Visage was an English electro/art-pop project that yielded a self-titled album on Polydor in 1980, spawning the hits “Fade to Grey” and “Mind of a Toy.” Further chart and club hits followed with their 1982 release The Anvil, including “The Damned Don’t Cry” and “Night Train.” Both albums feature then-current members of Ultravox (Midge Ure, Billy Currie) and Magazine (John McGeoch, Dave Formula) along with vocalist/club-impresario Steve Strange and his drumming business-partner Rusty Egan.
The project came together in 1978 when Ure and Egan — just then exiting Glen Matlock’s Rich Kids — approached Blitz scenster Strange (aka Steve Harrington, 1959–2015) with the idea of forming a futurist-dance band. Currie was soon roped into the mix and it was through this liaison that Ure became John Foxx‘s replacement in Ultravox in 1979.
As Visage cut its first singles, Egan simultaneously drummed for Scottish rockers the Skids on their 1979 Bill Nelson-produced sophomore effort Days In Europa. McGeoch’s involvement with the project coincided with his stint in Siouxsie and The Banshees.
Members: Steve Strange (vocals), Rusty Egan (drums, percussion, 1978-85), Midge Ure (guitar, keyboards, bass, 1978-83), Billy Currie (violin, keyboards, 1978-83), John McGeoch (guitar, saxophone, 1978-83), Dave Formula (keyboards, 1978-83), Barry Adamson (bass, 1978-79), Gary Barnacle (saxophone, 1984-85), Andy Barnett (guitar, 1984-85), Steve Barnacle (guitar, 1984-85)
In the autumn of 1978, scenester pals Rusty Egan and Steve Strange started co-hosting a weekly residency at Billy’s nightclub in Soho. Strange worked the doorway, greeting denizens of London’s then-unnamed New Romantic scene while Egan spun a mix of David Bowie, Roxy Music, Ultravox, Kraftwerk, and small-press singles by then-unknowns The Human League and The Normal. They met at a club months earlier when the typically suave Egan shouted out to the characteristically outlandish Strange, “You look great!”
Strange, a Welsh native, was a two-year veteran of the London scene, where he befriended Stranglers bassist JJ Burnell, roomed with Billy Idol, and worked as a coat-checker at The Roxy, a Covent Garden punk hotspot.
In January 1978, Strange assembled the shock-punk band the Moors Murderers (named after the infamous 1960s child-killers) with scenester Soo Catwoman, ex-Ants guitarist Mark Ryan, future Psychedelic Furs drummer Vince Ely, and American expat guitarist–singer Chrissie Hynde. After a photo-publicity stunt that showed the band in leather suits and KKK-style hoods, Hynde left to form The Pretenders. Strange spent part of mid-1978 fronting Liverpool punks The Photons, a spin-off of The Spitfire Boys, before heading back to London to start a club.
Egan was fresh off a one-album stint with the Rich Kids, a punk-pop band co-headed by ex-Slik frontman Midge Ure and original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock. The Rich Kids polarized when Ure purchased a synthesizer, an instrument only he and Egan wished to incorporate.
With their mutual fondness of the recently released Systems of Romance album by Ultravox, Egan and Ure decided to form a synth-rock project suited for the clubs. Beyond Egan’s aforementioned DJ picks, there was little non-disco electronic dance music in existence at the time. He and Strange agreed that their club needed more music options.
Egan and Ure demoed two songs: “Tar” and a cover of the 1969 Zager & Evans hit “In the Year 2525”. They asked Strange to front their new band, tentatively named Visage.
Meanwhile, Strange and Ure moved their club to a Tuesday night residency at the Blitz in Convent Garden. Here, the “cult with no name” attracted press attention with its plethora of campy dress: a mix of punk hairdos, geisha makeup, film noir chic, and Romantic period items. When Strange turned a drunken, disheveled Mick Jagger away at the door one night, tabloids flew about this supposed elitist new cult.
In early 1979, Visage welcomed three-fifths of Magazine: keyboardist Dave Formula, guitarist John McGeoch, and bassist Barry Adamson. As a non-binding studio project, each member was free to continue in other bands.
Keyboardist Billy Currie — whose band Ultravox went on hiatus after the March 1979 departure of frontman John Foxx — joined Visage while committing to summer–fall live engagements with Gary Numan, another Systems of Romance convert. Currie played violin on Numan’s third album, The Pleasure Principle, enhancing synth textures that he’d pioneered on the 1977 Ultravox staples “My Sex” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour.”
Ure agreed to join Ultravox as John Foxx’s replacement. Meanwhile, he collaborated with Phil Lynott on the track “Get Out of Here” for the 1979 Thin Lizzy release Black Rose. After the abrupt departure of guitarist Gary Moore from that band, Lynott invited Ure into the fold. Ure agreed to deputize the slot for their summer tour, but maintained his commitments to Ultravox and Visage.
Elsewhere, Egan drummed on Days of Europa, the second album by Scottish new wave rockers the Skids. It was produced by Bill Nelson, an influence on Ultravox, Magazine, and Numan through his work in Be-Bop Deluxe, which embraced modernist electro-pop on their 1977 single “Japan” and 1978 swan song Drastic Plastic. The presence of Egan and Nelson brought the Systems–Plastic influence to bear on Europa, particularly the tracks “Pros and Cons” and “Dulce et Decorum Est (Pro Patria Mori).”
Meanwhile, Visage gained studio time courtesy of Martin Rushent, a Blitz regular and record producer (Stranglers, Buzzcocks, Rezillos, Trickster, Generation X, 999) who wished to sign them to his DIY label Genetic Records. Visage commenced sessions at Rushent’s Berkshire home studio, but his label collapsed. They signed instead to Radar Records, which issued their debut single, “Tar” (b/w “Frequency 7”), in September 1979. It would be their only release with Adamson as a full member.
In early 1980, David Bowie visited the Blitz, where an awestruck Strange got to meet his idol, who invited the young impresario to star in the video for “Ashes to Ashes,” the proposed single from his upcoming album Scary Monsters and Super Creeps.
In the solarised “Ashes to Ashes” video, Strange and three fellow Blitz denizens — including fashion designers Judith Frankland and Darla Jane Gilroy — mime the refrain “I’m happy, hope you’re happy too,” and trail the Pierrot-clad Bowie before a snail-paced bulldozer. Released in August 1980, the song topped the UK chart while the video made Strange a fixture of the music weeklies.
By now, followers of the Blitz aesthetic had been dubbed the New Romantics, a term coined by musician Richard James Burgess. His band, Landscape, would appropriate the look and futurist sound on their 1981 release From the Tea-Rooms of Mars… to the Hell-holes of Uranus. Burgess would also produce Spandau Ballet, a soon-to-be-enormous five-piece that started as a houseband at the Blitz.
Visage signed to Polydor and recorded most of their debut album at Genetic Studios in Reading, Berkshire, during the summer of 1980. It was released on November 10 along with their second single, “Fade to Grey.”
- Visage (1980)
- The Anvil (1982)
- Beat Boy (1984)
- Hearts and Knives (2013)
- Orchestral (2014)
- Demons to Diamonds (2015)
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