Pausing only to change from one outrageous outfit to the next, PHILIP
SALLON has hosted a mad whirl of parties that unite youth tribes in their
shared desire to dress differently, get drunk and find new friends.
Whatever they're wearing, Sallon was there first, usually much too soon . but quite hopelessly unrepentant.
The Face July 1984
Profile Fiona Russell Powell. Photograph David Corio
A wedding ceremony has just taken place. The bishop who joined the happy pair in most unholy matrimony is dancing on the upstairs bar of Heaven, in full regalia, waving his staff in time to the,.beat of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing", c1osely followed by Roy C's "Shotgun Wedding".
A trifle tasteless some might say. Not at all, titters the priest irreverently. "Dear, haven't you any sense of humour ... besides, it's a tribute really. God, it's just sooo camp!"
The grooving padre is of course Philip Sallon, the Jewish high priest and queen Bitch of all that is "camp" and "trendy"; the creator and host of the Mud Club; organiser of the ''mad" monthly balls at Heaven; and the man who seems to have known anyone who is or wasn't or might one day be SOMEONE. This stems from the days of the infamous Bromley Contingent in '76 when the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and Billy Idol were still human beings ... but more about that later.
Most people can remember the first time they met Philip Sallon: where they were, what they were wearing, what they were doing and - more to the point - what Philip was wearing and doing.
Amanda, my flatmate: "In 1977 a lot of punks used to go to this lesbian night club called Louise's in Poland Street. A lot of weird people went there. Philip was one of the regulars. I remember he once turned up in a sort of pink surgical corset. He also came to one of the Hot Dog Twins parties in a strait-jacket ages before Seditionaries started selling them, and he came to this girl's party in a toga but her parents came back early and called the police. It ended up with Philip being chased around the garden by two police dogs snapping at the hem of his toga."
Mark Moore, Mud Club DJ: "The first time I met Philip was at Golders Green bus station. He and George (O'Dowd) had just been to the fair in full make-up and Philip was stomping round in his yellow clogs after some little Jewish schoolboys. They were absolutely petrified but it was really funny."
An anonymous friend: "We once dropped Philip off at his parents' house and Philip had a dress and high heels on, which he took off in the car before he got out, then he ran up the drive to the front door in his Y-fronts."
"Well, it looks better than a dress doesn't it?" is Philip's riposte when reminded of the incident. "I'm one of the well-known Neasden trannies, dear! If people call me eccentric I just tell 'em to fuck off. A lot of it is just being ahead of the times and people can't take it. In '74 I used to walk down the Kings Road in a drape suit. No-one called me a Ted, they just used to say, 'Oh Philip, you're so eccentric' ... then about three years later there was a Ted revival."
Define and Mix - The Sallon Formula: 'camp'-OED Definition 1: Temporary quarters of holiday-makers, nomads, explorers, etc. 'camp'-OED Def. 2: Affected; effeminate; homosexual; exaggerated; bizarre.
The secret of his success? Well, everybody comes to Philip's 'do's': flat-toppers, hiphoppers, rhinestone rentboys, glitter queens, popstarlettes, Asylum skins, Top Shop girls, Day-Glo bank clerks ... No fashion hierarchy of discrimination is operated at his Heaven balls (contrary to popular belief); all are welcomed into Philip's arms and wallet and encouraged to get their three quids' worth of fun.
I once wrote an article about Malcolm McLaren in which I branded him a "professional eccentric" - a term more accurately applied to Philip, to whom it all comes naturally. Consciously or not, he's capitalising on it.
"Look, I'm not just interested in making money despite my Jewish ancestry although I'm beginning to see what my talents are and I'm cashing in on them. I'm not rich but I ain't badly off either, darlin'. After all, I don't want to be old and poor ... Truly, I just like to make people happy and laugh - I know what you're thinking: they do laugh Philip, at you! But seriously, I love entertaining people and I use psychology in the running of my clubs ... I read a lot of books on Freud, you know. Normally, people who run clubs are just interested in the money, not the people. It's the other way round with me."
Although Philip is coy about revealing how much money he makes, he admits that he does occasionally lose a wink or two of sleep over it. "Let's be honest, the main reason people go to nightclubs is to get off with other people. Sometimes I get really worried about making money out of other people's loneliness but then I look at it the other way and think it's good that I'm bringing people together. I don't want to get like pimps and people who run brothels and make money out of other people's loneliness but, you know, running a nightclub is just another form of the same thing. You'd be surprised how evil some people who run clubs can be."
Ask Philip a question and if you're lucky, he'll get halfway through the answer before he goes off on a tangent or reverts to promotion of the Mud Club. For example, what is Philip (who never drinks, smokes or takes drugs) looking for when he goes out to play?
"Well, it's in my mind as well! It may not be conscious but 99.9% of people who go to clubs go to pull. At least at the Mud Club, if you haven't pulled at the end of the night, you can have a laugh. Not everybody who goes to the Mud Club is nuts but if anyone is nuts and goes to clubs then they're bound to be at the Mud!"
Sometimes referred to as the Mad Club, Friday night at the Mud Club is an evening of aural schizophrenia. The music is provided by DJs Jay Strongman, Tasty Tim and Mark Moore. Jay warms up with his blend of Slim, Uncle Jam's Army, George Clinton, the Awesome Foursome arid LOTSA James Brown (a mixture which he calls 'funkabilly') until about 2am when the Basswejuns (loafers) and Converses ( trainers) are steaming and you've been no flim-flamming, super-badding and sweating it out on the packed dance-floor when suddenly Liza Minneli cuts in on Malcolm X and screams "Life is a cabaret!". You can say that again (she does).
A minute later Roaring Twenties music is cued up on turntable number 2, but are the punters clued up? Will the Charleston catch on? Never mind, no sooner is the problem posed than another - "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin - comes along. Weird! Sick! Twisted! The question here is not how one dances to Led Zep or Hendrix, but whether one ought to at all. Confusion reigns for a moment, flat-tops, Fender quiffs and ducktails consult, look at the. ground, then agree that it's cool to be camp. Thus two new dances are born as they do the 'Dinosaur Rock' and the 'Double-Take'. Another delirious contribution to modern sub-culture courtesy Philip Sallon. "Personally I love mad music," he says. "The club is just like a mental-home and I think it's a scream!"
There is no denying that he is shrewd and uncannily quick to spot the signs of upcoming fashion trends. This is proved one Sunday afternoon at the Sallon's Thirties suburban deco Dollis Hill home, where Philip (34) lives, as he always has done, with his elderly parents. His father is a caricaturist for the Daily Mirror and collected his MBE from the Palace (the other one!) last year. Philip's mother makes sure our chat is no relaxed affair, constantly nagging and attempting to humiliate him in front of me. I wonder why he puts up with it, especially as he has his own flat in St. John's Wood which Boy George lived in for two years before he moved out three months ago.
"They don't want me here, they hate me, they're jealous of me," he confides, once his mother has left. They bought me that flat years ago and they're always screaming at me to go and live there. I hate it, it's a horrible little rabbit hutch. George didn't mind it, but he wasn't stuck with it forever. I was born in this house and I'll never leave it."
Philip entertains in his blue spotted pyjamas, dashing to and fro from the constantly ringing family pay-phone. Eventually we retire to the dining-room, full of seven-branched candlesticks' and Wedgewood, the white and gold-leaf edged sort which Philip collects fanatically. We sift through countless folders of original Sallon artwork and fashion designs - a huge dog-eared pile of 10 years of ideas and schemes, the backbone of Philip's artistic career and the roots of his current social eminence.
It began in 1970 with an arts foundation course, at the end of which it transpired that the college wasn't particularly keen to have Philip back. For his part, Philip realised he was more interested in fashion than doing a graphics degree which had been his original intention. He's vague about the next three or four years. "I fucked around at a lot of other colleges. I went to the London College of Printing then I went to Eastham then I started making clothes."
In 1975 he applied to St. Martin's to study fashion. He remembers the interview well: "I showed them all my drawings and designs, it was the space-age gear and they just looked at them and laughed. But it came into fashion, didn't it, five years later? I mean, look at Gary Numan."
Somehow he managed to persuade St. Martin's to take him on. Once there, however, he turned himself into a pariah by going to the school in the mornings and playing truant in the afternoons because he'd also landed himself a job at Stirling Cooper making "rock'n'roll" dresses. At Christmas he got the sack, but Philip isn't bitter. "I think they were wise to get rid of me, I can't say I was all that commercial, to say the least."
'Getting the sack' almost became a habit for Philip. After working at Boy for a while in 1976 ("I was just a skivvy there. I thought I was going to be 'a designer and I'd sit there all day drawing and then I'd end up doing bits of ironing") he joined the BBC as an assistant costume designer. Although the title is impressive, the job wasn't.
"All you really do is go out choosing pairs of knickers and if you're very lucky, you might get to choose a blouse. It was so dull. They sacked me anyway. It was '77. I used to turn up with criss-cross stripes on my face and wearing kilts and they all wore three-piece suits and I really freaked 'em."
There was a repeat performance of this in 1982 when Philip worked at the Royal Opera House, which, he declares, was "full of evil bastards. They sacked me as well for the way I looked, they just couldn't cope, they said I was a disruptive influence."
Then, in January last year, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood made 'the sack' fashionable, and on January 14, Philip opened The Mud Club, aided and abetted by McLaren as MC. Philip's club has had a good run for his money. The only other one-nighter to be as successful' over a prolonged period is The Batcave and even that has tailed off into a boring tourist trap. The only competition the Mud Club has to worry about is The Circus which occurs about every three months. The Palace is about as popular as the Siberian wastes, frequented only by The Belle Stars and Wham, even Rusty Egan and Steve Strange have given it up as a bad job, literally.
Does Philip worry about The Hippodrome's attempted purloining of his punters? ."Oh, you mean the 'ippodrome. Let's say I think it's a great place for norm,al people to go to. . . He admits that he 's a little bored by Friday nights now but he's still full of enthusiasm and ideas for his Heaven Balls. "I can't wait to do my Butlin's Ball - the invitations are on sticks of rock and I want to build chalets all around Heaven. It'll be a scream!"
Before he goes off to finish the preparations, let's listen to Philip reminiscing about ... "the Bromley Contingent? Yes, I knew all that lot. I knew the boy they had before Johnny Rotten, a nice looking boy named David Harrison. Malcolm and Vivienne chucked him out and brought Johnny here to meet me. They kept saying: 'What do you think of him? Isn't he great?'
"Adam is the only one I never knew. The day of the Sex Pistols boat party where they all got arrested, George and me escaped to Jordan's flat. This bloke walked in to the kitchen and I said 'hello' and he just stuck his nose in the air and walked out. George told me a year later that was Adam. I said to George the other day, the only reason he'll talk to you now is 'cos of who you are. People like that aren't worth talking to, balls to them. Mind you, certain people are heading the same way, if you get my drift. Do you know what George said to me when Marilyn got into the charts? He said: 'The only reason Marilyn mixes with you is because he's a failure.' What a fucking cheek! In other words, if you sell more records than someone else, they're not worth bothering with. Unbelievable! Let him go to hell anyway ... George is on a sea-food diet at the moment. He sees food and he eats it! You know what they're calling him now? Boy Gorge, and it isn't short for gorgeous,either!"
But these are rather unoriginal snipes that George and Philip have probably fired at each other many times before. And one day, it may be Philip who is the butt of the jokes. With such a large percentage of his friends finding their way into the music business - with varying degrees of success (depending who you're talking to) - perhaps a fledgeling pop star lurks in Philip Sallon himself. And then maybe the whole nation will be treated to the sight of a singing bishop on TOTP, surrounded by Zoo, waving his mitre in time to the beat.
"I've always wanted to be a funny person on the television," reveals Philip. "I think what my father does with his caricatures, I do with my mouth."