Spandau Ballet have sold over 25 million albums, played live to hundreds of thousands and their 1983 single ‘True’ is still one of the most played records on US radio ever. At the height of their success in the ’80s, the New Wave icons were one of the biggest bands in the world.
Fast-forward to 2020 and the group recently celebrated their 40th anniversary. What better way to remember the good times than with a feature-length film? The Kemps: All True is a hilarious, meta spoof-documentary that reveals how the careers of Spandau Ballet brothers Martin (bass) and Gary (lead guitar) Kemp have lately taken strange turns. This is due to the film’s director & writer Rhys Thomas OBE, who was also behind the successful run of mockumentaries centred on fictional prog rocker Brian Pern.
A massive music aficionado – his 2012 documentary Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender won an International Emmy – Thomas told the NME about his favourite scenes and their inspiration in this new self-aware comedy. A behind-the-scenes film about 1980s chart-topping pop star brothers sounds familiar, but The Kemps: All True was written and due to be filmed in 2018, way before Bros: After the Screaming Stops reignited the nation’s passion for conkers.
“You can’t spoof that. When it was on a lot of people were saying it’s like a Brian Pern film,” says Thomas of pop’s answer to Spinal Tap. “The picture of the bulldog with a pint. You can’t spoof that. That is unspoofable.” So, why should you watch? We got Thomas to tease the best bits from 2020’s funniest band-based movie.
Gary Kemp parodies Ronnie Wood and displays his art
Mock provisos for Gary participating in the film include a profile of his art but no discussion of Spandau Ballet, rock star demands Thomas is familiar with. “After the Queen documentary and Brian Pern I was asked to do a documentary about Ronnie Wood,” says Thomas. “I was told it would be interesting to see my take on him, but was told he wouldn’t talk about the Rolling Stones and he wanted to talk about his art. And it was going to be a 90 minute documentary. I thought, ‘Really?’ I tried very hard to think how I could fill 90 minutes without talking about the Rolling Stones and just talk about Ronnie Wood’s art. I said no in the end.”
Martin Kemp writes a gangster Marvel film
The brothers started out as child actors and later returned to the screen, playing London gangsters the Krays in the eponymous 1990 thriller. Martin leans into their tough guy past and tries to find investors for a movie script he’s written, a Marvel/DC expanded universe of hoodlums called The Hardest British Bastards Of The Galaxy, which stars Christopher Eccleston, Danny Mays, and, hopefully, Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
“There are endless gangster films. You see them all the time on iTunes, like Rise of the Footsoldier Part 10. Sometimes Martin has been in a few of the higher end ones because of The Krays connection,” says Thomas. “I thought, ‘What’s the most ludicrous film we could possibly make?’ and that was it. I hadn’t really seen anyone take the mickey out of that kind of film before. Now I want to make it.’
Meat-free alternative ‘Wonge’ is unveiled
Aside from turning his creativity to canvas, Gary also becomes the face of a new meat-free product called “Wonge”, sure to set mouths watering if nothing else is available. Thomas explains he had a certain product range in mind: “I was just thinking of something very pretentious. It’s based on [Gwyneth Paltrow lifestyle brand] Goop and that type of thing.”
He also found it a funny way to expand Gary’s character. “The idea is that Martin’s not as highbrow as Gary, who makes art, has written a book about car parking spaces, and has his own food grains. It’s all about how grand this person can become.”
The brothers launch their own cryptocurrency
During The Kemps: All True it’s revealed there is a third Kemp brother – Ross (played by Perry Benson). Less artistically endowed than Martin or Gary, Ross wants to launch Bitbob, his version of Bitcoin, and Thomas drew on an incident for this running gag.
“I lived in America for two years and I basically hated it,” he says. “I met someone who had put a lot of money into crypto-coins and was bragging about it, saying ‘I’ve made $90,000 in two days’. He told me I should invest some money. Two days later he’d lost everything.”
"I'd like to talk about my art…"
— Spandau Ballet (@SpandauBallet) July 3, 2020
Martin and Shirlie Kemp row about Pepsi
Shirlie Kemp is half of pop duo Pepsi & Shirlie, who first performed as Wham!’s backing singers before forging their own chart career. Shirlie and Martin have been married since 1988, but in one scene he expresses a preference for Pepsi.
“In order to get people to do the film in the first place, I never wanted to go too personal about their private lives,” says Thomas. “It’s fine with Pepsi & Shirlie because it’s silly. Shirlie and Martin’s row is one of my favourite moments.”