Most people who know me, know just how much I loved the music scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The first single I bought was Lena Lovich and ‘My Lucky Number’s One’. I started listening to Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer World’, while my sister was listening to Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines’. Having a sister four years older than me didn’t influence my taste in music, although I loved Northern Soul. Sarah was into the revival of the Mod scene, and was always listening to The Jam, Paul Weller, and lots of Northern Soul or Motown. There were always scooterists, punks and Goths in our house, and always had vinyl spinning on a turntable in one bedroom, sitting room or front room.
My love of this period of Punk, New Wave and Electric disco has never left me. I was a bit of a mixture of Punk, New Romantic and Goth rolled into one. The hair colour was real. My cousins had pinned me down and done my make-up, badly I might add! I was into art, fashion, and history. And a voracious reader, drawer and sewer.
When a certain Soft Cell track by Marc Almond comes on the radio or TV, the same with many Culture Club, songs, old school friends tell me these songs always remind them of me. I never listen to chart songs now, unless I overhear hear one of my teenage boys listening to their choices in rap or drill music. I try to educate them by regularly playing forty-year old vinyl, and even the up-to-date CD’s and downloads from my favourite singers and bands.
My eldest knows all the songs on Marc Almond and Chris Braide’s collaboration ‘The Velvet Trail’, and he likes so many of the songs. He often asks me why I listen to the same artists over and over. Sometimes, he asks me what living in the 70s and 80s was like. Secretly, I think he wishes there was the kind of youth culture now, that there was back then.
For me, my taste in music stemmed from reading about a small, unknown, cheap-and-cheerful wine bar near Covent Garden, that opened every Tuesday for 16 months. The venue was hosted and policed by THE king of the posers Steve Strange, and his cloakroom attendant, George O’Dowd, better known to me later as Boy George. Steve was always sorting the best dressed from the worst at the door, declaring the event a “private party” to those he didn’t allow inside. If you didn’t look good, you weren’t allowed in. Steve never knew who would be waiting in line to be appraised by him. According to the attendees, it was the best fun, dressing up like paper-dolls and changing outfits every week, never repeating the same ‘look’ twice.
Once inside, it was Steve’s co-host Rusty Egan, who was pioneering the kind of music he loved, spinning the vinyl on the decks as the Blitz bar’s resident DJ.
I come across this historical ‘pop culture’ event of ‘The New Romantics’, because I’d been given a brand new copy of the Culture Club book ‘When Cameras Go Crazy’, by Kasper De Graaf, M. Garrett in paperback for Christmas in 1983. I’ve still got it.
It had images inside of Steve Strange, Princess Julia, Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp, Fiona Dealey, Michele Clapton, Stephen Jones, Robert Elms, Marilyn, Boy George, Midge Ure, Andy Polaris, Chris Sullivan, Darla-Jane Gilroy. The Blitz kids were all displayed in glorious photographs within the book, being Boy George’s contemporaries – none of them were conforming. The Blitz club allowed this group of art students, musicians, fashion designers and creatives to find their identity. It was competitive, pretentious, and unique – it was also an opportunity for this crowd to be protected, with the ability to still express, and be themselves. This wasn’t fancy dress. They lived the lifestyle.
The Blitz was a club in the 80s that influenced a huge number of people. Through it’s music, Rusty Egan took responsibility to lift these art students out of the malcontent of the deary, political landscape of strikes, National Front marches, racist, right-wing mediocre of Thatcher’s Britain, which lacked positivity, and was steeped in austerity and depression. (Sound familiar?) Most of the Blitz tribe were David Bowie fans and admirers. If you didn’t look good, you weren’t coming in. It was all about dressing up, the fashion and more importantly, the music.
It was Rusty Egan who would bring his distinct style of DJ-ing to the Blitz, influencing not only a London club scene, but eventually a movement in popular youth culture.
I approached Rusty about taking part in my podcast, because I knew that once the new biopic of Boy George’s life is released, this snapshot in time would be once again under the microscope. Due to work commitments, Rusty was unable to take part in the podcast, but he did very kindly answer all my questions, that I might have asked him, had we had the opportunity to chat. This article is the result of that.
Welcome to Talking History with Phillipa Vincent-Connolly! Please let me introduce you to the one and only, Rusty Egan – drummer, musician, DJ.
I’m no music journalist, so I’m going to let Rusty introduce himself.
I was a drummer first, then after Rich Kids started, I was DJ-ing before the Skids album and tour. I did more with Betty Bright and Glen Matlock, and after all the tours, did Session for Phil Lynott album. Top of The Pops with Midge Ure. We found Ronny, and we produced that debut single, and then with Richard Burgess we made three singles, and Visage; all this was 1977- 1980.
How did you initially get involved in music?
My parents had an Irish band, and they played pubs and clubs.
Who was your music or fashion idol when you were at school?
Bowie; Roxy Music, and drummers – Jazz drummers.
What appealed to you so much about the Electric-Disco sound?
The drum machine and its sounds. ‘Love don’t live here anymore’ had a high electronic sound. Kraftwerk, and ‘I feel love’ sounded digitally crisp and clear in clubs. Punk rock was a loud noise in comparison.
Why do you think the New Wave clubbing scene took off? Do you think austerity in the late 70s early 80s had a lot to do with that?
Punk was New Wave; it was just rock bands who were woken up to fashion and lyrics but still using the same three chords. Joy Division were more interesting to me, and Magazine and Ultravox, and they all incorporated great producers’ Conny, Plank, Eno, and the influences of German music.
Steve Strange, Midge Ure, and Rusty Egan, above. (Photo: Unknown author, under Creative Commons Licence)
Did you have any idea at the time what an iconic period in music and fashion you were helping to shape?
Yes, as I am arrogant! I just know what’s good, real, and what’s crap. Some get away with it, loads of very famous people need to be told that the new album is crap. No one does because they don’t need to be ostracised. I know I have written or mixed or co-written or discovered better music, and artists than multi-millionaires, and household names – and they know it too.
How did you get involved with Visage?
I started Visage. Midge Ure and I started by creating ‘The Dancer’ and ‘In the Year 2525’, and I then suggested we get John McGeoch, Dave Formula, and Billy Currie. I got them all to The Blitz, bought the drinks played them ‘The Dancer’ and ‘In the air’, ‘2525’ and then ‘Neu!’ And lots of bands they did not know, and said let’s get in a rehearsal, and we wrote a few ideas then over a year that became Visage.
Did you hate the term New Romantic?
No. I didn’t care about the press or reviews or any of the rock press. As far as I was concerned, they were all art school brats who read too many books. Working class people wanted the music, not a diatribe of Sartre and Nietzsche about a band. Paul Morley was the biggest twat who ended up consulting to Trevor Horn who owned everything, and Paul told him what was great, what to name it, what artists to do the art work, and got fuck all, and Trevor got all the money. He said all that disco stuff in Blitz etc was rubbish, Frankie Goes to Hollywood were friends of Steve and me, and unsigned. They packed out Camden Palace. Madonna unsigned, was the same. We knew what was good. Fuck the press they followed, never lead. They were in bed by midnight – we were living it 24/7.
Simple Minds; Vice Versa; Human League; Thomas Leer; Soft Cell; Ultravox; Landscape; Shock; Spandau; Blue Rondo; Sade; Animal Nightlife; Marylin; Tasty Tim; Culture Club; Haysi Fantayzee; King; Haircut 100; Johnny Hates Jazz; Chiefs of Relief; Specimen; Batcave; Sig Sig Sputnik; SOK; Torch Song; Six Sed Red; B-Movie; The The; Blancmange; Bronski Beat; and Depeche Mode.
The list of artists we promoted booked at our clubs played their first records there. None of the bands were covered by NME or the rock press, who were all punks till The Face showed up, and then ID. We had our own magazines. The rock press lost it, and then came back with the Kraftwerk cover stories to win, or to catch up with us.
What is your most intrinsic memory of the late 70s early 80s or The Blitz scene?
Once the club was packed in the first month seeing all the faces from punk days and soul boy weekends, and King’s Road all in one room, knowing all the words of Bowie songs felt like we were home.
Did David Bowie talk to you that night he showed up at The Blitz to find people to appear in the music video to Ashes to Ashes?
I was not there; I did however meet David in Freddie Burretti friends Daniele Wardour street flat. David had agreed, unknown to me she could invite me, he came for a haircut and dinner, we spoke for 1 hour about music, the Blitz, who were the Blitz people, what I was into. He seemed to know most references, so he enquired, and was very interested in everything. Then again in 1990 he came for dinner at Embargo, King’s Road with Michael White.
Do you think that there will ever be another blossoming movement of youth culture as there was in the late 70s, early 80s?
I think millennials already know all they need to know about youth culture, and how organic growth is imposable when things blow up and go viral. Tik Tok and all the other social media platforms are making dumb people famous, and those dumb people are making creative people not want fame or fortune, but to only do what they do in smaller circles. It’s all here, the people and the places, but they don’t seek PR like we did. We sought PR to make changes. Today we just accept Rylan, and tv stars and celebrities, and radio DJs and hosts, and presenters are all just that. People who read what’s written down, play what music is play-listed and it’s all about follower and fame. Real musical visuals and creatives continue to thrive, as in my video, Catwalk around world. We are all special, we just haven’t been discovered yet!
Who would you like to play you in the upcoming biopic of Boy George’s life?
No idea. Someone 20+
What would you like your legacy to be, and how would you like to be remembered?
As someone who made music for love, but unfortunately learnt the hard way that snakes and liars are snakes and liars because they are not talented. Avoid all untalented people – they steal from your thunder. Blockchain is here …. too late for me but not for you.
What projects are you working on currently?
I hope to release my music via blockchain in future and get back all my old music.
I am writing a new Rusty Egan Presents album with Chris Payne, David Brooks, Oscar Egan, HP Hoger, with various guests. Zaine Griff is in New Zealand and has agreed to perform live if we can get it together.
* It’s time to play 10 to Go. Are you ready? (These are just 10 random questions for fun!)
What was the last book you read?
I have 10 books here still not read. Something I seem to not have time for, so what I do is I listen to podcasts of the writers like Yuval Noah Harari, Sam Harris, Tristan Harris, Elon Musk, Vitalik Buterin, Aldus Huxley, Philip K Dick.
What was the last outdoor space you visited?
Cemetery – it’s my favourite place.
What is the first thing you will do when lockdown has been lifted completely?
What inspires you?
Thinking outside the box and seeing what I thought becoming real. I don’t care that I could get rich from seeing the future, I just like to know that I can see the future, and how it can benefit people. Crypto currency means no more small change for tips, or for homeless or for the box in a shop for charity, [so small change can be crypto via a crypto wallet], an oyster card given to resisted poor or homeless or an app which is contactless and can transfer a small sum, and that can be cashed in goods and services not drugs. So, it helps a homeless person get a bed for the night, or a haircut, a shower, clothes, and bus rides etc, which is only used by the holder of the card with fingerprint.
Who is your favourite musician and why?
Mostly orchestrators or programmers, and then songwriters, performers; both different. People like Hans Zimmer, Chris Payne, Julian Bondar, and many more. Modular synth programmers – I love David August with Einmusik and loads of others in Berlin.
What is your favourite film?
- Angel-A Luc Besson – The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)
- War of the Arrows – Korean
- Apocalypto – about Brazil.
- 1985 Wild at Heart – One from the Heart True Romance
- Jacques Tati – Mr Hulot’s Holiday, 1953.
- Un Profet – MESRINE
- Get Carter, 1971.
- Sexy Beast, 2000.
- Scum, 1979.
So many movies I love them!
What do you do to relax?
Listen to music and listen to podcasts.
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
The South of France with a beach view.
If you could do any other job than the one you are doing, what would it be?
If you could change anything about the past what would it be?
Not to have met all the people who we met, out.
* What’s your Takeaway?
This is a little gem for readers to take away with them, that might help deepen their understanding of what the Electric Disco/New Wave, Blitz club era was all about. This could be a film, song or book recommendation or you could suggest an online resource for them to visit – like a blog, website, or virtual exhibition.
Watch and read about people like me who just did what they did, and the ripple effect that came from that one stone in the water. What changed the world for so many people including me were Bernie Rhodes and Malcolm McLaren.
Ralf and Florin – Kraftwerk, and the electronic revolution documentary.
So much real stuff is available if you search.
The future must become socialist due to the USLESS CLASS that will be the future, after governments take away all the work, and the right-wing own all the assets. The rich 5% – poor 95%. That’s the future, and we are already in it.
I was thrilled that Rusty took the time to answer my questions, and what a wonderful insight into this fantastic period of our modern history. Thank you so much to Rusty for joining me on Talking History, with Phillipa Vincent Connolly.
I have dedicated this article to all the incredible people involved with, or who attended the Blitz, and helped to shape the 1980s. You all allowed people to become themselves and feel empowered by that. The New Romantic Blitz scene made me as a disabled teenager feel brave enough to stand up for myself, and to be, and accept the misfit I was, and to a certain extent, still am. The Blitz kids made it fashionable to be different. Fashion and music have always gone together – we Brits are masters of that. I want to especially dedicate this article to the memory of Steve Strange, 28 May 1959 -12 February 2015.