Hey Rusty: Blitz Club founder on the early 80s and his new compilation

Rusty Egan talks to SDE

Rusty Egan photographed by Peter Ashworth

“There are so many cheap and terrible cash-in New Romantic compilations out there and they’re always wrong”

For the first time, the music played at legendary and influential, weekly, ‘80s New Romantic night, the Blitz Club, in London’s Covent Garden, which was founded by musician and DJ, Rusty Egan and host/promoter, Steve Strange, has been curated and compiled in a deluxe 4CD box set called Rusty Egan Presents Blitzed!

Said to be a definitive soundtrack to the Blitz Club, which initially launched in Soho venue Billy’s, in 1978, before moving to a World War II-themed wine bar in Covent Garden called the Blitz, the new collection is an eclectic affair, including tracks by the likes of the Human League, Kraftwerk, Grace Jones, Yello, the Pretenders, Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, Lulu, Japan, Blondie, Roxy Music, The Cure, Hot Chocolate, Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds, Suicide, Ultravox and, of course, Visage.

SDE spoke to Egan and the album’s project manager, Simon Blackmore, to find out how the collection came together and, to cut a long story short, get the inside track on the Blitz Club.

SDE: How long have you been working on the project and how easy was it to put the compilation together and source the tracks?

Rusty Egan: It was basically me going through my old playlists and finding things I’d forgotten about – some of the records were one-off singles I’d picked up in Rough Trade. Kraftwerk said ‘yes,’ – there were a lot of moments when we went ‘yay!’ There were some disappointments, and some of the trolls have immediately said, ‘Oh – you haven’t got Bowie on there…’ If you go on my Spotify, there’s a playlist of more than 250 tracks.

Simon Blackmore: We’ve had some highs and lows. Some people didn’t license their tracks – there are a couple of obvious names – but when Kraftwerk agreed to their music being licensed, it was a lovely moment – they don’t license music for compilations… It was such a compliment to Rusty and his long friendship with them – it was an instant ‘yes.’ The tracks they’ve given us are just brilliant.

One of them is a rare promo edit of ‘Radioactivity…’

Simon: It was on a promo CD – you can’t get it anywhere.

Rusty: It’s one of my favourite tracks – I still play it out to this day. It’s a great opening track.

Simon: Some of the amazing disco tracks that Rusty liked and played were so obscure we couldn’t find who to license them from. There was a lot of hard work – Demon’s licensing team have been brilliant, but we still couldn’t secure everything. We also had a further problem – there were certain mixes that Rusty played, and we had long conversations about that. We couldn’t license a particular mix of ‘Follow Me’ [by Amanda Lear], but we got the next best thing.

[To Rusty]: Have you still got a lot of your original vinyl collection from the days of the Blitz Club?

Rusty: Everything I had was in a house and then I had a divorce – she got the inside of the house, and I got the outside.

Simon: From when Rusty and I first met, it’s taken almost three years to put the album together. We’ve gone through it so meticulously and Demon have been involved – I can’t tell you how much work has gone into it. Rusty’s right – it is disappointing when people are a bit sniffy about it, but most people have been receptive. There are so many cheap and terrible cash-in New Romantic compilations out there and they’re always wrong.

I’ve been such a fan of electronic music since the age of nine or ten – when Rusty was doing it at the Blitz Club. I watched the Blitzed! documentary on Sky Arts, and I said to my wife, ‘I’d love a Blitz Club box set or a compilation’, but every New Romantic compilation I looked at had Freiheit on it, and I was like, ‘Freiheit? What?’

I realised that what I was looking for didn’t exist, so that’s when Rusty and I spoke. When I went to him, I said, ‘You were there, playing it, so it would be amazing to have the definitive statement on what was being played at the Blitz Club.’ People have said, ‘Why haven’t you put Soft Cell or Depeche Mode on there?’ Because they didn’t exist when the Blitz Club started!

Rusty: They hadn’t released records – I was promoting them as unsigned. There was a Some Bizzare album [Some Bizzare Album – 1981] put together by Stevo, who, according to some, wasn’t let into the Blitz by Steve Strange, after I’d invited him.

Steve wasn’t aware of what was happening musically – he was more into fashion – but he wouldn’t come up to me and say, ‘What the hell is this rubbish? Why aren’t you playing my favourite records?’ Which would’ve been ‘Tainted Love’ by Gloria Jones… I used to play Roxy Music, Bowie, loads of Kraftwerk, Grace Jones… Steve would be like, ‘Who are Telex? Or ‘Oh – Giorgio Moroder? I like that…’

I went crate digging, as you’d call it today. The excitement was when you found something, you put the needle on the record, and it was ‘Being Boiled’ by the Human League and you’d never heard anything like it before. I read all the sleeve notes and I wanted to go to Düsseldorf or Berlin to follow the music – I went there, I went crate digging and I found it and brought it all back.

I found ‘Schaufensterpuppen’ and ‘Das Model’ by Kraftwerk, and I started to play ‘Heroes’ by Bowie in French and German in the club, which people started to like even more… Then I found ‘Pinball Cha Cha’ by Yello, Telex from Belgium, and then I found Yellow Magic Orchestra from Japan – nobody played Japanese music…

There was ska and bands like the Ruts and the Clash championing reggae – we understood politically what was happening, but we kind of wanted our own little fantasy world. ‘La Vie En Rose’ by Grace Jones would transport you, on a Tuesday, in a café, to Paris, and then you’d hear ‘Magic Fly’ by Space, something French…

I presume – and I would hope – that my soundtrack made your week or your vision of the future… Some of the people were students from Saint Martin’s art college and they wanted to have a better life. I played Kraftwerk, Ultravox, Neu!, Can… What other DJ was playing that? There was nobody. I played ‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk three years before it was number one.

Simon: A journalist who’s reviewing the box set said to me: ‘I was at the Blitz Club, and I can tell you, it’s a completely authentic compilation.’ That’s the highest compliment we’ve been paid – at last somebody’s done it and got it right. Nobody’s getting rich off this box set – from the record label to Rusty, but we felt it was important and needed to be documented properly. It’s the definitive statement.

Rusty (far left), Steve Strange (second from right) and other familiar faces outside the Blitz Club in 1980 (click to enlarge). Photo by Sheila Rock.

There’s a very eclectic mix of songs on the compilation: new wave, post-punk, electronic music, disco…

RE: My music taste has always been eclectic – when I used to DJ at Camden Palace, I played Tom Waits at nine o’clock…

Have you got any favourite tracks on the album?

RE: I love ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ [Ultravox!] I think John Foxx is a total unsung hero. He influenced Gary Numan. By their third album, [Systems of Romance], Ultravox had gone through Brian Eno and Conny Plank…

[To Rusty]: You met Steve Strange when you were on tour with the Rich Kids, didn’t you? Your first weekly club night together was at Billy’s in Soho, before you moved to the Blitz in Covent Garden – how did the whole club thing come about?

RE: I had a room in a flat – the girl who lived there went away, and me and Steve said, ‘Let’s have a party…’ We trashed the flat – about 200 people showed up and we got kicked out. I said, ‘If 200 people showed up to a flat, we could at least get 100 of them to come to a little club in Soho…’ It was more or less free – 50p to get in. We were right – there was nothing else. Where else were you going to go? It was a Tuesday night…

Why did you move from Billy’s to the Blitz?

Rusty: We were 20 or 21 years old. As far as the owners of a sleazy clip joint in Soho were concerned, those kids were on to a winner, and they wanted to clean up and double the prices of all the drinks. We were like, ‘Know your market – those people are students, they’re unemployed or they’re in a band… No one’s got any money, mate!’

Steve took the concept to the Blitz – it was a little cabaret-type place. On the weekend, it was ladies’ night, and they played the Bee Gees, but Monday to Thursday, it was a very nice bar and restaurant.

I went off to Berlin and Düsseldorf, and then when I came back, Steve showed me the Blitz, and I loved it. I said, ‘This is perfect – let’s do it!’ The sound was great too. We didn’t know that Martin Rushent had a record label upstairs – that was a bit of luck.

You mentioned aspiring musicians used to hang out at the Blitz Club. Bands like Ultravox and Spandau Ballet were part of that scene…

RE: I dragged them all there… When me and Steve put on Spandau Ballet, Chris Blackwell was in the audience. He heard ‘Private Life’ by the Pretenders, he wrote it down and said, ‘I’ll have that for Grace Jones…’

People were writing down what I was playing, and then they were going to Rough Trade to buy the tracks, so I opened a record shop called The Cage on the King’s Road.

I can’t make statements, but if you invited someone back to yours from the pub, you got your record collection out, you put on ‘E-Musik’ by Neu! and Midge Ure was there… He’d never heard of Neu! The influence of Neu! on Ultravox is fairly obvious – it was phenomenal – and also on Joy Division.

I would be putting records on for John McGeoch, Billy Currie, Midge Ure, Zaine Griff, Peter Godwin, Richard James Burgess…

I don’t know if Gary Numan’s band came in… Steve didn’t let Stevo or Gary Numan in. At the end of the day, that was his call.

He famously didn’t let Mick Jagger in, either did he?

RE: Jagger turned up at 1am on a packed, full-on Tuesday night – there was nowhere else open. Covent Garden was like a desert then. Steve was like, ‘Oh my God – I can’t let him in…’

Bowie came to the Blitz Club once, didn’t he?

RE: And guess what? I was on tour with The Skids… I don’t know who DJ’ed that night.

Bowie showed up – he came to cast people for his ‘Ashes To Ashes’ video. I got to meet Bowie a few times because I ended up buying Trident Studios when I had success and money – easy come, easy go, eh?

I got invited to a flat by his hairdresser and I had an evening with him. He used to read everything – I couldn’t tell him anything because he knew it. In the ‘90s, he showed up at my other club, on the King’s Road. I ended up being really embarrassed because he was clean, and I wasn’t. It was a moment for me, and I said, ‘I’ve got to stop…’ In the ‘90s, it was Ecstasy, raves, clubbing, drugging… you know.

Was it fun putting the new compilation together? Did it bring back some good memories? How do you feel looking back on those days now?

Rusty: I was a fan – I loved music and I had a vision. I wanted to be inclusive and share it with everyone, but everybody else had their own agenda. I was running around record companies saying, ‘Simple Minds are amazing – you should sign them…’ but they’d say, ‘We’ve got Dire Straits…’. ‘Depeche Mode?’ ‘Really – a bunch of kids from Essex travelling on the Tube with their synths?’

I’m the only one who hasn’t written a book… A lot of people say, ‘I’m reading Martin Kemp’s or Midge Ure’s books, or a book on Madonna, and you’re in it…’

I thought you were planning one?

Rusty: No – I’m not, because I don’t want to upset anyone (laughs).  I can’t say Midge Ure stood at the DJ booth and then went off and wrote a song that sounds like Neu! but if you listen to ‘Death In The Afternoon’… (on Rage in Eden).

Boy George worked in the cloakroom at the Blitz Club, didn’t he?

RE: Yes – he’s still a friend today and he’s recorded with me recently. He’s more loving and beautiful today than he was then. He is absolutely wonderful.

Back then, we were all just young and silly airheads – none of us really knew anything, but we thought we knew everything. Basically, we were Kevin and Perry (laughs)…

Did Visage come about because you needed more electronic music to play at the Blitz Club, so you started making your own?

RE: Well, Midge and I had started to write music together. When I was in the Rich Kids, I wasn’t a writer – I was just considered to be a drummer. After an album, Top of the Pops , touring and getting paid more money in the Skids, despite not being a member, than I did in the Rich Kids, and devoting my life to it, I said to Midge, ‘Fuck that!’

So, we went in and recorded ‘The Dancer’, which is just him and me. I got John McGeoch to play saxophone and then we did ‘In The Year 2525’ to see if we could do it… it was very Kraftwerk and tongue-in-cheek, with Midge on vocoder.

I saw Steve Strange’s band The Photons… I thought, I’ll get him… He sang ‘Tar’ and ‘Mind of a Toy.’

Without claiming to be… I put Visage together. ‘What, Rusty? I thought it was you and Midge…’ No – Midge was then in Thin Lizzy, and I introduced Midge to Billy Currie.

The version of Visage’s ‘Fade To Grey’ that’s included on the new compilation is a 1980 dance remix by you and Midge Ure – it’s an extended version, with a long phased drum outro…

Rusty: The bane of my life has been trying to get my way [whether] in Visage, or in the clubs. Midge and I had the finished mix – I’d been to massive nightclubs in New York and Paris, and I knew it would sound good on a sound system, and I was excited – but in a meeting, the record company said, ‘You’re a pop group – you’re not a club act’. We didn’t get our way – no 12-inch was released, but it’s on the new album. We made that version in 1979 or 1980. I love the hi-hat and the snare, the extended bit and the whisper ‘fade to grey’ – I wanted to make that the long outro, so a DJ could bring in another tune – when I DJ these days, I do it with ‘Enjoy The Silence.’

Simon: Rusty told me it was the mix he used to play on cassette at the Blitz Club…

Rusty: Yeah – I used to play cassettes, and don’t forget, I owned a recording studio…

How would you describe the vibe at the Blitz Club for people like me, who never went?

Rusty: If you went at seven o’clock to have a burger in the wine bar and you were engrossed in conversation over a lovely dinner, at nine o’clock, the music would go weird because the DJ had shown up and put Kraftwerk on – the whole 22-minute side of an album.

If you went downstairs to got to the toilet, standing at the bar would be a bloke dressed like a monk, but you didn’t know it was a bloke… and next to him there was Boy George and Marilyn. You’d think, ‘Is that Marilyn Monroe?’ So, you’d go back upstairs and say, ‘There’s something going on downstairs – all these people have shown up and they’re playing weird music…’

They were all smoking then and we got a few free drinks on the tab at the start of the night… everyone was engrossed in conversation and talking about their clothes, and whatever…

More and more people would start to arrive, and you’d say to your mates, ‘We should stay here because there’s nothing else happening… What’s that tune? The extended mix of ‘La Vie En Rose’? It sounds great – they’re not playing weird music now…’

You’d go downstairs and you’d hear [he sings ‘Being Boiled’]: ‘Listen to the voice of Buddha,’ everyone is dancing, and you’d go ‘Wow – this is weird.’

[To Rusty]: You’re working on a new studio album, aren’t you? Can you tell us who you’re collaborating with?

Rusty: Chris Payne is my number one, go-to keyboard player… I’ve got the singer, Erik [Stein] and the keyboard player Jon [Boux] from Cult With No Name on a track on the album, and I’ve got Rubi Taylor, who has the voice of an angel, singing on one song. My son is my sound engineer, co-writer and co-producer, and I’ve been working with Wolfgang Flür, Zaine Griff and Claudia Brücken. Andy Mackay from Roxy Music is playing sax and I’m working with Peter Hook.

Tony Hadley wrote a song that I absolutely loved – I want to put it on my album, but he’s saying he wants to put it on his. So, I’m saying, ‘Can I remix it and put it on my album?’ He said, ‘I’ll let you know…’

I might have ‘Fade To Grey’ with Zaine Griff singing on it. I remade it as an instrumental for the Blitzed! documentary – it’s eight minutes long. I’ve got a song out at the moment by Mylène Farmer – it’s called ‘Je t’aime mélancolie.’ She contacted me to say, ‘I love Visage – would you like to do a track on my album?’ Arthur Baker has done a track on her album and it’s absolutely brilliant.

Thanks to Rusty Egan and Simon Blackmore, who were talking to Sean Hannam for SDE. Rusty Egan Presents Blitzed! is out now, via Demon Music.

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Rusty Egan

blitzed - Amazon exclusive 4CD signed set



Rusty Egan – Blitzed! Various Artists /

    • CD 1
      1. The Human League – Being Boiled (Fast Product version)   
      2. Tubeway Army – Down In The Park
      3. Magazine – Permafrost
      4. Vice Versa – New Girls Neutrons
      5. Fad Gadget – Back To Nature
      6. Pretenders – Private Life
      7. Iggy Pop – Nightclubbing
      8. The Normal – Warm Leatherette
      9. Throbbing Gristle – Hot On The Heels Of Love
      10. Thomas Leer & Robert Rental – Day Breaks, Night Heals
      11. Shock – R.E.R.B.
      12. The Glitter Band – Makes You Blind
      13. John Foxx – Burning Car
      14. Yello – Bostich (album version)
      15. Dalek I – Dalek I Love You (Destiny)
      16. Cowboys International – Thrash
      17. Joy Division – Shadowplay
      18. Cabaret Voltaire – Nag Nag Nag
      19. Ultravox! – Hiroshima Mon Amour
    • CD 2
      1. Sparks – The Number One Song In Heaven (long version)
      2. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Electricity (1980 Dindisc version)
      3. Ultravox – Passing Strangers
      4. Kraftwerk – Radioactivity (edit)
      5. Lulu – The Man Who Sold The World
      6. Jeff Wayne   – The Eve Of The War (disco re-mix)
      7. Don Armando’s 2nd Avenue Rhumba Band – I’m An Indian Too
      8. Japan – Life in Tokyo (short version)
      9. Blondie – Heart Of Glass (12” version)
      10. Amanda Lear – Follow Me
      11. Wolfgang Riechmann – Wunderbar
      12. Eno, Moebius, Roedelius – Broken Head
      13. M – Pop Muzik (12” version)
      14. Barry De Vorzon – Theme From ‘The Warriors’
      15. Roxy Music – Angel Eyes (extended remix)
      16. Suicide – Dream Baby Dream (long version)
    • CD 3
      1. Grace Jones – La Vie En Rose
      2. Throbbing Gristle – Hamburger Lady
      3. The Walker Brothers – No Regrets
      4. Hot Chocolate – Put Your Love In Me
      5. The Men – I Don’t Depend On You
      6. Metro – Criminal World
      7. Billy Cobham – Spanish Moss – A Sound Portrait: Storm
      8. Cerrone – Supernature (12” full length version)        
      9. Garçons – French Boy
      10. Lori And The Chameleons – Touch
      11. Visage – Moon Over Moscow
      12. Kraftwerk – Schaufensterpuppen
      13. Mick Ronson – Only After Dark
      14. Landscape – Japan
      15. La Dusseldorf – Rheinita (single version)
    • CD 4
      1. The Cure – A Forest (album version)
      2. The Regents – 7 Teen
      3. Zaine Griff – Ashes And Diamonds
      4. Spandau Ballet – To Cut A Long Story Short
      5. Telex – Moskow Diskow
      6. Taxi-Girl – Mannequin
      7. Silicon Teens – Memphis Tennessee
      8. The Slits – I Heard It Through The Grapevine
      9. Simple Minds – Changeling
      10. Skids – Animation (edit)
      11. Giorgio Moroder – Chase (from ‘Midnight Express’ soundtrack)
      12. Rinder And Lewis – Willie And The Hand Jive (12” version)
      13. Visage – Fade To Grey (1980 Dance Mix)       
      14. Gina X Performance – No G.D.M.
      15. Vangelis – Chung Kuo
      16. Lou Reed – Perfect Day

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