South East Wales

Steve Strange: The New Romantic from the valleys

Steve Strange in the 1980s Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Steve Strange would only let the 'weird and wonderful' into his Blitz club

He was the man from a small mining town in the Welsh valleys who ran away to London and turned Mick Jagger away from a club for wearing jeans and trainers.

Steve Strange, who died at the age of 55 while on holiday in Egypt, was a leading influence of the New Romantic movement in the 1980s as a club entrepreneur and a singer with the band Visage.

His roots were far from the glamorous life he led as an adult.

He was born Steven John Harrington in the Gwent valleys town of Newbridge. As a child, his family moved away from the area to run seaside cafes and guests houses.

But he returned to the town with his mother after his parents divorced. His father later killed himself after learning he had a brain tumour.

Growing up as a teenager in the close-knit former mining community, he struggled to conform and found himself suspended from school after sporting orange hair and a chain through his nose after listening to punk music.

He said he simply did not fit into life in a valleys community.

"I was the freak of the village, long before Matt Lucas started doing those sketches. I was banned from school but I was a grade A student. It was ridiculous," he told BBC Wales in 2013.

"I wasn't going to be a rugby player and I wasn't going to go down the pit, so I ran away. I was a creative spirit and I ran away."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Steve Strange and Rusty Egan opened nightclubs and were in Visage together

Strange found escapism in music and during the 1970s, had been a regular face at the Stowaway club in Newport - a place where "it was hard to tell who were the girls and who were the boys", according to its former DJ Jonny Perkins.

"It was all a bit strange back then - it was the 70s and there was a great revolution," said Mr Perkins, now a music promoter in the city.

"Steve was just one of the boys. He used to like his music and dressing up and having fun, just like everyone else.

"I remember him coming up to me to ask for certain records. He was a sociable guy.

"But I didn't realise he had musical inclination of his own until he went to London."

'Weird and wonderful'

In 1976, he went to a Sex Pistols concert in the Castle Cinema in Caerphilly.

Not long after, he left Wales, and took a job designing artwork for Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.

It was there that he met Rusty Egan - who Strange and Midge Ure would later join with to form Visage. Egan and Strange became flatmates and established their first club night.

Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption The Blitz Club was a place where a number of New Romantic bands started out in 1980s London

They were soon running the most sought-after clubs in London - Billy's, Blitz and the Camden Palace, booking the likes of Spandau Ballet and Culture Club at the start of their careers.

It became a place for aspiring New Romantics thanks to Strange's door policy of admitting only "the weird and wonderful".

The club also counted David Bowie among its fans, who according to Strange went there "because he had heard how bizarre it was".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Strange recovered after a mental breakdown to reform Visage

Welsh-born Lowri-Ann Richards, who was a backing singer for Visage and a friend of Strange's until his death, said: "I remember him standing by the door of the Blitz Club in London, and he'd only let people in if the clothes they were wearing were colourful or wonderful or amazing in some way.

"One night I even remember Mick Jagger turning up in jeans and sneakers and being turned away.

"What Steve did that was different was give young people a place to go - he'd take over a club from the owners for a night and let all his friend in."

However, as Visage became more popular following their hit with Fade to Grey in 1980, Strange struggled to cope with the pressure of combining his music career and running clubs.

By the mid-80s he had spiralled into heroin addiction and later suffered the double blow of the death of his good friend, INXS singer Michael Hutchence, and the loss of his possessions in a house fire.

He returned to Wales, where he suffered a nervous breakdown.

In what he later said was a cry for help, he was arrested for stealing a £10.99 Tellytubby doll in Bridgend and given a three-month suspended sentence.

Image copyright Wales news service
Image caption Steve Strange loved returning to Wales and spending time with his family, including sister Tanya

At the hearing, his solicitor said: "My client has found it difficult to cope with falling from grace after being a man of considerable wealth."

After treatment, Strange revived Visage, releasing a new album, Hearts and Knives, in May 2013.

And after years of running away, Wales became his sanctuary and he spent his last years living in the seaside town of Porthcawl.

"I love London but I know when it's time to go home," he told BBC Wales.

"I need to recharge my batteries. I miss my mother and my nephews. I miss the luxury of a warm bed."

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