Spandau Shakeup Stabilizes…To What End?

One of these things is not like the other…

While we have had our head stuck down the OMD rabbit hole for many months, the world has not ceased spinning on its axis. Last July, Tony Hadley beat what seemed like a hasty exit from Spandau Ballet after nine years back in the fold when the band surprisingly reunited in 2009 after nearly 20 years of vituperative acrimony of the worst kind. Quite frankly, with what went down in the 90s with that band, I was beyond shocked that they regrouped at all.

When the band split in the early 90s in the face of an indifferent audience, the members who were not the Kemp Brothers sued Gary Kemp for songwriting royalties and lost. This meant they they had to sell their shares in the band to pay for their legal costs. Leaving them in a diminished capacity as compared to before the lawsuit. Every Spandau Ballet song with the exception of “Motivator,” which was written by Steve Norman [nice work, Steve], was the handiwork of Gary Kemp, so naturally he reaped the [not insignificant] publishing income. But Spandau Ballet worked in all other ways as a collective. All other income [concerts, merchandise, artist royalties] were split evenly by all five members in 20% shares. Most of the band were Labor voters so this largely worked. John Keeble and Steve Norman recognized that collectively, no one member was bigger than Spandau Ballet.

Tony Hadley – The Man With The Golden Lungs, looking all flinty

The fly in the ointment was The Velvet Foghorn himself; Mr. Tony Hadley. Hadley was the lone Tory amongst them. That alone framed a rift that was always present and when Hadley split from the group, I’m surmising that he was getting a little tired of the five way split. After all, he was the lead singer, right? Lead singers can always go solo since they usually front the band. This much is true, but in Hadley’s case he remained primarily a singer, not a writer. His solo output [many more albums than Spandau managed] has from what I can see, about one and a half albums worth of tunes he wrote or co-wrote. For the most part he sings standards … and Diane Warren type stuff. Not our kind.

Therefore, when he recorded a solo album from 1992-2008, he will never reap the wild publishing income in the way that, let’s say… Jim Kerr could with his solo project that he co-wrote with his fellow writers. Kerr was canny enough to make sure he put in his share of the writing effort by writing his lyrics, whether it’s for a Simple Minds release or his lone solo album. Comparatively speaking, Tony earns his crust by putting bottoms in seats. Also by selling albums, as the artist, but few people are doing that any more, so he earns his income by singing for his supper. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does put him at a disadvantage.

Ross William Wild looking very Dave Gahan

Meanwhile, Spandau have moved onward. A few weeks ago the band played an intimate club gig at Subterrania. It was probably the first time any of them had seen the inside of a club from the stage in 35 years! Not coincidentally. Spandau’s new singer isn’t even that old. They have robbed the cradle to find their new singer, a gent who sang the Elvis role in a stage musical that Martin Kemp was playing the Scotty Moore role in. Ross William Wild is just 30, making him almost half the mean age of the rest of the band. He’s from a musical theater background with lots of acting and singing. A sample of his album on his website reveals some theatrical melodrama that would not be out of place on Spandau cuts, even as the material itself was more intimate than the typical “slay at 30 places” bluster of Hadley unleashed.

Presumably, Wild could bring the vitality of youth to reenergize the band, whom I have not paid much attention to since their reformation. Spandau ended for me by the mid eighties. Most of their output since then has been in the MOR vein of mega hit “True.” I preferred their clubbing days. By far. Holy mackerel, I just looked and found that there was a video for the Trevor Horn produced track “Steal” from their 2014 compilation “The Story.” They salted that one with three new Horn-produced tracks as I mentioned years ago, but I had not even bothered investigating in that time. Looks like my instincts bore that strategy out. “Steal” was yet another soporific Spandau track aiming for the middle of the road.

Blueprint Recording Corporation | UK | CD | BLUEP 10 CD | 2018

Okay, then. Maybe with this Wild child singing, they might let their hair down for a change. I retain a shred of optimism, in any case. We shall see. In the meantime. Tony Hadley has already recorded and released the album that has rekindled his solo career. He ran a Pledge Music campaign to pre-sell it, but I didn’t investigate. It was called “Talking To The Moon” and was released on June 6th of this year.  As I suspected, bombast cheek-by-jowel with MOR ballads. I never bothered with either Gary Kemp or Hadley’s solo career and it looked like my strategy was correct. Hadley seems to have been caught up in a label that has strong ties to Go West and even his producer Gary Stevenson looks to have had a finger in every Go West release ever! I always felt that Go West were the type of band that Spandau would have been without Gary Kemp’s batty songwriting or their solid rhythm section. That is to say, missable.

If I wasn’t moved to check out any of the releases like “Once More” or “The Story,” which actually had three new songs produced by Trevor Horn, that Hadley made with Spandau Ballet, what are the chances that I would be motivated to hear him singing just any old songs? The only Hadley solo performance that sounded remotely interesting to me was when commenter Tim [as I recall] mentioned the fact that Hadley had covered Duran Duran’s “Rio” some years back. That showed cheek! So when and if Spandau make new music with Wild, I will cock an ear and see if it bears investigating, but 30 years of slack Spandau releases put them at a disadvantage. Let’s adopt a wait-and-see posture on this one.

– 30 –

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26 Responses to Spandau Shakeup Stabilizes…To What End?

  1. “Save A Prayer” was also well done. I thought Hadley’s “Dance With Me” was a decent take. And Spandau’s 2009 reworking of “Gold” I prefer to the original. The crooner in him shines in live performances on Youtube- “Suspicious Minds”, etc., apparently hard to capture on studio recordings.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      orange county dj – The remake of “Gold” is superior??!! Is this blasphemy? It’s a profoundly Vegalicious*, John Barry spectacular in its original /live/extended form! I must investigate this phenomenon and report back with my findings.

      * That isn’t a word, is it?

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      • Didn’t Kemp state that the remakes were what the band WOULD have done had they the resources and maturity at the time? Subjective I suppose but due to your article PPM, I stumbled across and downloaded the Gold remake and have had it on repeat since- hence the smile on my face.

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  2. Tim says:

    Mr. Hadley has a album of nothing but covers ranging from his own former band to Tears For Fears “Woman in Chains” and then off to Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.”

    One can’t make that up. You read right, Tom Petty.

    I’m in league with you – generally – with the SB career arc, I think we diverge at Parade which is a fine collection of pop songs. That and this album called “All That Jazz” which was done by a great SB tribute band.

    I missed all the stuff that happened in the 1990’s but really with or without Kemp they haven’t done much that merits spending money on (or even pirating) since about 1985. The interesting thing is the resurrection of the band with a new vocalist. I haven’t heard anything with him and shrug, after 33 years of them not really doing anything that grabs me by the lapels and shouts in my face BUY THIS I can manage without.

    FGTH did the same trick replacing Holly Johnson, if you don’t have the Trevor Horn tribute concert dvd (which is an essential for a music video library) it’s worth checking out. Again, 80’s band replaces lead with vocalist about 1/2 their ages and, well, it worked ok. Once I got around the ‘he’s not Holly” part of it I thought that the guy did a commendable job. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I have tepid interest in Queen and caught a trailer for the biopict when we went to see “Solo” and you know, I like music and I like history and that trailer sold me on seeing a movie that I probably would not have otherwise. The casting for the bandmates looked impressive and the movie looks fun and I suspect from the vibe of the trailer a warts and all sort of thing and not let’s just show the pretty side of this.

    Earworm for the day has been Mr. Roboto. Can’t get that song out of my head. Could be worse, a co-worker was plagued by Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us.” Shudder.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – That’s a lotta gruel to masticate there, fella! I have been tepid on “Parade” since day one, but in retrospect, it’s creeping up in my esteem lately. It is the Spandau line in the sand, undoubtedly. Yeah, I saw the cover album from Hadley, though one could make the case that most, if not all of his solo albums are such! The guy’s just a singing machine. Pour in songs and he’ll belt them out at full volume. Good, bad, or indifferent material. It really doesn’t matter.

      I didn’t know about the FGTH vocalist replacement at the TCH tribute. The Queen movie is so less than on my radar since I really can’t abide that band. Though I can’t stand his tone, I do admire Brian May to no end personally for not forsaking his education and getting that doctorate in astrophysics many years later after the Queen saga had played out.

      “Mr. Roboto” earworm? Seek professional help!

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      • Tim says:

        I am equally indifferent to Queen…I tell ya, that trailer got me.
        I left something out of the above comment, there’s all these bands rebooting and they’re rebooting without the lead singer.

        The lead.

        And all of them, i don’t think it’s really sparked their career back up. You get a tv show or special out of it or somesuch, i think FGTH did the same thing that INXS did with some sort of search for talent tv show but…..really, where are they now? So you replaced Hutchence, I don’t see any new material tearing up the charts. Sometimes it’s just for the best to get that degree or become a behind the scenes songwriter or session musician, otherwise I think the career arc devolves to playing your local Indian casino.or being the band on the 12th line, the one with the really teeny tiny font, on some UK summer festival poster.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – I have to say you nailed that one in the head! Either the band changed singer and became huge [AC/DC, New Order, Faith No More, Ultravox] or exactly the opposite happens. The numbers are with option two. It can be argued that the first two on that list were already on their way to the success they later realized. Your advice is sage.

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    • Echorich says:

      I’ve gotta get in on some of this Spandau “plie and jeté.” Parade is a simply wonderful album. It takes some of the best themes of the very uneven True and made them sharp and straight. The musical triptych of Only When You Leave/Highly Strung/I’ll Fly For You is a stellar album opener. Nature Of The Beast has its origin in Diamond era songwriting from Gary Kemp. Album closer Round And Round is, in my estimation, a far higher quality ballad and showcase of The Velvet Foghorn than True.

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      • Tim says:

        Amen , preach it! The only track I really like from Through the Barricades is “Swept”, let’s just nudge that nugget over to “Parade” and we’re good.

        Is “Parade” “Diamond, Part 2”? No, but is it an album of fine pop songs? Yes.

        I feel the same way about the mid 80’s Thompson Twins efforts, which I have been revisiting and enjoying a lot these days.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – Good call on “Swept.” Not so arena on that one. I see where you went with “Parade” and maybe “Into The Gap” but I’ll take “Parade” any day. I only bought “Gap” when the DLX RM came out and had never heard it. Had I not, I would not miss it overmuch. Recent revisiting was super inconclusive.

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  3. diskojoe says:

    I was reading the latest issues of MOJO & UNCUT this past weekend & there were stories in both about Nick Mason putting together a band to do early Pink Floyd songs & that one of the Kemps was the lead singer.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      diskojoe – Gaaaah! I completely missed this comment for way too long. Obviously, I eventually saw that on The Guardian and managed a post about it since it’s beyond fascinating to me. Sorry for missing this nugget the first time I was paying attention to this comment thread. Can you ever forgive me?

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  4. I’d be willing to give Parade another listen after a few decades, but … I gave it a good listen when it came out and was horrified by the band’s transformation into a feel-good, family-friendly Vegas act. Mind you, I didn’t care for “True,” either. Give me the band that did “Paint Me Down” and “Musclebound,” please.

    I’m not mad that they changed direction, and maybe time will grant me the ability to reassess Parade as its own thing and a totally new direction, rather than a crash-and-burn sellout of one of two great bands that emerged from — but were barely ever a part of — the New Romantic era.

    Thanks to (perhaps ironically) the Monk’s periodic entreaties to explore and enjoy “light pop” acts like Carmel, Weekend, Matt Bianco, Swing Out Sister, and Meet Danny Wilson* among others, I can embrace “pop” much more readily than I could when I perceived it as ruining 80s music. But knowing that Tony Hadley is the element that has been dragging the band down all these decades isn’t likely to help me give it (or other later efforts) a fair re-assessment.

    *Dumbest band name of the mid-80s? I’m hard-pressed to think of a “mainstream” act with a dumber one …

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – Even with Simple Minds [covering… Dire Straits?!] I will easily pass on this dish. Way too MOR for my tastes and the song/vocalist selection fails to inspire. Let’s face it. with the exception of “Left To My Own Devices” and “Tenement Symphony,” what has Horn really done for me since 1986? ZTT died with the “Liverpool” album.

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      • Tim says:

        I initially was incredibly disappointed with the PSB Fundamental album and sold it almost immediately. Over time, wow, that one has grown incredibly on me.
        Curiousity question, have you seen the Trevor Horn tribute concert dvd?

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  5. Tim says:

    I’ve been following the comments on this over at SDE and it’s pretty interesting reading. A lot of folks are rejecting this outright not having heard it and, well, as long as Trevor Horn is driving the train I am willing to buy a ticket.

    The trend now is for symphonic takes, if you poke around amazon uk there’s a lot of BBC radio driven covers collections. I’ve heard a few and the QC based on who is performing is often about what you’d expect but every one of these lands some surprise gems and some of the sets are just all around fun.

    I have no idea how I found it, may even have been via this blog, but Duncan Sheik has an album of 80’s covers. I have pretty much no horse in this race, I think “Barely Breathing” is a great pop song and everything else this guy has done does zero for me. Well, almost everything. He has an album of 80’s covers and, um, I haven’t heard it but the companion album is 80’s covers remixed which I have and it is a great little collection.

    I think these products have a high YMMV quotient baked into them and one of the delights of the modern age is being able to buy things ala carte via Amazon or iTunes. The link I had points you to the Trevor Horn site and I hope this sees a general release via other sites because to me it looks just kinda kooky and probably fun. I don’t have any of the originals on a pedestal but I do thank Mr. Horn for years of enjoyable music and am more than willing to throw a tenner in his direction on this if it’s made easy for me to get.

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