Prior to it's appropriation on regular Tuesdays by a gaggle of outrageously dressed former punks, hairdressers, soulboys, rockabillies and art students, the Blitz had been a normal enough wine bar. This changed decisively when Julia Fodor (Princess Julia) and Steve Strange, who both worked at PX, the hippest shop on the block, learnt it had a vacant Tuesday. Strange made a deal with manager Brendan, transferred his regular Bowie night from Billy's to The Blitz, and created a legend.
Initially, it was rather quiet, but after just a few weeks the club went ballistic. Strange's punk friends Siouxsie Sioux, Billy Idol and Steve Severin turned up, as did glam groovy older guard artists Duggie Fields, Andrew Logan and Luciana Martinez, and almost every wayward fashion and art student in the country.
The musical carte du jour prepared by drummer/DJ Rusty Egan comprised Bowie, Roxy, Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra and early Human League with a smattering of glam rock, while the door policy, captained by Steve Strange, was tough. You had to look as if you'd made every effort that night, and if you weren't in the know, you were not in the club. Much has been made of the elitist entrance regimen, but it would have been impossible to allow the rank and file to mix with these peacocks. Blood would have flowed.
'I was very selective on the door,' remembers Strange. 'But all I wanted was to create a haven for all these individuals where they could be free to be themselves without the threat of trouble from those who didn't get it. It was heavy back then and, if you walked down the street dressed like we did, you would almost certainly get beaten up.'
Undeniably, the Blitz was a haven for the idiosyncratic, a mad, barking celebration of British recalcitrance. It had indeed begun, in the aftermath of punk, as a watering hole for those for whom excess was second nature and punk was now just too bland. The ethic was individuality, with ensembles mixed and matched from secondhand stores and jumble sales, or handcrafted by their wearers. It was not a 'look'; there was no defining style. It was not about conformity. It was about being you. And anyone, then or now, who pegged themselves as a 'Blitz Kid' or a 'New Romantic' as the press dubbed the scene, was considered a buffoon.
'The whole scenario was like a big, mad adventure with everyone just having a great time dressing up and going out,' recalls Princess Julia. 'I remember once making an outfit out of an old sheet and people loved it.' The club for the most part resembled the canteen of MGM studios circa 1953, catering to a motley crew of extroverts: '50s bikers aping Brando and Marvin in The Wild Ones, Little Bo Peep, Elizabeth I, swashbuckling pirates, Robin Hoods, and even the odd pilgrim father thrown in for good measure.
'There were a lot of male twentieth-century archetypes – cowboys, bikers, gauchos, and screen idols, commandos, Italian futurists,' recalls Christos Tolera. 'It was very stylish and bizarre at the same time.' Within the club you could be whoever you wanted to be, be a hero, as David Bowie sang – 'just for one day!'
In fact many lived out their fantasies all week long. And some made them their living. 'A lot of the Blitz regulars went on and did really well,' explained Strange. 'Spandau Ballet, John Galliano, Stephen Jones OBE – the Dior hat maker, Sade, film director John Maybury, the artist Cerith Wynn Evans, broadcaster Robert Elms...'
'There were people from art school and builders and factory workers and all sorts, adds Tolera, now a respected painter. 'None of us were content with what was mapped out for us and we all clubbed together and looked for something else. It was a world I didn't think was possible.' Meanwhile the press lapped up the club's more extrovert patrons – 'Boy' George O'Dowd, Marilyn, Philip Salon and Strange himself, all of whom camped it up at every turn in an effort to out-do each other.
As a result of large amounts of alcohol and a generous dose of speckled blues, the strychnine-laced amphetamine that could make a carrot skip, everyone talked and danced and danced and talked, and usually ended up in someone's meagre abode, probably a bedsit, until the tubes began. And then, with your once pristine outfit now stained and tattered, you faced the real world.
'My favourite night there was the Neo Naturist night when the artists Grayson Perry, and Christine Binnie walked around naked, painted all over, and the writer Iain R Webb was on a crucifix on the stage.' recalls Princess Julia. 'That really didn't happen anywhere else.'
'The thing that struck me about the Blitz was the contrast between the confines of the club and the outside world,' says Tolera. 'Steve Strange created a place for us freaks and oddballs to go. It was great there was a place where you could go as far as you wanted, and be not only appreciated but applauded.'
Like all great clubs, The Blitz existed as a little bubble outside of society where the rest of the world's mores, traditions and rules did not apply. As such it defiantly earned its place in history.
Graham Smith has a book entitled "We Can be Heroes" out in Autumn 2011 which features The Blitz.
Blitz Club Live
Rusty Egan Wednesday, 16 March 2011