Interview: Spandau Ballet

SPANDAU BALLET were the least likely, and just about the last, 1980s band to reform. But that's what they did earlier this year, when they announced that they would be performing several shows in late 2009 – including three at the prestigious O2 Arena in London, their first gigs for 19 years – and recording new material together, which they hadn't done for two decades.

The news came as quite a shock, not least because of the high-profile court case in 1999 where singer Tony Hadley, saxophonist Steve Norman and drummer John Keeble sued guitarist and songwriter Gary Kemp over songwriting royalties, a case they lost. The fall-out was not pleasant, with Kemp and his actor-brother Martin, the band's bassist, on one side and the three non-Kemps on the other. Suffice to say probably only The Smiths seemed less likely to reform.

"Well, Led Zeppelin haven't really done it, and neither have The Jam," points out Gary Kemp, then adding of Weller & co, "but then, they are three stubborn blokes." One might have said the same about Spandau – indeed, for many years it appeared that hell would have to freeze over before they reformed.

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"I'm quite surprised myself," he laughs. "In fact, I'm very surprised. Tony wanted to do it more than anyone else, probably because he was the one that had a lot of animosity towards me and took the longest to come round to the idea of it." Kemp explains that he wasn't too keen until about five years ago, when he was mixing a DVD of Spandau live. "It sounds immodest," he says, "but I was shocked by how good it was. Not only were we fantastic live, but we looked like we were really enjoying it."

Orchestrated by Keeble, the band's diplomat, the reunion became inevitable and an opportunity for the five members, who had grown up together in North London, to bury the hatchet. "In the end," says Kemp, "you only make one band, if you're lucky, and you're a fool not to do it again." Spandau Ballet were, he says, "the best thing I will ever do in my life. I made something that became part of pop history."

The legacy was proven, with Spandau's music still being played on the radio, being sampled and even, via their early electro incarnation, exerting an influence on today's synthpop acts such as Little Boots and La Roux. "It's fantastic that people are referring back to that," he says, "because we helped to start it back in 1980." Now all he had to do was sort out his relationship with his former friends. "I hated the idea that these guys, who I had spent this amazing time with, were out there hating my guts. I wanted to heal that."

Have there been moments since getting back together when it looked as though the old tensions might resurface? "Not at all," he replies. "We're so respectful of each other at the moment. On day one in rehearsal, when we started making music again, we all suddenly realised what good things we have and how much we need each other. All those feelings from the late 80s, the paranoia about the band and myself as a writer, had all gone." The initial intention was to play a few gigs, and none of the band had any idea they would be so rapturously welcomed back. "We never dreamed we'd be going onstage with a record contract and a new single on the radio," he says of the forthcoming Once More. "Nor did we dream that we'd be spending a few weeks together living together residentially in a studio making a record, or that we'd be written about in the broadsheets. When," he asks, incredulous, "did the broadsheets want to write about Spandau Ballet?"

It's true: back when they were arty kilt-wearing pioneers of the New Romantic era playing stripped-down synthesiser dance-pop, or when they were, a little later, purveying a harsh form of white funk, Spandau were loathed by the press. The critics didn't much like it, either, when these working-class lads went through what seemed, suited-and-booted as they were, like a proto-Yuppie smooth soulboy phase in the mid-80s. And yet more than any other 80s comeback – even those by bands who were arguably bigger at the time, such as The Human League and Duran Duran – this one has been most successfully executed and met with the greatest excitement. Why does Kemp think that is?

"Because we never dragged ourselves into the 1990s, which was about DJ culture, so we got out while the going was good and preserved the name." Nor did they go on any of those "dreadful 80s package tours" that a lot of far hipper 80s groups, such as ABC and Heaven 17, have done. "We were always very conscious of respecting the legacy. I thought it was sad when Martin (Fry] from ABC donned his gold suit. You've got to be contemporary at all times."

Of all the members of Spandau, it was always Kemp who talked them up as part of a tradition of working-class British boys with arty ambitions. "We were young kids taking the baton from punk and designing our own philosophy and look," he asserts. "We emerged in 1980-81 when there were suddenly 12-inch mixes and videos and all this new media. We were finding our way." He is loath to get into a slanging match about the difference between the Kemps and a pair of working-class brothers like the Gallaghers "because I don't want to get my throat cut by Liam or Noel next time I'm walking down Marylebone High Street", but he does concede that Spandau wanted to do more than mimic the music of a bygone age. "We were very aspirational, and we came from a time when youth culture was in an evolutionary mode and there was no looking back to anything. There was a sense of responsibility to that." One of the tags applied to the New Romantics was "futurists". More recently, Kemp has witnessed a culture of nostalgia. "Once you get past DJ culture there's a sense of 'what do we do next?' and it becomes about looking back."

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Kemp is keen to stress that, although they will be playing the hits, Spandau's return isn't an exercise in nostalgia. "This is a new beginning for us," he contends. "I hope we can stay around for a long time and make a contemporary album and keep it going."

Nor will he be replaying the wilder antics of his youth. How much bad-boy behaviour does he intend to get up to on tour this time round? "As much as my wife will allow me," he laughs. "It's natural when you come offstage and there's a lot of adrenaline to want to celebrate with a few drinks. But that kind of thing looks a bit sad when you're getting on for 50. Besides, when you're in your twenties, you can recover from a big night. I'm not so sure I can do that now."

• Spandau Ballet play the SECC, Glasgow, on Saturday.



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A more enduring success story than most of their 1980s peers, Madness are producing some of their best work at the moment; their concept album The Liberty Of Norton Folgate has won rave reviews.