Spandau Ballet: It’s All True (Interview)

They’re back! Spandau Ballet has returned with a new album, The Story-The Very Best Of Spandau Ballet, which includes three brand new tracks, and a documentary about the band and its history called Soulboys Of The Western World. They have also announced a tour that will bring them to Auckland’s Vector Arena in May of 2015. Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley and Martin Kemp were recently in Auckland to attend a screening of the film and participate in a Q&A session. The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda sat down with the two New Romantics and talked to them about the making of the film and what lies in the future of the band.

Click here to listen to the interview with Tony and Martin of Spandau Ballet:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: Well first of all we’ll talk about the film because that’s the main reason that you’re here. So I guess the first question is what prompted the making of the film? Did a filmmaker come to you and say we need to make a film about Spandau Ballet or did you guys realize it was kind of time to put it all together?

Spandau-Ballet-soul-boysTH: I think we realized it was time because after a 19 year absence, we got ourselves back together again in 2009/2010. You know, most rockumentaries, if you like, are pretty clichéd, it’s the usual stuff of aren’t we great, the enormodome and everything else. But we, you know, kids at school signed a record deal, our highs, lows, hated each other, got back together, happy ending. So there’s a story to tell and I think, you know, set against the backdrop of the environment that we came from in London in the 60s, the punk, the New Romantics, you know, Britain was a very different place in the 80s, we were going through a major, major political and economic seachange plus Live Aid, South Africa independence, you know, all that kind of stuff, it’s amazing.

MK: So, you know, we were a band that represented a whole cultural movement from the 80s. So the story was there and then in 2009 when we went out on tour, we had one track called Round And Round and we put together a 3 minute video that kind of went along with the track, it was playing behind us on the giant screen and it was all my old home movies and, so we put those together and it went down so well, didn’t it.

TH: It was the highlight, wasn’t it. I mean, I’d be there singing Round And Round and I’m looking at the screen, you couldn’t keep your eyes off it cause’ it was all us, I mean, you know, imagine like One Direction now, I mean it was like, almost like sort of, you know, a bunch of young lads all mucking about having a bit of a giggle and yeah.

MK: That really was kind of like the seed of the idea, let’s put a movie together that’s really where…

MD: And you mentioned that the band was really in the middle of this cultural revolution that was going on in the 80s. How would you describe that revolution to say kids who are, you know, teenagers or in their 20s now?

MK: Well it was a reaction to punk really, you know, where punk was all about destroy and no future. What we had, which was named New Romantics, was all about, it was about hedonism, it was about the future’s bright, the future, you know, there was a lot of fun to be had, everything, we were looking up. Even though what was around us was kind of, was rotting, you know, in England, you know in those early years, in the 80s, everything was rotting. You know, I think someone describes it in the movie as someone fiddling while Rome burns, you know, which is absolutely right.

TH: I think also you got to remember that the 80s was probably the last innocent decade in a kind of weird way, pretty primitive, you know. In Britain we had 3 T.V channels as a young person, you had music and you had fashion. So everything was pretty tribal and we’ve always been like that in Britain anyway, with the Mods, the Rockers, psychedelia, punk. So it was, you know, you picked your tribe and the kind of music you wanted to be associated with and that was it, it was just a simple time. We’ve now entered into a period of time where social media, you know, connectivity around the world is unprecedented, I mean we, you know, it’s incredible. So as a young person there, you don’t necessarily need just fashion and just music, it’s a very different world we live in.

The-Blitz-Kids-3MD: Of course you guys were part of the scene that hung around at The Blitz Club, which is where, I mean scenes always seems to have this kind of one place, you know, in New York there was CBGBs, so.

MK: Punk had the Roxy in London, you know, which is where we used to hang out and it wasn’t until kind of punk finished. Punk was never gonna go on forever, that was the idea, destroy, you know, no future. So, you know, we used to hang out in punk and it was kind of like soon as that started coming to an end things had to move on and it kind of, the core of those punk days, the ones that were kind of young enough, moved on to The Blitz, which is where New Romantics happened.

TH:  To add to that, I mean, there was also, you know, Berlin at the time as very kind of, you know, it was a very interesting place and there was a lot of…Bowie had been there, Iggy, Lou Reed and there was loads of electronic music coming out of Berlin with Kraftwerk and Düsseldorf and then we have sort of, Systems of Romance by Ultravox and those albums were really starting to influence the way that we felt about music and then we went out and purchased a Yamaha CS10 on HP, you know, and then that changed, that changed everything. So with the, you know, punk in demise the New Romantic thing, a synthesizer, that changed the whole sound of the band.

MD: So what do you, when you listen back to recordings, especially in the early days, because this is so technologically driven, like you say, you know, there’s a new synthesizer, we’re gonna have to use….

MK: We thought they were at the time, yeah.

MD: So when you listen back to them now, do you kind of cringe, do you think oh it’s cool sounds we got out of these?

MK: No you never cringe at anything you did, you know, because what you have to remember is at the time, how proud you were with, you know, and you never cringe.

TH: Yeah, I mean, I still think, To Cut A Long Story Short, which was our first single was number 5 in the UK I mean, you know, there we were, tender age of 19 and 20 years of age and we had a top 5 record, you know, I still think that record sounds a million dollars today.

MD: Getting back to the film. How much input did you guys have over what was going in there? I mean, because when somebody’s kind of putting together the story of your life, you obviously have a vested interest.

MK: There was only one way we could ever make this film and that was to walk away from it and let George, George Hencken direct it, who’s a woman by the way.

MD: I saw a picture of her, she’s definitely a woman.

MK: Yeah, take all of that archive material and put it together and tell the story. I think because, we all decided, if we make it, it’s gonna be another piece of Spandau Ballet propaganda, it’s gonna be how many people we played to, how many records we sold, we didn’t want it like that and I think because George is a woman, it became a  much more emotionally driven film. So what she does really successfully, is she tells the story of all five of us, so you get to know every member of the band individually and what drives them and then you get to know the band so much better, but she takes the band and uses it as a vehicle really, to take you through the 80s. So were we that much involved in making it, I suppose.

TH: We spent hours?

MK: Yeah, I suppose our narration was the most that we put into it as such, you know, we all went into a small dark booth, faced with a microphone and we told our story. I think it would have been very different, the film, if you put a camera in front of every one of us because, you know, when you’re talking to a camera it’s different because you’re aware of your body language and what you’re saying much more, but in the situation of the dark room and a microphone it becomes much more of like a, a confessional, you know. So when we sat in Texas in South By Southwest and we sort of filmed together for the first time, it was like, I was listening to Tony’s side of the story and Tony’s version of what he thought happened and how it affected him for the first time and it was difficult to hear people’s stories.

TH: Very, very emotional the first time we watched it. I also think the great thing about women and George as a director being a female is that women are great at detail. I always, you know, we all know that lovely women in our lives they’re brilliant at detail and I think she managed to really pin point the kind of the hub of where we were coming from, you know, she was almost like our psychiatrist.

MK: Funny how they know exactly what time you get in.

TH: Our women, they’re good at that kind of stuff. You cannot get away with anything with a woman, I’ll tell ya.

MD: So, you kind of touched on a little bit, but I’m curious as to what you learned about either each other or the band as a whole from watching the film.

MK: I think we learned a lot, to be honest, you know, I was, I think I learned a lot about myself as well. You know, I think, you know, when I watched it, I went back, I was kind of disappointed to how I treated the whole breakup business, you know, and how kind of self-obsessed I was at the time and not to take enough time and, you know, to stay in touch with everyone. But, you know, things are easy in retrospect.

TH: It’s just life isn’t it, I mean, you know, you…

MK: You become better people, you know, you grow up…

spandau1-420x0TH: I mean there’s a lot, there’s a much healthier respect for each other now as older guys than it was then. I mean, you also got to remember the sooner you made an album, you’re on tour, the sooner you’ve done the tour, you have to make another album then you’re back on tour again. The intensity of it, it’s pretty, you know, pretty draining sometimes and I think sometimes, as musicians you get to a point, well you get to a point, you’re almost sick of each other, you know and I’ve said listen, after Through The Barricades which was a tremendous album on tour, we should have then taken a break and gone off and done our own individual things because we’re all starting to think, you know, I was thinking well I’d kind of fancy going out on my whole as well and different influences were effecting the band. So but, you know, hindsight’s a great thing.

MD: When I was watching that segment of the film, kind of the mid-80s. I was getting exhausted for you, I mean It just seemed like it was never ending.

MK: It was difficult for everyone, didn’t matter what you did, you know, the pressure got to everyone. I mean, it’s a, I mean I think that’s the reason why I enjoy it much more now, if I tell you the truth, because, you know, In the old days, It was just about what number you were in in the charts and I hated that thing of having it around my neck is oh I’m number 18 this week, as if it’s almost your worth, yeah, that’s who you are as a person, number 18 and….

TH: Beginning to think you’re a failure.

MK: Yeah. Nowadays it’s much more relaxed, it’s, we’re making music because we love doing it and we’re enjoying ourselves.

MD: And I think bands probably have taken something from seeing how earlier bands have worked and have, like you say, you probably should have taken some time off. Nowadays, bands do take time off, they get away from each other then they can come back together and do their thing and they had a longer, cause’ I guess if you think of it in terms of a lifelong career whereas, you guys probably weren’t, I don’t know, were you thinking like that at the time?

TH: Well we were hoping, I mean, you know, your dream as a kid, you know, when you’re watching Top of the Pops is to be on Top of the Pops, sign a record deal, but as soon as you sign the record deal, all you’re thinking about is, ‘oh I hope I can sustain this’, because all of a sudden, you know, you finally hit the dream button and then you’re going “yeah, I’ve got a record deal, we’re on Top of the Pops” and all you do is worry after that because you don’t want it to end and we all know how fickle the music business is, it’s incredibly fickle, more so now then it probably ever was before. So, you know, you never want the dream to end really, but we’re all very lucky guys that if you think about it, we’ve been doing this now for a long time. Okay we had a bit of a break but we’ve all had individual careers as well, but here we are in 2014 and we’re still enjoying and loving music.

MD: Also what was interesting when I saw that scene of you guys on, I think it was a TV game show with Duran Duran.

TH: Yeah, yeah.

MD: I really got a sense of there was a sense of camaraderie between you guys and a lot of the other bands.

TH: Yeah. I mean, you know, listen, the whole rivalry thing between us and Duran was a pure fabrication by, you know, it’s just like The Beatles and The Stones, Oasis and Blur and all that kind of thing.

MK: But kids like that as well, you know, it’s what Tony says, it’s Beatles and Stones and Blur and Oasis.

TH: The fans, the fans were like, you know, they were pretty hard-core actually, I mean they would have fights and stuff, you know.

MK: You know it was a bit of fun for us as well, you know the competitiveness, you know, we saw them backstage several times and, you know, competitive turned into drinking competitions, it turned into everything, everything.

MD: Now speaking of backstage. I think you had a backstage experience here in Auckland in around 1985.

TH: Oh with Freddie.

MD: With Freddie because you were supposed to be doing a show and they got cancelled or something and you ended up coming over. Maybe you could fill us in…?

TH: Yeah, I’ll fill you in. Well what happened is, we were playing Australia for the first time ever and we were due to come to a show in New Zealand for the first time ever. I still do this date don’t know why it was cancelled, but the show was cancelled in New Zealand. So I decided in my infinite wisdom, I’m gonna go and see Freddie and the boys, they’re playing in Australia, I knew the guys from Queen anyway. So went down to the sound check, sat up with Freddy, went back to the hotel bar, got into a bottle of Vodka, very nice, went to his room, hit a bottle or Ports and then Freddie’s like, ‘darling would you like to come on stage’, yeah okay yeah Fred that’d be great, what we’re gonna do, we were both off our faces and we’ll do Jailhouse Rock…’ do you know the lyrics, no I don’t, do you know’… anyway we’d make them up as we go along. He phoned the boys and we both drunkenly performed on stage in front of 40,000 people when I was meant to keep a low profile. Hadley doesn’t keep a low profile.

MD: Excellent. So when you guys toured, you were here in 2010, when you toured, on the reunion thing, how did that tour compare to with those kind of tours in the 80s? Have things changed a great deal on the road?

MK: Kinda yes and no, you know. Basically we were all the same people, we’d laugh at the same jokes we were laughing at when we were 15, you know, that’s what’s really nice about being around everyone. But I think that 2010 tour was just amazing because it was a tour that I never thought I would see happen, you know, we spent like, we were saying earlier, you know, 16, 17 years apart and I thought we’d gone and disappeared from my life, you know. So there were moments where I just had to pinch myself and say this is really happening which was just a buzz.

TH: Yeah I think the nice thing about it was that, you know, obviously we were pleased from our own individual, being selfish, that we were back together again and it was all lovely and wonderful. But also the fans, you know fans don’t like to see their bands breakup as acrimoniously as Spandau did. So there was a sense of like, ‘wow, our guys are back on stage together’, and you just got a sense that the fans were as relieved as we were and it was very successful and it’s nice to be doing it again. We kick off in January in America and then we’re in New Zealand on May the 10th at the Vector, so that’s fantastic.

MK: Yeah. What was funny about that last tour was, you know, all of our success through the 80s, the last tour was the biggest tour we’ve ever done. So and, you know, also 2010 was great because, and the film kind of captures it all, because it seems like the end of the first chapter, you know, with the film coming out and this is the new beginning. So we’re looking forward to it.

MD: And of course you’ve gone back in the studio, there’s a new record this time around which is going to be pretty, I mean it’s the first new album that you guys have done since what 1989.

Spandau-Ballet-The-Story-The-Very-Best-Of-Spandau-Ballet-Deluxe-EditionTH: Well, I mean, it is a greatest hits. It’s the greatest hits but with previously unreleased material, which again has been spurred on by the films, stuff that never saw the light of day in the 80s. But then we wanted to do some new material, so we went into the rehearsal studio and we had some ideas for songs, came up with 3, I think great songs and then went to Trevor Horn, who we first worked with on Instinction back in 1982. So it was nice to get back with Trevor again and he’s done a great job on 3 cracking songs. So yeah it’s nice, I mean, you know, the next time that we get ourselves together, you know, we’ll be touring all next year but the next time we get ourselves together we should really record a whole album with new material, we’d be crazy not to, yeah.

MK: I mean, the way it worked this time with those 3 songs was everybody brought their songs and they played them to each other and we chose the best 3, which I think in a way shows how we’ve grown up, you know, I don’t think that could have happened in the early years. I think that’s how we’ve grown up and you give each other a lot more respect for who you are. It’s gonna be great, there’s also another album coming out pretty soon which is the soundtrack album to the film, which is, you know, some of the tracks that aren’t ours being played during that film, which is something to look forward to.

MD: So does it feel like it’s kind of all happening again?

TH: We haven’t stopped, I mean, you know, I literally came off a tour, an orchestral tour of the UK, straight into Spandau. So it’s been, you know, once you get on that kind of roller coaster, you don’t sort of stop. And it’s good fun though, I mean, you know, I’d just, you have to pinch yourself sometimes I think, ‘wow how long have I been doing this for and I’m still doing it and I’m still loving it and’, so, you know, we’re really lucky people because as I said earlier, this business is so fickle, some bands are lucky if they get two years, we’ve had, okay with a break, but we’ve all done our solo of stuff as well, 34 years, that’s quite amazing, yeah.

MD: And me being from America, you guys had that one big hit in The States which is True and you say you’re touring there next year as well and you premiered the film at South By Southwest, so what is, do they get the band in The States?

MK: There were actually 3 hits there, weren’t there? There was True, Gold and Only When You Leave, they were all top 20 right?

TH: True was the big one it was number 4

MK: The other 2 followed it up and then we had the bright idea of suing the record company, which never goes down very well.

TH: And then what happened was we lost momentum in The States because we, you know, America’s, you know, it’s a massive place and you got to keep touring there, you know, just hoping that one hit record is gonna break through, forget it, you’re cloud koo-koo land. So we done our tour, we were doing another tour and we were starting to get, you know a bit of reputation over there and then Steve Norman then did his cruciate ligaments because he slid across stage during the sax solo and, you know, and I’ll tell you now, we made a big mistake by cancelling the tour, we should have just put him on a flippin’ stool and carried on with the tour, you know, but we didn’t, we went, ‘oh no, our sax player’s injured, we’re gonna cancel the whole tour’. There you go, and that was a really, really dumb move, but there you go, again that’s hindsight isn’t it.

MK: But we’re back in January, we’re gonna do a tour in January in The States. So yeah, it’s going to be good.

MD: I love the footage of you guys at the Underground Club in New York, was it 82, 83, something like that.

MK: We didn’t know that existed, that footage. You know, when we were putting in all the archive together for the film, there was some great stories and great ways how we found the bits of film, you know, and the Underground Club was one of them, you know. I think, who was it that shot it?

TH: Someone saw a still of the audience shot from our perspective on stage and it was a guy with a camera, cause’ remember, you know, nowadays we’ve all got phones, everybody films everything, you know, right. In those days, you know, you had to have proper cini camera or film camera and someone saw, I mean I think that was shot 35mil I think, was it not, was it 16?

MK: It was 8, super 8?.

TH: Well it was good super8.

MK: Well it had been put through a process.

TH: Ah, right, okay. Well anyway, so we had a still picture and then someone noticed that, I don’t know if it was George or whatever, but there was a guy in the audience with a cini camera and so therefore we put the sort of, you know, please, please, can we try and trace this guy. Unfortunately he passed away but then his family, very kindly, found the film and gave it to us. How fantastic is that?

MK: We put out calls on Facebook, Twitter, for everyone, all the fans to hand in their film of the band and by the time we got the lot, there was something like 400 hours’ worth of moving footage of the band. So there was enough.

MD: And there’s a lot of extra stuff on the DVD that’s coming out. Is that right?

TH: I believe so, I haven’t seen it, I haven’t had time to even look at that or whatever, but yeah I think there’s a load of stuff on the DVD.

MK: Great stuff. I mean, yeah there’s almost another film there, you know.

 Spandau Ballet perform at Auckland’s Vector Arena on Sunday, May 10th, 2015.