Three magazines from my huge archive of 80s stuff – Record Mirror featuring Blondie, My Guy with Steve Strange and No.1 magazine with the faces of 1983. Record Mirror was a good music mag but it never inspired the tribal loyalty that attached to the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds.
In the late 70s, it would publish painted images of pop stars, some of which I’ve framed as they were rather fetching. The mag closed down in 1991 but bizarrely, the name was bought by Giovanni di Stefano – an Italian lawyer most famous for being on Saddam Hussein’s legal defence team!
When I was a kid in the 70s, my Dad would take my sister and I down to Petticoat Lane and Brick Lane markets and then round to the Houndsditch Warehouse and the surrounding clothes stalls. When I walk along those streets now, I struggle to make out the places in my memories – so much has changed.
The strongest images in my mind are of orthodox Jewish antiques dealers selling old coins on stalls in a grimy cobbled courtyard. I still have two George III 1797 cartwheel pennies that I bought for about ten pence and now sell on ebay for thirty or forty quid. The Jewish presence in the area was still strong with restaurants and bagel shops – bit of a cursory presence these days.
Somewhere near Houndsditch was what looked like a large shed full of clothes racks and what appeared to be the suits of the recently deceased for sale. I was too young to be into retro clothes in the 70s and by the time I was in the 80s, I was going to Kensington Market and Camden instead. The rag trade in the east end was shifting from being a Jewish concern to Bangladeshi workshops and retailers.
On Petticoat Lane you’d run into a bustle of people shuffling past stallholders selling everything from babywear to toothbrushes. And the obligatory East End salesman giving his patter at full volume to credulous shoppers. One guy, I recall, holding up a luridly coloured toothbrush shouting:
Can’t tell ya what brand madam…but there’s ‘wisdom’ in having one!
Oh I thought as a 12 year old – I get it – it’s a toothbrush made by Wisdom (big brand at the time). I bought the toothbrush only to find the brand name stippled out with a hot pin. And the bristles ended up stuck between my teeth in no time. Think my Dad saw this as a lesson I had to learn. Don’t be taken in by smart talk!
Anyway, for all of you aged over 50 – here is the advertising jingle for the Houndsditch warehouse, which you will not be able to get out of your head for the next six months. Used to be played on LBC ad nauseum.
And Petticoat Lane in the 1960s – some of which hadn’t changed when I was a kid in the 70s.
Out of my personal archive, I’ve dug up an ancient Sunday Times supplement from April, 1980 that was for the most part “celebrating” a year of Thatcher in power. Somehow appropriately, it also had a story about the new musical and style phenomenon that had sprung up alongside Thatcher and pushed punk and 2Tone to one side. It was the era of New Romantic and the Sunday Times had been down to the Blitz to find out who these fops and dandies were.
A 20 year old Steve Strange was identified easily as the leader of the pack. Running the Blitz club in Covent Garden, he would admit 200 “individualists” while turning away 400 who weren’t presumably individual enough. He also ran ‘soirees’ on a Monday night at St Mauritz on Wardour Street – “for intelligent conversation”. The music was Sinatra, Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe. All seems a tadge poncy now but that was very much the ethos of the time.
There has been a return to some of the design flare of the New Romantic era on the Hoxton and indie end of the gay scene. Kids are wearing make up again and extravagent, home made clobber. Back in 1980, one 17 year old wouldn’t have dreamed of being seen dead in jeans – a certain George O’Dowd, who went on to be Boy George. “I’ve looked outrageous since I was 11,” he told the Sunday Times.
Like many seemingly radical movements, New Romantic was actually very retro – constantly referencing the Victorian, Edwardian and the dandies of the Regency. It was sufficiently subversive to wind up the usual suspects in those days as well as being very camp – a way that many gay men could express themselves openly and others could experiment with their sexuality.
On the downside, it seemed to me to be politics-free – a recoiling from the anarchic message of punk or social commentary of ska. We were slowly reconciling ourselves to the devil in Number Ten.
1983 was not a good year for the King of New Romantics – Steve Strange. In fact, I think it would be true to say it was the year when the writing was firmly on the wall.
His pop glory years were behind him though the Camden Palace continued to do a roaring trade. I went that year with my Liverpool buddy Austin Muscatelli and a good time had by all – even if we couldn’t find a night bus and ended up sleeping on Hampstead Heath. Oh, happy memories.
But Mr Strange was interviewed that year and said he’d been offered a part in a new musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber that involved going round on roller skates – Starlight Express?? Anyway, Steve was too busy for that.
He then said he’d been offered a TV film part for a version of My Fair Lady where a Malcolm McLaren type would spot him on the streets, take him to the top of the Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower) and show him London. “One day, this will all be yours.”
I’m trying to decide whether it’s a shame or a relief that film was never made.
Between 1979 and 1981, there was a shocking rise in youth unemployment in the first years of Maggie Thatcher. But alongside that was the rise of the New Romantic movement. It sought to achieve glamour on the cheap.
It was also gender bending and extremely camp. I can remember the curious sight of a very heterosexual jock at school going to a party in a frilly white shirt and Bowie trousers. He’d been into rockabilly a few weeks before.
The club that best epitomised this whole look was Blitz. It was overseen by Steve Strange who imposed a very threatening door policy where those meeting his required standards were turned away. Hopefuls caked themselves in make up – male and female – and bought their knickerbockers and velvet capes from outlets like Fab Gear (pictured), which advertised in the music press and fashion magazines.