Tony Hadley and Martin Kemp were in the region yesterday ahead of an Arena tour. DAVID WHETSTONE caught up with them
A band which contributed significantly to the soundtrack of the 1980s is back in the big time – forthcoming arena tour, acclaimed film, album with new songs. But ask Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet if he could have foreseen it all and he’ll reply: “It depends on when you’d asked me.”
We can be sure of this because this is what he did say in Newcastle yesterday on a flying visit with fellow band member Tony Hadley to promote this basketful of goodies.
“I wanted it to happen,” he said. “But if you’d asked me during the dark years, when nobody was talking to each other, I’d have said it was never going to happen.
“At that time I’d set my stall out in life as if it wasn’t going to happen. I got on with my own life.”
Tony chortled at reference to ‘the dark years’. But without going into the details of a dispute which must have made some lawyers very happy – “it has been well documented” – he didn’t shy away from it.
There was a big break up? You all hated each other?
“Yeah, yeah. In fact, I’ve never had a falling out with Steve (Norman), John (Keeble) or Martin. The biggest beef was always between me and Gary (Martin’s older brother).”He smiled. “I suppose if there ever is a conflict in a band it’ll be between lead singer and guitarist. But we were the two final linchpins (in securing a reunion in 2009). Everyone else had already kissed and made up.
“It was really down to me to do a lot of soul searching before I felt we could meet. Gary had made amends with Steven Norman (sax, guitar, percussion) five years before I got together with him. It took a long time.
“In the end we met in a pub with John Keeble (drummer) as the Henry Kissinger in the middle. We had a few words and a few pints and wondered if we could make it work.
“And the stupid thing, when you look back at all the animosity there’d been, was we started talking about the old times, the jokes. All of a sudden we went straight back to when we were kids... and we were kids really, on the road living the dream.”
The dream for the Londoners goes on. Having straightened things out in the pub over a few beers, a Spandau Ballet reunion tour took place in 2009-10 on the back of a new album, Once More (it went into the UK Top 10), and now come more of the same.
A film about the band, called Soulboys of the Western World, has been widely acclaimed and lends its name to the tour of big venues which begins in Dublin on March 3 and arrives at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena on March 15 – “Mothers’ Day,” as Tony Hadley, rather sweetly, pointed out.
In fact, all does now appear to be sweetness and light in the Spandau Ballet camp.
“I have to say, I’m very proud of Tony and Gary and the rest of the group who have proved they have personalities that are bigger than what happened,” said Martin.
Tony said: “It takes a lot of energy and it’s a horrible thing, especially when you think we were all at school together. We’d known each other for a long time.”
Martin nodded: “As you get older, you do get slightly more chilled out.”
It had been particularly crazy, laughed Tony, when you consider that his youngest son (one of five Hadley offspring), Gary’s eldest son and Steve Norman’s son were all good mates. “They’d say, ‘Why is there a problem with our dads?’ Seriously!”
Any fan of the TV series Rock Family Trees, which chronicled music’s off-stage turmoil, will concur that this is all good stuff.
Money, the pair allowed yesterday, had been at the heart of the fall-out – the reason Spandau Ballet imploded in 1990 – but, rather more emphatically, they placed it firmly in the past. Now was a good time for Spandau Ballet, a time for all to be pulling together.
“I was up at four o’clock yesterday to go up to Glasgow and do some TV and promotion,” said Tony Hadley after requesting a black coffee (with a laugh: “Too early for Jack Daniels”).
“We’ve got a tour coming up and the film has just gone onto DVD. We’ve got the album (The Story: The Very Best of Spandau Ballet) with three new songs. There is lots to talk about and it’s all good fun.
“We just got back from Chicago last Thursday. We did a couple of shows in LA and San Francsico, all sold out. It was our first time in the States for 30 years and we didn’t know what to expect.
“Like when we got back together in 2009 after 20 years, we weren’t sure how people would react. But, thankfully, everyone was so lovely and enthusiastic. Very diverse audiences, too – girls, boys, different backgrounds.
“I suppose we’ll always get the first fans, the ones who were 14 and screaming their heads off at Newcastle City Hall or in Whitley Bay (at the ice-rink, it would have been). But now they’ll be back with their kids.
“That seems a bit weird but, then again, I always think back to how I got into Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Jack Jones. It was because my mother played swing music. Alongside Queen, Bowie, Be Bop Deluxe, I was also listening to swing.”
Spandau Ballet come in with the 1980s and the New Romantics and became huge almost immediately. The albums Journeys to Glory (1981) and True (1983) zoomed up the charts and the band performed on the groundbreaking Band Aid charity single in 1984 and then at Live Aid the following year.
Not surprisingly, the 1980s stand tall in their memory. “Looking back on the 80s, they were just larger-than-life,” said Martin. “Everything was bigger – shoulder pads, hair, money!”
Added Tony with a laugh: “Fashions, strikes... turmoil. A lot of it is there in the film which charts the emotional ups and downs, the break-up, the court case (a humdinger), the happy ending at the Isle of Wight Festival.
“It covers the sort of background we came from in the 1960s, looks at the 70s – punk, the rise of Thatcherism – and then the 80s which, in many ways, were very decadent and flamboyant with lots of great music by bands that sounded very different.
“Spandau, Duran, Culture Club, Ultravox... we were all of the same era but with very individual musical styles. And there was a fashion movement that went along with it.”
Entwined with the music was the politics. Spandau Ballet have reason to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall. Recalled Tony: “In the 70s there had been lots of talk about nuclear war and sometimes, as a kid, you thought it was really going to happen. It was frightening.
“Then when the Wall came down we were doing a gig in Berlin playing Throught the Barricades (an album and a chart-topping single) which the Germans really took to their hearts. They were openly sobbing and it was very emotional.
“It seemed like the end of the Cold War and we thought, my God, we can all be happy now and closer together.”
Ironic, really, since its dramatic collapse in 1989 only just predates Spandau Ballet’s own temporary tumble into oblivion.
But the band is back and its founding members – two of them anyway – seemed content. Martin, who went back to acting after Spandau Ballet finished, recalled the childhood shyness that prompted his mother to send him to drama club.
It boosted his confidence, he said, sending out a message to today’s mums and dads to do likewise if their kids were struggling socially.
But music and acting, he reasoned, were all part of the package marked entertainment.
Tony, too, has several strings to his bow. He mentioned the orchestral tour which recently brought him to Sage Gateshead and the solo album that will come out in 2016.
The pair fondly reminisced about Tyneside glory days. “The Tube with Paula Yates and Jools Holland. We have great memories of that... and the pub next door,” said Tony.”
“They are great memories,” agreed Martin. “I remember once we came out of the pub, got in a car and went straight to Glasgow.”
Exhilarating times, musically at least. And you can get an echo of them when Spandau Ballet play the Metro Radio Arena on March 15. Find booking details at www.metroradioaena.co.uk