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Steve Strange

Steve Strange, 1959-2015

Although undoubtedly best known to the public at large as the leader of synth collective Visage, Steve Strange was one of the pioneering figures of the New Romantic movement and an icon of early ’80s pop.

Born on 28th May 1959 in Newbridge, South Wales, the young Steven Harrington was one of seemingly millions inspired to form a band after experiencing the Sex Pistols in concert. Moving to London, he formed the suitably controversially named Moors Murderers with luminaries such as Chrissie Hynde and Topper Headon. The fledgling band went through several incarnations including a period as The Photons, before Harrington decided punk rock was not for him. Instead he reinvented himself as “Steve Strange” and became the host at London’s Blitz club, where he would regularly turn away potential patrons for looking too boring. With resident DJ Rusty Egan on the decks and only the most outlandish and wonderful looking clientèle being afforded entrance, the club soon became the focal point of the burgeoning New Romantic movement; regular Blitz Kids included Boy George, Marilyn, Pete Burns and the fledgling Spandau Ballet, who became the club’s house band before moving on to worldwide success in the early ’80s.

Eager to play only the freshest and most exciting music, Strange and Egan decided to start making their own. Recruiting Barry Adamson, John McGeoch and Dave Formula from Magazine, plus Egan’s former Rich Kids bandmate Midge Ure, the new project – christened Visage – recorded a one-off single Tar, a song about the dangers of smoking, for Radar Records. The single did not chart, but Strange’s status as a leading New Romantic figure led to him being offered a part in David Bowie’s memorable Ashes To Ashes video. This in turn led to Visage signing a deal with Polydor, who released the group’s second single Fade To Grey. The single reached number 8 in the UK chart, while an eponymous début album and further singles Mind of a Toy and Visage also charted strongly.

With Ure finding success as lead singer of Ultravox and McGeoch joining Siouxsie & the Banshees, getting the band together to record a second album was no easy task. McGeoch bailed out but Ure and Adamson did find time to contribute to The Anvil, Visage’s biggest hit album which reached number 6 in April 1982. Singles Damned Don’t Cry and Night Train also became top twenty hits, while Strange and Egan reprised their roles as club host and DJ respectively, this time at the Camden Palace nightclub. Visage continued to record, although now without Ure or Adamson; a one-off single Pleasure Boys fell disappointingly short of the top forty and a contractual dispute held up the band’s third album although a compilation Fade To Grey – The Singles Collection was released in the meantime. By the time the third Visage album Beat Boy finally surfaced in 1984 the New Romantic movement had faded and the album failed to reach the top 75. This led to the band’s demise in 1985, after which Steve formed the short-lived Strange Cruise whose eponymous 1986 album met with little success. Retreating from the music business, Strange moved to Ibiza where he hosted club nights and celebrity parties. A remix of Fade To Grey briefly scraped the top forty in 1993 as a taster for another compilation album.

In the ’90s Strange returned to his native Wales and began a career in management, although mental health problems and drug addiction led to an infamous court appearance in 2000 at which he received a suspended jail sentence for shoplifting, among other items, a Teletubbies doll. This dishonour did at least bring him back in to the public eye for the first time in over a decade and prompted him to get his life back on track. In 2002 Strange published his autobiography Blitzed! and resumed his musical career with appearances on the Here and Now tour alongside the Human League and Kim Wilde. This led to the formation of a new line-up of Visage, featuring none of the original members apart from Strange, although he was later reconciled with Egan for a 2009 TV show.

A third incarnation of Visage was formed in 2012 when Strange teamed up with Steve Barnacle (bassist from the 1984 line-up of the band) to record a fourth Visage album. 2013’s Hearts & Knives, while not a commercial success, was critically well received; its electronic beats and synth heavy arrangements were both a throwback to the band’s heyday and an illustration of the influence Strange and his cohorts exerted over contemporary electronic music. The album was followed in 2014 by Orchestral, a collection of Visage songs performed with a full orchestra. Although intended as a comma, Orchestral sadly became a full stop; Strange suffered health problems throughout the latter part of 2014, including a spell in hospital in Wales. Although he was discharged and embarked on a trip to Egypt, optimistic that this would help his condition, Steve Strange died in his sleep on 12th February 2015. The outpouring of grief and admiration on social media when the news was announced is testimony to his place in pop history.