Steve Strange biography

Steve Strange

Last updated: 17 November 2008

Steve Strange was 'Wales' first punk' and became the frontman of 1980s hitmakers Visage.

Steve Harrington's musical and cultural legacy deserves recognition as he could justifiably lay claim to inventing musical genres and bringing clubbing into the mainstream.

In 1976 he was splashed across the Western Mail in 1976 as 'Wales' first punk'. Chains ran from his nose to his ear and he was clad in black leather.

The Newport area was a hub of punk, and bands were beginning to come from the hotspots of London for gigs in Wales. The Sex Pistols played the Stowaway Club in Newport, and Harrington befriended bassist Glen Matlock. He also befriended Billy Idol of Generation X, and The Stranglers.

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BBC Radio Wales, The Dragon's Breath

Idol invited Harrington to join his band, but he dithered before making the move to London. By the time he arrived in the capital, Idol had already found a bandmate, so Harrington embroiled in himself in the scene anyway. While staying at house of The Stranglers' Jean Jacques Burnel, a postman christened Harrington and his girlfriend Mr and Mrs Strange; a name that stuck.

Strange began to dabble in music, forming The Moors Murderers with Chrissie Hynde (causing tabloid apoplexy with their single Free Myra Hindley, a commentary on judicial double standards concerning high-profile cases). Then he became frontman of The Photons.

His old friend Glen Matlock had formed The Rich Kids with Midge Ure after being kicked out of The Sex Pistols. Ure invited Strange to help him in the studio as he began to move away from 'punk' into electronic music.

The original punks had begun to tire of the sartorial and cultural cul-de-sac they saw it becoming, and were moving into a more club- and electronic-oriented direction. Strange created Bowie Night at a London club, which was instantly successful, despite the absence of live bands. In 1979 the night moved to the Blitz club and only got bigger. International celebrities and showbiz superstars stopped by.

Strange was the de facto head of the new clubbing movement the press called New Romantic. Boy George was becoming a figure in the scene, Spandau Ballet had become Blitz's house band and Strange was the man behind it all. He was just 20.

Hell and Club For Heroes followed Blitz, racking up the stars, and Strange decided another foray into music was in order. He joined Ure, who'd founded Ultravox to investigate electronic music, and formed Visage. They were quickly snapped up by Polydor.

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BBC Radio Wales, The Dragon's Breath

Fade To Grey was the first single from their self-titled debut album. It went to number one in 13 countries and made instant stars of its creators. His bacchanalian lifestyle and drug use rose accordingly.

Visage toured the world, but already-stretched relationships with Ure came to head during the tour for their second album, The Anvil. Strange rode down New York's Fifth Avenue on a camel, and Ure threw in the towel, going on to front Ultravox as before.

Unfortunately for Strange and his bandmates, his drug use had worsened during the sessions for The Anvil, and he'd began using heroin. Mammoth spending sprees were part and parcel of his behaviour in the early 80s too.

Strange sacked the band's management and Visage had a last stab at cracking America with an untried manager. Their third and last album, Beat Boy, was critically and commercially unsuccessful. Strange's lifestyle began to catch up with him.

Reading like a manual to how not to be a pop star, Steve Strange's life took a turn for the worse after the band broke up. Spiralling drug abuse, a financial situation running away from him, and a messy personal life all contributed to his near ruin through the late 80s and 90s.

The nadir came in 2000, when he was given a three month suspended sentence for stealing a Teletubby doll from a supermarket in Wales. "It was a cry for help really," he said. "I was in the middle of a nervous breakdown at the time. I got help through a holistic healing centre in London eventually. They basically saved my life and weened me off the drug.

"I remember the Big Breakfast asking my probation officer if I would come on the show to talk about it and I asked if £50 was OK for my appearance fee. How the mighty had fallen!"

Eventually he began to move back into public life. He returned to Wales and managed local bands including Jeff Killed John, now known as Bullet For My Valentine. He also worked on a re-recording of Fade To Grey with DV8 in 2004.

He says he's, "clean, serene and ready for a new beginning", and is involved with Boy George's musical, Taboo. He also published a candid autobiography, Blitzed!, in 2002.

Of his lost years, Strange says: "I wasted it on liggers, parties and picking up the cheques for everything. There was a lot of money coming in through the Camden Palace and the band but I spent all of it.

"I can't cry about it though. I got to see the world and educate myself and I can still do that. Other people are my education. As long as I'm around creative people, I'm fine."


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