Tributes paid to musician and West Hampstead squatter Steve Strange
PUBLISHED: 11:16 13 February 2015
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Tributes have flooded in for Welsh pop singer Steve Strange after he died of a heart attack yesterday on holiday in Egypt.
The 55-year-old New Romantic “leading edge” found fame in the early 1980s as frontman for Visage, whose best known hit was Fade to Grey.
As stars from across the world paid tribute to a man described as “funny, great company and completely bonkers in the most adorable way”, he was also remembered locally following his time living in West Hampstead.
He squatted with The Stranglers bass player Jean-Jacques Burnel in the late 1970s in Tower Mansions in West End Lane.
Born Steve Harrington, it was in West Hampstead that the artist got inspiration for his name.
Historian Dick Weindling said: “Steve Strange had just arrived from Wales where he had previously met JJ Burnel at a Stranglers gig. Steve and Billy Idol squatted in the basement of Tower Mansions. One day the local postman saw Steve and his girlfriend Suzy with their dyed spiky hair and said, ‘You two are an odd looking couple, you’re Mr and Mrs Strange’. They liked the idea and called themselves Steve and Suzy Strange.”
Fellow musician Billy Idol wrote in his memoir, Dancing with Myself: “When I wanted to stay in London, I squatted in West Hampstead with Steve Strange, along with Jean-Jacques Burnel of the Stranglers and Wilko Johnson, who was playing with a pub-rock band called Dr Feelgood. Steve had no money, either, and was hanging out on the punk club scene as well, with a bleached-blond look just like me. Staying there allowed me to rehearse and then go clubbing at night.”
He added of his time at house: “Since there was only a single bed in Steve’s room, we slept together, which gave the others in the flat the idea that somehow we were lovers.”
Born Steven John Harrington in Newbridge, Monmouthshire, Strange got involved in music after seeing the Sex Pistols in concert at the Castle Cinema in Caerphilly in 1976.
At the age of 15 he went to London to work for Pistols’ manager Malcolm McClaren before setting up Blitz, which employed a yet undiscovered Boy George in the cloakroom.
The likes of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Boy George’s Culture Club all got their start there before going on to super-stardom.
The club also counted David Bowie among its fans, who according to Strange went there “because he had heard how bizarre it was”.
Dubbed the Peacock Prince, Strange said of the New Romantic style he helped create: “It was about showing your creative side, and about showing that you’d taken time and effort in what you had created.
“It was about classic style and being outrageous, but done with an element of taste.”
Formed in 1979, Visage’s breakthrough record, Fade To Grey, peaked at number eight in the UK Singles Chart the following year and reached number one in both Germany and Switzerland.
But following the band’s successful first two albums, Visage and The Anvil, Strange became addicted to heroin after first trying the drug while modelling at a Jean Paul Gaultier show in Paris in 1985.
“It was the worst mistake that I ever made in my life,” he told The Independent newspaper in 2000.
There later followed legal problems such as an arrest and suspended sentence for stealing a Teletubbies doll and cosmetics set from a shop in Bridgend, south Wales.
In more recent times, Strange finished recording a classical interpretation of Fade To Grey at the end of last year.
After the sad news broke of his death, stars from across the world paid tribute to the musician who was the impresario behind the Blitz Club in Soho, central London, a focal point for the New Romantic movement.
In a statement, his former bandmates Midge Ure and Rusty Egan said: “As co-founders of 80s electronic pop group Visage, Midge Ure and Rusty Egan are devastated to hear of the untimely passing of Steve. Steve was a major face of the 80s and he’ll be sadly missed. Midge and Rusty send their condolences to his family and friends.”
Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon tweeted: “I’m very sad to announce that our friend Steve Strange has died in Egypt today. He was the leading edge of New Romantic. God Bless him.”
Billy Idol wrote: “Very sad to hear of my friend Steve Strange passing, RIP mate.”
And Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp dedicated a performance in Italy to the “marverick”.
He said: “Spandau in tears tonight. We dedicated our performance to Steve Strange. Without him we would never have been here. A maverick to the end.”
His brother, and the band’s bassist, Martin Kemp tweeted: “RIP Steve Strange goodbye my dear friend. I will miss you!”
Strange’s agent, Pete Bassett, said: “He will be remembered as a hard-working, very amusing and lovable individual who always was at the forefront of fashion trends.
“Up until last year he was putting together a book of fashion styles based on the New Romantic movement and it comes as a great shock.
“We understood that he had certain health problems but nothing we knew was life threatening.
“His friends and family are totally shocked, we had no idea anything like this was likely to happen.”