Martin Kemp: “Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran were like Oasis and Blur”

In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Spandau Ballet bassist and presenter Martin Kemp

What is the name of the Spandau Ballet bassist Edward Norton plays in Modern Family?

“Oh my God, he was brilliant in that. Doesn’t he come in as Richard Miller? Oh, he’s a fictional one? I can’t remember.”

WRONG. He played fictional Spandau Ballet bassist/back-up singer Izzy LaFontaine.

“Oh yeah! ‘Cause he comes in and says: ‘I’m the bass guitarist from Spandau Ballet that’s between Richard Miller and Martin Kemp’. When I look back at spoofs of us on TV, that’s my favourite one ever. I was just shocked – it was amazing and it’s such a great American TV show.”

Will we ever see a Spandau Ballet biopic? Possibly starring Edward Norton…

“Well, we already did a feature-length music documentary Soul Boys of the Western World, in 2014, which covered the whole story. We had been working on a stage musical but that came crashing down on us a few months ago because of COVID-19. As soon as we get over this, we’ll pick it up again. There’s a script and it’s a nice musical, so hopefully we can push forward with it and see where it goes.”

Which indie icon once said: ‘Somebody should pay Spandau Ballet £20 million not to reform’?

“Haven’t got a clue! I’ve never heard that in my life, but I’m of the mindset that any press is good press! That’s just fun banter to me, and we all say stuff like that. Who was it?”

WRONG. It was Johnny Marr, in 2009. 

“He’s a friend of Gary’s [Kemp, his brother and main Spandau songwriter] – I love The Smiths and think Johnny’s brilliant. When you’ve been in the business this long, these things come and go. You laugh about ‘em and forget em.”

When Spandau Ballet faced off against your arch nemesis Duran Duran on BBC1’s Pop Quiz in 1984, what was the final score?

“I can’t remember the final score, but I know we lost against Duran Duran. That was great and an iconic show. I was always proud of the fact that Spandau and Duran Duran were like Oasis and Blur or the Beatles and The Rolling Stones – where you pick two bands of a generation and you’re either on one side or the other. But I still live by the fact I believe Duran Duran cheated on Pop Quiz!”

WRONG. Duran Duran won by 52 points to Spandau’s 40.

“We were ridiculously competitive. Whatever they did, we tried to beat – and vice versa. To the point where it wasn’t just about what number we were at in the charts, it was about how much money we’d spent on our recent completely overpriced videos and which location we went to film them. Even to the point where we were once at a party and the competition pathetically turned into who could stay up the latest. Whenever we met the boys, it was only friendly – and still is.”


In the TV series Skins, the character JJ serenades Lara with a rendition of Spandau Ballet’s 1983 chart-topper ‘True’  Which instrument does he use?

“Haven’t got a clue on this, but I’m just going to go with guitar?”

WRONG. He uses a ukulele – backed by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

“Oh right! I never saw that one!”

‘True’ knocked David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ off its Number One chart position. Ever meet him?

“Yeah, a couple of times. The first time I ever met Bowie, we were at a party in the studio where he recorded ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ [Trident]. Bowie’s my hero. I grew up with posters of him on my wall, so I spent all evening looking over checking to see that he was still there. By the time I’d got the courage to go over and say hello, I was completely drunk. I shook his hand and within about two seconds, I fell over against the wall because I was so hammered. Luckily, only a few months later, I met him properly at Bob Geldof’s wedding – and he didn’t remember me collapsing! (Laughs).”

“Bowie was aware of every new band. He came down to the Blitz club in London [the night where Spandau were the house band at] and took a few of the guys including Steve Strange and placed them in the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video. He had his finger on the pulse.”

What were the most surreal moments of the Blitz club?

“The first time I ever went it was a shock to the system because of how colourful it was, and how you could be whoever you wanted – completely sexually ambiguous, you could wear whatever you wanted as long as you looked at yourself as a hero for the day. My favourite memory was there was a club up the road where they were dressing more like pirates – using Vivienne Westwood clothes. They came down to the Blitz one night because there was a row. And there was a fight inside the Blitz between these pirates and the guys in the Blitz who were dressed as space cowboys, or in Roman tunics or whatever.  It was like a cross between a fancy-dress panto and a gangster movie (Laughs).”

Last year, you released an album of duets with your wife Shirlie (of ‘80s duo Pepsi & Shirlie). In his autobiography, which fictional sitcom character claims that Pepsi or Shirlie was responsible for triggering his Toblerone addiction?

Wait a minute! Shirlie told me about this once! Um – Oh my God – I can’t remember.”

WRONG. It was Alan Partridge. In his 2011 memoir ‘I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan’, ‘Pepsi (or Shirley) [sic] from Pepsi and Shirley’ introduced him to his first evil pyramid of chocolate.

“Alan Partridge! Of course! I’ve been in this business for 50 years now – since I was eight, and I spent a lot of years where I wasn’t at home. So this is the nicest part of my life now where I get to work with my family. I’m working with my son Roman [the Capital Breakfast presenter] on our talk show Sunday Best and Gogglebox, I made an album of duets with Shirlie and we’re writing a joint autobiography together at the moment. So it’s lovely to be around my family and not sat in a hotel room twiddling my thumbs looking at my diary thinking: when can I go home? We’ve also got a comedy The Kemps: All True coming out on BBC Two. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever made. It’s me and Gary taking the mick out of ourselves. It’s a bit like  our family’s Spinal Tap, and I can’t wait for people to see it.”


Which 2004 Nelly song sampled ‘True’?

“Um… what was it called again?”

WRONG. It’s ‘N’ Dey Say’

“I’ve already forgot what it’s called even though you’ve just told me! (Laughs) But it was a good track though – I remember that!”

“When we recorded ‘True’, we’d come from a funny place because our second album, ‘Diamond’, didn’t do that well and just didn’t work – our necks were only saved by the single ‘Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)’ doing well.. We knew we had to change our sound because it wasn’t working, so we went to record at  Compass Point in the Bahamas and recorded the ‘True’ album, which gave it a softer laidback feel. And you hear on songs like ‘True’ and ‘Gold’ our transformation from a cult act into a proper pop band.”

Name the two ‘90s movies you played famous monsters in

“Oh! One’s Frankenstein in…what’s that movie called? I don’t know, but it was number two of a series.”

WRONG. You play Baron Von Frankenstein in Waxwork II: Lost in Time and the titular vampire in 1995’s Embrace of the Vampire.

“Two great films! (Laughs) They were a lot of fun. When I did those movies, I was living in LA and it was after The Krays [in which he starred as the infamous British gangster twins alongside his brother Gary]. Gary had just shot The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston, Sadie Frost – who he was married to at the time – had just shot Dracula with Gary Oldman, and I was living in the house and just getting all the B-films that were coming along (Laughs). I ended up staying out there for three years, using an American accent and making some nice films. We only left after the Rodney King riots happened.”

Did The Krays ever give you any feedback on your portrayal?

“Yeah, Ronnie loved it. He said the only thing he was disappointed in was that we used machine guns instead of machetes! (Laughs)”

One of the more bizarre B-movies you made was a science fiction film with Grace Jones and Adam Ant in 1995…

Cyber Bandits! (Laughs) All I remember about that film was having to wait until midday every shooting day for Grace to come out of her trailer. When she did, she didn’t even know what she was wearing – it was completely out of continuity. She’d just wear her own clothes! It was the maddest thing I’ve ever come across. I’ve never seen somebody on a film allowed to do that. She’s a lovely lady – but she’s absolutely off-the-wall and her timings are odd.”


Who did Spandau Ballet perform between at Isle of Wight Festival in 2010?

“Do. Not. Know. Haven’t got a clue! Because I doubt if I even saw them because before you go on, you’re tuning up in your dressing room and getting ready when a band is on, and then there’s always a quick turnaround.”

WRONG. You were sandwiched between Editors and Friendly Fires.

Who did you present a Brit Award to in 2004?

“Don’t know!”

WRONG. It was The Darkness – for Best British Group.

“Aggghhh! See, I’m rubbish at this! (Laughs)”


Which Spandau Ballet gig did you recreate in cake form on The Great Celebrity Bake Off?

“Oh! Live Aid! (Laughs) Hallelujah! At least I’ve got one!”

WRONSorry, force of habitCORRECT!  

“Live Aid’s one of my favourite memories of all-time. I had the real pleasure recently when I saw the Bohemian Rhapsody movie and there’s a section of the movie which is backstage at Live Aid, and they got it so perfectly that it was like looking down a time-warp for me. Before Band Aid and Live Aid, no bands really spoke to each other – the closest we got was a nod or wink in the corridor leading up to doing Top of the Pops, so it changed music as well. It was one of those moments in time that you know are going to be historic while it’s happening.”

The verdict: 1/10

“I was trying for zero out of 10 but there you go!”

Martin and Roman’s Sunday Best! airs Sundays at 8.30am on ITV1