Boy George, Jimmy Somerville, Kim Wilde and countless others line up to honour the king of New Romantics, Steve Strange.
When Steve Strange died in February the twin worlds of music and fashion mourned his passing with such reverence, that those who were unaware of the Welshman’s cultural importance could surely be under no illusion to his exalted status. In an era when flamboyance and individuality were the currency of the emerging experimental pop culture that would become the New Romantic movement, Steve was both its king and court jester.
Fitting then that the orchestral concert created in his honour contained all the constituent parts that the free-spirited former Visage singer and Blitz Club founder would have adored. Created by Welsh Pops Orchestra artistic director Lucy J Morgan, in conjunction with Steve’s family, there was glitz, glamour, style and humour, amidst a lavish and emotional tribute to a true original who was always determined to go his own way, even if the prevailing wind blew in a different direction. Clubland mates such as Marilyn, Philip Sallon and first half compere Tommy Mack watched from the sidelines, as a selection of stars from the ‘80s touchstone’s heyday lined up to pay tribute to the trailblazer who was taken before his time.
There was Visage, the 21st century model featuring Welsh singer Lloyd Daniels on vocals; Howard Jones, Jimmy Somerville, Kim Wilde, and Boy George; as well as an appearance from fashionista and singer Daphne Guinness - reinterpreting their respective back catalogues courtesy of the stunning new arrangements of the Welsh Pops Orchestra. These string-laden songs breathed new life into and gave a weighty pull to pop hits from an era that defined all our yesterdays.
Opening up and stepping into very big boots, of the no doubt bejewelled variety, was Daniels and Visage, who recreated the Blitz Club heyday and created a mood of electro decadence with the synthpop-imbued Never Enough and She’s Electric from the outfit’s 2013 Hearts and Knives album.
Despite his eye-popping pink suit, former Cardiff native Howard Jones was never quite a new romantic, but still put in a stylish turn re-imagining his hits – Like To Get To Know You Well, What Is Love?, New Song, and Things Can Only Get Better.
Jimmy Somerville, meanwhile, seemed a man renewed and revitalised, bringing the crowd to their feet with Smalltown Boy and Don’t Leave Me This Way, while a heartfelt cover of David Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes, the music video for which Strange appeared in, was a surprise - the singer underlining his vocal versatility by ditching his trademark falsetto for a lower register, which neither diminished nor detracted from the original.
The second half, ably compered by Welsh music journalist Simon Price opened with the writer screening an interview he had conducted with Steve Strange, which like the man himself was warm-hearted, funny and scathingly outspoken. Daphne Guinness, a close friend of the style icon was individuality personified during her brief two song set, that orbited the twinkling reaches of what can only be described as gothic space rock opera.
Kim Wilde, who resembled a peroxide bombshell, described her friend Steve as “the most beautiful, elegant, funny, sweet man” and regaled us with a hilarious story about how her dad, ‘50s rocker Marty Wilde told the Welshman and his London entourage to “bugger off” when he called on Kim, then still living at home with her parents, at 3am on the night of her 22nd birthday. With brother Ricky by her side, the singer - reborn as a landscape gardener, blossomed in a set that included hits - You Just Keep Me Hanging On, Cambodia and a rollicking version of Kids In America. Nevertheless, it was a touching rendition of Visage’s Mind Of A Toy that lit up the Donald Gordon Theatre.
The most heartfelt moment arrived, however, when Steve’s sister Tanya , mum Gill and nephew Connor took to the stage to give thanks to their brother, son and uncle. Finding it difficult to deliver her words there were shouts of encouragement for Tanya as she fought back tears, while Gill too wavered, thanking the performers and audience for “coming to pay tribute to my beautiful boy.”
There was nobody at the WMC who knew Steve better than Boy George, the pair - as the Culture Club star testified, shared everything - “boys, girls, make-up, lipstick”. Apt then that George topped the bill and delivered a stunning performance for his long time friend full of warmth, humour and emotion. Culture Club classics Karma Chamelon and Do You Really Want To Hurt Me had the auditorium out of their seats, while a flawless rendition of Victims tugged on the heartstrings.
Stars collided and the curtain came down on an unforgettable evening thanks to Visage’s biggest hit Fade To Grey; the ‘80s anthem resurrected from the midsts of time thanks to the Welsh Pops Orchestra, and the twin vocals of Boy George and Daphne Guinness. Nobody loved a party more than Steve Strange. That he wasn’t at the Wales Millennium Centre to enjoy this show was the ultimate irony of all. Nevertheless, the memory of this most individual of men will live on in both hearts and minds forever.