Poetry Assignments, Steve Strange and “Fade to Grey”

Well, I have been largely absent from these pages this month and largely absent from the comments boxes of the blogs I follow, but on the home stretch now of a particulary busy time for me. Today I have decided to timetable my day into four sections in order to fit everything in, and these sections reflect the very diverse strands to how my life has turned out since giving up my sensible, secure job a year and a half ago.

The final assignment for my college course is due in on Wednesday, so I decided to tackle it first thing this morning. The course was meant to be my main focus this year but of course regular visitors will know all that changed when my elderly mum had a fall, and instead of becoming a full-time student last September, I became a full-time carer for a time. As it turns out, the shift to part-time was probably a wise one, and for some time I managed to kill two birds with one stone so to speak, as my Saturday blog post (when I was still sticking to that regime) often inspired the “homework” I endeavoured to complete for the course on a Sunday. I am still amused by the fact my tutor gave me most praise for a poem I dashed off after writing about the song Shades of Gray by the Monkees, following the  death of Peter Tork (link here).

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The Monkees

I didn’t have much time, and the song had formed a bit of an earworm over the course of the weekend, so a hybrid list/concrete poem developed after referring to a paint chart courtesy of either Mr Crown or Mr Dulux (can’t remember which now). There is much talk of plagiarism in academia nowadays as there is great scope for cutting and pasting from the work of others online. I made no pretence however of saying I’d come up with these shades of grey myself, I purely selected them and rearranged them, but my lecturer complimented me on them and I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth. Oh well, not for a marked assignment this one, and it was my take on the Brexit shenanigans going on at the time, so no harm done.

Shades of Grey

But hey, there are plenty of other songs about the colour grey, and the first that comes to mind is Fade to Grey by Visage. I see this song is attributed to the genre new wave, but in my mind it can only be classed as New Romantic where Steve Strange, the man who almost single-handedly started that movement, performed lead vocals.

Fade to Grey by Visage:

The whole New Romanticism movement came along half way through my four years as a full-time student first time around, and I probably embraced it more than any other in terms of how I dressed at the time. It was a long time since I’d had to court the approval of my parents in such matters and I was still nowhere near entering the “real world”, where sensible suits rather than flamboyant frills and falderals would have to be adopted.

Many trips to both the local Oxfam and fabric/haberdashery shop were all that was needed to acquire the necessary apparel. Ribbons, tassels, hats and big coats were the order of the day, as were shirts with ruffles and simply made but colourful skirts. Two metres of fabric and a roll of flat sewing elastic was all that was needed. I still had my granny’s old Singer sewing machine in my student room but it needed an upgrade, so I asked for a new sewing machine for my 21st birthday later on that year. Back in those days clothes were still relatively expensive compared to income, especially a paltry student income, so my evenings were split between leaning over the books, and leaning over the sewing machine.

Also in my student room was my beloved black and white portable telly, which in those far less technologically saturated times, was the only one in our flat shared by six people. Come 7.30pm on a Thursday we of course all piled in to watch TOTP, and in 1980-81 this was the kind of music that pretty much filled each show. Fade to Grey was released in 1980, on the same day as the band’s debut album. It reached No. 8 in the UK Singles Chart and made the No. 1 spot in Germany and Switzerland. The song is sung in English and spoken in French. The music video became one of the first directed by Messers Godley and Creme after leaving the world of 10cc behind and becoming masters of that new medium.

Steve Strange formed Visage with Rusty Egan and Midge Ure from Rich Kids, Billy Currie from Ultravox, and Barry Adamson, John McGeoch and Dave Formula from Magazine, so a veritable supergroup. Steve had appeared in the video for David Bowie’s No. 1 hit Ashes to Ashes (first spotted at 0:30), a song which helped propel the burgeoning New Romantic fashion movement into the mainstream. Both he and Rusty Egan worked at Blitz, the influential New Romantic nightclub in London, from 1979 until 1981. They famously only allowed entry to the weird and the wonderful and apparently Mick Jagger was once refused admittance. Egan and Strange later opened up the Camden Palace nightclub, also in London, where they continued to spread and influence the development of electronica music in the UK.

Blitz Club 1980s.png

Sadly Steve died at the age of only 55 back in 2015. He had frequently appeared on those talking head shows in the years prior to that, and it didn’t seem as if the years had been kind to him. He certainly left his mark however in that he was responsible for a whole cultural phenomenon right there at the cusp of the ’70s/’80s. He was also responsible for the honing of my sewing skills, which I have to say have come in very handy over the years.

So, that’s the blog post written, which was the second item on today’s timetable. Now it’s time to get Mr WIAA’s latest batch of beautiful things dispatched to their new owners, and then, later on today, I welcome the next set of guests to my holiday hideaway. No time to write any stories about that new venture in this post, but they will definitely follow.

Until next time….

Fade To Grey Lyrics
(Song by Billy Currie/Chris Payne/Midge Ure)

Devenir gris
Devenir gris

One man on a lonely platform
One case sitting by his side
Two eyes staring cold and silent
Show fear as he turns to hide

We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)

Un homme dans une gare désolée
Une valise à ses cotés
Des yeux fixes et froids
Montrent de la peur lorsqu’il
Se tourne pour se cacher

We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)

Sens la pluie comme un été anglais
Entends les notes d’une chanson lointaine
Sortant de derrière un poster
Espérant que la vie ne fut aussi longue

We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)

Feel the rain like an English summer
Hear the notes from a distant song
Stepping out from a backdrop poster
Wishing life wouldn’t be so long

Devenir gris

We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)
Devenir gris

Postscript:

Ashes to Ashes was a fantasy police drama series set in the 1980s and the sequel to Life on Mars which has been written about around here before. Needless to say music from the era played a big part in the show, and what better song to include but Fade to Grey. Here is a clip from the show which features the man himself, Steve Strange.

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

7 thoughts on “Poetry Assignments, Steve Strange and “Fade to Grey””

    1. Well it seems I will be going back next year for another year of study however since taking up blogging my sewing machine has remained unused I’m afraid. It’s a long time since I ran up a New Romantic outfit complete with frills and falderals!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think not, and I remember this from when I wrote about soul-funk and the Goldmine nightclub on Canvey Island. Bands like SB used to go out there during its heyday in the 1970s and drew inspiration from the acts that played there. Chant No. 1 was the first single after they changed direction away from the whole frills and falderals movement and onto blue-eyed soul-funk (look at me the supposed expert!).

      I took a bit of a gamble with this one as I certainly don’t see a lot of new romantic stuff being posted on the other blogs but it certainly created quite a stir back in the day and this is supposed to be a trawl through the “tracks of my years”.

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  1. Lovely post – the whole New Romantic thing was a big part of our pasts if you were a certain age, I think. It seemed to flow on naturally from punk, especially as punk had changed from its original arty/DIY fashion/individualist roots into something so much more clichéd and restricted. I mean, when you think of early punk protagonists, they were all so different to each other and quite eccentric. From Poly Styrene in her bright colours and plastic dresses, to the Clash in their spray painted boiler suits, to Siouxsie in her fetishistic outfits, etc. But after that it became so much less imaginative with everyone sporting spiky hair and studded leather jackets. So the New Romantic movement seemed like a return to the more inventive and flamboyant side of youth fashion, then took it to a whole new level, I think. Do you still have any of your home-made outfits?! I bet they were brilliant.
    I didn’t get into it in any big way, but it certainly inspired a lot of my clothes in the early ’80s which were mostly bought from charity shops – for example I remember wearing a 1950s yellow dress with green polka dots over fishnet tights, snakeskin court shoes and I used to crimp my hair too so it looked huge! (Ah, wish I could do all that again now….it was so much fun.)

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    1. I don’t know how I ended up writing about all this as when I sat down at my computer I was going to write about how busy my life was again with the new business, but as my college assignment was due in, I went down the whole Shades of Grey/Fade to Grey route. Funny how blogging can be a stream of consciousness really and you end up far from where you began.

      I suspected the punk movement and NR movement wouldn’t have seen eye to eye at all but if you purely look at the fashion, yes it was a way of youth using clothes to set themselves apart from the rest of society. My home made outfits were tame in comparison but I do remember that year when all those bands were omnipresent on telly I ended up having great fun with concocting outfits for the many 21st birthday parties that took place that academic year. I’ve mentioned before that I studied Geography first time around, and my classmates all wore the standard jeans, Shetland jumper and walking boots uniform. It was fun to do something quite different and those skirts made with two metres of fabric and a bit of elastic stood me in good stead.

      Funnily enough I went up to the loft last night looking for photos and there was practically nothing – Having film processed back then was really expensive so one spool/year was about all I took. There was an early form of a “selfie” where I had stood in front of the mirror with my Kodak Instamatic compete with Magicube (what a faff), but all I could see was glare and a big blob of white skirt and ruffled shirt. Shame we don’t have much of a record of it all. I like the sound of your yellow dress and crimped hair but as you say, it just wouldn’t work today would it! That time I went to the 80s Mania tribute concert many ladies “of a certain age” turned up in their Ra-Ra skirts and crimped hair but oh dear, no, just no, it doesn’t work second time around.

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