British synth-pop, was a sub-genre of New Wave music that first emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Queer bands like The Communards, Pet Shop Boys, and Erasure embraced the sound and helped usher in the Second British Invasion in the United States.

Visage was one of the many synth-pop bands born out of this era. The group was formed in London in 1978 and led by bisexual singer Steve Strange.

Steve Strange in 1980. (Getty Images)

The group recorded three albums between 1980 and 1984 before their breakup in 1985. Their most popular song was “Fade To Grey,” the second single from their debut album Visage, released by Polydor Records in November 1980.

Written by band members Billy Currie, Midge Ure, and Chris Payne and performed by Strange, the lyrics are in both English and French and tell of a lonely wanderer standing in the rain on a deserted train platform contemplating whether to take his own life.

“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.”

The song’s dark story is juxtaposed by a pulsing beat and swelling baseline, which give it a catchy, danceable vibe.

An accompanying music video was directed by Godley & Creme and released in 1981. It featured Strange alongside English DJ and fashion icon Julia Fodor (a.k.a. Princess Julia), who lip-synced the French lyrics.

Upon its release, “Fade to Grey” reached the top 10 the UK and in several other countries across Europe, hitting number one in both Switzerland and West Germany. While it didn’t chart in the US, the album managed to crack the US Billboard 200, peaking at number 178.

Visage broke up in 1985, after the release of their third album Beat Boy. The band more or less fell into obscurity until 2005, when they got into a copyright spat with then aspiring singer Kelly Osbourne after she sampled “Fade to Grey” without permission in her single “One Word,” off her sophomore album Sleeping In The Nothing.

Ultimately, the case was settled out of court, with Osbourne’s writing team agreeing to pay Visage a share of the royalties.

It also sparked a renewed interest in the long-forgotten synth-pop group, which by then had been broken up for 20 years. In the ensuing decade, Strange would re-form the band and record two more albums of original material, 2013’s Hearts and Knives and 2015’s Demons to Diamonds, plus another album of their older synth-pop songs re-recorded with a live symphony orchestra.

2014’s Orchestral featured 12 songs from Visage’s back catalog, including their seminal hit “Fade to Grey”, reimagined with help from both the Czech Synthosymphonica Orchestra and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

Sadly, the band’s comeback was cut short when Strange passed away from a heart attack in 2015. He was 55 years old. Prior to his death, he published the autobiography Blitzed!, which detailed his life as a club kid, his music career, and his romantic relationships with both men and women.

In 2022, “Fade to Grey” was remixed by French DJ and electronic music producer Lecomte de Brégeot and Drag Race alum Violet Chachki, who also appeared in the music video.


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