love
KRAFTWERK Neon Lights
DAVID BOWIE Sound & Vision
IGGY POP Sister Midnight
tapio & martin & SteveKRAFTWERK Trans Europe Express
DAVID BOWIE Fashion
GINA X PERFORMANCE No GDM
SIMPLE MINDS Changeling
LIAISONS DANGEREUSES Los Ninos Del Parque
BLONDIE Heart Of Glass
SHOCK R.E.R.B.
ULTRAVOX Visions In Blue (EMP 09 Remix)
ABC Tears Are Not Enough
blitz girls 2011-02YOKO ONO Walking On Thin Ice
BRYAN FERRY Let’s Stick Together
DAVID BOWIE Ashes To Ashes
DAVID BOWIE Boys Keep Swinging
SPANDAU BALLET To Cut A Long Story Short (Long Mix)
HUMAN LEAGUE The Sound Of The Crowd
OMD Enola Gay
SOFT CELL Tainted Love
THE CURE In Between Days
blitz girls 2011JOY DIVISION She’s Lost Control
DEPECHE MODE See You
ULTRAVOX Hiroshima Mon Amour
VISAGE Mind Of A Toy
DURAN DURAN Planet Earth (Night Version)
IGGY POP The Passenger
ASSOCIATES Club Country (12″ Version)
DAVID BOWIE Heroes/Helden
KRAFTWERK Das Modell
VISAGE Fade to Grey (Club Mix)


With special thanks to Rusty Egan

http://rustyegan.net

https://www.facebook.com/rusty.egan/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price
24th January 2011, updated 15th February 2015

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