Steve Strange – fascinatrix, Bowie buddy, lead singer of Visage and Blitz Club doyen – was the pop-art Diaghilev of his generation, the New Romantic Prince Charming par excellence.

Often bizarrely overlooked for far lesser icons, he’s now deservedly receiving media acclaim, following his death this Febuary at the shockingly premature age of 55.
So on Saturday, September 26th 2015, London’s iconic Café Royal celebrated Steve Strange’s life and influence in a stellar, high-profile tribute. Organised by his close friends Amanda Lloyd, Rosemary Turner and Steve Mahoney, the night dripped with mystique and live, mischievously quirky entertainment. Taking stylistic cues from Weimar-era Berlin as re-imagined in the movie Cabaret, Two Blondes and a Harp – Lowri-Ann Richards and harpist Glenda Clywd – burlesqued Kate Bush and cabaret itself. Additionally, singer Eve Ferret created prankish glamour and playwright Celine Hispiche delivered spicily arch poetry.
Fittingly, scalpel-sharp style scrutineer Peter York – ex-Harper’s & Queen and eternally sleek – attended, the first columnist to comprehensively articulate Steve’s protean charisma. But what deviant magic first sparked Steve Strange’s muse before his rise from Blitz Kids glory?
Was early 1970s England an erotic wasteland, dominated by missionary positions and gay caricatures? Not quite. Way before Rocky Horror’s brash sleaze-a-thon, T.Rex glam-rock godhead Marc Bolan quite deliberately, quite impishly, unleashed a pansexual, Pandora’s Box for the ages.
‘You can bump and grind/if it’s good for your mind/But you won’t fool/The Children of the Revolution’, Marc poutingly, presciently sang. Incidentally, he also lit a jumping, jitterbug fuse in the collective libido, a slow-burning, sartorial blitzkrieg. Poet, singer-songwriter and effortless androgyne, Marc catalysed an entire generation of potential, but rudderless glamsters ripening unseen in the UK’s dance-halls and schools.
All canny, fey, fop-till-you-bop, Tin Pan Alley Tolkien, Marc mined and set free a stunningly queer, esoteric eroticism. Popularly, in Sun tabloid-speak, revolutions are harsh, brutal and militaristic, but Marc’s was sensuous and satin-wrapped with the holy fire of imagination. It also didn’t hurt that his casual, cocky aura of dandy magnificence fit him like an irresistible, phallic glove.
Predictably, Marc’s flippant, delicious, polymorphous perversity went instantly viral. If far less threatening than Bowie’s instantly alienating, killingly cerebral, bisexual drag, Marc more persuasively smirked while Bowie stalked. Eternally post-gender in his Annello and Davide ballet shoes, a deeply naughty slumber-party pixie, Marc sparked delirious dress-up dreams much more seductive than icy Ziggy’s orgies.
Still – shockingly – the cosy, pop-culture cuddles died overnight as working-class, teenage dreams – omnisexual or otherwise – withered in the face of sudden, mass unemployment. Savagely shackled to dead-end dole or marriage prospects, kids attacked smug glam-pomp an circumstance like screaming rats in traps. Ah, but Art – the perennial saviour of the incurably camp and dispossessed– was hiding viciously chic in the wings.
Doesn’t it always? This time – hair hacked and blunt, quite mad Miss Haversham 1976 – it came screaming, puking and spitting on velvet, a conflicted, cluster-f**k contrarian, sheer Apocalypse on amphetamine. All brutal, penal-colony buzz-cut, and PVC split, spit and snot-encrusted, this was Art as razor-blade reactionary and thuggish, year-zero conservative.
Was it christened or better still, baptised? Given a name, even, beyond the No-Wave disapproval it had vaguely garnered via New York’s Patti Smith and Ramones? Oh yes; the London press, quite dismissively, called it ‘Punk’, the vicious, midnight-alley murderer of mincing glam-rock. It didn’t last, of course – perhaps too smart, furious and intensely self-defeating to survive – but Punk’s seemingly dead-end, DIY detour actually crucially empowered maverick, embryonic pop-gods in waiting. Pop gods, in fact, like one very singular – and achingly visionary – Steve Strange.
Born suffering with terminal, undiagnosed Peacock Syndrome – just like kindred spirit Quentin Crisp – Strange finally bloomed into manic, unrestrained dandyism and eccentricity. A psychological Cinderella state, Peacock Syndrome – a sense of unreciprocated magnificence – is brilliantly conceptualised in Velvet Goldmine, gay director Todd Haynes’s 1998, glam-rock epic.
Screw fluffy baby wards and steaming after-birth; Haynes’s infant Oscar Wilde is delivered by fairy space-aliens, a UFO Oberon and Titania. Better still, Wilde’s legacy – a glowing, green brooch gifting unbridled imagination and a sense of uniqueness– passes to other, deserving souls as needed.
But the imagery, of course, was the direct, dazzling incest-child of Marc Bolan and Bowie. In a reality more miraculous than any movie, Bolan ravished Shakespeare to make Midsummer Night’s Scream with band John’s Children, and Bowie’s detached, alien persona debuted in Space Oddity. Given such a succulent source on a plate, director Haynes joyfully joined his pop-god dots.
So – quite appropriately – Bolan and Bowie – Steve Strange’s subconscious, art-hothouse midwives – gorgeously poisoned his first taste of Sex Pistols punk. And the resulting effect? None other than the shockingly outré, uncontrollable orchids of New Romanticism, shooting up furiously in their bemused, involuntary creator’s head.

The first fruit – quite fittingly for the scorched-birth revisionism of 1976’s punk-rock summer – was The Moors Murderers, Steve’s charmingly-named first band. But even with a press tinder-dry for tabloid outrage, the incendiary name and 45 single Free Hindley did nothing. Exasperated, Steve ditched collaborator Soo Catwoman to launch his unwitting, killer path to glory; his Bowie Night at Soho nightclub Billy’s.
It did the trick, and, more prosaically, turned the creative tricks. Soon, the artistic infection – Steve’s very own, superbly peculiar, post-modernist plague, certainly the honorary enfant terrible of Bolan’s revolution – quickly spread. Nascent exquisites like Boy George and Grayson Perry, still lacking media labels but given surrogate birth by Steve’s example, became individual blizzards of pocket decadence, sartorially assaulting shocked, UK high streets.
Encouraged, Steve further consolidated his confrontational success with his now-legendary, unforgettable (for those who went) Blitz Club in Covent Garden. Now proxy father to the Blitz’s myriad, stained-glass, splintered rainbow tribes, he attracted inevitable attention from Bowie, guesting in the iconic, ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video.

Had Steve hit the Elvis Presley, ejector-seat button to instant fame and lasting notoriety? Yes and no; his inimitable hit, ‘Fade to Grey’ with his band Visage irrevocably stained the pop nostalgia industry. Even more than close rival whack-attack on conformity Pete Burns, Steve engineered an edgy, existential, street-Bible etiquette for surviving our crushingly mediocre modernity.

He needed to. Despite the Blitz Kids and New Romantics’ glorious, inner-London uprising, Maggie Thatcher – the Wicked Witch personified – was fast-tracking creative genocide by any means possible. No, she didn’t succeed, but Thatcher’s preferred, proto-fascist Britain was viciously anti-life, all true-blue, concentrated camps of xenophobic, nationwide intolerance.

Soho, however – spearheaded by Steve’s intoxicating lead – remained a feisty, life-affirming counterforce. Yes, arguably, blandness, in personal politics and society, triumphed long-term – hello, Cameron’s UK – but briefly, to paraphrase Marc Bolan, O God, Life was strange.
And it got stranger yet. Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Japan, Duran Duran, Culture Club and uncountable others – the tip of a Blitz Kid iceberg – ravishingly seduced a limp, post-punk pop industry overnight. And quite brilliantly, the new bands used sexuality as an explicit style medium, a self-expression as explosive as art, words or image. A new Bible, in fact, a radiant Gospel of non-bigoted, guilt-free Glamour that instantly dumped bedrock intolerance.

Who, after all, needed orthodox religion, that racist, misogynistic rant of half-starved bigots hallucinating reactionary Gods? Why not procreate in your own image through the sheer, self-pleasure of passionately sparking others? Sure, pop was in danger of eating itself, becoming a glorious, shame-free act of art-rock fellatio, but why not swallow inspirational spunk?

Okay, today, perhaps we’ve taken pop’s non-stop wankathon a tad too far – live acts, laughably, even sample themselves – but isn’t that perfect post-modernism? Like it or not, we’re living the pop context Bowie, Eno and Roxy Music merely predicted – music as permanent, but inconsequential, social wallpaper.

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So best, perhaps, to kiss Steve Strange goodbye as an exquisite provocateuse eternally preserved in memorial aspic, a pop Jean Cocteau poised for brilliance. Why bother exhuming his moments lesser than Fade To Grey or Ashes To Ashes? Brilliantly plucking the zeitgeist baton from Bowie just before David’s decline, Steve arguably passed the beating heart of art-pop to Gaga, his spiritual heir.
And following Lady Gaga’s inevitable fall from cutting-edge grace? Who knows, but Steve Strange’s quintessential magic – making glory from forsaken glamour – bubbles all around us every minute, in every, artistically-driven life he ever touched. There’s really no better monument than that.

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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.