Robert Elms, The Way We Wore – A Life in Threads

I picked this book up at the library as a bonus book with barely time to read it. I had to cram it into 3 days and I easily did. In fact, I had to force myself to put it down on the second day to leave 3 short chapters for day 3.

I love Robert Elms radio show in London and always tune in if I’m ever driving through. I remember him being a stylish face throughout the 80s and for specifically going out with one of super stylish singers of that time, Sade. I had wondered how the pale ginger top ended up with such a beautiful lady!

I really got into the book when he started talking about the dawn of punk in the mid-late 1970s. It was fantastic to be reminded of the rebelliousness of punk and that it was only around for 5 minutes but its impact is still being felt today.

The hip hop fraternity think they are rebellious now but they don’t know they are born!

Having said that, punks didn’t go around killing each other with guns and weren’t in gangs – they were a gang – although this may have something to do with the fact that guns are illegal in the UK.

It makes me laugh when bands such as Green Day are called punk – they haven’t a rebellious bone in their body and punk bands cannot exist now as they did when it started. Punk was a reaction to the political climate and what had been in popular culture before – hippies, glam rock and sweet, sugary, manufactured pop.

I was too young to experience punk and when I discovered, it pretty much after it had happened, via ex punk rockers come New Romantics such as Adam Ant and others such as Siouxi & The Banshees and more so every band of the early 80’s including Echo and The Bunnymen.  It scared me. As it was meant to. There has been nothing like it since.

It took until chapter 13 for the real fun to start – my era.

Punk passed me by and I went straight into the much more glamorous New Romantics – much like the New Romantics did. In 1981; The year of my musical awakening.

Although Robert wrote this book to demonstrate how much his life has been enormously influenced by fashion, pretty much each fashion has a musical accompniment which was my particular interest. New Romantics were certainly the most visual of any musical movement of my generation.

This was therefore my favourite part of the book detailing all my early musical influences. Technically, Billys, the club where the musical genre was believed to have started, came about in 1979 but it was very underground and just in London. Or so I thought. Little did we know that as Spandau Ballet were forming in Islington (they put the place in the map in my eyes), Duran Duran, my absolute first favourite band, were being formed in Birmingham. They also had a club that was leading the way, Barbarella’s and Duran Duran was to that club as Spandau were to Billys and later, when it moved and became the Blitz. (This isn’t in the book as Roberts is a ‘London Soul Boy’ but I felt I should add it).

I say move as Billys was the fisrt club of its kind. It was a ‘club night’ rather than a club. Steve Strange, the promoted and later the front man of the ultimate New Romantic band, Visage, simply hired it out for Tuesday nights and called it Billy’s. Later they moved to a new location called Blitz and the scene really took off.

Of course, club nights are common place now.

Along with Steve Strange, Boy George was famously the ‘hat check girl’ and people like Adam Ant, Toyah and of course Spandau – the house band, were regulars. Before they were famous.

Plus Jeremy Healey, who was also in a band, Hayzee Fantayzee (pretty much one hit wonders) DJ’d. So he was perhaps one of the first Superstar DJs?

One new fact I learned, or perhaps had forgotten, Robert Elms came up with the name Spandau Ballet after a trip to Germany. Perhaps that should have been on the front cover?!

He was at university with Steve Dagger, who I remember as the bands manager so it was great to read about all these young upstarts humble, left wing beginnings. It was evident that everyone was either in a band or a manager – all at a very young age. This would not have happened I guess in the early 70’s so the punk rebellion sure had a lot to answer for.

Young Robert’s career took off exactly the same time as my musical awakening. Probably why I remember him and regard him so well.

I even remember him presenting an new BBC2 live Friday afternoon programme, Oxford Road Show which I recall looking forward to but think it clashed with the Tube on Channel 4. No doubt I watched both – we had video recorders then!

Overall, apart from loving clothes and being up to the minute with the latest scene, Robert was a die-hard working class, London football fan following QPR all over the country, along with his friends. Football and the fashionista did not go hand in hand in those days. I didn’t need to imagine the looks he would have got from the terraces knowing the clothes he wore – obviously described impeccably throughout this book – Robert talked of being chased down streets many a time. He obviously hasn’t got a violent streak in his body, impossible I’m sure with red hair and punk get up, but he described how violent football fans were in them days. Interestingly, he attributes the arrival of the Rave drug scene as the end of football violence as we knew it. After a Friday night of E’s, the fans couldn’t manage much on a Saturday afternoon.

Like me, Robert couldn’t remember what the score was any particular day but could describe in great detail what he was wearing!

It seemed Robert exited the clubbing scene when the Rave’s started. Again like me, he was too old and just couldn’t be bothered. It was time to do something else. I’m convinced our generation had the best musical years – 2 great revolutions in punk followed swiftly by new romantics and everything in between. I think he may believe the same.

9/10 – Thanks for the memories
Inspiration Factor 8/10 In the 80’s we discovered anyone can do it. We just need to remember that was our generation.

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