Spandau Ballet

Spandau Ballet were a popular English band in the 1980s. Initially inspired by a mixture of funk and synthpop, the New Romantic group eventually mellowed into a mainstream pop act. As with their rivals Duran Duran they ‘broke America’, albeit briefly.

Guitarist and songwriter Gary Kemp and his brother, bassist Martin Kemp formed the band in 1979, with drummer John Keeble, lead vocalist Tony Hadley and Steve Norman, who initially played guitar but later switched to saxophone when the band changed musical direction.

The band were initially called ‘The Makers’, but changed their name after a visit to Spandau (a section of Berlin), the inspiration being from graffiti one of their roadies, BBC London 94.9 D.J. Robert Elms, saw there. The band began performing and generating positive buzz around London as the house band at the Blitz nightclub, which became regarded as the birthplace of a new 1980s music and fashion phenomenon called New Romanticism.

The band eventually signed to Chrysalis Records and released “To Cut a Long Story Short”, a British top 5 hit in 1980. This was followed by “The Freeze” and “Musclebound” and the well-received album Journeys to Glory (February 1981).

The follow up album Diamond (March 1982) performed poorly, despite a big hit with “Chant No.1”, and the band met with veteran producer Trevor Horn, who advised them on how to revamp their image and sound. Horn also took the Diamond album track “Instinction” and gave it a bombastic dance remix that sounded not unlike the work he would later do for Frankie Goes to Hollywood. It was a massive hit.

With newfound confidence and a cleaner, radio-friendly sound, Spandau Ballet finally broke into the mainstream with True (February 1983), an album whose title cut was a six-minute opus paying tribute to the Motown sound (and in some respects, Marvin Gaye). The image changed too — the Cossack outfits and make-up of New Romanticism (which was dying as a fad in 1983 anyway) had been replaced by smart suits and well-scrubbed faces. It was at this point that Norman became the band’s sax player. The album topped the charts all around the world, and launched several international hit singles such as “Gold” and the aforementioned title cut which was #1 in some countries.

But the follow-up, Parade (June 1984), was critically drubbed for failing to move the band’s sound forward. Nevertheless, the album and its singles were again big successes in the European charts and in Canada in 84/85 and the opening song “Only When You Leave” became their last American hit. At the end of 1984, the band performed on the Band Aid charity single, with Hadley taking a prominent lead vocal role; and in 1985, they performed at the Wembley end of Live Aid. During this same year, Spandau Ballet released a compilation, The singles collection, to keep the focus on the band between two studio albums, and celebrate their five years of success.

In 1986 Spandau Ballet signed to CBS Records and released Through the Barricades (October 1986), which saw the band trying to move away from the pop/soul influences of True and Parade and more towards rock. The album and the title track were big hits in their native UK and in Europe, particularly in Germany, in Italy and in the Benelux as usual, but unfortunately did nothing in the United States. After a hiatus from recording during which the Kemps established themselves as credible actors in the gangster film The Krays, the band released Heart Like a Sky in September 1989. The album bombed (apart from in Italy) and Spandau Ballet — from whom Gary Kemp was already feeling estranged — split up for good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *