PHOTOGRAPHY, DESIGN and INTERVIEWS by GRAHAM SMITH
MAIN TEXT by CHRIS SULLIVAN
FOREWORDS by BOY GEORGE, GARY KEMP and STEVE STRANGE
INTRODUCTION By ROBERT ELMS
Welcome to a trailer for my book
PUNKS, POSEURS, PEACOCKS AND
PEOPLE OF A PARTICULAR PERSUASION
WE CAN BE
In the early 1980s, when a small group of misfits began acting out their nocturnal fantasies, London nightlife blossomed and fashion, music and clubbing would never be the same again. Against the backdrop of recession-hit Britain, this was the birth of club fashion, style magazines, futuristic synth pop and blue-eyed funk.
Energised by punk’s do-it-yourself attitude and David Bowie’s ceaseless image shifting, a new generation of pop stars, designers, journalists, artists and filmmakers emerged, adopting wild, theatrical attire and an ethos of continual change.
Led by the enigmatic Steve Strange and the ever dapper Chris Sullivan, their scene flourished in a succession of legendary clubs: from Billy’s and the Blitz via Le Beat Route and the Mud Club, to the the Dirt Box and the Wag.
It gave us stars including Boy George, Sade and Spandau Ballet, as well as the faces who would shape London nightlife up to the rave era. The press dubbed these nightbirds the New Romantics; in truth this was just one stage of their endless reinvention.
Together with his schoolmate, future broadcaster Robert Elms, and art-school buddy Chris Sullivan, Graham Smith was at the centre of this creative cult. He designed its record sleeves, cultivated its graphics and captured its characters, taking extraordinary pictures throughout the period, most of which have never been reproduced before. There are interviews with all the major players, incendiary and hilarious text by Chris Sullivan, an introduction by Robert Elms and forewords by Boy George, Steve Strange and Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp. This beautiful book is the first insider account of this uniquely creative time.
‘Where so much that has been published is 99% crap
this is the real thing. It really is firing on all cylinders;
elegant pictures, erudite writing, amazing rhythm
and beautiful production. Every design studio in
the world will be desperate to get a copy.’
STEHEN JONES OBE (Milliner)
‘What a wonderful book, I have never seen anything that has
or I’m sure will, capture those fabulous early days so vividly.
It brought back so many memories, I could almost taste the
air of those clubs again....I will treasure it all my life.’
MARTIN KEMP (Spandau Ballet)
‘Here were Bowie’s spiritual children, formed by the
sparkle of Ziggy. Here a post-punk generation finally
allowed to flaunt its roots. In this tiny room,
was my generation, come of age.’
‘By this point 1930s decadence was the overriding theme.
The movie Cabaret was a huge influence.
It appealed to people who enjoyed the feeling
of living on the edge. Everyone wanted to push barriers sexually and visually, and drugs played a part.
Along with this came the first casualties.’
IAIN R WEBB
LE BEAT ROUTE
‘In terms of hedonism and intensity of atmosphere,
Le Beat Route was the best club of them all,
from Ollie O’Donnell on the door with his high hair and imperious gaze, to Steve Lewis spinning the latest radical funk with a photo of Lenin behind him, it was the perfect Soho dive. Sweat running down the walls and kids, exhausted from dancing and drugs, sliding down them. Every-thing you wore got trashed, yet still you dressed
to the nines and went back for more.’
CLUB FOR HEROES
‘We were young and we were flash.
We thought we were the best things
on God’s earth. You have to at that age.
I was wearing a pink zoot suit and
talking in a Cockney accent.’
‘The Mud was edgy, glamorous, camp and insane, and for the first time, brought the warehouse aesthetic into the West End. With Malcolm McLaren conducting square dances on the opening night, the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, Run DMC and Trouble Funk dropping in to guest DJ, Boy George, Joe Strummer and Wham! just chilling out and Vivienne Westwood’s regular fashion shows, the Mud was also, for a time, themost fashionable club on either side of the Atlantic.’
THE DIRT BOX
‘The Dirt Box was the only place where a soulboy like me,
who looked like an extra from On The Waterfront,
could stay out all night, take drugs, drink myself stupid, dance like a idiot and still go home with someone cute.
Dirt Box events were the first regular warehouse parties
to grace the capital – well before acid house borrowed
the idea and went for the jugular.’
THE WAG CLUB
‘At the time, all the West End clubs were playing shit
pop music, so I wanted to open somewhere for me
and people like me; a cool club with a great mix of music, whether it be jazz or funk or disco or reggae,
a different vibe every night. It was never about elitism.
It was about creating a great, trouble-free
environment to enjoy yourself in.’
‘This book reminds me why I moved to London in 1979.
I had watched punk form and blossom in London and, as soon as
I was old enough, I packed my bags and experienced the wonderful club culture from Le Beat Route through the Blitz Club to The Wag. This was creative London at its most vibrant and set the scene
for why London is revered for its cool, all around the world...’
WAYNE HEMINGWAY MBE (Designer)
VIDEO TRAILER FOR WE CAN BE HEROES
The book was originally ‘Crowd funded’ by Unbound publishing.
This meant I had to get approximately 1200 people to pledge (pay upfront) £30,
in order to get the book published, as the cost to produce it was £35,000.
To my amazement this was achieved over a period of 3 months
and ‘We can be heroes’ was printed in December 2011.
The above video was used on the Unbound website to help achieve this.
‘It's a fantastic record of fantastical times, I love it ’
(Bananarama & Shakespears Sister)
‘After punk was labelled and tagged this was
a regrouping of all like-minded soulboys, Bowie boys, disillusioned punks and bright young things,
with a shared kindred spirit, who wanted to move on.’
Co-creator of i-D
‘I’d never seen or been around so many inspirational people, bursting with talent and ideas. I couldn’t believe
there was no band representing this scene,
and knew we had to harness that talent and
do it quickly before someone else did.’
Spandau Ballet Manager
‘It was true that Bowie swept into the Blitz scene
and soaked up all the ideas, but he was
the reason that most of us were
dressing up in the first place.’
‘Nobody should knock fantasy – escaping that
nine-to-five job and dressing like a Hollywood film star. Everyone wanted to be there and
I was the ringmaster to the circus.’
‘We’d arrive in our much-deliberated-upon splendour,
cobbled together from Oxfam or under hot
sewing machines, brazenly kiss Strange at the door –
a public gesture that signalled power to the
waiting hordes outside – and sashay in.’
‘A metronomic beat was the sound of the Blitz.
We wanted to be modern. Punk had been about guitars;
there was never a guitar played at the Blitz.
It was synthesisers. It was modern, sharp, clean, brittle.’
‘If you want to find out what it was like to be young in the
late 1970s and early 1980s then you'd do well to take a look at
a new book called We Can Be Heroes...
...But, however you regard this somewhat over-zealous nightclubbing scene one thing is certain, what the photographs of Graham Smith have in abundance is soul. It is obvious that Smith was part of
the world he documented and ultimately the photographs reveal
a world full of hopeful opportunists and charming chancers who, without much thought for tomorrow, changed the future of
fashion and music and more besides...This book shows how we believed we could be heroes...if only for one night!’
IAIN R WEBB in Huffington post
REVIEWS OF WE CAN BE HEROES - Click boxes
‘We Can Be Heroes is a gorgeous history of 80s London clubland, in the years leading up to acid house. It recalls in forensic detail the authors' reign as New Romantic tastemakers.’
‘They changed music, fashion and clubbing for a generation. Now a new book documents the punks, poseurs and peacocks who dominated London's clubland’.
‘The book captures the decades' most creative figures in their “natural habitats” - London's legendary nightclubs... Smith became well known in the scene and grew close to many of the era's key protagonists - from Boy George, Spandau Ballet and Sade, to Steve Strange and Robert Elms - even creating record sleeves for them.’
‘Late-Seventies Britain, and everything looked grim - until the New Romantics came along.
As a new book celebrates the era, Robert Elms introduces the intoxicating photographs of Graham Smith.’
‘To anyone who dismisses Eighties nightlife with the words “Peter Stringfellow”, a thorough reading of this fascinating and definitive account should be a priority.’
‘We Can Be Heroes is a tome that ticks all the boxes for Design Week: sublime photography and design, alliteration, punks and Boy George!’
‘Beautifully thorough and, unsurprisingly, stylishly constructed.
It’s now my desert-island book!’
GARY KEMP (Spandau Ballet)
‘We Can Be Heroes is the V&A Museum's 11th best seller for the year which is incredible considering that includes sales of all the
David Bowie books from his exhibition here.’
ANNI TIMMS V&A Museum Book Buyer
SIGNED, LIMITED EDITION PHOTOGRAPHIC PRINTS FROM THE BOOK ARE AVAILABLE TO BUY
They are printed on 308gsm Giclee Photorag which is heavy matt art paper with a fibrous finish
Please email me direct at
Aged 18, in the midst of the punk explosion, Graham Smith picked up a camera and spent the next six years photographing bands, his mates and contemporaries, becoming unofficial house photographer to the burgeoning London nightclub scene. During this period he designed the record sleeves for most of the key performers including Spandau Ballet and Sade, while creating the flyers for many of the clubs.
In the ‘just-do-it’ spirit of these pioneering days, he also DJed and ran one-nighters with fellow DJ Robert Elms and promoter Chris Sullivan at the St. Moritz and Le Kilt, followed by a regular Saturday night spot as DJ at the original Fridge in Brixton. Graham is now a freelance magazine art director and married to Lorraine Davies-Smith, who he met in the Spice of Life pub, on his way to Le Beat Route, in 1982. They have two grown children, Carla and Dexter, and live in Bushey, Hertfordshire. He still likes a dance.
Born a long time ago in Merthyr Tydfil, Chris Sullivan studied at Camberwell and St Martin’s Colleges of Art and in 1978 began running regular warehouse parties, followed by one night clubs such as the St. Moritz, Le Kilt and Hell with Steve Strange and Rusty Egan. In 1981 he signed a record deal with Virgin Records for his band Blue Rondo a la Turk. Two years on, fed up with life as a pauper, he opened the Wag Club in Wardour Street, which he ran for the next 18 years, ruining his health. His career as a writer began with The Face in the early 1980s. By the mid 1990s he was a regular contributor to Loaded and Style Editor at GQ. In 2000 he turned freelance and wrote the highly acclaimed book Punk. Now a full time scribe, he writes for several newspapers and style magazines and is the resident film critic for Redbull.com. He lives in West London with his extremely patient better half Leah Seresin, their six-year old son Finbar and Nancy the cat.
‘This book brings back so many wondrous memories
and for once it has been put together
by someone on the scene.’
We Can Be Heroes
is available from