Interview: Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley talks SOUL BOYS OF THE WESTERN WORLD

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Interview: Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley talks SOUL BOYS OF THE WESTERN WORLD
At the dawn of the 1980s, a group of five working class London boys called Spandau Ballet, set out to brighten up the dark days of punk-era Britain with far-out, futuristic fashion, a love of Studio 54 disco and German synthpop.  Their danceable hooks topped the charts, with classics like "True," "Gold," "Instinction" and "Chant No. 1," while their cover boy looks graced every teen magazine.  After a twenty-year breakup, that included a famously ugly courthouse battle, the men, now in middle age, remembered what they loved about playing in the first place and began a reunion tour, but there was still much that needed sorting.  Director George Hencken's SOUL BOYS OF THE WESTERN WORLD charts the band's rise, breakup, and reunion.

To Cut a Long Story Short, here's my chat with singer Tony Hadley about the past and future of those (Good-as-) New Romantics.


The Lady Miz Diva:  Why did you think now was the right time to do a documentary about Spandau Ballet?

Tony Hadley:
  Well, it's a document of the fact that we'd had a big falling out.  We fell out and we weren't together for twenty years.  And when we finally did get back together again - which wasn't easy - it took a lot of soul searching, very difficult, in fact.  When we put the arena show together five years ago, there was one song in particular called Round and Round, and we'd got loads of archive footage that Steve {Norman} had shot on his camera, and also that Martin {Kemp} had shot, so when we were playing that song on that stage with these big screens behind us, there was all this off-the-wall footage of us.

That was really the catalyst for us to think, 'Wow, we're a band who've gone through so many different changes and dimensions.  We've split up.  We've got back together again. There's a story here.'  It's not just about a rock and roll band and aren't we wonderful, and we've played the Enormodome {Spinal Tap reference}.... This is actually about a band with an emotional story and a very kind of interesting story with so many different parts and a happy ending.  At the end of it, it ends with us after twenty-odd years playing in front of 150,000 people.  So for all those reasons, really, we felt that we had a good, solid emotional story to tell.

And what we did was really leave it to the director, George Hencken, and because she is a woman, looked at it from a very emotional point of view.  We spent hours with her, talking. She wanted to know, "What's your interpretation? What's your viewpoint in terms of being in the band, Spandau Ballet?  What do you feel about the breakup?  What do you feel about the band getting back together again?" Hours and hours of expensive therapy, I suppose. {Laughs} The film cost a few quid, but by talking to her, I think we got a lot off our chests.  And from our conversations, she constructed the film.  Over four hundred hours of archive footage; which was researched.  So we were lucky that Steve's dad, Martin and Steve himself all had that video footage, as well.  So from all those kind of elements, we've managed to put together a film.

One thing we didn't do, is we didn't get involved in the editing.  There are parts of the film I don't like.  It's very hard to watch it; I've watched it three times and I can't want to watch it again.  It's very emotional.  There are elements of it I don't like that I might've changed; but I think if one of us had changed one thing, I think we would've watered down the story.  We would have ended up with a much more sanitised version of Spandau Ballet.

LMD:  Well, now I must ask what moments in the film that affected you that way?

TH: 
Just elements; things that you don't see that behind the scenes.  I think there's elements of the film where it almost looks like I'm being put down by the band, but the fact is that was really never the case.  Because what you don't see behind the scenes, you might see something out front, but what happens when I go back?  And trust me, I'm not one to hold back.  I think it's pretty obvious in the film that the two protagonists within the film are myself and Gary {Kemp}, we were the last two people to get back together again.  We've had some massive huge arguments that, of course, were never documented.  That would have actually made the film even more interesting.  But me and Gary have a healthy respect for each other and we always have.

LMD:  Were there any no-go zones you discussed with director Hencken?

TH:
  No, not really.  We discussed everything.  I mean, the other reasons why this is really emotional for me, as well, is not only is it the break-up of the band, it's seeing the slow disintegration of the band on the screen; but it's also there's family members who are no longer with us, there's friends who are no longer with us, and they're all in the film.  My dad's in the film, Steve's dad's in the film, Martin and Gary's mum and dad.  The only two surviving parents are my mum and Steve's mum.  So that's kinda sad.

LMD:  At least they were there to see your success happen and they are captured in the documentary.

TH: 
Yeah, I think it's amazing, actually.  I mean the thing that's amazing, is how many people can say, I've got a film about my life - our lives?  That's incredible in itself, actually.  So, it's kind of weird, but I'm glad we did it.

LMD:  One of those departed friends that the film is almost prescient in capturing is Visage musician, Steve Strange, and his influence on that time.  The documentary does a great job of showing us the scene in London then.  There's tons of docs about the sixties in London and the punk years, but precious little about that very vibrant post-punk era.

TH:
  You're right, actually.  I mean, I feel what's interesting about the film regardless of what our story is, is that you've got the eighties quite well documented, you've got the seventies with the strikes, Thatcher, the British economy was on its knees, Live Aid, the Berlin Wall coming down, the end of Apartheid.  All these things are covered within the film.  You have to say it was a decade of change, without a doubt.  And probably the last decade when music and fashion went hand in hand. 

You've got to remember, certainly in Britain as a kid growing up, you had three television channels, you had music and you had fashion - that's it.  In America, you probably had fifty, we had three.  It was a much more primitive time where things were simpler; you didn't have social media, you didn't have phones.  I mean, you had phones, but they were dial phones, you know?  You try phoning back home in 1982 from Italy and it was impossible.  I suppose the end of the eighties was when the first big mobile phone came in and we were entering the digital age, but before that, it was pretty primitive.

LMD:  A great philosopher {Gary Kemp} once said, "This might not last too long.  So always take it."  Was that sort of the band's philosophy or motivation?  Did you have a sense that your fame and high life could be all be gone quickly?

TH: 
Well, I think so.  I think I was the one who said in the film that in a lot of ways, we were the post-war generation.  My dad was in the RAF, he joined when he was sixteen in 1943-44.  My mum was a little girl during the war.  We were the generation of kids that for the first time ever, our parents felt we could do great things.  It was a new decade growing up in the sixties; ordinary working class kids going to grammar school.  I've got cousins of mine who are scientists, all of my family have done very well. So we were the generation who aspired to things. 

And also, I think the class system, which I hate - I hate all class systems, whether referring to working class, middle class, upper class, I hate it, I think it sucks - we were a generation that I think that the class system was slowly kind of evaporating.  It was going away.  But no, we felt we could take over the world.  We were angry young men who wanted to be successful and dominate in music.  We were successful in some ways and not in others.

LMD:  What wasn't successful?

TH: 
Well, I don't think we were as big a band in some ways as we could've been.  I think we crossed off America.  I don't think we were as successful as we could've been.  We made mistakes.

LMD:  I loved that there's that clip of between Spandau and another famous eighties group battling on a British quiz show, which is a YouTube gem....

TH: 
Duran Duran!

LMD:  I wasn't sure if it was okay to mention the big rivals by name.

TH: 
Oh no, no, no, we're great friends with them. They're great guys.  Oh no, we're all mates. 

LMD:  I think fans looked at that fun clip as proof that you guys really did get along, but then we hear a Gary's voiceover saying you were all was completely gutted when you lost the quiz.  Was that loss representative of something else? Did that rivalry really hang over your heads?

TH:
  Oh God, we were always competitive.  We were competitive with Culture Club, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Ultravox; you were competitive with everybody.  But I suppose in our decade, it was Duran and Spandau, in the nineties, it was Oasis and Blur, in the sixties, Rolling Stones and Beatles.  So, I suppose in a sense it's quite an accolade to both bands, Spandau and Duran, that we were viewed in that way.  It's kinda nice.

LMD:  This film doesn't seem to show the typical rock star cliché of the terrible drug addiction or plummet into vice and degradation that we see in nearly every other music doc.  In general, the way you seem to have handled fame and business is a bit different to many other famous groups.  Was that something that we missed or was that aspect truly not an issue?

TH: 
I'll be honest, I think we've made some appalling business decisions.  It's not as utopian as it seems.

LMD:  It seems pretty utopian.

TH:
  Well, I think if you look at the court case, that sort of says it all, really.  So you know, it's one of those things that happened, but there you go, that's life.  Personally, I don't do drugs; never done a line of coke in my life, don't see the point.  But you know, we like to drink as a band, but we didn't have any heroin addicts or alcoholics in the band, thank God.  We've probably been close a couple of times, but no, from that point of view, we were sensible.  We had very good friends and family who were very close to us.  You know, I don't think any of us were allowed to let our egos get in the way too much.

LMD:  While the film tells a lot of uncomfortable truths, there is a bit of a sticky point.  We see the famously nasty court case that you, Steve Norman and John Keeble brought against Gary Kemp over publishing royalties.  However, later, when the reunion is announced, Gary will not comment as to how it was resolved to enable you to work together again.  Is it safe to assume that the arrangement that we saw in the court scenes had been altered to everyone's general satisfaction?

TH: 
We had to agree to disagree, I suppose.  I still stand by everything I did.  I don't regret anything, but in order for us to move forward, yeah, there were changes that were made.  And we had to kind of almost say, 'Look, if we're gonna move forward, let's make a few changes so that everyone's happy, but let's put it to the past.'  Because otherwise, with something like that, it's gonna grow over time and the band couldn't function.

LMD:  What is the goal now for Spandau Ballet? I understand you're working with Trevor Horn {Art of Noise}.

TH:
  We have.  The question is, 'Why didn't you record a new album?'  Well, we actually made a film, instead.  So that's kinda what happened.  But then the record company went, 'Oh film? Oh album?  Greatest hits, again?'  But we want to do songs, so we went in and we wrote three new songs.  There were more actually, but we only had time to do three.  They were Steal, This is the Love and Soul Boy.  Trevor Horn was the first choice, really.  We worked with him on "Instinction."  He basically completely re-recorded it, to be honest, it was completely redone.  So I wrote a song, Gary wrote a couple of songs, and that was it.  So three new songs.

LMD:  From Spandau's early days, your love for the crooners and vocalists like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett is obvious, but it seems an odd mix considering the futuristic outlook of the scene at the time.

TH: 
I'll tell you how that came about.  Basically, when I was growing up, I was into Queen, Bowie, Roxy, Bebop Deluxe, Elton John, Rod Stewart, all that kind of stuff.  I was really into punk, loved punk.  What a great period for music.  But then also my mum and dad would always play Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitz{gerald}, Jack Jones - America's best singer, who I know, personally.  He's a lovely, lovely man.  My mum and dad said, "Look, we know you love the Sex Pistols and The Clash and Queen and Roxy and Bowie, but if you want to be a singer and be really serious, listen to some of these old guys.  Vic Damone - wonderful singer - listen to some of the older people.  So, I did.  And I liked swing, anyway, but I really started to study and listen to the way they were singing and the rhythm and the whole swing thing.

LMD:  In creating new music, do you listen to new music, stuff that's on the radio now?

TH: 
Yeah, I try.  I'll tell you what I get off on; there's a band I met at the airport the other day, a young band called Fingertrap, and they gave me a CD when they were off to do a festival in Germany, and I really loved it.  The Kaiser Chiefs are great.  The Killers are great.  Love Hurts, which are really big in Europe. The XX and Arcade Fire, stuff like that.  But also, I have listened to One Direction; my eight-year-old, Zara, she loves them.  Great band, great pop songs, don't knock it.  You've gotta be open to music.  Like I love classical music, but then some of the Katy Perry stuff is brilliant, I love that too.  I love Iron Maiden and I like Black Sabbath, you know?  And I also listen to a lot of dance: I've made a lot of dance music in Europe, so I like techno and trance.  Calvin Harris, or Davici, or Swedish House Mafia, I'm well into that sort of stuff.  So my daughter loves the compilation albums called Now That's {What I Call Music}, so I nick 'em, cos they're great when you're in the gym, when you're on the machines, the rhythm's good and I can just catch up on the new stuff.  So, I'm listening to that and I'm finishing my own solo album, which should be out next year.  It's a lot quirkier than Spandau.  It's still pop/rock, but it's not Spandau, but that's good.

LMD:  What do you feel is the most misunderstood thing about Spandau Ballet?  Do you think the film addressed that misconception? 

TH: 
Partly.  I think the biggest misconception that we've had during the years, certainly through the eighties, is that we were more interested in fashion than we were in music, and that we weren't necessarily great musicians.  The fact is, even when we were sixteen, we were pretty damned fine musicians, even then.  We're very good musicians now.  I studied for two years with a Canadian opera singer, Pamela Dodds, so I took it all very seriously.  So, I think that was one of the biggest problems we faced as a band, and funny enough, interestingly now, when we play live now, we're getting five-star reviews.  The Times in London, five star reviews.  People are saying, "Wow. Okay, maybe I wasn't a big fan in the past, but these guys can play."

LMD:  Would you say you're better as a band now?

TH: 
Shit, yeah.  We were pretty good then, though, actually.  I think it was some of the rhetoric, as well, of the band about the working class thing, the New Romantics, the fact that it was such a cult sort of extravaganza, detracted from the fact that we spoke more about that most of the time than we did about the bloody music.

LMD:  What did Tony Hadley take away from SOUL BOYS OF THE WESTERN WORLD?

TH: 
Don't be so bloody stupid.  People say, 'What would you advise any young fan?"  Number one, learn your craft.  You gotta learn your craft, that's first and foremost.  Number two, don't trust anybody.  Number three, make sure you get everything documented and checked.  That's sensible.  How many people get married, love each other - I love you, you love me, we have children, we adore each other - and how many times does it go wrong and we end up paying each other?  How many times do you love each other and trust each other, and then that trust goes?  It's the same in a band, no different.

LMD:  The band is kind of a marriage, isn't it?  You've known each other since childhood.

TH: 
Since were about eleven.  Yeah, it's a bloody long time {Laughs}.

LMD:  What would you like for audiences to take away from SOUL BOYS OF THE WESTERN WORLD?

TH: 
I think I'd like them to take away the fact that they are witnessing a sea change in British history and culture, not only musically, but politically and economically.  Because you know, I mentioned Thatcher and everything else; we were the basket case of Europe, we had strikes, we had electricity going off, gas going off.  We had people not being buried, rubbish piling up.  It was a bad time - a bad time.  Economically, we were shot.  And Margaret Thatcher, whatever you want to think about her, she didn't make the right decisions all the time - no politician ever does, actually - but she certainly got the country by the scruff of the neck, and I think the country that it is today is because of Margaret Thatcher.  I have to say not everything she did was right, but we're now not the basket case of Europe.  We're a very wealthy country, and we're coming out of a recession and we're doing very well.

It was a massive decade for change.  I mentioned Live Aid, which changed the face of charity as we know it today.  The Berlin Wall; as a kid growing up in the sixties and seventies, you know I used to think there would be nuclear war, and when the Berlin Wall came down with Gorbachev and Yeltsin, it was, wow, God, at last you can breathe a sigh of relief.  And with apartheid, we were actually the first EMI artists to go into South Africa when apartheid ended in 1991.  I want people to take away a sense of here was a decade that had major changes economically, politically on a worldwide basis -  but for Britain, and musically, as well, musically, it was probably the last decade that music and fashion went hand in hand.  You had the seventies with glam, you had the sixties, you had the fifties with the crooners - Sinatra, Bing Crosby - and everything else, but the eighties was probably the last decade where you had music and fashion linked.  So, that's a lot to go away with.


SOUL BOYS OF THE WESTERN WORLD
is now playing at New York City's IFC Center and expands to LA and nationwide on May 8th.

This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.

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