Spandau Ballet’s 1986 “comeback” had seemingly gone without a hitch. Following their Europe-wide hit Through The Barricades single and success with the similarly-titled album, the tour Through The Barricades… Across The Borders commenced in December 1986. It was, according to Gary Kemp in his autobiography, Spandau “in its pomp, the moment when all our stars aligned and burst their light upon the stages of Europe. With barricades a hit single, the UK tour saw us play to more people there than we’d ever done before. In Madrid we received the keys to the city, presented to us by the mayor in Franco’s palace, and then played as the only artists on the bill to our biggest audience ever – over 100,000 in the town’s Casa De Campo. Our final show was to 50,000 in a park in Treviso, and it brought the number of ticket sold on that tour to almost a million.”
But in the same chapter of his book, Kemp acknowledged the growing DJ culture – in the UK in particular – and how this affected the band’s future prospects. British holidaymakers were bringing the music they heard in clubs abroad home with them and the people spinning discs in clubs at home were becoming the celebrities. Gigs where the artists performed live and created their own legend, like Spandau had in the early 80s, had given way to pre-recorded music video for spreading the act’s word (and Spandau also exploited this medium ruthlessly), but now the artists weren’t required to appear at all: their music could be endorsed and promoted by a third party. The grunge genre in the early 90s would return live music to the centre stage, but in the closing years of the 80s the whims of DJs and production teams carried a lot of weight. At the beginning of 1987, Spandau Ballet scored a final Top 40 hit when How Many Lies? made #34.
In the summer of 1988, the band returned to the studio to record their sixth album, but there were some changes. Kemp had written the songs as usual, but he had gone to the trouble of recording demos using the latest computerised recording techniques and it was these he used to present the material to his band mates. The changes Kemp was proposing were bound to cause some in the band to baulk: one innovation for example was the use of drum programming, which Kemp indicated he thought should be retained for the final version of the songs on the album. This rendered drummer John Keeble redundant. “I knew this would be our final album and I didn’t care what the others thought,” Kemp said. “I felt I’d been taken for granted for far too long and I was angry.” As well as musical changes, he was also making some alterations to the business arrangements he had with the band. “Around this time I made another decision. Since the early eighties I’d had my own publishing company [Reformation Publishing Company Limited, incorporated 12 February 1981]. It collected the money I earned as songwriter for Spandau Ballet … I wanted my money to contribute towards the running costs of the band. To me, it seemed a fair thing to do, and so I did it on a year-by-year basis. Now with the end looming, I chose to stop that contribution. I told Dagger and Martin. Dagger told the others. There was no confrontation about it, but it was a decision that would have a very slow-burning fuse indeed, and more destructive fire power than anything I could possibly image.”
If that wasn’t enough to damage relations with the others, Kemp was also about to revive his acting career. He had been a child actor in the 1970s and now he had the opportunity to star in the movie ‘The Krays’ with his brother. This moonlighting by the Kemp brothers could only further a division between them and Keeble, Tony Hadley and Steve Norman. But the group continued, even if by this stage it was no longer the tightknit unit it once was. But their first single from the latest sessions, Raw, released in the summer of 1988 after an 18-month wait, failed to reach the UK Top 40. Furthermore, there was a further year before the follow-up Be Free With Your Love appeared – and that did so just as the Kemps were at their most involved with ‘The Krays’, leaving the others to carry much of the burden of promoting Heart Like A Sky album, which sold poorly. There was greater support for the band in continental Europe with the two singles mentioned making the Top 10 in Italy, for instance, but even in the most loyal territories final Spandau offering of the decade Empty Spaces was a failure. It didn’t chart anywhere. The declining sales led to an ugly confrontation in Barcelona between Gary Kemp and the band’s Spanish promoter, who accused Kemp of “letting him down” with the latest material after he’d dedicated years to building up the band’s reputation there. Steve Dagger was making himself ill trying to keep everything together.
☛ What happened next
Although the band’s split wasn’t officially confirmed, the failure of the band’s final single Crashed Into Love to claim any higher than #96 in the UK in February 1990 (their worst chart placing), together with the attention Gary and Martin Kemp received for their appearance in ‘The Krays’ (released two months later) led to most people assuming Spandau Ballet was finished anyway. 1991 saw the release of a second greatest hits collection but it was the heavy sampling of the single True on PM Dawn’s international hit Set Adrift On Memory Bliss that ensured some sort of legacy for the group: their former hits would be referenced in a number of future hits for other acts, and used successfully in advertising campaigns.
Unfortunately, Spandau Ballet’s greatest legacy turned out to be a significant legal ruling given in 1999 when Hadley, Keeble and Norman sued Gary Kemp seeking £3m in royalties. Relating to Kemp’s 1987 decision to stop payments from his publishing company towards the band’s maintenance, the trio’s lawyer said that “they all say that Gary Kemp agreed from the early stage of the discussions that it was fair that all the members of the band should have some share of the publishing royalties despite the fact that he wrote the lyrics, music and basic chord structures of all the songs.” Kemp (supported by Dagger) denied this, and the judge found in his favour. He acknowledged Hadley sang “in his own memorable style” but this did not amount to writing the songs; he argued that Keeble’s contribution “excellent though it was” was to the performance of, rather than to the creation of, the compositions; and noted that while Norman displayed “elements of a performer’s creativity … it did not significantly change the songs”. Kemp described it on the day as “a victory on behalf of all songwriters.” The claimants appealed but withdrew this six months later “in the interests of goodwill”.
After nearly twenty years apart, in which the members rarely met or spoke to each other, they reunited in 2009 for a series of ‘greatest hits’ concerts, the Reformation Tour. A press conference to confirm they were working together again was held aboard HMS Belfast, the scene of one of their earliest gigs. The tour was a success and led to an album of new and re-worked songs, Once More, which made the Top 10 in the UK. Spandau Ballet today remains a going concern.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Aug. 14
SKIDS Fields (Virgin VS401)
ULTRAVOX (Midge Ure) The Thin Wall (Chrysalis CHS2540)
BON JOVI (Jon Bon Jovi) Lay Your Hands On Me (Vertigo JOV5)
EURYTHMICS Revival (RCA DA17)
SPANDAU BALLET Be Free With Your Love (Reformation SPANS4)
Joe STRUMMER Gangsterville (Epic STRUM1)