Okay, you 80's people. You will remember that the whole New Romantic/Futurist scene had gone almost global by 1983 and 1984 with electronic bands such as Spandau Ballet, the Human League, Heaven 17 and ABC all dominating the charts. The list just goes on. So you must remember Visage? The sharp waist cut suits and the wide brimmed hats? The face painting and imagery that went with it?

Visage had a string of hits between 1980 and 1982 with 'Mind of a Toy', 'Visage' 'The Damned Don’t Cry' and their Top 10 hit and ultimate 80’s number 'Fade to Grey'. They were all released on to the adoring fan base that was ever growing. But then suddenly it all ended like a film reel running out. Some of the bands of the 80’s electronic era carried on to good fortunes like Depeche Mode, Gary Numan and OMD, and are still touring and releasing records today after all this time. Some however fell by the wayside and were never heard of again.

Visage was formed initially by vocalist Steve Strange and drummer Rusty Egan. The pair were hosting club nights at Blitz nightclub in Great Queen Street in London. They were soon joined by Ultravox vocalist Midge Ure on keyboards. Visage's line up was then completed with the addition of Ultravox keyboardist Billy Currie along with three quarters of Magazine –guitarist John McGeoch, keyboardist Dave Formula and bassist Barry Adamson. They signed to Polydor Records and released their first album 'Visage' in 1980, and then 'The Anvil' two years later. A third album 'Beat Boys' was released two years again after that in 1984 without the input of Midge Ure, who had by this time resumed his interest in Ultravox who were getting a lot more exposure and success. It was shortly after this that Visage disbanded and they all went their separate ways.

Today Visage’s line-up features Steve Strange and bassist Steve Barnacle, who had worked on and off in the 1980s with Visage while never being an official member and also played with Debbie Harry and Erasure. They have also added former Ultravox guitarist Robin Simon, who has worked with Magazine, Conny Plank and John Foxx, and vocalist Lauren Duvall.

Visage always had too too big a sound and were too iconic of the 1980s era to simply Fade to Grey. After years of battling drug addiction, Steve Strange has come out the other side, and Visage are back with 'Hearts and Knives', their first album in twenty-nine years and its first infectious single, 'Dreamer'.

Visage are also back on the road, and after recently playing a date London will be doing showcases soon in Cardiff and Birmingham. In a frank and honest interview, Pennyblackmusic talked about the new album with Steve Strange.


PB: Congratulations first of all on the new album!

SS: Oh, I am really excited and pleased about it and our up-and-coming gigs. To be honest, I am still waiting for a bad review! We haven't had any and that goes as far afield as Germany and Italy and this time around even to America. Germany has always been our strongest market, but this time around America seemed to be giving us a lot more airplay than any other territories. I would say that it on a par with the amount of airplay we are getting in Germany. It is definitely more than the underground cult status in which Visage were prior to the release of this new album.

PB: Well, it's certainly good to see you back after such a long time...

SS: This album has been a long time in coming , but I don't call the loyal people that have waited for this album fans. I call them friends because of their patience. Their care and their kindness has been so overwhelming.

By the time we had finally agreed to make the album, don't forget Midge had left the band and so had Billy Currie. There were musical differences, but myself and Midge and Billy and in fact Dave Formula as well has written one of the tracks on the album.

PB: So it was joint collaboration in writing it then?

SS: Well, sort of, but Rusty and I found that when we began working on the album that we didn’t get along anymore. It got to the stage where it was getting embarrassing in the recording studio. It got to the stage where I was dreading going in.

PB: Was that musically or personally?

SS: We were bickering. As we'd announced that this record was being recorded, people were like saying, “Oh great, Steve's back where he deserves to be,” and “Let's hope this is a great album.” Rusty in all honesty wasn't getting much of a say in it. Nobody was really mentioning Rusty's name, so we had three months of recording it and me dreading going into the studio.
Rusty then started to say, “Right, I want to co-produce this album,” but he was just throwing his toys out the pram. It was totally unrealistic as we'd just signed a producer to it, and the only reason I could think as to why he wanted to be co-producer on the album was that it was going to give him a higher input and influence and notoriety when it came to being mentioned in the papers.

I don't think jealousy can be pitied. Jealousy is a disease. I tried everything to keep him on board. I even got my friends from Spandau Ballet to try and make him see sense. By then I'd decided, I couldn't take any more of it, and I worked for a while on solo projects and with another act called the Detroit Starrzz.

PB: You actually walked away from the whole Visage project that is Steve Strange?

SS: Yep. One of the tracks that we did was a track that Microsoft were going to take on board for the X-Box game Halo. It was being played at all the Halo conferences, and do you know what? I had to blag it because I didn't have a clue about computer games or bloody X Box games! I said, “Yeah I'm always on the X-Box with all my nephews who are totally into Halo,” So, I did a bit of research into John 117 and Cotarna and the grunts and the snipes who are the sort of people you have to defend and save the universe.
But as soon as I walked away from Visage Microsoft weren't interested. What had happened was the people that were financing the album had said, “Well without Steve's input we believe there is no Visage because Steve is Visage.” Looking back, it has always been me doing the sole promotion for the band.

PB: Why do you think that was?

SS: I think that it was we never played together very much live. The first ever real gig we did was for me unbelievable.

PB: Wasn't it for a radio show?

SS: It was at a time when Radio Luxembourg was one of the main radio stations. Every year they had what was called the Golden Lion Globe award and we knew we were up for either bronze, silver or gold and it was all done under cloak and dagger circumstances. We were driven out in blacked-out limousines and underground tunnels, and when we got out of the car we were covered up under blankets.

PB: That sounds a little excessive?

SS: Yeah, to be honest, we didn't have a clue where we were being driven to. And then all of a sudden we heard this roar-like rapture and applause, and we thought it must be someone being given the bronze award. So in between the artists being given awards they had maybe two or three bands on, and then the silver was called, but we didn't know it at the time and our manager came rushing in to the room we were in and said, “Come on guys, get yourselves ready. Come on...” And I'm not joking, but we walked out into one of these German football stadiums and there was eighty thousand people in there!

PB: Were you asked to play?

SS: We had to play 'Fade to Grey' live. When I held the award in the air, literally the whole stadium erupted. After we'd done it I felt like I had been plugged into an electric socket. And when I came off stage, I was running around saying, “Oh my god, we've got to go on tour. This is amazing!” I was so euphoric because I had been never performed to this large amount of people. The only live gigs I had ever done was just some small stuff with a band I had before called the Photons. Well, after about an hour, everybody was telling me to shut up about it because I wouldn't shut up about going on the road.

PB: It never really happened, did it?

SS: It was virtually impossible what with everybody else's commitments in the band. But we did do the San Remo Music Awards in the amphitheatres in Rome and another one in Capri.

I always wanted to play live, so when I came back on board I put my foot down and said, “I want Steve Barnacle involved.” I love working with Robin, but I write better with Steve Barnacle. I found a gem in Lauren Duvall, and I wanted her involved for backing vocals and also for some of the tracks that wanted more than backing vocals. I think she adds a lot to the album and, although she's only 26, Lauren has got a very wise head on her. It is great because everyone is playing on the official tour, which starts off great for me because it is on home turf in Cardiff on the 21st July, and then we've got another showcase gig in Birmingham on the 23rd.

PB: Is it hard work playing live now?

SS: Well, we did a showcase at the Hoxton in London last month and I'd been on stage for an hour and a half. Towards the end when we did ‘Fade to Grey’ I have to admit I was having trouble with my vocals, and it was the best track so I had to say to the crowd, “You're going to have help me here with my vocals,” and I held the microphone out to the crowd and they carried on singing, and then we had a couple of encores which ended with ‘Visage’, and I am not joking. The reaction was just amazing, and so was being on the stage with people that actually wanted to be on the stage and complemented each other.

I am really looking forward to both these next showcases. The critics did pick up on the fact that my vocals started to wan, but apart from that every review we had said brilliant things about the showcase. If I didn't take the critics advice on board, I would be the biggest knob going.

PB: The critics aren't right all the time about everything though.

SS: No, but I think if you don't listen to what's being said about you then you must be walking around thinking yourself perfect. The things they addressed were true, so I am glad it came out like it did.

PB: Do you regret not touring with Visage in the early days?

SS: I regret it a hell of a lot. Luckily we did a lot of TV shows, and we'd always do them live so in a way that counteracted for us not doing tours in a way. It was a missing link in the way the band was made up I think. It was quite frustrating to be honest not being able to please the people that were buying the records.

I went through my dark days as I was heroin addict for many years, and I lost my good friends Paula Yates and Michael Hutchings after winning a long legal battle with a national newspaper. I also nearly lost my best friend Martin Kemp from Spandau Ballet the year before after he suffered two brain tumours. We really didn’t know if he was going to pull through or not for a long time, so I decided I wanted out of that whole show business scene.

PB: You wanted out of the lifestyle as well?

SS: We were running successful clubs and they were attracting the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Robbie Williams and people like that, but it was to be honest a real dark time. With Martin pulling through and then losing both Michael and Paula, I thought, “Right, it is time for me to get out because I might be next.”

PB: How did you manage to avoid it?

SS: I moved back to Wales, and then I was approached by quite a few publishing companies about my autobiography. As a result of the book, I had so many letters from all over the world saying, “You helped me through my drug problems,” and “Can you not get Visage back together or at least take part in one of the 80's revival shows?”

I turned Here and Now down so many times, and then I thought, “Shit these people have paid nearly £20 for this hardback book. The least I can do is do a few numbers.” I did a nineteen date Here and Now tour, which I found really exciting. It gave me great pleasure giving something back to the people that had bought the albums and whom had never actually seen me live. It was quite an honour really. It was ABC, Kim Wilde and me, and we went on a three date of Germany which also went really well. It gave me the idea of getting back under the spotlight again, and from that I was approached to do one of the reality shows.

PB: Wasn't it the hairdressing one?

SS: Well, that one was called 'When the Band Goes Pop', which was with Rusty Egan, but also for Children in Need we did ‘Celebrity Scissorhands’ which I won three years running. They opened this hairdressing salon, and gave us absolutely no training and let us loose on the public's hair! It was hilarious and none of us knew how successful it was going to be. It was the first show to hit the target audience on BBC3 of over a million viewers. Because of the amount of money it raised for the charity, they asked us back for a second series and from that I ended up going back as the boss of the salon for the third series.

PB: You must have had a laugh doing it?

SS: As I was actually getting good at it, they were giving me talks and saying, “Hey, you're getting too good at this. You've just got butcher their hair” and “Good hairdressing doesn't make good TV'. We want you to butcher their hair!” The people knew what they were coming in for. They knew it was all for a good cause. Let's face it they weren't expecting to come out of there with a Vidal Sassoon cut, you know? They were lucky if they came out of there with any hair left at all.

PB: Back to the album, before I crack up anymore...

SS: Yeah, it means so much the fact that it's been so critically acclaimed with all these good reviews from places like Germany and America in the past few weeks. One of the German reviews said that, “If we had a time machine we could go back to circa ‘82 to ‘84 when the first two Visage albums came out, and as a follow-up this album would be right there up at the top of the German album charts."

PB: I thought it sounded even more like Visage than the original albums.

SS: Well that's mainly due to the software being ProLogic. We tried out a vocal pitch tuner on a track and it made me sound like a robot, so I told them to take it off because any old munchkin could be made a pop star by the use of that instrument. I think that is what it does it does. Don't get me wrong because I think that Leona Lewis is an amazing singer, but when she did that Snow Patrol track it ripped all the raw edginess away.

PB: Do you think going back to using analogue made a difference?

SS: Well, the oldest keyboard we used on the album comes from 1985 and the oldest guitar – and I might get a slap on the wrist for this - I believe was Robin’s from 1987, and we were basically aiming to get that unique Visage sound to bring it up to the present day. And I think we've managed to do it.

PB: You have got a single coming out, haven’t you?

SS: Yeah. 'Dreamer' is the first single off the album and I have also got an exhibition coming out, and part of it is an homage to me. It is at the Victoria and Albert Museum along. The exhibition is called 'From Clubland' and what they are doing is showing all the designers from Paris. Jean Paul Gaultier always said that London was always his playground for inspiration, and as a result of that all these other designers zoomed in on London for inspiration and watered it down to make it more accessible for the high street. And that's what the exhibition is all about.

PB: I interviewed the photographer Sheila Rock recently, and she said at that time in the late 70s and early 80s when you first emerged that the fashion was more important than the music in her photographic world. Would you agree?

SS: Sheila took a few photos of me at that time. I used to bump into Sheila quite a lot. But no, not at all. The music for us was far more important than the fashion. But the name Visage isn't just French for 'face'. The 'Vis' is for the visuals, the 'Visa' is for the visa to take music to different territories around the world, and the 'Age' was because at the time we were pioneering a new electronic sound. So, it was a new age in electronic music.

PB: Do you think the music industry has changed so much over the years?

SS: Oh god, yes. In the 1980s we sold 590,000 copies of our albums in Germany. I was really shocked when they told us we'd sold 26,000, so I thought, “Oh no, that means the record is going to bomb and they said, “No, no, it is because you are competing in the midweek sales with Pink,” and I was like, “Really?” And they said, “Yeah, because everything is download nowadays.”

It is like what I was saying earlier about pop stars. Whereas you have got your Leona Lewis and perhaps Little Mix that have made it, where are the other ones that have won? They end up in West End Musicals. It is because there's not that much money to be made in the music industry anymore. I think ultimately they are doing it for the fame.

PB: I take it you are not a great lover of ‘The X-Factor’?

SS: Not really no. I mean pitch tuner can make any munchkin sound good. I'll probably get crucified for this, but One Direction need to find a new direction.

PB: Thank you.











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