New Romantics, the full story

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"New Romantic" is a term originally coined circa '81 by Richard James Burgess (one-time Spandau Ballet producer and later drummer on the Strip LP) which was later applied by the music press and the media as a catch-all term for the dressed-up, make-up wearing pop bands of the early eighties.

Subsequently, the term "new romantic" was retrospectively applied to the scene which emerged out of a West End Clubnight. called "Billy's - A Club For Heroes" started by Steve Strange in 1978, originally at a small venue called Gossips, then later at a nightclub called "the Blitz" which was decorated with images from World War II. It was held midweek, to avoid the weekend nightclubbing crowd (who would be far too busy recovering from their day's work.). Basically, the theme of the club was glammy extreme dressing - the more outrageous and glamourous you looked, the higher up the ladder you were. Rusty Egan, the DJ, played tracks by Bowie, Roxy Music, Kraftwerk, Chic and lots of electronic dance music (remember this was the late '70s long before techno and the detournement of dance music to serious culture status.) Gary Numan also became a favourite of the club after he became big in 1979. George O'Dowd, who later became Boy George, worked in the cloakroom (until he was fired for stealing from peoples' handbags.) Steve Strange worked as doorman and developed a notorious reputation for turning away anyone whose appearance wasn't up to standard - even celebrities like Mick Jagger. This generated a lot of hostility towards Strange and his "Èlitist" attitude but he defended himself by saying that he was eliminating anyone who wanted just to gawp at the clubbers. Once they were in, they could do whatever they wanted, free from fear of persecution.

In time, around late '79, bands started to emerge from this scene. As well as several smaller bands, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan formed Visage, who went and had a Top 10 hit with Fade to Grey, while the early Spandau Ballet regularly played at the club. By late 1980, several rival clubs in this vein also existed in London.

Meanwhile, Adam and the Ants, although widely (and since mid'78, incorrectly) thought of as a Punk band, were developing their own hard core of extreme-dressing followers - the Antpeople. After the Malcolm Mc Laren incident, loyalties were somewhat split between the New Ants and Bow Wow Wow. Adam's pirate/warrior image and Bow Wow Wow's pirate-influenced clothes were also becoming a new fashion trend. Once the Ants finally shed the last vestiges of punkness by having a major hit, and once Bow Wow Wow wer launched and were very obviously not a Punk band, the music press were somewhat stuck for ideas as to in what category to lpace these two bands, one fast becoming the biggest band in the country, the other the hottest new up-and-coming band around.

The press also had trouble finding a name for the Blitz club scene. For a long while, it was known simply as "the Blitz scene" until Jon Savage, who later wrote the Sex Pistols book England's Dreaming, wrote an article in The Face magazine entitled "The Cult With No Name" in which he made the link between the Blitz scene and the Ants/BWW. Romantic historical costumes had become a particularly popular look at the Blitz, and at about the same time as Adam's breakthrough and BWW's live debut, Spandau Ballet had a hit with "To Cut a Long Story Short". In the video they all wore kilts, an old Adam look. Anyway, the end result of this was that the Blitz scene and the Ants/Bow Wow Wow axis got firmly lumped together in the press's minds as one and the same entity. After Richard James Burgess used the Term New Romantic to describe the new style/movement, the name stuck and , as far as the press were concerned, the problem of categorising the Ants, Bow Wow Wow and the Blitz scene had been solved. They were all "New Romantic." (The fact that both halves of the equation HATED being lumped together like this was neither here nor there.)

After this, any early eighties intelligent and arty but nevertheless mainstream pop group which liked to dress up glamourously and wear make up and/or played synth pop music got thrown into this category. Soft Cell, the Human League, Japan, ABC, Ultravox, all were bunged in as were many more. Later on, the category was extended to include ex Blitz club cloak room attendant and briefly BWW member Boy George's new band Culture Club and also Duran Duran which had started as a Punk band but had moved on to playing dance-influenced pop. Very soon, people were dressing up in the New Romantic fashion to go clubbing and even just going about in the street.

In many ways the New Romantic style was as important and defining to the eighties as Glam Rock was to the seventies. Clichès associated with the era include make-up frilly shirts, flashy videos, synth-pop, tribal pop, kilts etc.The style gradually faded away around 84/85, and has subsequently been portrayed by authenticity bores in the music press as the very antithesis of everything 'good' about music, "hyped/style-over-substance/cheesy/tasteless/(various homophobic remarks)/etc, etc".

Partly for this reason, the Romo movement of the mid '90s held the New Romantic era in high esteem as a blueprint of how things should be done, although it was NOT a New romantic Revival, contrary to popular claim at the time. Also gradually many of the bands have been cited as influences by many acts today. The end result of this is that an alternative vision of the era has grown up, portraying the early '80s and indeed the 80s at large as being very much a golden era for pop music. Indeed, as we leave the '90s and enter the first decade of the 21st century, the early '80s New Romantics are on the verge of being granted full rehabilitation.