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INTERVIEW: MARTIN KEMP, Spandau Ballet – May 2015

| 21 May 2015 | Reply

INTERVIEW: MARTIN KEMP, Spandau Ballet – May 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

I got Martin Kemp on the line to discuss Spandau Ballet’s startling new documentary Soul Boys Of The Western World and their Australian tour which climaxes with a headlining appearance at Perth Arena, this Friday, 22 May.

Martin Kemp

Spandau Ballet enjoyed a string of chart successes through the ‘80s, none more popular than the singles True and Gold, both top ten hits in Australia. By the end of the decade though, the band broke up and barely spoke to each other for twenty years, before reforming in 2009 for the album Once More and a world tour. Six years on and they are back, this time with the documentary film Soul Boys Of The Western World under their belt, and a greatest hits album called The Story, featuring a few new tracks.

“Basically Spandau Ballet are a pretty standard rock band,” declares bass player Martin Kemp. “Guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and a vocalist. We have a sax player who plays guitar [too]. It’s pretty standard. What we do, is we can set up in any room and we can play those songs that everybody knows. I think when it comes to recording, it’s pretty much the same.

“We are a band, we go away and we rehearse the songs in a room for 5 [or] 6 days, before we take them into the studio. When we get into the studio, we work as if we’re a band. We lay the tracks down as if we were a band. It’s not like were you get, David Guetta, who will work on a million sounds and a million samples. We are what we are.”

With the documentary and album finally released, Spandau Ballet are focussing on touring for now, but more material is a possibility for further down the track.

“At the moment we are in the middle of this world tour,” Kemp explains, “and that should go on ‘til the end of September, early October. It’s a long way down the line for us to think about that. Everybody says ‘why didn’t you bring out a new album this time?’ We spent two years making the documentary, Soul Boys Of The Western World! That was kind of a reintroduction. We all felt at the time, it was better us spending our time making that, than it was to make a new album. We put three new songs on the greatest hits album, The Story, which is what we had time to do.

“We spent most of our time really absorbed in making the movie. I think it’s working out pretty well for us, in the way that a lot of people in a lot of countries think that Spandau Ballet started with the records True and Gold, [but] there is a history before that. [The film] was kind of filling in the blanks for a lot of people. We thought it was worthwhile to do that. Also, it isn’t everyday you get an opportunity to make a movie – the opportunity came up for us and we felt it was the right time to do it.”

Spandau live

After the band broke up relations between some members degenerated into acrimony, with a bitter court case being fought over royalties between Kemp’s older brother Gary – the primary songwriter of the band – and the rest of the band – singer Tony Hadley, drummer John Keeble and guitarist/saxophonist Stephen Norman. The younger Kemp stayed out of that fight, refusing to publically take sides, and his older brother eventually won the battle. It took another ten years before the band would reunite, and making the movie was a cathartic experience for all involved.

“Yeah, it was a really difficult one, emotionally” Kemp states. “We all recorded our voice-overs separately, for the film. There was stuff I was listening to from the other boys – Tony, Steve, John and my brother – I was hearing on the film for the first time. I had never heard their side of the story. It was an emotional journey, yeah. But it’s cathartic, and it’s still cathartic today. We will be sitting together doing an interview, talking about it openly. It’s pretty much like therapy.”

Resolving that acrimony was paramount to the band being able to tour together again.

“How did we get over it? Because there is something bigger than just us: there was the band,” Kemp says. “The music, which essentially was the thing that brought us all back together. We’re not silly, songs like True, Gold and Run While You Leave mean so much to people. Even when we are on stage the last couple of months playing around the world, you can see how much those songs mean to people. Those songs are kind of the theme songs for important moments in people’s lives. It’s an incredible pleasure to be able to do that, to make people happy. I think what we all realised was the band was bigger than us as individuals.”

Early incarnations of Spandau Ballet performed around London under the monikers The Cut, The Makers and Gentry at the height of the U.K. punk explosion. By the time Martin joined his big brother in the band in 1979 they relabelled themselves Spandau Ballet [a term used by Allied soldiers in World War Two to describe the twitching of corpses caught up in barbed wire as Spandau machine gun fire hit them] and recast themselves as a leading light of the New Romantic movement. Punk, however, was integral to the development of the band’s look and sound.
“It was everything!” declares Kemp emphatically. “For me in a way, it meant everything, because what punk did, was it opened the doors to everybody that wasn’t a great musician. It allowed everybody to be in a band, [so] everyone can dream of being a rock star when we were kids – because of punk. Before that it was progressive rock, wasn’t it? It was Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes: you had to be an incredible musician to be in a band. Punk changed all of that. It opened the doors to everyone. It allowed every kid in school to be able to dream of being a pop star.

“I think that meant a lot to me. That gave me confidence in a way, to play with the other guys. Also, the bands look, I suppose, owes a lot to punk, in the way that it was completely the opposite. Punk was all about ‘destroy’ and ‘no future’. Where the bands look was all about a new romantic look, all about looking towards the future, being positive about everything, being colourful. Where punk was just about black, leather, and chains. I think, the new romantic thing owed everything to punk.”

Spandau Ballet 1985

Kemp’s passion for the band is undeniable, but whenever an old band reunites for a lucrative tour the accusations appear: ‘they’re just doing it for the money’. Merely alluding to this gets the bass player’s storm clouds rolling in.

“It always makes me… I always kind of wonder why, when you’re in a band, you’re not allowed to go back to work without [them] looking down on you saying ‘you’re just doing it for the money’. That’s what people do for work, isn’t it?” he snarls.

“That’s what you’re doing now. If I said to you ‘you’re just doing it for the money’, how ridiculous is that question?” [Little does he realise how poorly paid music journalists are – Editor]

“What me and you are lucky about,” he continues, “is to be able to go out and turn our hobbies into our jobs. That’s where we’re blessed. Being a journalist is your hobby, or what you aspired to do. Being in a band is my hobby, what I aspired to do. If I want to do it, why should I ever stop that? It’s my hobby.

“This whole question of ‘oh, they’re just doing it for the money’, is to me the most ridiculous question I have ever heard. One: we are going to work, which is fair enough, that’s what everybody does. Two: it is essentially our hobby. Do you see what I’m saying?”

Fair point, I think.

The other issue the media love to blow up is the supposed feud between Spandau Ballet and fellow new romancers Duran Duran.

“Yeah, we get along fine – we always have,” Kemp says. “There was always a bunch of competition, between us and them. We were the two bands – we were pretty much the same band, but they came from the North of the country, in Birmingham, and we came from the South, in London.

“When people say ‘what about that rivalry between Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet?’ I’m really proud of that, because, I’m really proud of being involved in that list of bands, from over the years of pop culture: we have The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, who did you like? Do you like Blur or Oasis? Do you like Spandau or Duran Duran? I’m really pleased we are one of those bands, with that classic rivalry. I think that’s a really important part, every generation has that rivalry between two bands. I’m really proud of that. It was just healthy competition, we respected each other in a way – we never ever released a record at the same time as they did. They wouldn’t release a record at the same time we did. They were bigger through The States and we were bigger through Europe. It was evenly split like that.”

Spandau Ballet - Soul Boys Of The Western World

To get a chance to do his ‘hobby’ all over again, twenty five years later, is a blessing that Kemp doesn’t take for granted.

“Yeah, it’s just a joy. First it’s a joy to be back with my mates. In 2009 we got back together, 2009, looking back at it, was a test really. It was us putting out toes in the water to see if people were still interested in us playing live, coming to see us. Even if we could get on, because we had spent 20 years apart [in] complete acrimony. It was a test to see whether we could work together. So, this time now, we know we’ve got all of that stuff out of the way. This time now is just purely about us having fun on stage.

“I think before, when we were kids, it was all about what was going to happen after the show, where the party was going to be. Now it’s about what’s going to happen on stage. That’s were the fun is now.”

So it was hedonistic backstage at a Spandau Ballet gig in the ‘80s?

“Always, always,” Kemp laughs. “If I look back and I thought it wasn’t, I’d be kind of disappointed in myself. We lived the life and what went on in the Sebel Townhouse [the notorious Sydney hotel favoured by many a rock and pop star in the ‘70s and ‘80s], stays in the Sebel Townhouse!

“It was a great time, and it was hedonistic,” he reminisces, “and I look back at those moments with a big smile on my face. It’s like I said, the fun is different now. The fun is what happens on stage. There is no better fun than I’m having. Where you walk into a room with 10,000 people and you make 10,000 people really happy. That is where the fun is now.”

Spandau Ballet 02

After the demise of Spandau Ballet Kemp made quite a name for himself as an actor, appearing with his brother on the big screen as the infamous London gangsters The Kray Brothers, putting in a long stint on iconic soap Eastenders, and starring opposite Duran Duran’s John Taylor and Power Station/Silverhead singer Michael Des Barres in Sugar Town. Kemp says he has a new movie coming out soon in which he plays a covert black-ops sniper being blackmailed by an international terrorist into killing six targets in six hours.

“Yeah, I actually just shot a movie just before I got back with the band, which is called Age Of Kill. It’s out in Britain, I think, in June, on DVD. It’s a small, independent film. I love the whole idea of everything that’s inside the entertainment bubble. That’s were I’m really happy. I love the idea that – you know, we spoke earlier about how lucky it is to be able to turn your hobby into a job. I grew up as a kid in entertainment: I was lucky enough for my parents to put me in a drama class. Being in that drama class, kind of formed my personality. That made me the person I am today. Things like acting or presenting, whatever it is, it was all inside this bubble called entertainment – including being in the band. I love it all, personally.”

An edited version of this interview was originally published in X-Press Magazine’s 20 May, 2015 issue

Category: Interviews

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