(CelebrityAccess) – As a part of a reunion tour that brought Spandau Ballet to House of Blues on Saturday, April 25th, Jim Ryan, writer of the ChicagoNow music blog Chicago At Night, spoke with actor and Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp about second chances; his band's new documentary Soul Boys of The Western World and why he feels this tour escapes the pitfalls that can often accompany the typical reunion jaunt…
Spandau Ballet's initial recording history was brief, spread across a period of only about eight years during the eighties. The band officially disbanded in 1990 and the typical stories of ego, acrimony and court cases followed soon after.
Their American touring window though closed even quicker, with their current reunion tour marking their first full run of American dates in nearly thirty years (following a 2009 reunion that never quite made it to the U.S.).
The music industry landscape has changed immensely since Spandau Ballet's biggest U.S. hit "True" hit number four on the Billboard singles chart in 1983 and Spandau bassist Martin Kemp is quick to point out that the band's primary focus right now is on perfecting a strong live show. "I think the best thing that Spandau does is play live… When we get on stage, it’s pretty much a proper rock show… So I think that’s what we’re excited about: showing as many people as possible how good the band is on stage."
The band has released strong new tracks – though, wisely, not yet in the form of a proper, full album release, choosing instead to tell their story through the eyes of the George Hencken directed documentary Soul Boys of the Western World.
Citing fun and the need to prove themselves as a viable live entity as the primary reasons for their current reunion, I spoke with Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp about second chances and writing a new chapter in the story of Spandau Ballet as the band gears up for a show Saturday night at House of Blues…
Q. Let’s start with the obvious question: Aside from the obvious financial implications, why reunite now?
Martin Kemp: Well, let me tell you one thing from the off: this isn’t about financial implications at all. This is purely because this is our hobby. This is what we love doing.
You know, it’s a funny thing actually… I always talk to my kids about this. They say to me, “Ok, what is success?” Success for me is turning your hobby into your job and enjoying it. And if you can make money along the way, that’s great. But if it was just about money, we would’ve gotten back together a long time ago. It’s taken a lot of energy to put the band back on the road. You know that everybody ended up in court and was suing each other. For twenty years, nobody spoke to each other. But the time was right for the band to get back together. I think there’s enough water under the bridge and time has healed certain wounds.
And also, we’ve grown up. We’ve grown into men rather than just young boys. I think it’s time to put the band back together because there is nothing else in this world that I like doing more than being on the stage with those boys – or those men! We’ve known each other since we were eleven years old – eleven or twelve years old. So, in a way, we went through that whole period where you’re forming your personality – but we formed our personality together.
So it really isn’t just about the money: It’s about us getting on stage and having fun.
Q. Thought it didn’t include the U.S., Spandau Ballet also got back together for a bit in 2009 following the acrimony that you just referenced. How is the reunion different this time around?
MK: In 2009, it was just about… It was really us dipping our toe in the water and finding out if anybody out there wanted to come and see us. Is Spandau Ballet still relevant to music or have people forgotten about it completely?
And, also, it was about finding out whether we could work together again as people after all the troubles that we had been through. I’m really proud of the other boys in some kind of weird way – that they’ve been able to kind of get over their problems and work with each other again. Because that’s not easy. But I’m really proud of them that they’re doing it.
Q. Is it important for Spandau Ballet to find a level of success – especially in terms of touring – in the U.S. that alluded the band previously?
MK: I think it’s just important to play to be honest with you. We went through such a long period where the band wasn’t playing at all. If you asked me, no matter what I’ve done in my life – different things with acting and directing or whatever – the thing that I enjoy the most is to get up on the stage and play with the band. That’s it for me. That’s where my adrenaline comes from. I would literally get up and play anywhere. It doesn’t matter. Because that’s where you have fun. That’s about turning your hobby into your job like I was saying.
But America is important for every band. But when you create any kind of art – whether it’s paintings or music or whatever it is, you build a building – you want as many people to see it as you can. And we’re proud of the band. I think the best thing that Spandau does is play live. And it’s been difficult over the years, I think, that we’ve never really captured how good the band is on stage on record.
So I think that’s what we’re excited about: showing as many people as possible how good the band is on stage.
Q. I hate to use the word I'm about to use but they say perception is reality and there does sort of, at least in America, tend to be the perception that Spandau Ballet is a "one-hit wonder." Do you feel like you’re more pigeonholed in the U.S. based on the success of one or two songs than you are elsewhere in the world and is that a bother?
MK: Yeah, of course. Of course. But, you know, it answers your last question. That’s exactly what I was saying: the band is slightly pigeonholed over there but that’s what we kind of want to break through to show people how good the band is live. When we get on stage, it’s pretty much a proper rock show. That’s what the band is. That’s what we originated as is a rock band coming out of the clubs.
So it kind of is true that we’re pigeonholed but it’s a nice one to try and have to break down.
Q. Spandau Ballet is typically lumped in with the New Romantic movement but the band’s roots go all the way back to 1976 – before you entered the picture – as your brother [Spandau Ballet guitarist and backing vocalist, Gary Kemp] and Steve Norman formed the band The Cut. That’s the same year The Clash, Damned and Buzzcocks formed and only a year after the Sex Pistols formed. How difficult was it for a band like Spandau Ballet to be finding its footing during a time when something as radically different as the punk scene was taking the U.K. by storm?
MK: The thing is that when the band started – when you’re talking about ’76 or ’77 – the band was really a school band that was playing in the school and such, in the music room. So it wasn’t really a formed band or such in reality.
But punk was a big part of all of our lives. I think punk was the music movement that opened the door to everybody that could just about play an instrument and let them join a band. You’ve gotta figure, before punk it was progressive rock wasn’t it? Like Emerson Lake and Palmer and Brain Salad Surgery. You had to be an incredible musician to be in a band – but punk changed all of that. All of us in the band were involved in that punk movement. We went down to the Roxy watching Generation X or the Pistols and The Clash – and that was kind of us.
But the New Romantic movement came out of the punks. Because punk was like all about destroying and no future and wearing leather and everything was black, no future. But when that finished and came to an end, the thing that came along next was all about optimism and looking to the future and that was the New Romantics. It was all about color.
So it wasn’t so much that we were the New Romantics and we were struggling inside this punk movement. New Romantic was the thing that came after punk.
Spandau Ballet – Soul Boys of the Western World
Q. Digging a bit deeper into the catalog, there’s certainly more to Spandau Ballet than the new wave/pop thing for which you’re frequently pigeonholed over here. I hear a lot of Nile Rodgers like guitar and I’ve heard your brother name-check David Bowie an awful lot. What would you say were some of the biggest influences on Spandau Ballet as the band started to build what would become a defining New Romantic sound in the late seventies and early eighties?
MK: When we first came along, the biggest influences had to be kind of that German electronic pop that came out of Berlin in the 1980’s. It was that whole period when Bowie was settling in Berlin. The stuff that was coming out of there – like Kraftwerk. And what we did, I think, when the band first started, was take that idea of using synths – synthesizers , which were kind of a brand new instrument at the time – and laying it on top of the original rock band that we were. So instead of like a lead guitar, we would put on a lead synthesizer riff. So that was kind of a main influence on the band.
You know, we just released this documentary Soul Boys of the Western World. And that was the whole point of that movie was to kind of fill in the blanks for people. Because in America the record that broke Spandau was “True.” In Italy the record that broke there was “Fly For You.” So there were big gaps in Spandau Ballet that people never knew about.
So that’s exactly the reason we thought, this year, instead of settling down and making a whole, brand new album, we’d put our time and our energy into making the movie.
Q. Let’s talk about the documentary. How did it come about?
MK: Well, first of all, it came about from… the last time we went on tour in 2009, one of the tracks called “Round and Roud” that was a big hit through Europe… We took about four minutes of home movies and we showed it up on the big screen behind the drums on the giant screen. And it went down so well that the idea of making an archive movie – a proper documentary – just seemed to be the next step.
So we had something like 350 archived hours of footage to choose from and we gave it all to the director George Hencken. And, one at a time, the band went in and told their story – not into a camera but into a microphone. So there’s no kind of talking heads in the movie. It’s all about saying it into a microphone in a dark room. So the whole thing became the truth. And honesty. I always thought when you talk to a camera, it’s almost like you’re talking to somebody – a pair of eyes. And your body language kind of tightens up a little bit. You’re aware of somebody looking at you when you talk to a camera. But the way George did it was just tell your story into a microphone. And that way the whole thing became truthful.
And it’s funny, the first time I watched it back – the film – was in Texas at South By Southwest this year. And it was the first time I was sitting there listening to the other boys’ story – how much it hurt them when the band broke up. How much they were lost in their lives. And, at the time – just being thirty years old at the time – I never stopped to listen or to take note of what it was doing to them. I was just on to my next thing. I think that was a tough one, watching that back with the boys.
Q. To wrap this up in film terms, now that you guys are back together again, does the Spandau Ballet story have a happy ending… or is the ending to the story yet to be written?
MK: No. You know what it is? It’s a happy beginning. It’s a happy start. Because that’s where we feel like we are. We had twenty years off! I think, if we never had that break – if we never had that twenty years – we wouldn’t be sitting here today with the film, with new music, going out on a world tour (most of which is doing incredible business). We wouldn’t be doing that.
So, I think, the only way to look at this – being back in the band – is a new start. To get a second chance. – Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)
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