Strange Days


I first heard of the late Steve Strange in 1979 when he was the notoriously-strict doorman at the Blitz club in Covent Garden and his refusal to let Mick Jagger into the club became a minor tabloid story. An act that served as both bravely sticking to your style guns and two fingers up to the crusty old rock establishment — though when Bowie showed up he was treated like a God, they were his children after all.

Back then, the Blitz Kids (as New Romantics were called initially) were still just a small underground clique and I can remember seeing these dazzling peacocks in flamboyant clothes and make-up hanging around the King’s Road or going out at night on the Tube, and would be startled by how they looked which was a million colourful miles away from the Punk and Mod styles everyone else was wearing. I had no idea who they were but admired the balls it took to go out looking like that, in those days just looking “weird” could easily get you beaten up.



Steve Strange grew up in Wales as plain old Steve Harrington and, like many kids of his generation, had his life changed by seeing the Sex Pistols and moved to London with dreams of reinventing himself, changing his name, creating his own scene. This was when it was possible to survive in London without much money and get by on the dole and living in squats which most of them did. It was also that exciting time post-Punk when outsiders and oddballs like Strange, Boy George, Gary Numan, Adam Ant, and Marc Almond could be given the keys to the pop kingdom and become bona fide stars. God knows we could do with some colorful mavericks like them in mainstream pop music today.

The New Romantic cult can look very silly today (never boring though), but Strange and his Blitz friends had an influence way beyond that one movement. They changed the look and sound of British pop, defining 80s music in the process. It was also the first British style/musical movement to come out of the club scene which would prove to be the incubator for nearly every other one to come after.

Once you look past the frills and eyeliner it did produce some great records too. Because Strange was thought of as just a club promoter and fashion plate it wasn’t exactly cool to like Visage (despite the rest of the band all being members of Ultravox and Magazine) but I did love this one, particularly the extended 12″ dance version.

Download: Night Train (Dance Mix) – Visage (mp3)

Something for the Weekend



This was the first House record to make the charts in the UK but little did I know when I bought the 12″ back in 1986 that it would turn out to be as influential and game-changing as ‘Anarchy In The UK’. I knew it was a bloody great record though, with a beat and a vocal that leapt out of the speakers at you.

This performance by Darryl Pandy on Top of The Pops must have helped it make a splash too.

When Love Breaks Down


It’s mean but I feel like getting a time machine so I can go back and tell her what happens.

Download: Don’t Talk To Me About Love (Extended Version) – Altered Images (mp3)

Going To The Go-Go


I was doing a bit of crate-digging at home the other day and pulled out the 1985 compilation album Go Go Crankin’ which dates from that brief moment in the mid-80s when Go-Go music from Washington DC was the hottest thing around – at least on the London club scene and in trendy style magazines.

Go-Go was heavily percussive funk with an emphasis on extended live jams that had been a local scene in DC for years before it came to the attention of taste-makers and trendies on the other side of the pond. It was given a big push by Island Records, hyped by a big feature in The Face, and was very popular at London warehouse clubs like The Dirtbox where it shared turntable space with Rockabilly, Reggae, and Electro (clubs were a lot more eclectic in the days before House devoured the entire scene).

But despite the big push it never broke through to a mass audience the way Hip-Hop did, probably because Go-Go was more dependent on funky jams than snappy tunes — not surprisingly then that it’s high point in the UK was probably Trouble Funk’s famous gig at London’s Town & Country Club in 1986.

It’s brief moment in the English sun did bring us some great records though, of which Go Go Crankin’ was probably the most essential collection. I hadn’t played it in years and it’s still prime booty-shaking music.

Recorded from vinyl so forgive any sound imperfections.

Download: Let’s Get Small – Trouble Funk (mp3)
Download: Meet Me At The Go Go – Hot Cold Sweat (mp3)
Download: We Need Some Money – Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers (mp3)

Something for the Weekend



This is the single PSB released after the massive “West End Girls” but it only got to #19 in the charts and there was a brief moment when I thought they were going to be one-hit wonders. Think it’s one of the loveliest records they made though.

PS: Is that Courtney Pine on sax? It is!

I Just Can’t Stop Dancing


Posting that terrific Archie Bell & The Drells clip on Friday got me to dig out this old 12″ single. Wally Jump Jnr. & The Criminal Element was a pseudonym of legendary producer Arthur Baker and singers Donnie Calvin and Will Downing who released this version of “Tighten Up” in 1987 that mixed in a pinch of Janet Jackson’s “When I Think of You” with some massive drum beats to make one ferociously funky dancefloor workout.

Download: Tighten Up (I Just Can’t Stop Dancing) – Wally Jump Jnr & The Criminal Element (mp3)

BONUS BEATS: The same year Baker also put out the stonking “Put The Needle To The Record” under the name The Criminal Element Orchestra which sampled a little bit of “Kiss” by Prince with an even bigger drum sound and twisted, turned, and stretched it out into a pile-driving beat monster.

Download: Put The Needle To The Record – The Criminal Element Orchestra (mp3)

The Feminine Principle


A big part of post-punk philosophy was a rejection of the macho posturing of traditional rock music, with many bands disdaining masturbatory guitar solos and playing music that was more influenced by black rhythms because white rock was seen as conservative, sexist, and reactionary.

Another revolutionary thing about these groups was that many of them were either all-female or led by women. Some were more politically strident or musically radical than others, but bands like The Raincoats, The Slits, Delta 5, The Mo-Dettes, Marine Girls, and Essential Logic all challenged how rock music should both sound and look, and brought a feminist perspective to traditional rock song subjects like love and relationships.

Birmingham combo the Au Pairs were one of the most committed to that perspective, and though a co-ed band they were dominated by the striking voice and attitudes of Lesley Woods (the NME cover girl above) who, while not as well known as your Siouxsies, Traceys, and Paulines, really should be considered one of the great female icons of post-punk and one of its best singers.

In an era overflowing with classic debut albums the Au Pairs’ 1981 Playing With A Different Sex is one of the greatest, casting a savage eye on female sexuality, gender relations, and politics over some of the best post-punk-funk music ever made. There was a dryly sardonic edge to Woods’ voice that made her bitter pills easier to swallow and you could dance to it too, it’s like the funkiest lecture on feminism you’ll ever hear. Songs like “Come Again” are brutal but funny on the subject of sex, and with lyrics like “Do you like it like this?/Please, please me/Is your finger aching?” it’s not surprising it was banned by the BBC.

Download: Come Again — Au Pairs (mp3)
Download: It’s Obvious — Au Pairs (mp3)

The 1980 single “Diet” wasn’t on the album but I think it’s the best thing they did, a devastating little Play For Today of a song about Stepford housewives.

Download: Diet — Au Pairs (mp3)

Bonus clip: Here they are in action. Unfortunately the band broke up in 1983 after their second album and Woods eventually left the music scene to become a lawyer, though judging by this rare interview she seems to be trying a comeback.

Dear Smash Hits


I may have mentioned before that I once had a letter printed in Smash Hits. I don’t have the issue anymore and for some reason I only recently thought about searching through the archives at the terrific Like Punk Never Happened blog to find this major event of my youth. Here it is, from the March 6th, 1980 issue:


I was 17 when I wrote that, and while there’s no denying my teenage passion, my prose style could use some finesse (no change there). I remember being shocked — and then thrilled of course — that they’d actually published something I wrote. It was the first letter on the page too which made me doubly chuffed.

The Pretenders had only just become stars with the chart-topping success of Brass In Pocket but I’d been a fan since their first single so was smugly protective of them in the way only a I-liked-them-before-you-did fan of a newly-popular band can be. I was totally smitten with Chrissie Hynde too, so when this C. Wills fellow expressed his (still) idiotic opinion in this letter I was moved to defend her from the “blinkered” opinions of the unthinking masses in typically self-righteous teenager fashion.

I’m not entirely sure why I included The Police in my angry denunciation of “narrow minded hero worship” but they had also recently made the leap from minor act to big pop stars and I guess I must have been a bigger fan of theirs than I remember.

I am rather proud of the fact that I stood up for “real” women in rock music, though my feminist credentials are somewhat tarnished by the fact that I had one of those awful “sexy” posters of Debbie Harry on my own bedroom wall at the time, so I don’t know what I was being so high and mighty about. That last sentence is pretty good though, and I still think anyone who doesn’t love Chrissie Hynde’s voice needs putting away.

What’s most interesting to me is that this is the authentic voice of my 17-year-old self. My mother was an inveterate chucker-away of things and I never kept anything either, so I have nothing that I wrote (or drew) in my youth — no school essays, no diaries, no notebooks, none of the comics I created — so this might be the only thing written by the younger me that still exists. Reading it now is like some Back To The Future moment where I’m confronted by a teenage version of myself. It was so long ago I don’t know that kid anymore, but I do recognize the smug, superior tone common to teenagers with opinions they think are the absolute truth. It could be worse I suppose, while I was certainly too harsh on Debbie Harry (she was no bimbo) I should be thankful that I’m not expressing any of the really stupid opinions which I know I had back then. Thank you teenage me, for not embarrassing your future self.

Not using my real name was obviously a ploy to make me seem far cooler than I was.

Download: Tattooed Love Boys – The Pretenders (mp3)

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com

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