Monday, February 04, 2008

Hazy Recollections of the '80s


Shades of Grey

Saturday afternoon at Record & Tape Traders in Towson, my girlfriend picked up a CD entitled Fade To Grey: The Best of Visage. "Who or what are Visage?", I asked. The name sounded familiar, like one of those flash-in-the-pan New Romantic bands with pretentious names that seemed to disappear almost as soon as they arrived on the scene in '80s London. Sure enough, she told me Visage was a New Romantic band from the early 1980s who used lots of synths and included some once-and-future members of Ultravox, namely Billy Currie (from the late '70s-era Ultravox) and Midge Ure (who would go on to replace singer John Foxx in the '80s edition of Ultravox, starting with 1980's Vienna album). The band also included three members of Howard Devoto's Magazine: bassist Barry Adamson, keyboardist Dave Formula, and guitarist John McGeoch (also of Siouxsie and the Banshees). Whatever.

The minute I heard the first, titular track "Fade To Grey," I recognized it. How could I forget? After all, it reached #1 in nine countries, charted as high as #2 in Britain, and the accompanying music video won "Video of the Year" honors.


The "Fade To Grey" clip shown above was directed by former 10cc musicians-turned-auteurs Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, who also directed Visage's "Mind of a Toy" (one of the first music videos shot on film) and Duran's Duran's "Girls On Film" (the first film to be rejected by MTV for containing partial nudity). Click here to see Visage perform "Fade To Grey" on telly, with Perri Lister - a "Hot Gossip" dancer and original "Blitz Kid" who later fronted the all-girl Boomerang, appeared in Duran Duran and Def Leppard music videos, and had Billy Idol's baby - singing the French lyrics.

As Wikipedia describes it, "The single quickly became a huge club hit...and marked an imminent commercial breakthrough for electronic music and the whole New Romantic movement, for which the first Visage album [1980] became a kind of soundtrack."

Music critic Simon Reynolds found it to be a particularly dark soundtrack. In Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, he observed that "for all its brisk electrodisco rhythms, Visage's music was sepia toned and at times almost funereal...The effect was compounded by the band's videos, which evoked a between-the-wars desolation derived from Cabaret." Critic Mark Fisher called this mood "the Euro-aesthete's 'exhaustion from life'."

The Strange Story of Steve Strange: The Dandy Who Fell to Earth

More importantly, Visage was the creation of Steve Strange (born Steven John Harrington in Porthcawl, Wales, on 28 May 1959), whose real life story more than lives up to his stage name. Strange (pictured at right) formed the band in 1978 to provide music for his London nightclub, The Blitz, home of the New Romantic "Blitz Kids." (Strange's Blitz business partner was Rusty Egan, who became Visage's drummer.) Strange was riding high - and in limousines - in the early '80s, enjoying Top 40 chart success ("Fade to Grey" #8 in 1980, "Mind of a Toy" #13 in 1981, "Visage" #21 in 1981, "The Damned Don't Cry" #11 in 1982, "Night Train" #12 in 1982) and music video success (in addition to Visage videos, he also appeared in David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes") as he became the pin-up Face of the New Romantic movement, a ponce-tificating ponce prone to such pretentious utterances as "The meaning of Visage, apart from being French for face, is that the Vis is for the visual side of the band... and the Age is the new age in dance music." Whatever, redux.

And then it all came crashing down - like a WWII air-raid Blitz - after 1984. Strange went off to Ibiza, Spain to join the Trance movement and host celebrity parties for people like Sly Stallone. That's probably where he became a full-blown heroin addict, a plight that saw him eventually become homeless and go on shoplifting sprees to support his habit. But he reached his true nadir in April 2000 when BBC News reported that Steve Strange was busted for stealing a Teletubbies doll in Bridgend, Wales! (Though not specified, I highly suspect it was the gay Teletubby, the handbag-toting, chartreuse-wearing Tinky-Winky.)

He was also busted for shoplifting cosmetics and a ladies' jacket from Marks and Spencer (being a New Romantic it's hard to say whether these five-fingered discounts were for himself or future resale). Strange's lawyer told court magistrates that his client suffered from "a myriad of problems" and that "he has found it difficult to cope with falling from grace after being a man of considerable wealth in the Eighties."

Regardless, Steve Strange reentered the music scene in 2002, performing several Visage songs on the "Here and Now Xmas Tour" (a 1980s revival roadshow) and relaunching a Visage "Mark II" website with people from several electronic bands and projects. He also found time to write his autobiography, Blitzed! (2002), which I'm ashamed to say I kind of want to read.

Related Links:
Visage (Wikipedia)
Visage Mark II (MySpace)

Mama, We're All Haysi Now!

I was there in the '80s but I clearly missed the Boy George-ish dreadlocked duo of big-nosed club scene-habitue Jeremy "Jeremiah" Healy and Welsh uber-model/fashion photog Kate Garner, better known as Haysi Fantayzee (an unfortunate band name that cries out for spell-checking). Amy only recalled them because her ex, who was an '80s musician obsessed with electronic music, loved them. So when she asked me out of the blue if I knew them, I drew a thankful blank. Then I became curious.

OK, here are the facts you didn't request:

Haysi Fantayzee have a pretty decent official web site called Haysi Recollections ("Your source for all things Haysi" - of which, admittedly, there just isn't all that much). It's web address is an offshoot of, which is interesting because HF may have pioneered the dreadlocked White Rasta variation on androgyny that bands like Dead or Alive - and Boy George's Culture Club - would later embrace. Their hillbilly tribal music and fashion was compared to Bow Wow Wow and Adam and the Ants, as well as Bananarama (Garner appeared alongside Bananarama in the Eurythmics' 1983 music video "Who's That Girl.")

Haysi Fantayzee's big UK chart hits were 1982's #11 "John Wayne Is Big Leggy" (which was either about racism or unusual sexual practices or both - allegedly referring to John Wayne refusing to take his holster off to have sex with a Squaw)...


...and 1983's #16 "Shiny Shiny."

In his wonderfully irreverent The Encyclopaedia of Classic 80s Pop, Daniel Blythe described the latter as sounding "like two children's TV presenters on helium singing an apocalyptic 'Love Cats' with apointless twiddly guitar solo in the middle."

See for yourself:


By the way, the "Shiny Shiny" and "John Wayne Is Big Leggy" videos were directed by rock video veteran Steve Barron, best known as the auteur behind A-Ha's rotoscope masterpiece "Take On Me." But HF should have released a song entitled "Kate Garner is Big Leggy" because the long-limbed lass from Wigan is the stuff of a leg fetishist's wet dreams.

Their lone album Battle Hymns for Children Singing reached #11 in the UK Album chart. It has now been repackaged as Battle Hymns for Children: The Best of Haysi Fantayzee and is available as an import CD.

A third member of the group was Paul Caplin (ex-Animal Magnet), Kate Garner's boyfriend, but he was a behind-the-scenes musician/songwriter/producer who never appeared in the videos. He now runs Caplin Systems, an internet software company.

Boy George famously described them as "Dickensian Rastas, with the emphasis on dick." And George's pal Marilyn ("Calling Your Name" #4, 1983) expressed an interest in having Kate Garner locked in the Tower of London "because she's evil." Ironically, Garner's beau Caplin briefly managed Marilyn after Haysi Fantayzee broke up. Whatever, redux redux.

After a brief solo career that included the 1983 solo single "Love Me Like A Rocket," Kate Garner went on to become a successful photographer. She took the photo of Sinead O'Connor that graced her first album The Lion and the Cobra (pictured left) and later shot an Aimee Mann album cover. Over the years she photographed many other musicians and celebrities, including Bjork, Boy George, Milla Jovovich, David Bowie, PJ Harvey, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and others. Kate currently runs a production company, Gaato, with her music producer husband David Turin and is also heavily involved in the experimental electronic noise group Monsta. Photog Kate lends her expertise to Monsta's visuals, like setting their song "Sex With You" exclusively to images from Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto's 1989 cyperpunk film Tetsuo; check out Monsta's website here.

Jeremy Healy went on to become a successful DJ who often works with fashion designers like Dior and Victoria's Secret (he has been the music director of every annual Victoria's Secret show from 2001 on). According to Wikipedia, he was voted "number one DJ" by both The Face and Mixmag magazines. Healy also produced and underscored the sound effects for the Duran Duran music video, "Arena (An Absurd Notion)" and remixed songs by both Boy George and George Michael. He also contributed to the "mash up" mix of Gwen Stefani's "Wind It Up" single. And you can look for his cameo in the 2004 film Chasing Liberty.

Related Links:
Hayzi Recollections
Haysi Fantayzee (Wikipedia)
Kate Garner MySpace Page
Jeremy Healy MySpace Page
Jeremy Healy (Wikipedia)
"Shiny Shiny" 12-inch megamix video
Paul Caplin (Wikipedia)


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Long time reader, first time poster.

Just wanted to commend you for being a prominent voice in the gay community! Not being gay myself, though most definitely concerned with the issues that face the gay community, it's refreshing to see someone that embraces his lifestyle so fully. Reading your blog is a highlight of my day, not because of your banter, but because you're such an opinionated individual.

Be proud of who you are!

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice article.

Just a point of correction.
Strange didn't start his heroin addiction in Ibiza. It started earlier and he'd dabbled before getting into it heavily around the time he was collaborating with Pete Townsend on some songs for Ronny.

It was in Ibiza that he kicke dthe habit (and also helped pioneer the Trance movement).

4:47 PM  
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