Not long ago, new wave legends Spandau Ballet, who originally disbanded in 1990 and re-formed in 2009, seemed poised for a major comeback. Their performance at South by Southwest 2014 — their first stateside concert in 28 years — was one of the hottest tickets of the Texas festival, where they also premiered their critically acclaimed documentary, Soul Boys of the Western World. The following year, Spandau launched a successful U.S. tour … and after that, fans eagerly awaited new music from these New Romantics.
But then, in July of this year, lead singer Tony Hadley posted a cryptic and seemingly out-of-the-blue message on Twitter, announcing that due to “circumstances beyond his control,” he was no longer a member of Spandau Ballet.
A statement from Tony Hadley :- I am no longer a member of the band Spandau Ballet & will not be performing with the band in the future. pic.twitter.com/KcuNGTtSFn
— Tony Hadley (@TheTonyHadley) July 3, 2017
For now, Spandau is forging ahead and promoting their second documentary (this one about their newly remastered 1986 album, Through the Barricades, with plenty of ironic and now bittersweet scenes about the bandmates’ brotherly bond and willingness to “die for one another.” And this week, the band’s guitarist and principal songwriter, Gary Kemp, speaks exclusively to Yahoo Music about Hadley’s departure and what it means for the future of the group.
“This has been Tony’s stance for the last 20-odd years, where it’s kind of ‘makeup to breakup.’ And there’s only so long you can go in and out of a dysfunctional relationship,” Kemp says. “I actually feel much better now that maybe we don’t have to pretend or worry about it anymore.”
Kemp admits that there has “always been tension” between him and Hadley, and that they “were always poles apart — politically, artistically, socially. We were very, very extremely different people.” Kemp also says Hadley never quite got over an ultimately unsuccessful 1999 lawsuit that he, multi-instrumentalist Steve Norman, and drummer John Keeble filed over Kemp’s songwriting royalties. However, Kemp stresses that around the time of Spandau’s 2014–2015 reunion, he felt a renewed kinship with the frontman. “Coming back together, it felt really good. … It seemed to be running rather smoothly, going well. But I think Tony had a line in the sand, and he didn’t go beyond that. And that was in his head; he didn’t express that to us at the time. We thought we were going to continue.”
Still, Hadley’s exit wasn’t as abrupt as it may have seemed to the band’s fans. “He told us in Hong Kong, on the last show of the tour [in September 2015], that he didn’t want to do it anymore,” Kemp reveals. “He said that he wouldn’t want to do it for another five years, at least — and when you get to our age, that sounds like the rest of your life! And then we had a lot of offers that came in and came in and came in and came in, and he kept saying, ‘No, no, not interested.’ So that, to me, is leaving the band. Tony’s heart was just always much more towards being a solo artist after the last tour, which was frustrating for everybody.”
Kemp looks at the renaissance that Spandau’s friendly ’80s rivals, Duran Duran, have enjoyed over the past few years, and he acknowledges that Spandau could have been in a similar position if they’d been able to take advantage of their post-SXSW momentum. “It’s a shame that Tony didn’t want that, because it was there, and we’d worked quite hard, with the leverage of the film and the tour. So yeah, it’s very frustrating. … We could have been so much more creative as a unit. But if one person doesn’t want to do it, then it makes it much harder.”
Hadley has continued to perform solo, crooning Spandau’s Kemp-penned classics. “It’s fine. Yeah, he’s still singing my songs. I mean, his solo career seems to be singing our songs, so that’s fine,” Kemp chuckles — though he adds that he’s less than thrilled that Hadley appears on so many nostalgia package tours like this summer’s “Lost ’80s Live” with Missing Persons, Naked Eyes, Wang Chung, and Berlin. “That’s the one thing that I would never, ever do, is have the name Spandau Ballet attached to any of those ’80s revues. And I suppose it’s my sadness, with Tony doing those.”
So, will Spandau soldier on sans Hadley? “If we find the right guy,” Kemp answers, though he balks at the idea of holding a Rock Star: INXS-style talent contest to find Hadley’s replacement. (The band revealed in a Facebook Live Q&A Tuesday that they are “actively looking” and will be holding rehearsals in “a couple of weeks” to audition new singers.) “We’ve got a process that we’re going through. But that’s all I’m saying. … Watch this space,” says Kemp.
Kemp elaborates: “I think the sound the four of us make together is exciting, and I think that sound has got a lot to do with the band members apart from Tony. … I mean, there’s plenty of groups that are not the original members, and we may well be one of them going forward. I mean, if Queen can do it.! I just saw Journey doing Dodger Stadium with a Filipino kid [Arnel Pineda] singing for them. Foreigner haven’t even got one original member left! So who knows?
“If Tony doesn’t want to do it, I think we can still plug in. I think there could be other versions of the band, and I think there’s also more new material to be had. I’m sitting in my studio now and I’ve been writing lots of stuff of late, and whether or not that ends up with a band called Spandau Ballet or not, I’m not sure. But I think there’s still creativity left in this band. … On the future side, yes, I still would like to be creative under the umbrella of the name Spandau Ballet.”
In the meantime, while fans await the band’s next move, Kemp, his bassist brother Martin, Norman, and Keeble are enthusiastically promoting the reissue of their fifth album, Through the Barricades. A rougher and more arena-rocking effort, partially influenced by their surprising friendship with Def Leppard, the album didn’t make much of dent in the U.S. due to a series of record label misfortunes (and perhaps due to American listeners and radio programmers expecting more smooth blue-eyed soul from the “True”/“Gold” hitmakers) — but it was actually bigger than Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. and Michael Jackson’s Thriller in countries like Italy. And it’s the Spandau era of which the band is most fond.
— Spandau Ballet (@SpandauBallet) September 12, 2017
“It’s definitely the album we’re proudest of; it’s the tour we’re the most proud of. I think the band had matured musically. We were really pushing ourselves in a more complex direction. I think musically and song-wise, it’s the strongest album. If I had to pick one album, it would be this one,” asserts Kemp. “We never came to America on that tour, but that tour was by far Spandau in its pomp. That was us at our best. … When we all got back together in 2009, the one show that we watched back, that we thought we would want to emulate to reinvent ourselves, was the Through the Barricades tour, because it’s by far the band at its best live.”
As for where a glamorous band like Spandau — with or without Tony Hadley — will fit in the current or future pop landscape, Kemp is unsure. “We were lucky enough to make music at a time when music was everything to young people. It was more important than it’s ever been and ever will be,” he says. “That’s stopped now, because identity is found through the internet [instead of through musical movements]. People don’t need to go out anymore to find who they are or express who they are; they can do that through Instagram or Facebook. … So now, for some reason, there’s a kind of dullness factor that people want to champion. Whether it’s Ed Sheeran or Adele or Coldplay, it’s that sense of being ordinary, someone who’s not aspiring, someone who has no kind of pizzazz, if you like. That’s seen as being something worth buying, because I don’t think it’s very threatening. So I don’t think [pop music] will ever be the same again.”
Perhaps that’s why it’s important to Kemp to preserve Spandau’s legacy with projects like the Through the Barricades reissue and with a possible new frontman. “I’ve been the one nurturing the heritage of the band for a long time,” he notes. “I think while I’m still around, we have to take great care of the product and make sure it’s still remembered well. I’m interested in that for myself, regardless of whether or not Tony is interested in it. It’s a shame — I would have liked to have done it with Tony, but he’s an extremely stubborn guy.”
Check out Yahoo Music’s classic Spandau Ballet interview from 2015, including Tony Hadley, below: