Pinch Me Moment No.1
Wednesday morning, March 25, 2009.
Broadcaster and Blitz kid Robert Elms is standing in front of the world’s press in the cramped surrounds of the HMS Belfast talking about the band he last saw play there 29 years ago.
“The whole world wanted to get on board this boat that night,” he reminisces while behind him on a flat screen TV monitor, a 19 year old Tony Hadley loads up the van with John Keeble, on their way to a date with destiny at the Scala cinema.
“It was a night that kick-started the 80s.”
Elms promises not to reprise any dodgy poetry, but as DJ Rusty Egan wraps up his set of The Blitz’s Tuesday night go-to tunes – Telex and Gina X, no longer from a box of records but now a laptop – Bob can’t resist one last revisit to a shared past.
“Welcome to the Dance of Perfection, The Spandau Ballet…”
As cameras flash and sounds that once ignited a decade are mashed with images of a Britain in crisis both now and then, five smiling figures enter stage right and sit themselves down.
With no further ado Tony Hadley picks up a radio mike and says the words that no one thought they would ever hear.
“As you can see, we’re back together again.”
Pinch Me Moment No.2
Dublin, early evening October 13, 2009.
Backstage at the O2 arena and the countdown has begun on opening night. Friends and family, production crew and management all hurry in and out of frame with last minute queries and heartfelt well-wishes as a cameraman, director and sound unit record it all for posterity.
Doing their best to clear some head-space, five old school-friends start to go about the business of being a band again. John Keeble wakes from his nap, pulls on his trainers and begins his warm-up sprints down the corridor, followed by a glass of wine. In the allotted music room Steve Norman is having a blow on his sax before he also has a settling swig. Gary Kemp, who has been ready for hours, is now fiddling with his tie. Brother Martin is calmer than he can ever remember. And Tony is wandering around semi-naked going, “Has anyone got any Enochs?” as he hunts for a clean towel.
Five minutes till curtain up and the dressing room has been cleared of all but the five. Tony and John introduce Steve to a tried and trusted primer from their days on the road, a 99 Alert, consisting of a shot of 99% Blue label vodka and a mixer of choice, knocked back in one.
The five North London lads look at each other and silently acknowledge how far they’ve come. They shake hands, as they will on every subsequent night of the Reformation tour, and head for the stage – their stage – and the screams and cheers that are welcoming them home.
“The best year of our lives” – March 2009 – June 2010.
That’s how Martin Kemp describes it. And for fans and band alike that’s how it felt. Giddy, unbelievable and right.
That this would genuinely be more than just a fleeting moment became apparent with their first musical appearance back together on the Jonathan Ross Show that April. Playing ‘Chant No.1’, reunited with the original Beggar & Co, the band sounded snappier, punchier, but something more important shone through.
“Nicko, Iron Maiden’s drummer, phoned me up after Jonathan Ross,” says John, “and the first thing he said wasn’t about how we sounded. He said, ‘You looked fabulous on the sofa. You looked like a band.’ That body language means everything. Forget the songs, forget the music, this was all about being cohesive and being a band again. We’re Spandau Ballet – who the f*** are you?”
“Spandau has always been about five very different characters,” says Gary. “So it was very important that Jonathan interviewed us en masse on the sofa. If he’d just asked to talk to me and Tony it wouldn’t have been the same. We came from an era where everyone in a five piece band was equal and equally known to the public.
“The only shame was that they cut a moment in the broadcast where another of Jonathan’s guests, Oscar winning actress Helen Mirren, talked about ‘True’ being a really big part of her relationship with the Eighties and surprised us by singing a bit of the song.”
Six months later on a Sunday afternoon at Elstree, as they crowd round a table in the studio canteen, that cohesiveness is still apparent. They’re half an hour away from embarking on their most important dress rehearsal since that Saturday morning Halligan’s, 30 years before. Now the modest, sticky-carpeted rehearsal studio on the Holloway Road has been upgraded to the world famous George Lucas stage where friends and family will be the first to see a run-through of the whole show before the tour kicks off in Dublin two days later.
But there are no signs of nerves. Not only is everyone good to go but they’ve been further bolstered by the knowledge that they have a new single, ‘Once More’, and a complete studio album of acoustic reinventions of their back catalogue, already neatly tucked away.
“I think the new album has been the most productive and creative album we’ve ever done in a way – even though we’re for the most part revisiting old songs,” enthuses Tony.
Steve Norman says he knew it was special from the first moment they rehearsed upstairs in Gary’s Fitzrovia home.
“There was a definite magic in the room the first time at Gary’s that the five of us sat and played together again,” says Steve. “Collectively it felt powerful. You realised that everyone brings something unique to the band. No one can be replaced. It’s not just the chemistry. It’s the way everyone plays together.”
“Originally we only envisaged this was ever going to be a one-off,” continues Tony. “There would be one greatest hits tour and that would be it. I don’t think any of us thought there would be an album. But we’ve rekindled our friendships. It was always going to be different but we’re all older and we’re getting on really well – much better than I expected, to be honest! Everyone’s really respectful of each other’s space and of each other as people.”
Just how far they’d come is illustrated on their opening night in Dublin. As the rest of the band leaves the stage, Gary starts up an acoustic version of ‘With The Pride’ with Tony. No doubt fired by the sense of occasion, the song sets off at a rate of knots then falters as it strives to find its footing.
The singer looks at the songwriter and calmly breaks the ice, “I tell you what,” says Tony, with a grin. “Let’s do that again.”
“You couldn’t have planned that,” says Gary, “which made the audience’s response all the more special. They’d clearly all had their own sticky moments in life but there was Tony and I proving that things can change again.”
There are many such moments through the tour. For John Keeble another comes on the first night at London’s O2, the show that had sold out in 20 minutes when tickets first went on sale the day of the HMS Belfast announcement.
“I’d made a comment to Gary three years ago in the private member’s club Soho House, at a point when nothing was sorted,” says John. “I said, ‘What I’m aiming for is to be standing on a speaker stack at the O2, shouting come the f*** on!’”
Three years on, as the band sign off with a final flourish of ‘Gold’ and thank the sell-out 18,000 strong crowd, John climbs up onto the PA stack with Gary and reminds his pal of that conversation. There’s only one thing to do.
“I did it,” says John. “And it felt good.”
The three nights at the O2 provided the homecoming that all five London lads had so keenly yearned for after two decades away from the stage. But as the tour stretched into 2010, rolling out across Europe and beyond, there were plenty more highlights as band and fans alike revisited their past and thrilled at a hardly-dare-to-be-dreamed-of future.
More than a quarter of a century since Spain had first begun its love affair with the band and Italy had bought the Through The Barricades album in such quantities that it even outsold Springsteen and Michael Jackson, the two countries celebrated once again. In Barcelona – in many ways a home from home for the band – bras were launched at Tony. In Milan, Florence and Rome, ‘I’ll Fly For You’ was greeted with the same rapturous reception it had received when it was first unveiled at the San Remo festival in 1985.
In Holland there was finally a chance to play for the very first time in Amsterdam in the purpose built Heineken arena. Berlin and Munich brought back memories of clubbing and recording days. While New Zealand, South Africa and Dubai rocked to their first ever live Spandau shows.
In Australia, where Spandaumania had seen the band play an unprecedented week in Melbourne on their first time Down Under, there were unexpected flashbacks as the band realised that the location for their press conference on the top floor of the Melbourne Hilton’s executive business lounge had last been used by Spandau as the battleground for the mother of all early morning food fights. Back then they had left a carpet of club sandwiches, a bin of empty champagne bottles and a selection of ketchup filled mini-hamburgers carefully cemented to the walls, now they were just thrilled to be back once more pumping out ‘Always In The Back of My Mind’
Returning to the UK for the summer of 2010, Spandau had only ever played one other festival – a busy little afternoon in front of an estimated 2 billion viewers called Live Aid – so there were game faces on when they took to the stage on a Sunday afternoon in June at the Isle of Wight festival alongside big leaguers like The Strokes, Jay-Zee and Paul McCartney.
Delivering a paired down 40 minute set and cheekily taking full advantage of the runway laid out for US superstar Pink, Spandau delivered the gig of their lives in blazing sunshine with the help of tens of thousands of word-perfect fans.
With a final show at Newmarket with backstage hugs all round, finishing off the whole incredible year the latter part of 2010 has already been spent looking to the future.
A debrief over a few drinks between John and Gary seems to sum up where the band are now.
“There was a bit of chat in the dressing room before that last night at Newmarket,” recalls John. “I remember talking to Gary and he wasn’t happy that his guitars and big amps were going to be going back into boxes and wouldn’t be seen again for a while.
“You miss everything at the end of a tour. You miss the piss-taking, you even miss the getting up early. It’s a big adventure. It’s the best thing you can do. Everyone wants to be a rock star and it doesn’t get much better than a tour like that.
“But now people are looking to the future. Are we going to do this again? Of course we will. There’s no agenda to sort out any more. File Spandau under ‘to be continued’...”
Paul Simper, formerly of No.1 magazine, Melody Maker and New Sounds New Styles.
13th October – O2, Dublin
14th October – The Odyssey, Belfast
16th October – Sheffield Arena
17th October – SECC, Glasgow
20th, 21st and 22nd October – O2,London
24th October – LG, Birmingham
25th Ocotber – LG, Birmingham
26th October – Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle
28th October – MEN Arena, Manchester
29th October – Echo Arena, Liverpool
1st November – Heineken Music, Amsterdam
17th November – BBC Radio Theatre, London
8th December – Orchid, Piccadilly, London
26th February – Belgrade Arena – Belgrade, Serbia
27th February – Dom Sportova – Zagreb, Croatia
1st March – Mediolanum Arena – Milan, Italy
2nd March – Palalottomatica – Rome, Italy
3rd March – Mandela Forum – Florence, Italy
5th March – Zenith – Munich, Germany
6th March – Columbiahalle – Berlin, Germany
7th March – Phillipshalle – Dusseldorf, Germany
9th March – Heineken Music Hall – Amsterdam, Holland
10th March – Forest National – Brussels, Belgium
12th March – Palau Olimpic Badalona – Barcelona, Spain
14th March – Pavilhao Atlantico – Lisbon, Portugal
15th March – Palacio Vistalegre – Madrid, Spain
17th April – Perth Caversham Sandalford Winery, Perth
19th April – Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide
21st April – Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
23rd April –Sydney Entertainment Centre, Sydney
25th April – Sydney Entertainment Centre, Sydney
27thApril – Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane
29th April – Auckland Vector Arena, Auckland
2nd May – Big Top Arena, Jo-berg
5th May – The Grand Arena, Cape Town
7th May – Sevens Stadium, Dubai
3rd June – Sandown Racecourse
11th June – Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen
13th June – Isle of Wight
19th June – Isle of Man
25th June – Newmarket Racecourse