It was Friend of Rachel Worth who made the suggestion via the comments, and it’s one I agree with, but I’m sure many of you will think they were awful from the off. In fact I know of at least one regular reader who will be swearing loudly as he reads these words.
I really like like Journeys to Glory, the debut album from Spandau Ballet, and reckon that some of the follow-up, Diamond, is still listenable. The next four albums, from True through to Heart Like A Sky are horrendous, not withstanding how entirely understandable it is that Gary Kemp would be so obsessed by Clare Grogan that he would write something as soppy as True.
The songwriter is very much at the heart of the story of the band.
He had always longed for career in the music business and had spent a few years jumping on various bandwagons in an effort to get him and his mates noticed, including new wave and power pop. The move to a more electronic sound came as a result of him latching onto the sort of music that was being played in various nightclubs in London in the late 70s around which a scene was being created, primarily by the media, to counteract the rough and ready elements of the post-punk scene.
Those in the scene were christened as ‘New Romantics’ and before long, record label bosses were out there looking to sign bands associated with the scene, although it is interesting that a number of those, perhaps already established bands whom the press put in this particular limelight, such as Japan, Ultravox, Adam & The Ants and Soft Cell, were very quick to disassociate themselves from it. Not so, however, a number of new acts, three of whom – Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Visage – became core.
A lot of the criticism of this movement was based on how much of it was down to looks, image and style rather than musical substance. But the best part of 40 years on and I’d argue that all too often the music was overlooked.
The debut single from Spandau Ballet was released in November 1980. It’s up there with some of the best synth-pop of that or indeed any era, with a fabulous futuristic sounding production allied to as stomping a backbeat as you could ask for. Oh and the lead singer showed he had a fair set of pipes on him:-
mp3 : Spandau Ballet – To Cut A Long Story Short
The debut album would follow in March 1981 and although it only contained eight tracks, it yielded two more hits courtesy of The Freeze and Musclebound. There was also one othrer excellent example of electro-pop that surely would have been a hit if released as a single:-
mp3 : Spandau Ballet – Reformation
Just four months later, a new song was unleashed which heralded a brave change of direction, almost as if Gary Kemp was determined to show he was no one-trick pony aligned to an increasingly synth-pop scene:-
mp3 : Spandau Ballet – Chant No.1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)
This piece of horn-driven funk climbed all the way to the Top 3 in the UK, spending months hanging around the charts and becoming a staple of every club and discotheque in the country. If a black band, say from NYC or Philadelphia, had written and recorded Chant No.1, it would have been held up as an instant classic, but instead this group of young, fashionable Londoners were accused by their critics of music by numbers. It was, and remains, a nailed-on classic that the band never ever bettered.
The next single, Paint Me Down, was a hybrid of the funk and earlier synth sounds, completed by a slapping bass sound and heavy reliance on intricate percussion to drive it onwards. It was an overly complex and ambitious piece of music but one that I’m happy to count myself as a fan of, albeit I was in a minority at the time as it was their first not to go Top 20.
The release of the next single – She Loved Like Diamond – and the band’s second album – Diamond – were the first indications that the musical path that lay ahead wasn’t one I’d find favour with. Like the debut, it contained just eight songs, but where there had been a consistency on Journeys to Glory, the follow-up seemed disjointed, not helped by the fact that Chant No.1 stood head and shoulders above everything else. There were some experimental moments in among some bland pop which on occasion clashed messily within one tune, with the album version of Instinction being the most guilty; the production skills of Trevor Horn did later rescue the song, and in doing so got the band some attention again:-
mp3 : Spandau Ballet – Instinction (single remix)
You could therefore technically argue that Trevor Horn is to blame for all that happened afterwards. There’s a possibility that if his remix of Instinction hadn’t charted that bthe band could have imploded thanks to a lack of success, with the possibility that the record label may have torn up the contract and gone down the route of Tony Hadley being a pop singer for hire to aspiring songwriters.
As it was, the following year saw True unleashed on the general public who took the band to its collectively bland bosom and into staples of arena tours in the UK. Each of the ten singles released after Instinction charted in the Top 20. I still have a bit of love for Communication as a pop song, thanks to the handclaps and whoo-hoos in the background, but I could happily go the rest of my life without ever hearing Gold, Only When You Leave, I’ll Fly For You, Fight For Ourselves and Through The Barricades ever again.
I know the band broke up in the early 90s, primarily to let the Kemp brothers pursue other interests around acting, and then reformed back in 2009 for a world tour that sold a lot of tickets. They may even have made some new songs since but quite honestly, I don’t care. But I do hope that I have shown that for a short while, Spandau Ballet did indeed have it.