News / Arts & Entertainment

After 28 Years, Spandau Ballet Returns to US

Spandau Ballet members Gary Kemp, John Keeble, Tony Hadley, Steve Norman and Martin Kemp, from left, pose for a photograph during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, March 13, 2014.
Spandau Ballet members Gary Kemp, John Keeble, Tony Hadley, Steve Norman and Martin Kemp, from left, pose for a photograph during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, March 13, 2014.
Katherine Cole
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.”
 
After 28 Years, Spandau Ballet Returns to US
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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
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.

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Comments
     
by: Dan from: Austin TX
April 09, 2014 12:13 PM
I was at the concert during SXSW. Incredible show. It had lots of energy and was a in a great venue. I had no idea that they had not played the states in 28 years. That made the concert that much more special.
In Response

by: Katherine Cole from: Washington, DC
April 10, 2014 10:49 AM
Ah, you're the envy of many people around the globe. That was a very special show! I hope you'll stick around and check out our music programs!

by: Eduardo Olvera from: Mexico
April 07, 2014 11:33 PM
Great band, great songs I remember 70‘s and 80‘s, long nights dancing with a old friends thanks for all songs
In Response

by: Katherine Cole from: Washington, DC
April 08, 2014 9:06 AM
Hi Eduardo! Glad you enjoyed the story. It was a fun interview.
KC

by: John FH from: Cambridge, MA
April 04, 2014 5:45 PM
Loved this piece...so great to hear a 'feel-good' story from a band from that era. I am truly looking forward to seeing the documentary. Thanks for reminding me of this excellent music!
In Response

by: Katherine Cole from: Washington, DC
April 08, 2014 9:03 AM
Thanks for your comment---glad you enjoyed the story. No word on a US release for the film, but keep checking back!

by: HeatherV from: Los Angeles
April 03, 2014 10:37 PM
Great piece! Brought me back to high school days: Duran Duran, Culture Club, Simply Red...plus the soundtrack from Breakfast Club. 80s music unfairly gets a bad rap. Mark my words, even parachute pants will make a comeback! Thanks for the memory, Katharine!
In Response

by: Katherine Cole from: Washington, DC
April 04, 2014 10:51 AM
Thanks Heather! Speaking of 80s fashion, did you check out the trailer for Soul Boys of the Western World??? If not, clink on the link above.

by: Tricia
April 02, 2014 5:06 PM
I still love those boys like it's 1985! Can't wait for the film to be released! And-- they're finally going to tour the US! Road trip, ladies! Katherine Cole, you're a lucky girl, good job.
In Response

by: Katherine Cole from: DC
April 03, 2014 11:58 AM
Thanks Tricia. Very fun interview--hope you get a chance to see the tour! BTW, we've got lots of music programs on VOA--you can find the archive of my past shows and all the others here: http://www.voanews.com/archive/roots-branches/20140303/672/1461.html

by: MissTrish from: Austin, TX
April 02, 2014 4:38 PM
Thank you for this lovely piece on one of my very favorite bands! Spandau Ballet was the absolute highlight of my SXSW this year. I was lucky enough to attend Soul Boys of the Western World as well be in the front row during their set at the Vulcan Gas Company and at the Paramount during their song (Satellite of Love) at the Lou Reed Tribute Show. There's a lot of love for them in the US of A and I'm so pleased to hear that a tour is being discussed.
In Response

by: Katherine Cole from: Washington DC
April 03, 2014 12:00 PM
Lucky you! Thanks for stopping by--hope you'll check out some of my other programs here (and all our other music shows, too!)
KC

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