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Blitz Club impresario of ‘Fade To Grey’ fame dies, aged 55

Steve Strange, the frontman of 1980s New Romantic act Visage and the brains behind the influential 1980s club-night The Blitz, has died. He was 55.

It’s been reported that Steve was visiting Egypt when he suffered a heart attack in his sleep. DJ Mag’s thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad and shocking time.

Steve Strange (real name Steve Harrington) was a leading light in the New Romantic scene in London in the early ‘80s. He’d moved to London from Newbridge in Wales, having become a punk rocker after seeing the Sex Pistols and meeting their manager Malcolm McLaren. He briefly joined a couple of punk bands, but it was as a club host with pal Rusty Egan — the movers behind The Blitz — that he began making a name for himself.

Home to the weird and the wonderful, The Blitz became the epicentre of the New Romantic movement that spawned bands like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Boy George’s first band Culture Club. The Blitz was originally called Heroes — named after the track by David Bowie.

“Everyone was disillusioned with punk, and looking for a new club launch,” Strange told DJ Mag in 2013. “Everyone seemed to look up to Bowie, so we played a lot of his music — along with Roxy Music, Nina Hagen, Kraftwerk and so on. Heroes was like an homage to him.”

Boy George worked in the cloakroom at The Blitz, and it quickly became the in-place to go in cool post-disco London club-land. When David Bowie came scouting for New Romantics to appear as extras in his next promo video for a song called ‘Ashes To Ashes’, he naturally picked Steve Strange — one of the more outrageous dressers of the scene.

“We thought we were going to be whisked off somewhere glamorous like the Bahamas [for the video],” Strange told DJ Mag, “but when we spoke to the coach driver he said ‘Are you all ready for Southend?’ It was Southend, wasn’t it?”

Strange appeared in the sepia-tinged ‘Ashes To Ashes’ video walking along the beach with Bowie, in front of a bulldozer. His appearance in the vid really helped put him on the map, and he stayed in touch with Bowie from that point on — describing him as “very down to earth”.

By now, Strange had formed Visage with Rusty Egan, Midge Ure and Billy Currie (later Ultravox), and Magazine members Barry Adamson, John McGeoch and Dave Formula. ‘Fade To Grey’ was their masterpiece, a brooding art nouveau slab of emotive, cinematic synth-pop. It shot into the top ten throughout Europe in early 1981, hitting No.1 in Germany and Switzerland.

Other Visage singles like ‘Mind Of A Toy’, ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ and ‘Night Train’ followed… 

…but the band suffered in-fighting and line-up changes before calling it a day in 1985. Strange descended into heroin addiction, but kicked his habit and emerged at the start of the century with Visage Mark 2. The band released two albums in the past two years — ‘Hearts & Knives’ and ‘Orchestral’.

Along with synth acts like Gary Numan, Ultravox and Depeche Mode, Visage have subsequently been cited as influential by techno’s founding fathers the Belleville Three — Juan Atkins, Derick May and Kevin Saundersion — as well as later electroclash artists like Felix Da Housecat and Fischerspooner.

And Strange’s involvement in the Blitz Club was the catalyst for a whole new movement in clubland in the early ‘80s after the backlash against disco. It is for enriching culture as a style icon and catalyst for pioneering synth music that he will be remembered.

Marc Green, label manager at August Day Recordings which released the later Visage work, said: “We are extremely saddened to announce that Steve Strange died at 11.15 local time on Thursday 12 February in Sharm el-Sheikh International Hospital, Egypt.

“Steve’s family, band members and friends are all distraught at this sudden news of his untimely death. Steve’s family request privacy at this extremely difficult time.”

Strange’s agent, Pete Bassett, said: “He will be remembered as a hard-working, very amusing and lovable individual who always was at the forefront of fashion trends.

“Up until last year he was putting together a book of fashion styles based on the New Romantic movement and it comes as a great shock.

“We understood that he had certain health problems but nothing we knew was life-threatening.

“His friends and family are totally shocked, we had no idea anything like this was likely to happen.”