Eighties hitmakers Spandau Ballet
created quite a buzz during the recent South By Southwest
(SXSW) music and film conferences in Austin, Texas.
Spandau Ballet’s first hit “To Cut a Long Story Short” charted in 1980. Since then, they’ve sold more than 25 million albums and played concerts in huge arenas worldwide.
Their performance in Austin, Texas, marked the band’s first show on a U.S. stage in 28 years. It was also the first time in decades they played a venue with room for only 600 people.
Drummer John Keeble described the experience as “inspiring and fantastic.”
“It’s the smallest gig we’ve done for many a year," he said. "There’s something very visceral about being in a small room with people right up close and personal. Probably one of my favorite gigs.”
Singer Tony Hadley says playing in a small club means there are no secrets.
"There was no trickery. It was just the five guys plugged in," he said. "Gary had four little pedals and that was it. There was no hard disk behind us or anything like that. It was totally real.”
Formed in the late 1970s in London, Spandau Ballet were leaders in rejecting the extravagant ugliness of the punk music scene, and played a leading role in the British New Wave movement called the New Romantics. They changed their look as often as their sound, getting funky with the hit “Chant No.1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On).”
But it was when the band released a completely different sort of song, a dreamy synth-pop ballad, that the band had its biggest worldwide hit, “True.”
Spandau Ballet, left to right, John Keeble, Steve Norman, Tony Hadley, Martin Kemp, Gary Kemp © 1981 Lynn Goldsmith
Bass player Martin Kemp says Spandau Ballet’s show in Austin left the band excited about the prospect of returning to the U.S. for a full tour.
“You know, we’ve played those songs a million times for people in Europe and know what those songs mean to people when you play them," he said. "Here, we thought maybe the only song that everyone’s going to know is 'True.' But it wasn’t like that at all. Everyone was into the band from the beginning. I thought it was a really special moment. I agree with John, I actually think it was one of my favorite gigs we’ve ever done.”
So why did it take 28 years for Spandau Ballet to return to the United States? Two reasons: First, the band’s 1985 tour was cut short after saxophonist Steve Norman injured his knee in Los Angeles, California. Then, at the end of the 1980s, the band split up in a bitter fight over royalties.
“Listen, we found it hard enough to come back to each other, that took us nearly 20 years, let alone come back to America," said Gary Kemp, the band’s lead songwriter. "So, it’s not like we’ve been ignoring America for 28 years. We were ignoring ourselves for 20 of those years.”
Spandau Ballet’s breakup is covered in the film “Soul Boys of The Western World,” which had its debut at the SXSW conference.
Steve Norman admits it was hard to watch the documentary in front of an audience.
“There’s a lot of anguish in there, you can see it," he said. "We were so close, we went to school together. And then to see how it all fell apart. It’s very emotional. And the other day, because there were people there, it became much more emotional. I had tears in my eyes once or twice.”
Spandau Ballet reunited in 2009 for a 30th anniversary tour and, true to form, showed off a new sound with “Once More,” an unplugged, acoustic album.
Their next world tour is scheduled to start either later this year, or early in 2015.