The origins of Spandau Ballet can be traced to 1976, when school friends Tony Hadley, Gary Kemp, John Keeble and Steve Norman formed an early incarnation of the band as The Cut when they were attending Dame Alice Owen Grammar. This became the semi-professional group The Makers, but it wasn’t until 1979 and the addition of Gary’s younger brother Martin Kemp (replacing other short-lived members of the group) that things started to happen for them. Another friend, Steve Dagger, was ‘managing’ them, they changed their name again to The Gentry, and they became immersed in the New Romantic movement championed at such London clubs as The Blitz (see 5 March) where the members of the band could often be found as the 80s began.
Initially, Spandau Ballet identified with punk culture in every aspect except the dress sense. Gary Kemp (the group’s songwriter and key spokesman in the early years) took the view that if you were young and had no money, it was worth dressing up as best you could to take yourself away from the dismal day-to-day. The outré clothes and eye-catching hairstyles and striking make-up (particularly the men’s) was designed to draw attention and to make one stand out, rather than fit in with the grungy punk ‘uniform’. The pop acts who inspired theme nights where these fashions could be worn were the like of glam-rock veterans Roxy Music and Krautrock exponents Kraftwerk, and, most importantly, David Bowie, whose 70s legacy included albums recorded in both genres with his Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke personas.
As for the music: well, that didn’t seem to matter so much. “It was very purist, very clothes oriented,” Kemp said of the scene when he spoke to Sounds in October 1980. “The music was irrelevant really, it [The Blitz] was just a place to gather.” Nevertheless, the music of the artists paid homage to at The Blitz, Billy’s, etc did begin to influence the musical direction of his group. Not only did they not look like a punk band with their styled hair and tartan clothes (including kilts), with their use of synthesizers they didn’t sound like one other. Renamed Spandau Ballet in time for their first gig on 17 November 1979 (another band of relevance to this blog their live debut the following night – see tomorrow’s article), they played to an invited audience of around 50 in a rehearsal room during the day – an unusual start. But over the next year they would play a variety of unorthodox venues and by keeping the publicity for each event to a minimum they developed a cult following. They also came to the attention of several record companies’ A&R departments and by the summer of 1980 offers of recording contracts were being made.
Chrysalis won out. So confident was the label about their new signing that they created a subsidiary specifically for the release of Spandau’s work, Reformation (named after an early song in the band’s repertoire). Debut single To Cut A Long Story Short, released in the autumn of 1980, was an early success for producer Richard James Burgess, who would go on to produce for Adam Ant, Five Star, Paul King’s King and Kim Wilde. In fact, both that single and Muscle Bound, two of the singles taken from the Burgess-produced debut Spandau Ballet album Journeys To Glory, made the Top 10.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Mar. 20
BAUHAUS (Peter Murphy) Kick In The Eye (Beggars Banquet BEG54)
David BOWIE Up The Hill Backwards (RCA BOW9)
SOFT CELL A Man Can Get Lost (Some Bizarre HARD1)
SPANDAU BALLET Muscle Bound (Reformation CHS2509)
BROTHER BEYOND Can You Keep A Secret ’89 (Parlophone R6197)
The CULT (Ian Astbury) Fire Woman (Beggars Banquet BEG228)
Bryan FERRY He’ll Have To Go (EG EGO48)
HOLLYWOOD BEYOND (Mark Rogers) Let’s Get Together (Warriors Dance WAF009)
Holly JOHNSON Americanos (MCA MCA1323)
Kirsty MacCOLL Free World (Virgin KMA1)
MARTIKA More Than You Know (Epic 6545207)
THEN JERICO (Mark Shaw) What Does It Take? (London LON223)
TRANSVISION VAMP (Wendy James) Baby I Don’t Care (MCA TVV6)