The story of new romantic kings Spandau Ballet is a fun old romp
“John Keeble always says there’s three things that break bands up: money, drugs or women. I think there’s a fourth one – ego.” As Spandau Ballet’s saxophonist Steve Norman repeats drummer Keeble’s killer quote, the camera freezes on sole songwriter Gary Kemp’s face and the message is clear. Like the Star Wars saga, Soul Boys Of The Western World is a tale of redemption, of Kemp’s descent into megalomania and his eventual salvation. Also like the Star Wars saga, the newer stuff’s a bit rubbish.
One of the more preposterous groups of the 1980s, the Islington band are given intriguing context in George Hencken’s documentary, their story unpicked against a backdrop of Thatcherism, the fall of the Berlin Wall and former Labour party leader Neil Kinnock going arse over tit under a wave on Brighton beach. Spandau’s cultural heft is secured by a mixture of seismic political change and ludicrous pratfalls. Hencken’s directing is restless, all jump cuts, archive interviews, news reports and voiceovers and no contemporary images of the band in conversation, but it’s all somehow suitable for five men who moved fast, chasing a luxury lifestyle they eventually attained, if only for a moment.
They emerge from punk, Norman, Kemp and Keeble co-opting frontman Tony Hadley (“The boy could really sing,” says Keeble, generously) before Kemp’s brother Martin (“the best-looking bloke we knew”) joins on bass. Finding kindred spirits at Visage singer Steve Strange’s Blitz Club in Soho, where boys and girls in eyeliner embrace New Romanticism, Spandau Ballet wow with their blend of soul and new wave.
This marriage of fashion and blue-eyed soul becomes Spandau’s making and undoing. Looking back, tracks like ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ sound cutting edge, but the band’s emphasis on style undermines them. Although they ensnare the mainstream with Number One smash ‘True’ (“I didn’t think it was a single,” reveals loveable 54-year-old buffoon Hadley) and sold-out global tours, Gary Kemp’s quest for artistic acceptance is at odds with their image, and no-one else is on his side anyway. By 1989, Norman’s fibbing, “There’s a big spirit in the band.” “Yeah,” adds Hadley. “Booze.”
The rest is splits, court cases and the inevitable reunion. Hencken doesn’t dwell on Hadley, Norman and Keeble’s failed legal bid for royalties from Gary Kemp, but it’s the springboard for rapprochement. “I’ve missed them for the last 20 years,” Gary swears in 2009. Whether anyone else did is unclear. Still, those early years are a fun old romp and Hencken captures them with skill, wit, pace and an exhausting number of shots of Martin Kemp in Speedos. “It was always about the glamour,” Martin insists – and hits the nail on the head.
Director: George Hencken
Release date: 26 Sep, 2014