How We Met: Rusty Egan & Steve Strange
'For the reunion, we had a mediator on hand to work through the recriminations'
Sunday 13 March 2011
Steve Strange, 51
A nightclub promoter and former lead singer of Visage, Strange teamed up with Rusty Egan to create the legendary Blitz club, famous for spawning the New Romantic movement. He lives in Wales
I heard him before I saw him, on the King's Road in London. He bellowed over to me, "What band are you in?" I replied, "I'm not in a band, I do artwork for bands like the Sex Pistols." He was a Jack the Lad; I was more reserved. We started hanging out, and I looked after the fan club for his band, the Rich Kids.
I was getting bored of the punk thing – it got violent with the skinheads – so me and Rusty talked about opening our own venue, with our own music. The Blitz club was about creating this vibe of who could dress most outrageous: was it me or Boy George – who worked the cloakroom – or Stephen Jones, the hat-maker?
Rusty and I shared the same vision of who came in, how they should look and the music selection. I went on the door and became known as the biggest bastard in clubland; and Rusty was, and still is, the best 1980s DJ.
A lot of people thought we were lovers, but that couldn't have been further from the truth; it was an intimate, brotherly love, and when we shared a flat I saw a much more caring side to Rusty.
Neither of us expected the success of Visage. "Fade to Grey" went to number one in 17 countries and we were jetting off to four countries in a day. All that pressure was how the drugs started for me. Rusty and I began having arguments about the musical direction and by the third album, we parted ways.
When I tried to come off heroin for the second time, in 1987, Rusty was there for me. He was married by this point, but he moved me into their spare room and I did cold turkey until I got my act together and moved to Ibiza. After Ibiza, we lost contact: I was doing clubs, while he had his own dark days and I was so caught up in what I was trying to achieve, I wasn't there for him.
When we got back together for a reunion in January, there was still bad feeling, and we had to have a mediator on hand to work through the recriminations. But the night was a success, and though we'll never recreate the Blitz and the New Romantic movement that came from it, we've finally laid our ghosts to rest.
Rusty Egan, 53
After coming to prominence with new-wave band the Rich Kids, Egan set up the Blitz club with Steve Strange and created the venue's spin-off band, Visage. He lives in London with his wife and children
I was walking down the King's Road ceremoniously, as would any other super-cool young punk on a Saturday in 1977, when I noticed Steve. He was wearing a black leather coat, eyeliner and peroxide-blond hair, so I walked up to him and said, "Hi, my name's Rusty, you look great." I saw him around after that and he ended up on my settee.
When I went on tour with my band, he came along and started hanging around with me and my mates. We talked about wanting our own club, where I could play records from my collection, which is how Blitz came about.
Everyone who was a regular became someone, and everyone we wanted to meet came: David Bowie, Grace Jones, Jack Nicholson. Steve and I even got invited to posh bohemian dinner parties in Chelsea. They got up to all sorts, grabbing rent boys off the street... We'd nip to the toilet, look at each other and go, "Bloody hell, what are we doing here?"
Visage was a big part of the nightclub; picking Steve as the singer seemed a genius move, as he was such a star. But on reflection I really should have picked Boy George. I'd already been a pop star for five minutes, but Steve was a little guy from Wales, so it was massive for him. He was like, "I'm a star, I'm a star!" and got heavily involved with the drug scene.
Part of me still feels Steve used me: his whole life I babysat him – paid the rent, got our record deal, got Midge [Ure] in the studio [for Visage]; I did everything for him because he couldn't do it for himself. By 1989, it was a sad end of an era. Boy George nearly died; Steve, still struggling with drugs, went back to Wales; and the kids were now dancing to booms, bleeps and blops. I embraced it, but I didn't want to know a fucked-up druggy like Steve, and we lost touch.
When Human League, Ultravox and Yazoo reformed, it felt like the 1980s were back, so I got the club night back on and wanted to make Steve part of it. I got back in touch and we staged a reunion night earlier this year, and we're doing another at the Isle of Wight Festival.
Has Steve changed? Well, he's just an older, fatter version, who still takes himself too seriously, and while I can still put a value on all that we've done together, I'm not sure he's ever done anything just for me. I don't think I even ever got a birthday card from him.
Egan will be performing Blitz classics with Strange and Boy George at the Isle of Wight Festival on 9 June (isleofwightfestival.com)
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