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article imageSteve Barnacle of Visage on the band's farewell to Steve Strange Special

By Adrian Peel     Nov 3, 2015 in Music
Steve Strange, the driving force behind Visage - 1980s synth-pop icons best known for the single "Fade to Grey" - died earlier this year. Now his colleagues have got together to finish the group's fifth and final studio album.
In February, the pop world was stunned by the sudden death of Steve Strange at the relatively young age of 55. The enigmatic singer, songwriter, fashion icon, pioneer of the New Romantic movement and host at the famous Blitz nightclub in Covent Garden suffered a fatal heart attack on February 12 while holidaying in Egypt.
At the time of his demise Visage were enjoying a healthy resurgence, having made a triumphant return to live performance only a couple of years before. The comeback was complete when Hearts and Knives, their first album of new material since 1984's Beat Boy, came out in 2013.
I talked to long-serving bass player Steve Barnacle, an integral part of Visage from 1982 to 1985 and then again from 2012 to 2015. "Steve was working with lots of different people and had really good ideas," notes Barnacle.
"We'd go in and do the vocals with a view to them maybe being demos or maybe ending up on the album, but because he's died we're left with everything he'd done a vocal on, basically."
"Well funnily enough, it was his family's request," he continues, revealing how Demons to Diamonds came to fruition. "It was his mother and his sister and then somebody told me it's an old video game name, which none of us knew.
"His mother and his sister were one of the main reasons that it happened because we were wondering, 'Shall we just leave it as it is?' and they were like, 'No, please, work on everything he's left behind.'"
The Cover of the New Album
The Cover of the New Album
Vicky Berry
The cover of the album uses a photograph of Steve Strange taken by his long-term friend Boy George. "Yes, Steve and him were pretty good buddies... Back in the day when it all started, the New Romantics and everything, Boy George was a cloakroom attendant at the Blitz.
"So they go that far back and Steve had a hit before George with 'Fade to Grey' and then George had Culture Club, which of course took off and was really big. They were rivals for a while, but they hung around together quite a lot. They were birds of a feather those two, really."
Is Demons to Diamonds a clear musical departure from the well-received Hearts and Knives or is it essentially more of the same - more of that classic synth-pop sound that has been Visage's trademark ever since Strange and DJ Rusty Egan put the band together back in 1978?
"It differs in that it's got a lot of different writers on it and it's got a cover of 'Loving the Alien' by David Bowie," muses the experienced musician, who worked with the Welsh-born Strange on some solo material prior to his death which the family also hopes to release at some point, "because Steve was a huge Bowie fan and Bowie was quite fond of him.
"He styled Bowie's 'Ashes to Ashes' video when he was part of the happening London scene and was in it. That's how they met and they'd stayed in touch off and on since then. Actually David Bowie was very complimentary about Hearts and Knives...
"Basically, we were doing more of the same with this album - a lot more of the electro stuff. If you look at the Visage fanbase, they tend to like the electro, synth-driven poppy stuff with a bit of guitar over the top.
"I wouldn't say Demons to Diamonds is radically different to Hearts and Knives... Steve was really looking forward to same again and onwards and upwards. He was really happy with it."
Recalling the death of his friend and musical collaborator, Barnacle, who cites "Before You Win" and "Never" as his two favourite tracks on the new record, states, "It was a shock... He'd had his demons. I mean he had a well-documented drug problem and he was constantly fighting and relapsing, so when you do that to your body it doesn't do you any favours.
"But him dying was a complete shock. He'd gone to Egypt for a holiday and was actually on his own, which was rare for him - he usually went with somebody. He was very close to his gran - his mother's mum - and she became very ill.
"Steve had got some kind of chest infection and got a message that his gran wasn't well. He wanted to come back to see her but he was in hospital, so he checked himself out and and tried to get to the airport. They took one look at him at the airport - he was almost collapsing and sweating and obviously extremely ill - and refused to let him get on the plane.
"He was really stressed because of that and went back to hospital. They sedated him and he went into a coma and had a heart attack during the coma, so he didn't know much about it. His gran died the same week - it wasn't a great week for his mum."
How important was Steve Strange to the music and fashion of the 1980s? "Well he kind of started it! The phrase 'New Romantic' wasn't coined by him, but he started the Blitz Club as a post-punk reaction.
"Punk had come and torn things apart. It was very doom and gloomy, though, and aggressive and he wanted to go back to the more hedonistic approach of looking good and feeling good.
"He loved punk. He actually followed The Sex Pistols and The Stranglers around - they were two of his favourite bands - before he got into music himself. He was an absolute fan of it, but he just thought this was the next step, which it sort of turned out to be.
"It was the start of what became the New Romantics, a phrase Steve didn't really like, but they were stuck with it."
Demons to Diamonds will be available from November 6.
For more on Steve Strange and Visage, visit their official website.
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