‘YOU look like Robert De Niro in that one,” the photographer says to Tony Hadley as she flips through images for him to check in the small screen on the back of her camera.
“That’s because I’ve got a big nose and baggy eyes.” Five minutes before this, as I watched him pout and preen into the lens, if you’d have told me that the man who thought nothing of wearing a headband and jodhpurs on national television for much of the early 1980s was a bit self-conscious about having his picture taken I’d have thought you’d been sniffing too much hairspray while perfecting your Flock of Seagulls hairdo. But it’s true. Hadley, lead singer of Spandau Ballet, is a talker, happy to blether about this that and the next thing, but not, as it turns out, very keen on seeing himself.
“I don’t like watching myself on television or film and I don’t like having my picture taken,” he says. “It’s just me, I’ve never felt comfortable with it. I can’t even really explain it. I’m not shy. I’ll talk to anybody, I love talking to people.”
Same area of London
I can confirm that this is true. In the three minutes he talks to the photographer as she packs up her stuff – and he offers to help her – he discovers they have lived in the same area of London and asks if she knows his favourite pub, where he had the christening of one of his children as well as a hog roast to celebrate his marriage. A closed book Tony Hadley is not.
And technically speaking you don’t have to interview him to discover that. The new film, Soul Boys Of The Western World, is a collection of archive footage, much of which has never been seen before, telling the story of the rise, fall and rise of Spandau Ballet. From working class boys about town, to cocky pop stars to a showdown in the High Court which heralded the beginning of 20 years of silence between the band members, what you get to see, as well as some truly toe-curling fashion, is a backstage glimpse of what it was like to be in a pop band in the late 70s and early 80s. It’s a treat.
“We have got a story,” says Hadley. “We started at school, signed a record deal and tried to take over the world, imploded, made up again and ended up playing the Isle of Wight.” This was back in 2009 when the band reunited after two decades of not speaking to each other because of that court case, in which Hadley, Steve Norman and John Keeble sued Gary Kemp in order to share in the band’s royalties. They lost. The band members recorded their voiceovers for the film separately. It meant they could be honest about what was going on in the footage from 30 years ago – backstage partying, Saturday morning TV, endless touring.
‘Stuff that we didn’t even know had been filmed’
The archive footage came from all over the world, says Hadley. “Nothing from me. I’m the person who doesn’t keep the cuttings, I chuck everything out, but stuff was found in attics and at the back of drawers, stuff that we didn’t even know had been filmed.” There they are in New York, earnest young men totally confounding the woman who’s interviewing them. There they are in the Bahamas, mahogany brown with cocktails in their hands. Pop star life looked fun.
The New Romantic movement wasn’t taken anywhere near as seriously as punk had been. It emerged at around the time that pop was becoming manufactured. But the Spandau Ballet boys were serious about what they were doing. “We were the musical spearhead of a dandy movement called the New Romantics,” says Hadley, “pretty avant garde and shocking. This wasn’t pretend dressing up, we were serious about our music and the fashion. We were surrounded by writers and designers who were serious about what they were doing too. It would be wrong to call it a movement. It came out of guys and girls having a bloody good time – Boy George, Marilyn, Bob Elms. There was a whole fringe within it who were really talented and Spandau were part of that. We were a synth-based cult band. It wasn’t until True that the whole thing changed.”
I grew up watching Spandau Ballet. My sister had their posters on our bedroom wall, fighting for space alongside Duran Duran and Culture Club. Spandau Ballet wore better clothes – shirts with ruffles and knee-length boots in the early days, pastel-coloured suits by the mid-1980s. Hadley still looks like a man who takes sartorial matters seriously, in his beautifully cut navy suit and white shirt with a touch of orange piping running down the front seam, Chelsea boots shining like mirrors on his feet. He might be self-conscious, but as the photographer snapped him, he raised an eyebrow here, a chin tilt there. You don’t spend a decade as the front man for a massively successful pop group without learning a few things.
23 international hit singles and sold 25 million albums
And Spandau Ballet were huge. They had 23 international hit singles and sold 25 million albums. If you added up how many weeks their songs spent in the UK charts, the number would exceed 500. In the 20 years since teenagers were buying their singles and recording the charts on C90 tapes, True, Gold, Through The Barricades and Communication have become karaoke classics, but back in the 80s, they were just genuine, multi-million-selling hit singles. And the five London boys who had met at school and formed the band – Gary and Martin Kemp, Steve Norman, John Keeble and Hadley – were proper, bona fide pop stars. When they arrived to record Band Aid’s charity single, Feed The World, they did so in a vintage Rolls-Royce. When they played Live Aid, Hadley wore a full-length leather coat. It was July. Proper pop star posing.
But that wasn’t how things started out. At first, Spandau Ballet were just a group of boys who lived at home with their mums and dads and spent their time coming up with outfits to wear on the New Romantic club scene. The venues they went to – Billy’s, the Blitz Club, Club for Heroes – were in Soho, which was much seedier then than it is now. Upstairs at what was the Blitz Club is where I’m sitting with Hadley, squashed on to a tiny sofa behind a screen on the other side of which Martin Kemp and Keeble are also being interviewed. The venue hasn’t been the Blitz for years; now it’s a pole dancing club painted in garish red. It’s slightly more upmarket than some – mercifully short on mirrors, I don’t even see a pole until the photographer’s assistant points out that he has tied a large light to one for stability. Long before pole dancing existed, Spandau Ballet performed their first live show here. It was on 5 December, 1979, to an audience of “Blitz Kids”, hipsters, hairdressers and art schools students, dressed in their finest threads. The band played a blinder. They were offered a record deal on the spot. Today, they are being given the PRS for Music Heritage award, which is basically a plaque on the wall downstairs, commemorating that night in 1979.
‘Like the Studio 54 of London’
“This club was the place to be,” says Hadley. “It was like the Studio 54 of London but it was a tiny little place. It was a wine bar during the day, a lovely little place where you could come in and have a bit of lunch and a glass of wine, and then on Tuesday nights, Rusty Egan [the DJ] and Steve Strange took it over.”
Strange would sit on the door and decide who was allowed in and who wasn’t and Egan would play Berlin electro music. “All of that is what spurred us on to buy our first Yamaha CS10 synthesiser, bought on HP because we were all skint.” Hadley takes a mouthful of his beer. “There aren’t many people who have a plaque in central London,” he says, looking chuffed. “I mean here lived Charles Dickens, Lenin stayed here for a while. We’re in among some really good company. It’s a fantastic honour.”
The film was spurred on by the band’s reunion in 2009. It had been 20 years since they’d spoken to each other. “There had been the litigation and hating each other and everything else – so there was a story to be told,” says Hadley. As to whether watching it makes him emotional, he’s clear. “Bloody hell, yeah,” he says, “you’re not only seeing the break up of a band, you’re seeing people who are no longer here – my dad’s in it and my granddad – that in itself is really tough.”
The film doesn’t show all the barneys and brouhahas that happened but still Hadley has found it uncomfortable. “We were a proper band with all that goes with that. We had some fantastic times, we were a great bunch of mates, but there were always some underlying tensions and that was always about me and Gary.” He laughs. “It was always me and him. It got to the point where we were like, we’re not going talk about religion, we’re not going to talk about politics. We’ve always been two different sides of the coin.”
A clash between Hadley and the elder Kemp brother
Even if there hadn’t been a clash between Hadley and the elder Kemp brother, it would be surprising for anyone to survive life in a hugely successful pop band for long. From 1983 to 1990, they were either recording, promoting or touring. During one two month tour of Europe, they had two days off. “We were living in each other’s pockets which was hard. And it was very hard for home life,” says Hadley. “There were elements of glamour but when you’re working and you’re doing back to back shows and you’re getting four or five hours of kip a night and you’ve got to sing another two-hour show, you just find yourself getting worn out. It was like Spinal Tap, people were getting cold sores and all that.” He smiles. “I love music, I’ve always loved music and singing, but the business sucks.”
Hadley’s never been only about the business though. He got married just as Spandau Ballet were on their way to becoming massive, interesting timing and not something that all of his bandmates understood. “You do what you feel is right at the time,” he says with a shrug. “My three big kids [from the first marriage to Leonie Lawson] are beautiful and glorious. My daughter is 28 and married. Any minute now I could be a granddad, which is a bit worrying.” Hadley’s second wife is Ali Evers. They have two young children, Zara who is seven and Genevieve who is two-and-a half. “Tom, Tony, Mac, Zara, Genevieve,” he says proudly. “Five kids. I love kids, I always have. I’d have another ten if I could.” I’m guessing your wife is probably not up for that, I say. “No, Ali has called a halt.” He laughs.
Hadley seems like a man who’s enjoying this unexpected second helping of success, not that he’s been waiting around for his original band to reform. He’s got a well established solo career, he tours with a swing band, playing gigs all over the world, singing the music he heard his mum and dad listening to – Jack Jones, Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra. Next month he’s playing a series of gigs with a full orchestra. “I’m actually doing Spandau’s greatest hits,” he says. “I’ve orchestrated pretty much all of it including a couple of album tracks. It sounds awesome.”
Greatest hits album
Spandau Ballet have a greatest hits album coming out next month, he says, and his own solo album is all but finished, it’s just on hold while his old band step back into the spotlight. “I’m just lucky after all these years, I’m still doing what I love.” By that he means singing. I tell him I think his voice is even better now than it was in the band’s heyday. He smiles. “The first time I ever sang in public was at Pontins holiday camp with my mum and dad. I sang Lady Madonna by The Beatles and halfway through I forgot the lyrics, which has haunted me ever since. It was the most terrifying experience of my life but I did a really good job, and the girl I’d liked all week, I got her. We were only 14. I signed autographs and everything. Loads of people came up to me and said, ‘You were good young fella, you should do this for a living’. So I thought, ‘Right, okay, this is what I’m going to do’.” And with that, he’s off to find his bandmates.
• Soul Boys Of The Western World will be in cinemas across the UK on Tuesday, including a live satellite performance from the Royal Albert Hall by Spandau Ballet. The film is on general release from Friday, www.spandauballetthemovie.com