Friday, January 24, 2014

Squatting and its effect on English music

Until recently, I had never heard of Fiona Russell Powell. I had, however, heard of Eden, briefly a member of the band ABC.

ABC was a band from Sheffield, England, that enjoyed success in both England and the United States during the 1980s. ABC was just one of many bands that emerged from Sheffield during that period; I mentioned some of them here in a post about the original singer of "The Crying Game" - a song made popular by one Boy George.

Back to Eden (if you can ever go back). Eden's real name is Fiona Russell Powell, and as a young teenager she had joined a band called Vice Versa. She quit the band before a gig, and was replaced by one Martin Fry. The band changed its name to ABC, and the rest is history.

In subsequent years Fiona would become a noted music journalist, rejoin the band ABC for one album, adopt the stage name "Eden," be dismissed from the band, and eventually go through rehab.

However, after quitting Vice Versa and before launching her journalism career, Fiona left Sheffield and moved to London. It wasn't an easy move.

By the time I arrived in London in 1980, I was already a seasoned teen runaway having left home in Sheffield and been removed from public school at the age of 15 and a half as a punishment for "refusing to conform". I was 17 and had no job, no money and knew only one person who also had no money, lived in a hostel and knew no-one. Through luck and serendipity, I ended up sleeping on the lounge floor at Glenn Gregory's basement flat in Ladbroke Grove.

If you don't recognize the name, Glenn Gregory would eventually become the lead singer of Heaven 17. However, after Glenn's girlfriend threw Fiona out, Fiona moved to a new place on Carburton Street. Since people were squatting at the Carburton Street place, things were somewhat precarious, but it was better than living on the street.

Initially Fiona shared a room with someone else, but eventually a new room opened up.

George had literally just moved out of his room into (poet and playwright) Jonathan and Pam Gem's flat, which was nearby in Goodge Street, so I moved out of Brian's room and took over George's. I also stopped going out with Brian. The walls in George's room were covered in pictures of Kirk Brandon and he had tons of a Theatre of Hate EP that he practically used as wallpaper! Also, he had the photo of Einstein sticking out his tongue, along with a large glass sweet jar that George had used to keep his cotton wool make-up remover balls in and so did I. There was a cute little doll made out of fruit that I also kept. I've still got it somewhere.

George was George O'Dowd, later known worldwide as Boy George. One of George's friends, a man named Marilyn who initially was as famous as George was, remained in the house, and Fiona experienced something with Marilyn that would change her life for many years to come.

Anyway, one evening, Marilyn was doing my make-up, using products from Charles Fox, the theatrical costumiers, which was what all the drag queens used in those days. In fact, Marilyn really taught me how to put on make-up and he was an absolute artist. Anyway, he wanted to pluck my eyebrows and I said no, it would hurt too much. He kept insisting and I kept refusing. Then suddenly he said, "'Ere, 'ave some of this", and shoved some brown powder under my nose. I knew what it was but asked "Is that what I think it is?". "'Course it is, now take it before I change my mind. I don't usually give it away."

For more about Carburton Street and other squatting locations, see Time Out, Fitzrovia News, and The Blitz Kids.
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