Spandau Ballet On Its Reunion And 'Looking Outrageous'

Aug 22, 2015
Originally published on August 22, 2015 10:46 am

The members of Spandau Ballet were just teenagers when the new-wave band started in late-1970s London. The band gave the world the karaoke staple "True," sold more than 25 million albums, and looked fabulous while doing so. So fabulous, in fact, that journalists dubbed the group "New Romantic."

"New Romantic is a weird name, when I think about it," guitarist Gary Kemp says. "People don't really understand, because they hear a song like 'True' and it's a romantic song. But the New Romantic was a journalistic phrase that came to sum up this post-punk youth culture that was much more about dressing up, looking outrageous. In a way, it was a bit more like the beginning of Goth, I suppose, people wearing frilly shirts. I think the 'romantic' thing came because at that time there was a fashion for some of us guys to wear knickerbocker-type trousers with white socks. It looked a bit Byron-esque. I think it meant Romantic as in Byron, which normally means a bit self-obsessed."

"We've got a documentary out called Soul Boys Of The Western World, and in it you can see what Britain was like in that late-'70s period," vocalist Tony Hadley adds. "I suppose, in a sense, we were the bright young things. It was almost like the background in Britain was black-and-white, and we wanted to be in color. Britain was in a pretty bad way at that point: massive change of government and a new direction. I suppose we wanted to be happy. We wanted fun. We wanted to think there was a good future."

In the audio interview on this page, NPR's Scott Simon talks to Spandau Ballet about the importance of David Bowie, how listening to Frank Sinatra and John Lydon inspired Hadley's voice, Spandau Ballet's bitter (and litigious) break-up, the reunion that followed many years later, and whether the group would ever tour with Duran Duran.

"It's been bandied around a bit," Hadley says. "Who knows? It would be good fun. Who's going to go on first and last, though? That's the problem. That's the fight."

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRUE")

SPANDAU BALLET: (Singing) I know this much is true.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Spandau Ballet, the new wave group that gave us this truly romantic song, got together when they were teenagers growing up in 1970s London. And they went on to sell more than 25 million albums. But in 1990, they dissolved the group, despite their success or was it even because of it? A bitter battle of royalties ensued, but that was more than 20 years ago. You can't be angry at someone all that long, can you? Several years ago, they reunited, and Gary Kemp and Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet join us now from their studios at NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

GARY KEMP: Thanks for having us on.

TONY HADLEY: Hello, Scott, you all right?

SIMON: So what did new romantic and new wave mean to you when you first started out?

KEMP: New Romantic's a weird name when I think about it because if people don't really understand, they hear a song like "True," they think that's kind of because it's a romantic song. But the new romantic was a sort of journalistic phrase that came to sum up this new youth culture, this post-punk youth culture which is much more about dressing up, looking outrageous. In a way, it was a bit more like the beginning of Goth, I suppose, you know, people wearing frilly shirts. And I think the romantic thing came because, at that time, there was a sort of fashion for some of us guys to wear sort of knickerbocker-type trousers with white socks. And it looked a bit Byron-esque. And I think it meant romantic as in Byron, which normally means a bit sort of self-obsessed, I think.

HADLEY: We've got a documentary out called "Soul Boys Of The Western World," and in it, you can see what Britain was like in that kind of late-'70s period. And I suppose, in a sense, we were the sort of bright young things. You know, it was almost like the background in Britain was black and white, and we wanted to be in color. Britain was in a pretty bad way, at that point - a massive change of government and a sort of new direction. And I suppose we wanted to be happy. We wanted fun, and we wanted to think there was a good future.

SIMON: Let's see if we could bring us all back a little while. Let's listen to one of your first songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO CUT A LONG STORY SHORT")

SPANDAU BALLET: (Singing) Soldier is turning. See him through white light, running from strangers. See you in the valley. War upon war.

SIMON: Of course, that's "To Cut A Long Story Short." Gary Kemp, what's the story behind this song?

KEMP: It's evocative of, I suppose, young kids wanting a sort of grander landscape to live on. I think that's what - you know, we sort of learned a little bit from Bowie. There was this idea of songs not about the real world but about places that we really would like to live in much more, you know, and more dramatic, cinematic events in one's life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO CUT A LONG STORY SHORT")

SPANDAU BALLET: (Singing) Standing in the dark, oh, I was waiting for man to come. I am beautiful and clean and so very, very young to be standing in the street to be taken by someone.

KEMP: Standing in the dark, I was waiting for the man to come, I am beautiful and clean and so very, very young. I mean, it's evocative of how we saw ourselves. You know, we didn't see ourselves in the real world. We saw ourselves in smoky landscapes and backlit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO CUT A LONG STORY SHORT")

SPANDAU BALLET: (Singing) Oh, look at the strange boy. He finds it hard existing. To cut a long story short, I lost my mind.

SIMON: Gary Kemp, I think it was your brother Martin who said in an interview that by the time it came around to writing the third album, you felt you had to - well, go with that thought, if you could.

KEMP: We were a cult band, at first. We were much more art rock at the beginning. And then there was a period of not really knowing which direction to go in. Do we stay in the sort of art rock world or do we do what we really wanted to do and sell records around the world and keep going? I mean, we grew up buying singles. We were commercially-minded kids. We loved pop music. I particularly loved melody. I'd always loved melody. And it was like, well, you know what, I'm not interested now in writing something that's going to appeal to the elite in Soho. And I sat down and started trying to fashion songs that were much more from the heart, much more melodic, you know. In Tony, we had an amazing singer, in Steve Norman, we had a guy who just discovered the saxophone and could play it with great deal of soul, you know. And so that's what happened and it worked for us. And we found the sound of Spandau Ballet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIFELINE")

SPANDAU BALLET: Oh, he could have built a statue with his hands. So gently when he tried to understand. You never really know just what you're giving now you're living in the lifeline, we're moving.

SIMON: I've got to ask you, Tony Hadley, where did you get that voice?

HADLEY: I was in the choir at primary school, and I just discovered music, really. The first album that I had was "The World Of David Bowie," and that was a massive influence on me. And I was into Queen and Elton John and stuff like that. And my mom and dad bought me a tape recorder, and I used to sing along to records and think, wow, you know, OK, you've got something. But I also, as a singer, took singing lessons with a great Canadian opera singer called Pamela Dodds. And also my parents said, look, you know, I know you're into punk and everything else, but if you really want to be a singer then check out Frank Sinatra, Jack Jones, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald. And I got into this whole swing vibe as well and really appreciated the - you know, I was listening to John Lydon, you know, Johnny Rotten, but I also listened to Frank Sinatra.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRUE")

SPANDAU BALLET: (Singing) So true, funny how it seems. Always in time, but never in line for dreams. Head over heels when toe to toe. This is the sound of my soul. This is the sound. I bought a ticket to the world, but now I've come back again. Why do I find it hard to write the next line? Oh, I want the truth to be said.

SIMON: Can I get you, Gary Kemp, Tony Hadley, to talk about the breakup?

KEMP: Yeah, if you want, yeah.

HADLEY: I mean, it was just, you know.

SIMON: Well, bands break up, but lawsuits are another step of...

HADLEY: You know, we just had a very acrimonious breakup over royalties, as it's been documented. But what we did do is we had the, I suppose in a sense, bravery to get ourselves back together. I mean, I'd said many times that carrying that kind of anger and that bitterness around isn't a healthy experience. It took a lot of soul-searching for me to realize that we could get back together again, and myself and Gary were the final two to meet up over a pint of beer in an English pub, as you do. We sort of felt that, look, let's try again. Let's see if we can move forward. And we did and I'm very, very glad we did as well.

KEMP: I think, in retrospect, it would have been very cool to have taken a few years off and then got back together again. But we didn't do that. We did end up, in a way, dismissing our legacy and dismissing each other's worth, and then time flies. None of us realized (laughter). That's the thing, it just shoots by, and before we knew it, 19 years had gone by before we entered a room together again and played those instruments together and made the sound that is Spandau Ballet. And that shocked us all.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS THE LOVE")

SPANDAU BALLET: (Singing) This is the love. I was waiting on a train that wouldn't come again. Then you passed like summer rain. Now this is the love.

SIMON: Any chance there will ever be a - (laughter) producer's might be listening now - a Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran joint world tour?

HADLEY: (Laughter) Well, you know what? It's been bandied around a bit. I mean, well, the thing is that Duran have just got a new album out. We're just - we're obviously on tour and we have the greatest hits - the definitive greatest hits, the story with three new songs - so we've all got product that there. We're all touring and everything, so who knows? It would be good fun. Who's going to go on first and last though, that's the problem.

SIMON: Oh.

HADLEY: That's the fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLD")

SPANDAU BALLET: (Singing) Gold, always believe in your soul. You've got the power to know. You're indestructible.

SIMON: Gary Kemp, Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet speaking from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

HADLEY: Thank you for having us on.

KEMP: Thank you. It's been really nice. Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLD")

SPANDAU BALLET: (Singing) Something I could have learned. You're indestructible, always believing.

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR. B.J. Leiderman is the guy who writes our theme music. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.