THE POP STAR, THE PUB AND THE FISH

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - DAVID OWENS Re­porter david.owens@waleson­line.co.uk

THEY say a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words, but there is one iconic im­age where the story has gone largely un­known – un­til now. It en­cap­su­lates the flow­er­ing of a Bri­tish youth move­ment that would change the face of fash­ion and club­land, a band with a stri­dent man­i­festo who were about to break through to the global stage, and three of Wales’ style pioneers at the heart of a bril­liantly com­pelling and hi­lar­i­ous story.

In the pic­ture taken by Lon­don pho­tog­ra­pher Gra­ham Smith on De­cem­ber 7, 1980, there is the late, lamented King of the Posers – Steve Strange, the in­te­rior of Cardiff dock­land pub the Packet and a “smil­ing” fish held by a man with an equally size­able grin.

How­ever, scratch be­neath the sur­face and what emerges is a tale that both cap­tures the ’80s zeit­geist at the mo­ment of in­cep­tion – and the joy­ful anarchy of youth.

The date is De­cem­ber 7, 1980. It’s a cold, drab Sun­day in South Wales and Cardiff is shiv­er­ing.

The day be­fore, the heights of the Pre­mier League would ap­pear a long way off as Cardiff City played out a dour 1-1 draw against Grimsby Town in the old Sec­ond Di­vi­sion in front of a lit­tle over 6,000 at Ninian Park.

The same day a Lon­don group, that five weeks pre­vi­ously had re­leased their de­but sin­gle, ar­rived in the city for a Satur­day night stopover be­fore play­ing a Sun­day af­ter­noon gig, one of a series of in­di­vid­u­ally tai­lored events that were as much about art, fash­ion and style as they were about mu­sic.

Span­dau Bal­let had hit num­ber five in the UK sin­gles chart with To Cut A Long Story Short. By the time they ar­rived in the city they were the most talked about band in Bri­tain, trail­blaz­ers for the emerg­ing New Ro­man­tic move­ment.

Af­ter play­ing a packed Sun­day af­ter­noon gig at the Casablanca Club in the city’s dock­lands the as­sort­ment of Blitz Kids who had char­tered a coach from Lon­don to sup­port their favourite band and the lo­cal stylists de­camped to nearby pub the Packet, which then had some­thing of a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a rough docks wa­ter­ing hole.

Pho­tog­ra­pher Gra­ham Smith was one of those who went along to the pub and vividly re­calls walk­ing through the door and the re­ac­tion from the lo­cals as they trooped in.

“There was about a dozen of us and as we walked in it was like that scene out of An Amer­i­can Were­wolf In Lon­don where they walk through the door of the Slaugh­tered Lamb pub and ev­ery­one stops talk­ing and stares at them,” laughs Gra­ham, then a graph­ics stu­dent and erst­while pho­tog­ra­pher who would de­sign the sleeves for the first two Span­dau al­bums.

“It was a hard pub. It was full of dock­ers and this one guy was a mer­ce­nary who had been out in An­gola. He was show­ing off his var­i­ous tat­toos. That’s how hard they were. When we walked through the door my first thought was ‘we’re go­ing to get mur­dered!’.

“A lot of peo­ple had taken acid,” he adds. “It was so mad. I can’t re­mem- ber much about the Span­dau show it­self. It was your mates and you didn’t re­alise how big they were go­ing to get.

“It was just fun, we were young and were just en­joy­ing our­selves, but the mem­ory of the pub has stuck with me.”

Lit­tle did Gra­ham know that en­su­ing hi­lar­ity would re­sult in one of the most iconic pic­tures in Welsh cul­tural his­tory emerg­ing from that an­ar­chic evening.

“Steve Strange was on such good form. He was re­ally camp­ing it up and it to­tally threw them, so much so that they loved us,” he re­calls. “Next thing you know they’re buy­ing us drinks. That’s why I took the pho­to­graph. One of the blokes bought us drinks. He said: ‘ You lot are great, I can see where you’re com­ing from,’ and they bought us drinks all night.

“Steve was at the cen­tre of it as al­ways and got on like a house on fire with them and I snapped away.

“The next thing is the guy on the end says ‘hang on, I’ve got a few fish in my bag’ and so he brings out this cod and starts try­ing to make the fish smile. It was in­sane.”

Gra­ham reck­ons the pic­ture of Steve Strange hold­ing court with the lo­cals ranks as one of his best.

“I’m so glad I got that pic­ture be­cause it’s one of the best pic­tures I ever took,” he says. “The pic of Steve is one of my favourite pho­to­graphs. It’s so bonkers and there’s such a good tale at­tached to it.

“That’s what I’m most pleased with that I had the nous to do it. It stands up as a cul­tural doc­u­ment of the times and sums up per­fectly the per­son­al­ity of Steve Strange.”

PIC­TURES: GRA­HAM SMITH/PYMCA/REX/SHUT­TER­STOCK

Steve Strange in the Packet pub af­ter the Span­dau Bal­let gig in Cardiff in 1980

Span­dau Bal­let dur­ing their Cardiff gig

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