Superb Photos of London New Romantics in the Early 1980s.
Above Photo: Stevie Stewart in St Moritz Club, London 1980. (© Graham Smith)
New Romanticism followed Punk and mixed with New Wave fashions and music in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I was never a fan of the look, although I respected people who enjoyed daring to be different, getting dressed up and going out to have good time back then, whatever they were into.
There were a few New Romantic tracks I thought were OK, musically-speaking, but by and large, New Romanticism had nothing to say to me, especially after the energizing and deconstructing power of Punk and New Wave had blasted through my life only a couple of years earlier.
In fact, I only mention New Romanticism once in Bombed Out!, saying:
Great music from Eric’s DJs usually ensured a packed dance floor once the club had filled up, and throughout the Eric’s period, especially in its final year of operation in 1979-1980, members witnessed a constantly changing sartorial mix, as Punk, New Wave and even early New Romanticism began to influence Eric’s fashions. To watch Crass-loving anarchists, mohicanned punks, arty students and New Romantics dancing on the same floor in Eric’s was never boring.
Still, I was very interested to recently discover the accompanying photos, which are from a book by photographer Graham Smith. In We Can Be Heroes: London Clubland 1976 – 84, he charts the rise of London’s club scene from Punk in the late 1970s to the New Romanticism in the 1980s, as seen from an insider’s point of view.
Smith was a frequenter of London’s New Romantic clubs and photographed club-goers, designed New Romantic band record sleeves and chronicled this vibrant period of London nightlife which launched Boy George, Spandau Ballet and many other bands and musicians.
These are some of Graham Smith’s recollections, accompanied by his photos, all of which are copyrighted to him.
Punk, that only a year earlier had ignited my life, was dead as far as I was concerned, and now, aged 18, I was hunting to fill the void. I entered a grotty Soho subterranean dive bar named Billy’s. A camp Welsh cossack posed by the entrance as the electronic beats of Kraftwerk pounded from the speakers, sounding like the future had arrived early. Several androgynous couples danced a robotic jive, looking like replicant toy soldiers. I thought I saw Marilyn Monroe flirting with a dapper Bryan Ferry in his ’40s GI look. I know I saw someone wearing an iron as a hat.
But where had this strange new breed come from? And how had everyone found this dingy den of iniquity? The look was retro but it definitely felt like tomorrow. So the following week I went back… The press dubbed us the New Romantics, but we paid no attention. We were too busy enjoying ourselves.
We became a gang that made clubs our lifestyle: Billy’s, the Blitz, Le Beat Route, the Mud Club, the Wag and the Dirt Box. Nightclubbing was our fuel, family and an after-dark gateway to fulfill ambitions. We were narcissistic and hedonistic, but more importantly we inspired each other to push boundaries. It was about rebellion, creativity, originality and being yourself outside normal and straight society.
The collective strength of this gang gave individuals more confidence, and this energy affected almost everyone who entered these clubs. At the time no one had any money, but because we were naive and innocent, we didn’t hold back and weren’t afraid of failure. Everyone had a role to play; everyone was a cog in this stylishly bizarre, wobbling wheel, rolling into uncharted territories.
This may sound pretentious; that’s because we were, some more than others. But together we felt a power to achieve things, bolstered by the headlong energy of youth.
And here’s a classic New Romantic track: Visage’s ‘Fade To Grey’ released in 1980.