Gary and Martin studied at Anna Scher’s children’s drama school and made a number of TV appearances during the 70s but, by the time the boys were leaving school, the intoxicating London club scene was fast proving the focus of their attention. Like his schoolmates, displaying an equal flair for the flamboyant landed Tony a job at Britain’s biggest magazine publisher; he notoriously found himself featured in the stable’s My Guy magazine as a model in one of the title’s photo stories.
The young men were essentially the perfect package at the right time: possessing film-star looks, confident with a rounded musical grounding and soaking up the inspiration of the New Romantic scene, which was by then generating mainstream attention for London’s Blitz, Billy’s Le Kilt and Le Beat Route clubs. Gary and another school friend, Steve Dagger, spotted the potential in this fashion landscape that turned out to be a relative flash in the pan. For 1980, however, it was to prove the perfect springboard.
With Steve acting as manager, Martin was drafted in alongside his brother to complete the line-up, now called Spandau Ballet. Displaying a canny early knack for creating a buzz, the band crafted a series of showcases designed to whet the appetites of record labels and the influential music press.
An early approach from Island Records was rejected in favour of an ambitious plan to launch their own label. This blend of arrogance and naivety was featured on the Blitz Kids documentary, filmed for British television and capturing the intoxicating energy of the scene, which was still at that point creating more column inches than record sales. In July 1980, the band played a set onboard HMS Belfast and signed to Chrysalis under a licensing deal with their own label, Reformation.
Their debut single, ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’, was an off-the-blocks smash hitting UK No.5, and their stylish Top Of The Pops appearances, dressed in flamboyant kilts and plastered in make-up, proved intoxicating to the teenage music press, securing the group immediate support from titles such as Smash Hits.
An early promotional trip to New York failed to generate much momentum, but the European hits kept on coming, with ‘Musclebound’ and ‘The Freeze’ lifted from their Top 5 LP, Journeys To Glory, which was released in March 1981.
Sensing a cooling of interest in the New Romantic scene, August 1981’s ‘Chant No.1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)’ saw the band enlist Brit-funk champions Beggar & Co for a change of direction. Still targeted squarely at the dancefloor, this warmer club sound rewarded them with their biggest hit to date, so it was a surprise when November’s ‘Paint Me Down’ took a chillier turn, both artistically – back to their synth-heavy earlier style – and commercially, when it peaked at UK No.30. The fact that the video was slapped with a BBC ban didn’t help either, with the corporation taking a dim view of the group parading around in loincloths.
Follow-up ‘She Loved Like Diamond’ missed the Top 40 altogether, and second album, Diamond, soon proved it wasn’t going to sell anywhere near as well as its predecessor. Producer Trevor Horn is now widely regarded as saving the band at this point, when his remix of ‘Instinction’, sharpening the track’s poppier groove, got them back into the Top 10 singles chart in May 1982.
Energised by this commercial pick-me-up, the band enlisted producers Tony Swain and Steve Jolley, who were enjoying substantial hits with Bananarama and Imagination, to give their next release a far greater mainstream appeal. Having decamped to Nassau in the Bahamas, the commercial rewards of that working holiday were to prove the band’s career highlight. Lead single ‘Lifeline’ peaked at UK No.7, ‘Communication’ made UK No.12, but third release, ‘True’, hitting the shops while the group was on a nationwide tour, soared to UK No.1 on its second week of release and held the top spot for a month. The parent album, which went on sale in March, also finally topped the British chart on 14 May.
By now the band, decked in classic suits and skillfully blending soul hooks with a slick pop sound, was doing decent business across the world. ‘True’ gave Spandau Ballet their only significant stateside hit when it peaked at No.4 on the Billboard listings in October of that year. ‘Gold’ was the band’s final release from True and peaked at UK No.2, unable to shift KC & The Sunshine Band’s ‘Give It Up’ from the top spot across the school summer holidays.
Fourth album ‘Parade’ was recorded in chillier climes, with studio sessions taking place in Munich across the spring of 1984. Lead single ‘Only When You Leave’ was another substantial hit, penned as ever by band songwriter Gary Kemp, and peaking at UK No.3 in June 1984. By now Spandau were international megastars and their look had moved on from the suits and was now aping the excesses of the Dynasty-era 80s, with hair products battling shoulder pads for attention.
Overseas tours and the opportunity to shoot videos in locations as diverse as Hong Kong and the southern states of America gave the band a reputation for high living that was inevitably matched only by Duran Duran. Singles ‘Highly Strung’ and ‘I’ll Fly For You’ continued to do respectable business in the UK, but Christmas ballad ‘Round And Round’ was overshadowed by their appearance in the Band Aid ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ project and, perhaps, another cooling of their commercial fortunes that was might not have been immediately evident from a six-night run that December at London’s Wembley Arena.
1985 started badly with a contractual clash with Chrysalis and a lengthy break from releasing material, though Spandau appeared in that summer’s legendary Live Aid show, performing three tracks at London’s Wembley Stadium in their afternoon set.
When the band finally emerged with a new label deal the following summer, ‘Fight For Ourselves’ was chosen as the lead 45, but it peaked at a disappointing UK No.15. Through The Barricades and the album’s title track did much better, returning the group to the UK Top 10 albums and singles charts once more. But despite a continuing strong live appeal, subsequent releases yielded lower returns and, by the time the band released their second CBS album, Heart Like A Sky, in September 1989, none of its singles could make the Top 40 in the band’s homeland, and international interest was patchy.
Gary and Martin Kemp were by now turning their attentions away again from music, and their appearance as the leads in the hit British film The Krays generated strong reviews and would define their creative output for much of the following decade. Gary took a supporting role in the Whitney Houston smash-hit movie The Bodyguard, while Martin was to secure a long-standing role in EastEnders. Tony Hadley continued to record, releasing his first solo set, State Of Play, and a handful of singles in 1992, while Gary released Little Bruises in 1995.
Meanwhile, ‘True’ had enjoyed a fresh lease of life in when PM Dawn sampled its famous vocal rift on their 1991 US chart-topper ‘Set Adrift On Memory Bliss’, largely sealing the source song’s reputation as a modern classic, covered many times since and often featuring in films and TV shows.
At the close of the 90s, the band made the headlines when Tony Hadley, John Keeble and Steve Norman took Gary Kemp to court in a dispute over songwriting royalties. The trio lost the case and it seemed that the chances of the band appearing together again were faint; a bitter blow for their loyal fanbase that had taken comfort in the fact there had never been a formal split. So it was something of a surprise when, in 2009, the five-piece announced they were going back on the road for a reunion tour and recording two new songs alongside rerecording some of their classic tracks. Tickets to the tour sold out far faster than anyone had predicted and extra dates were added. The Once More album, featuring those new recordings, made the UK Top 10 and sealed a hugely successful comeback.
Five years later, the band produced a feature film, Soul Boys Of The Western World, which documented their story to date. Securing strong notices it heralded another return to the touring circuit, and Spandau’s 11th hits collection, which was complemented by another new song, ‘This Is The Love’. The band members now comfortably balance concert appearances with a range of music releases and side projects, with Tony Hadley most recently appearing in I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here and putting out his first Christmas album.
Their own label, Reformation, launched at the dawn of their career, was an intuitive nod to a conclusion the band may never actually have achieved after the 1999 court case. That they overcame their differences is testament to the bond between five Londoners who created some of the 80s’ most memorable pop catalogues, with perhaps the best of the era’s “school-disco slow dance” songs, ‘True’, sitting triumphantly at the heart of it.
Words: Mark Elliott
By 1983, with the new romantic movement they'd sprung from a rapidly fading memory, the members of Spandau Ballet showed they had no intention of traveling the same path. Always ambitious, the British quintet really got down to business: Gone were the kilts, frilly shirts, and makeup -- as well as the sometimes chilly electronics of their first two albums. Instead, after recording at Compass Point Studios in the sun-soaked Bahamas, the group turned up in smartly tailored suits, with a sleek and mainstream sound to match. That came courtesy of producers Steve Jolley and Tony Swain, who gave Spandau the sort of pop-R&B sheen that had produced hits for clients like Imagination. And it also reflected the growing skill of guitarist Gary Kemp, the band's primary songwriter, who crafted a set of tunes aimed squarely at the charts. The one that succeeded most spectacularly, of course, was the title cut, a glossily-updated Motown-style ballad that became one of the decade's biggest hits -- aided by a video that cast singer Tony Hadley as a young Frank Sinatra, crooning about the sound of his soul. But Kemp had more arrows in his quiver, as well; the catchy soft disco of "Communication" and "Lifeline" coyly suggests, rather than demands, listeners' presence on the dancefloor, while the suave, spy flick-inspired "Gold" finally gives Hadley an appropriately rich setting for his dramatic warble. Some listeners at the time called the album an MOR sellout, but its slick surfaces remain tough to resist, and while none of the cuts generate the excitement of past singles like "To Cut a Long Story Short" or "Chant No. 1," True remains Spandau Ballet's most consistent and best all-around album.
Words: Dan LeRoy
With the new romantic movement they'd helped spearhead on the way out, futurist icons Spandau Ballet began thinking seriously about the future on their second album. The seeds of the group's transition to a slick, MOR soul outfit can be heard in hits like "Chant No. 1," the best song Spandau Ballet had come up with. More funk than rock, "Chant No. 1" got punctuation from the horn section of the British R&B act Beggar & Co., who were apparently a major inspiration for the track. Diamond features other tentative moves toward an authentically soulful sound; the tuneless single "Paint Me Down" is all chattering rhythm guitar and popping bass, while "She Loved Like Diamond" offers an inferior trial run at the approach that would produce the global mega-hit "True" (this version has an underdeveloped melody, which is OK, since still-improving vocalist Tony Hadley wasn't ready yet for a better one). The rest of the album sounds like the group had been listening too long to the second side of David Bowie's Heroes. "Pharoah" is off-kilter funk reminiscent of "The Secret Life of Arabia" -- a dubious choice for emulation -- and the gentle, oriental balladry of "Innocence and Science" segues into "Missionary," a percussion-filled mood piece light on actual substance. Although it's an improvement on their debut, Diamond showed Spandau Ballet was musically still far behind likeminded acts such as Duran Duran, Ultravox, and Visage -- a situation that would change somewhat with the band's next, most successful album, True.
Words: Dan LeRoy
When Spandau Ballet first appeared, they (along with such peers as Visage and Duran Duran) heralded the arrival of one of the most important UK pop-culture movements of the early 1980s--the New Romantics. The "Blitz Kids" as they were also called (after the club where the scene came together) rejected the nihilism of punk and post-punk in favor of a different kind of DIY aesthetic that exalted fashion, elegance, and lush, danceable pop. It's also important to note that the New Romantic scene was initially as working-class a phenomenon as punk.
Spandau Ballet were the New Romantic standard-bearers, and their debut album merged the decadence of late-'70s Bowie and Roxy Music with the thumping beat and colorful synthesizers of disco, all filtered through a budding New Wave sensibility. This style would quickly become the standard for '80s pop (termed "the New Pop" in England). When it was released, however, JOURNEYS TO GLORY sounded fresh, bold, and even somewhat avant-garde. Striving for a heroic and, yes, romantic stance, crooner Tony Hadley, the Kemp Brothers, and company forged a sound whose ambition still inspires decades later.
Words: All Music Review
Parade was Spandau Ballet's follow-up to their most successful LP, 1983's True. "Only When You Leave" reached number three on the U.K. charts. The three other singles that were released do successively worse: "I'll Fly for You" (number nine), "Highly Strung" (number 15), and "Round and Round" (number 19). (These charting songs are all marginal at best.) The band was still riding high in the U.K. and sold out seven consecutive dates at Webley Arena. Fans of the band, and the "new romanticism" of other acts like Simple Minds, Adam Ant, and Wham may like Parade because it comes close to recapturing the stylish, white soul sound of the True LP. But nothing on the album comes close to the song "True." Spandau Ballet disappeared from American charts after canceling U.S. tour dates in 1984 due to injury.
Words: JT Griffith
By the time Spandau Ballet's fifth album appeared in 1986, the sun had set on the synth poppers of the second British Invasion and guitars were all the rage once again. Never ones to miss a trend, the former new romantics -- who'd signed with a new label, Epic, and were determined to make a big splash stateside -- declared their admiration for bands like Bon Jovi and made an album that likely surprised their diminishing fan base with its AOR aspirations. Rocking up Spandau Ballet's smooth white-boy soul, Through the Barricades manages to avoid utter disaster via the tuneful creations of songwriter/guitarist Gary Kemp. Some would argue Kemp had finally evolved into a first-class hack, but while his songs never avoid a cliché if it can be helped (and occasionally offer much worse; see "Virgin"), he does a credible job of supplying his bandmates with arena-ready material like "How Many Lies." Unsurprisingly, melodramatic vocalist Tony Hadley digs in with real gusto, but the production and mix prove the undoing of this effort. Most of the tunes demand guitar and drum bombast; instead, the riff-rocking "Cross the Line" and "Fight for Ourselves," in particular, are undercut by the polite-sounding rhythm section. Given that weakness, which affects much of the album, it's unsurprising that the best song by far is the title track, a Bic-flicking acoustic ballad that became a deserved hit.
Words: Dan LeRoy
New wave/'80s fans found 2009 to be a year of reunions. The Midge Ure-era Ultravox lineup toured, even after keyboardist Billy Currie spent years spewing venom in Ure's direction. The Specials reconvened, albeit sans keyboardist Jerry Dammers. Heck, even Haircut 100 decided to give it another go with Nick Heyward at the helm (only percussionist Mark Fox and saxman Phil Smith sat it out). Perhaps the most successful and least likely reunion occurred when all five members of Spandau Ballet announced that they were getting back together. What makes this so amazing is that, just a handful of years ago, vocalist Tony Hadley, drummer John Keeble, and multi-instrumentalist Steve Norman had taken guitarist Gary Kemp to court over songwriting issues (they lost), and any chance of a reunion seemed to have gone sour. But, against all odds, the five members (who also include bassist Martin Kemp) ironed out their differences and undertook an enormously successful tour. Fans who were not able to catch them live were treated to a live DVD plus this acoustic-based studio creation called Once More. Apart from the acoustic reinterpretations of some of their biggest hits, the real attractions here are the two new tracks, "Once More" and "Love Is All." Both tracks are wonderful ballads that may not be as drop-dead gorgeous as "True," but they are right up there with other favorites like "How Many Lies." Perhaps as some sort of truce, "Once More" is credited to Gary Kemp and Steve Norman, while "Love Is All" is Hadley's baby. Both are proof that the Spandau magic is intact and ready to conquer the world again. As for the rest of the album, the boys in the band have rearranged songs from their catalog, putting the emphasis on the "song" itself and not the production. Some of the songs are given new life in the mostly acoustic arrangements, with only one, "Chant No. 1," sounding awkward and not entirely successful. The rest, though, are delicious new looks at songs that served as a soundtrack to a generation: "True," "Gold," "To Cut a Long Story Short," and "Only When You Leave," to name a few. They add a bluesy, funky feel to "Communication," while retaining its hook-filled melody. Lesser-known tracks like "Through the Barricades" and "With the Pride" are stunning in these new, simple arrangements that showcase Hadley's still-fantastic voice. Thankfully, the Spandau boys are still in top form, and one can only hope that a full studio album will hit the racks before they start suing each other and fall apart again.
Words: Steve "Spaz" Schnee
In 2003, the two-disc REFORMATION anthology heralded a sunny day for hardcore fans of long-defunct 1980s New Romantic heroes Spandau Ballet. REFORMATION isn't merely a hits collection (the single-disc GOLD: THE BEST OF SPANDAU BALLET had already done a fine job on that score). It contains enough rarities to make the hearts of Spandau maniacs leap with delight.
The early New Romantic scene was focused on clubbing and dancing, and Spandau's extended 12" mixes were an important element of the band's sound; a wealth of those are captured here, exhibiting the band in all its synth-riffing, bass-popping, white-funk glory. Demo versions of early singles "To Cut a Long Story Short" and "The Freeze" help illuminate how the band's sound first came together. Live version of later, more commercial material ("I'll Fly for You," "Highly Strung") show the degree to which Spandau Ballet eventually became arena-friendly pop stars, but there's more than enough choice early material on REFORMATION to keep the most uncompromising of Spandau fans extremely satisfied.
Words: All Music Review
Originally released in 1989, Heart Like a Sky was the final studio album from the British New Romantic band who had achieved great success in the early to mid '80s, but essentially self-destructed by the time Heart Like a Sky was released. While the album didn't contain any bona-fide hit singles, it contains many gems for the Spandau enthusiast including the singles 'Be Free with Your Love' and 'Raw. Sony/BMG.
Words: Amazon Editorial Review