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Sat 25 May 2019
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The tolerance and cultural energy of 1980s Britain is to be admired far more than Dallas, big shoulder pads and synth pop, says the DJ and journalist Chris Sullivan.

I was all over the ’80s. I had a band that signed to Virgin for half a million quid in 1981 called Blue Rondo a La Turk, which sold a million records. I ran the hippest club in town called the Wag Club in the heart of London’s Soho. I designed clothes for the likes of Spandau Ballet, Adam Ant and Madness.

Chris Sullivan at the Wag in the early 80s

But, I still have problems regarding the decade as anything but utter shite.

Indeed, I am amazed and amused at the utter veneration that many young people have for the era. Of course, as an Associate Lecturer (posh name for a teacher) at Central St Martins I see this first-hand as, all of my students to the last, regard the whole decade with the highest esteem and, oddly, many like the bands, clothes and television series’ that I thought were complete rubbish.

I guess these whippersnappers see what is handed and, compared to now, think the ’80s was a darn sight more interesting. But, I would say that wouldn’t I, because I am an old git?

Yet, to me much of the ’80s culture was beyond bad. There were ra–ra skirts, big hair, big shoulders pads, inane synth pop and inconsequential art. Many people such as yours truly lived in our very own self-created bubbles coated with Teflon so that the rest of the world could not break through. We missed the likes of Dallas, Dynasty, Howard Jones, Kajagoogoo, Madonna and  all the other homogenised drivel.

Tolerance and acceptance were something that made the ’80s special and, in these troubled times of division and xenophobia, that should never ever be forgotten. 

Having said that, there was a lot of greatness congregating in the underground.  Music suddenly became international and London absorbed this in abundance.

One man who saw this first hand was DJ Gary Crowley whose latest compilation CD, entitled, Lost Eighties, features much of the worthwhile cuts from bands that were rather unique.

“It was a fantastic time in London with the birth of the one-nighter clubs,’ recalls Toby Anderson, keyboard man for the UK’s first rap act Funkapolitan.

“I remember Jeremy Healy playing our single at The Planets in Piccadilly and Rusty Egan at Club For Heroes. New Romantic crossed into soul and jazz funk. The Beat Route on a Friday and the Wag pre-dated the Rare Groove scene. Later, Tom Dixon and Nick Jones from the band started the Language Lab and the Titanic clubs… [There was] the dawn of hip hop and rap.”

After the punk maelstrom a whole generation were empowered by this DIY ethos whereby we thought all of us could try to be anything we wanted to.

The result was a tsunami of creative endeavour caused by youth intent on breaking all the rules. Fellows such as myself, Steve Strange and Sean McCluskey formed bands that broke down barriers and clubs that had no barriers whatsoever.

Suddenly, we were putting fashion shows on with new young designers, featuring bands who would never have a look-in otherwise, employing DJs who broke the mould and getting great artists to design flyers, back drops, club interiors and record sleeves. And then came the Face and iD to record this for prosperity and broadcast it the world over. To say there was an explosion of creativity falls well short of the actuality.

London was exciting and multi-cultural, flights were cheap and creative people flooded in.

Undeniably, this surge of ingenuity was felt all over the world. But, what was also so important about the ’80s was that we embraced the unknown, we celebrated foreign input and we rejoiced in this new UK that had only been a part of Europe for less than a decade. 

Chris Sullivan in the Daily Mail

Suddenly, London was exciting and multi-cultural, flights were cheap and creative people flooded in. We grasped black music to our bosoms and mixed it with whatever else we had at our disposal and thus created a global scene that is still admired.

“I remember the 80’s as musical sunshine in funk and soul from the USA,” enthuses Joe Dworniak of ’80s jazz funk I Level. “This led to the distinctive rise of Britfunk. Positivity and innovation was everywhere.”

“The synergy and cultural exchange on the dance floors of clubs such as the Wag and the Dirtbox, the Blitz and Mud Club paved the way for a fertile young music scene and dance music culture as we know it now,’ concludes Sean McLusky of the Jo Boxers whose platter ‘Boxer Beat’ reached number three in the UK singles chart in 1983. “It was a very special decade.”

Tolerance and acceptance were something that made the ’80s special and, in these troubled times of division and xenophobia, that should never ever be forgotten. 

Gary Crowley’s Lost Eighties is available now.

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