Steve Strange won’t be a name many of you reading will know, but his influence to popular culture will be felt for decades to come. Steve died in hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt peacefully in his sleep of heart failure, aged 55. He will be remembered as a pioneer of 80s pop music trend New Romanticism, a wonderful club host and as an accomplished musician in his own right with bands Visage, The Moors Murderers, The Photons, The Detroit Starzz and Strange Cruise. His agent, Pete Bassett fondly recalls a talented, focused man, and in tribute said,
“He will be remembered as a hard-working, very amusing and lovable individual who always was at the forefront of fashion trends. His friends and family are totally shocked, we had no idea anything like this was likely to happen.”
Long time friend and fellow cultural icon, Danny Rampling had this to say,
“I met Steve on the club scene many years ago and through mutual friends. We spoke only a few weeks ago, he was so excited about a music project that he had plans for and asked myself and Ilona my wife to pick any track to remix. We chose Dreamer which has great lyrics and melody, sadly it hasn’t gone any further than our conversation. RIP Steve Strange and thank you for being so unique.”
Born Steven John Harrington in May of 1959 to the family of British Army paratrooper, he grew up in South Wales after his parents split. Like many of his generation, he was inspired into the music industry following a performance by the Sex Pistols in local Caerphilly, and by the age of 15 he had formed a band and moved to London, working under the guidance of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren. He quickly formed punk outfit The Moors Murderers with Soo Catwoman, Chrissie Hynde (who became the Pretenders singer), Vince Ely (Psychedelic Furs drummer), Topper Heaton (The Clash’s drummer) and Mark Ryan (Adam & the Ants) but had limited success. It did however springboard Harrington forwards via the short lived Photons, towards starting Visage with business partner Rusty Egan, future 80s heart throb Midge Ure, and Barry Adamson, John McGeoch and Dave Formula (all from the band Magazine). It was here Steve took the surname Strange, a name he kept when Visage broke up the first time in the mid 80s and he formed Strange Cruise the Wendy Wu from the The Photos.
Visage were, and still are an inspiration to a generation of music producers and new romanticism – think Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, and Boy George, opened the world to the power of synthesisers and electronic music. New Romantics were the antithesis of the Punks. They were fashion conscious, sexually ambiguous and flamboyant, and their music was uplifting and positive. London was the centre of things again like in the swinging sixties, and Covent Garden was the place to be seen with designers like Vivienne Westwood and Helen Robinson leading the way. Steve’s part in all this was as a club host together with Rusty Egan. They had begun innocently enough, and as host and DJ respectively in the late 70s they put on dance nights at a Soho nightclub called Billy’s. “Bowie Nights” were an instant success and the pair relocated to a new venue. Employing a strict dress code of ‘weird & wonderful’ the nights took off and soon became the epicentre of the burgeoning New Romantic scene, in fact Northern synth wave band Soft Cell keyboardist Dave Bell is quoted as saying in defence of their claim to not be New Romantics “It was just a trendy London club thing with Steve Strange.”
And so success came and went. Visage had a string of top 40 hits including Fade to Grey, Mind of a Toy and the self titled Visage. But unfortunately the band imploded under its own success and Midge Ure left to start Ultravox, while some of the others formed Souxie & The Banshees. Later in an interview Midge Ure said of the break up, “The trouble with Visage was that there were too many chiefs; six characters all wanting an equal say without putting in an equal amount of work. I was doing most of the writing and producing, and we all knew Steve [Strange] was the frontman, but when it became successful, jealousy and the nasty side of the business crept in. That was never the way it was intended.”
1982 and Rusty and Steve move their mega successful Club for Heroes night to Camden Palace, cementing its reputation as one of Londons clubbing meccas. Moving to Ibiza in the mid 80s, Steve then became an internal part of a new dance movement – Trance hosting a number of high profile parties. In the 1990s he became the host of the Double Bass club on the island.
Twitter was alight with tributes last night from his friends, admirers and peers.Simon Le Bon said “He was the leading edge of New Romantic.” Footballer Stan Collymore wrote “Fun, cool, weird, edgy and always impeccably dressed.” Dave Clarke called him “…very influentual on me and the Techno scene.” But best of all was Tony Parsons, a well respected music journalist for NME, who wrote “…a major face from those years when culture was invented in basements by misfit kids with a dream.”
Dream on Steve as you fade to grey.