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Spandau Ballet / / are an English band formed in London in 1979. The band were inspired by, and an integral part of, the electro movement. They became one of the most successful groups to emerge during the New Romantic era. The band's classic line-up features brothers Gary Kemp and Martin Kemp on guitars, vocalist Tony Hadley, saxophonist Steve Norman, and drummer John Keeble.
The group's debut single "To Cut a Long Story Short", which reached No. 5 in the UK in 1980, was the first of ten UK top 10 hits, including a No. 1 single "True", a No. 2 single "Gold", and two No. 3 singles: "Chant No. 1" and "Only When You Leave". The band have had eight UK top 10 albums, including three "greatest hits" compilations and an album of re-recorded material.
At the height of their popularity in 1984, they received the Brit Award for technical excellence. The band split in 1990 and the members pursued solo careers, with both Kemp brothers winning acting roles. Since their reformation in 2009, the band have been recognised at the Q Awards and Gary Kemp's songwriting has been honoured by the Ivor Novello Awards.
1976–1982: Formation and early success
The band was formed in 1976 as The Cut, with Gary Kemp and Steve Norman on guitar, later saxophone and percussion. Kemp and Norman were attending Dame Alice Owen's School in Islington North London, and were close friends, as they shared a similar interest in music and a common desire to form a band. They were joined by fellow student John Keeble, who met Norman when he stored his drum kit in the school's music room, and the three met regularly at lunchtimes to practice. They were joined by bass player Michael Ellison and by Tony Hadley, who knew Norman, as lead singer. After a few months, Richard Miller replaced Ellison on bass, before Kemp's younger brother Martin Kemp took over the role a couple of years later. By this time, the band had already gained some live experience. Steve Dagger, a close school friend of the band members, was asked by Norman and Gary Kemp to manage them. He was to be an integral part of the band's success.
The band changed its name to The Makers in late-1976 and played as a punk band at the Roxy in their early years. In 1978 they became a power pop band and changed the name to Gentry, under which they played a few gigs, including at Kingsway College. They changed the band's name to Spandau Ballet after a friend of the band, journalist and DJ Robert Elms, saw the phrase "Spandau Ballet" scrawled on the wall of a nightclub lavatory during a visit to Berlin. The expression "Spandau Ballet" was slang used by Allied troops in the trenches in the First World War referring to the twitching of the corpses hanging on the barbed wire and repeatedly hit by Spandau machine gun fire from the German lines. The name also refers to Spandau Prison and the many hangings there, especially in 1945–46 of Nazi war criminals, when those being hanged would twitch and jump at the end of a rope.
The new Spandau Ballet, with Martin Kemp and Hadley, began performing with this name around London. Their music had been in the style of the early Rolling Stones or The Kinks, but became more electronic after they attended clubs such as Billy's and Blitz where the New Romantic scene was spearheaded and they listened to bands like Kraftwerk and Telex.
Spandau Ballet was involved in a major bidding war, but signed to Chrysalis Records and released "To Cut a Long Story Short," produced by the electronic musician Richard James Burgess. Released 10 days after the band emerged from the studio, "To Cut a Long Story Short" became a top 5 hit in late 1980. This was followed by further top 20 hits with "The Freeze", "Musclebound", and the Gold-certified debut album Journeys to Glory in 1981.
The follow-up album, Diamond, also produced by Burgess, was released in 1982. This album was certified Gold by the BPI and featured the funk-flavoured Top 3 hit "Chant No. 1". The band had Burgess remix every single from both albums for inclusion on each single's B-side and for 12-inch club releases. These mixes were later released as a boxed set. However, the second single from Diamond was "Paint Me Down," which broke their run of top 20 hits by stalling at No. 30. The third single, "She Loved Like Diamond", failed to make the UK Top 40 at all.
Trevor Horn remixed the track "Instinction", which was released as the fourth single from the album. Backed with a special dance remix of "Chant No. 1" on the 12-inch single version, the release was very well received. It returned the band to the UK top 10 after the poor chart performance of their previous two singles. The group also had success in the United States when "Chant No. 1" peaked at No. 17 on the dance charts in 1981.
1983–1989: International success and decline
The band released their third album, True, in March 1983. Produced by Tony Swain and Steve Jolley, the album featured a slicker pop sound. It was at this point that Steve Norman began playing saxophone for the band. Preceded by the title track which reached number one in various countries, the album also reached number one in the UK. Their next single, "Gold", reached number 2.
The follow-up album, Parade, was released in June 1984, and its singles were again big successes in the charts in Europe, Oceania and Canada. The album's opening song, "Only When You Leave", became the band's last American hit. At the end of 1984, the band performed on the Band Aid charity single and in 1985 performed at Wembley Stadium as part of Live Aid. During this same year, Spandau Ballet achieved platinum status with the compilation The Singles Collection, which kept the focus on the band between studio albums and celebrated its five years of success. However, the album was released by Chrysalis Records without the band's approval and the band instigated legal action against the label.
In 1986 Spandau Ballet signed to CBS Records and released the album Through the Barricades, in which the band moved away from the pop and soul influences of True and Parade and more toward rock. Though the first single, "Fight For Ourselves", peaked at 15 in the UK, the title track and the album both reached the Top 10 in the UK and Europe.
After a hiatus from recording, the band released their next album, Heart Like a Sky, in September 1989. The album and its singles were unsuccessful in the UK, and the album itself was not released in the United States. However, It did well in Italy - where its singles "Raw" and "Be Free with Your Love" reached the Top 10 - and also in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.
1990–1999: Break-up and solo projects
In the 1990s, the band split up after a disagreement about royalties. Hadley, Norman and Keeble launched an unsuccessful court case against Gary Kemp for a share of Kemp's songwriting royalties from his work with Spandau Ballet. Although they vowed to appeal the verdict, they later decided against this. The three non-Kemp members then continued to tour as a trio, but they had to sell their shares in Spandau Ballet's company to Gary Kemp to pay off legal debts. Because the company owned the rights to the name of Spandau Ballet, the trio had to tour under the moniker "Hadley, Norman and Keeble, ex-Spandau Ballet".
In 1990, the Kemp brothers played the lead roles in the film The Krays. Martin Kemp landed an acting role in the UK soap opera EastEnders. Gary Kemp also did more acting, appearing in a supporting role in the Whitney Houston hit The Bodyguard. In 1995 he released his only solo album, Little Bruises. Meanwhile, Tony Hadley tried to establish a solo career but with little success.
After leaving EastEnders, Martin Kemp continued acting in various high-profile projects and appeared on TV in other roles. He wrote and directed his first film, Martin Kemp's Stalker. Gary Kemp wrote songs with Paul Stratham, who had written songs for Dido, continued acting on stage, in film and in television, and worked on the musicals Begbug and A Terrible Beauty with Guy Pratt. Steve Norman moved to Ibiza, where he formed a lounge band, Cloudfish, with Rafa Peletey and Shelley Preston in 2001. Hadley released three studio albums, landed the lead role in the musical Chicago and won the ITV reality show Reborn in the USA. In 1999, Hadley appeared as a guest vocalist on the Alan Parsons album The Time Machine, performing lead vocals on the song "Out of the Blue".
In early 2009, there was much speculation that the band was set to perform later that year. Although the band did not comment on these reports, the official Spandau Ballet website encouraged fans to sign up "for an exciting announcement", fuelling rumours that a reunion was imminent. Jonathan Ross mentioned during his BBC Radio 2 programme on 21 March 2009, that the band were re-forming and that he had been invited to the reunion party.
The band confirmed the rumours at a press conference on 25 March 2009, on board HMS Belfast in London, a return to the venue of one of their first gigs to announce their comeback tour. The band began a world tour in October 2009, starting with eight dates across Ireland and the UK, the first of which was in Dublin on 13 October 2009. The tickets for the UK and Ireland shows went on pre-sale on the official Spandau Ballet website on 25 March 2009. They went on general release on 27 March 2009. For the general release tickets, the London O2 arena tickets sold out within 20 minutes and an extra two dates were added there because of demand. The band also announced an extra date in Birmingham and added Liverpool to the tour. Members gave their "first public performance and interview anywhere in the world for 19 years" on the BBC television show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross on 24 April 2009.
On 19 October 2009, the group released a new album, Once More, which featured reworked versions of previous songs plus two new songs, including the single of the same name. The album reached the UK Top 10. Virgin Media honoured Spandau Ballet as the Best Comeback of 2009 in the Virgin Media Awards.
Spandau Ballet went on tour in Australia during April 2010 with Tears For Fears. After a headline set at Isle of Wight Festival, the group played their last UK show of the Reformation Tour at Newmarket Racecourse on 25 June 2010.
The band came together again in 2014 to promote a documentary about themselves and 1980s culture more broadly, Soul Boys of the Western World, which premiered at the Royal Albert Hall. It was directed by longtime Julien Temple producer, George Hencken. Band members attended South by Southwest (their first public appearance in North America since 1985) and the Cannes Film Festival to drum up support for the film.
It was confirmed on 31 July 2014, that Spandau Ballet were working on new material in the studio with Trevor Horn. In the UK, the band appeared in an ITV show, Spandau Ballet – True Gold, in which they performed several hits and were interviewed in front of a studio audience. The band performed their 1980s hit single "True" and a new song called "This is the Love" on Jimmy Kimmel Live on 11 November 2014. It was their US late-night TV debut and their first US TV appearance since 1985 when they played on Soul Train. They were there to promote their new greatest hits collection called The Story – The Very Best of Spandau Ballet, which also contains three new songs. The album reached the UK Top 10.
The band embarked on another world tour in 2015. In January 2015, they appeared on The Today Show, performing "True". They also appeared on The Talk on 27 July 2015 to perform "True".
On 3 July 2017, Tony Hadley announced on Twitter that due to circumstances beyond his control, he was no longer a member of the band.
In popular culture
The song "True" has been sampled in many songs, most notably P.M. Dawn's "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss" in 1991 and Lloyd's "You" in 2007. "True" is featured in the movies "Sixteen Candles" and The Wedding Singer sung by Steve Buscemi's character. The song "Gold" appears on a UK advert for Flora margarine.
Actor Edward Norton appeared on the ABC sitcom Modern Family as Izzy LaFontaine, a fictional bass player/backup vocalist for Spandau Ballet ("between Richard Miller and Martin Kemp"), in the episode "Great Expectations."
In series 4, episode 2 of Skins, JJ Jones and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain serenade Lara with a rendition of Spandau Ballet's "True". "Gold" is featured in the closing credits of the episode.