Visage – Fade To Grey
Feel the rain like an English summer
Hear the notes from a distant song
Stepping out from a back shop poster
Wishing life wouldn't be so long (Devenir gris)
Aaah, we fade to grey (fade to grey)
How long can a song, however beautiful and captivating, be perceived as modern and appealing? I mean, tastes change, so do available instruments, tools and technologies, people grow and grow old and their tastes change, and the new generations start from always unprecedented points. Can we think that in this context a song remains current and modern even after decades, without ever, let’s say, fade into a gray memory?
Probably a song that helps us answer this question is precisely Fade To Gray, which was released on November 10, 1980 together with the first Visage album, which of course was called Visage. Mind you: Visage were a great group, with great performers and characters. The group had been founded two years earlier by the great Midge Ure, later leader of Ultravox, and by Rusty Egan, DJ and reference point of the vibrant nightlife and music of late 1970s London. Rusty was a drummer, but with time he became a full-fledged character, a profile halfway between modern influencers and musical entrepreneurs.
Midge Ure and Rusty Egan came from a common experience in a group called The Rich Kids, and they shared a passion for synthesizers, and a desire to move to the center of the British new wave, or better, to become its center. They picked up a song composed by Billy Currie (another member of Visage) when he was working supporting Gary Numan’s tour alongside another musician, Chris Payne. In the breaks of the tour, the two had created this fascinating electronic melody that was supposed to be Visage’s next success. Indeed, it should have been their first success, because the only song they had recorded up to that moment, Tar, had not even entered the charts.
When the group was working on the lyrics for the album, Midge Ure came up with the idea of composing lyrics for the music of Currie and Payne. The voice and frontman of the visage was the incredible Steve Strange. Steve was the first real British pop actor (new wave actor in this case, to be honest). He was one of the so-called Blitz Kids, a group of artists who attended and animated the Blitz Club in London, in the Covent Garden area (the same that will be referenced years later by Pet Shop Boys in West End Girls). He certainly influenced other characters who followed in his tracks, such as Marc Almond of Soft Cell (Tainted Love), Boy George himself, probably Dead or Alive’s Pete Burns, and by their own admission also Spandau Ballet (Boy George and Spandau were Blitz Kids as well). Steve Strange was an actor and a histrion before being a singer, so much so that he had to take singing lessons to be able to interpret Midge Ure’s lyrics.
The text is particular right from the title. Fade To Grey. In an interview Steve Strange said that the inspiration came from a scene in Berlin: looking through the wall, everything was grey, like out of focus. In this ghostly setting, Steve sees an old man who drags himself walking with a stick, and this is the moment when the inspiration for Fade To Grey is born, the concept of slowly but surely dissolving into old age, into nothingness, into eternity. An incredibly suggestive explanation, but in contrast to the fact that the text was actually written by Midge Ure, and not by Steve Strange.
One of the peculiarities of the song is the alternation of verses in English and French, the latter recited by a female voice, in a sort of instant translation. The voice belonged to Rusty Egan’s partner, a Belgian girl named Brigitte Arens. Brigitte did not appear in the video, nor in the TV appearances of Visage, and she is a stranger to the world of music, but for one of those strange twist of fate millions of dinosaurs still carry her voice in their hearts, without even knowing who she is.
The video was directed by Godley and Creme, and certainly contributed to the success of the song, but also to the rise and success of Steve Strange’s character. Together with him we see another very interesting character, Julia Fodor, still known in the United Kingdom as Princess Julia, at that time a model who later became an actress, TV host, entertainer of London nights, designer, DJ and much more thanks to her immense creative talent, which allowed her to collaborate until the 2000s with artists like Kylie Minogue or Siobhan Fahey. Princess Julia and Siobhan also attended the Covent Garden Blitz Club in those years.
In the shows on television, however, not even Princess Julia appeared, but another absolutely iconic figure of the videos made in the UK, also a regular presence at the Blitz Club: the beautiful model and dancer Perri Lister, who in the course of her career will appear in the videos of her boyfriend Billy Idol (she was the bride in White Wedding) or in other famous videos like The Chauffeur (Sing Blue Silver) by Duran Duran, and ironically will sing the words in French in another beautiful song from the 80s, Eyes Without A Face by Billy Idol.
So, after all this talk, is there a song that after more than forty years is still absolutely modern and fascinating? Of course, it’s Visage’s Fade To Gray!
Visage on Wikipedia