Employing a style similar to the Rolling Stones documentary ‘Crossfire Hurricane’, Spandau Ballet: Soul Boys of the Western World’ uses archive footage, riveting library film and fresh commentary from the band to create an impassioned and loving document about a band who despite global success are known yet unknown. This film redresses the balance.
Director George Hencken has lovingly assembled a document using wonderful archive footage, her tenure with Julien Temple (The Filth and the Fury, Oil City Confidential) in full evidence with exquisite context setting and numerous ventures down memory lane.
The film is narrated by Robert Elms; scenester, man about town and the person responsible for rechristening the band after seeing it scrawled on toilets in Berlin. This rebranding injecting fresh impetus allowing them to leave their punk imitation act behind and draw on shared passions such as soul and funk allied to reinvention.
Comprised of five uniquely individual characters: Gary Kemp the autocrat, Tony Hadley the single-minded vox box, John Keeble the voice of reason and lynchpin, the fragile and endearing Steve Norman and the laconic Martin Kemp the documentary tells a familiar tale of hard work, dedication, sheer will, friendship, success, acrimony and redemption this is a classic rock and roll tale of ‘money, drugs, women and ego’. In the elder Kemp’s case he had the latter in spades. Leader, dictator and sole songwriter he took control in every way and without his drive they wouldn’t have got out of Islington. When questioned about his song writing he admits that he is scared of being outdone by the others if they decided to take it up, his panic at a loss of control clear to see. Equally, a scene where Norman and Hadley are asked about the subject they react as if it’s never crossed their minds yet the penny appears to drop that they might be captives in Kemp’s vision prison.
The film has a telling photograph of him reading ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli on a plane, the go-to-tome of how to rule so beloved of political power players. There are also visible signs of tension etched on his face when Tony Hadley makes a quip about Japan (the country!) not buying the records and when asked about Steve Norman’s theatrics and subsequent knee rupture that resulted in the cancellation of a lucrative US tour. Compared to today’s PR orchestrated, scripted and media trained, charisma-free droids, episodes like these add further credence to the mantra ‘the camera never lies’; these are revealing insights.
The bleak end of the 1970s and the dawn of the 80s saw the emergence of the Blitz Club in London with its crowd of wannabes, gonnabes and never weres and Spandau capitalised on this nascent energy and ran with it. Along with Visage’s Steve Strange and Rusty Egan, attendees such as Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Martin Degville, Boy George, the androgynous Marilyn has parallels with the Sex Pistols gig at Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1976 where such luminaries as Morrissey, Paul Morley, Buzzcocks and Mick Hucknall took inspiration to become what and who they are. The thriving scene was a site of transformation, of wonderment and escapism. Where the marginalised, ostracised and disenfranchised went to be free, be and create.
Following the success of the still future echo ‘New Pop’ of ‘To Cut a Long Story Short’ and the nu-soul sheen of ‘Gold’ they struggled to compete with their peers (Duran Duran, Human League) resorting to jumping on bandwagons (and a residency in St Tropez) until they hit the spot with the world bestriding ‘True’ in 1983 that classic end of school disco anthem.
Unsurprisingly, burn-out occurred as a result of success demanding more and familiarity breeding contempt. By 1990 after 10 years of incessant recording, touring and promoting, the band split. The Kemps ventured into the acting world starring in The Krays, an interview with them on set at the time starkly illustrating the breakdown in the friends’ relations, appearing astonished at the notion of them being in the group.
In 1986 they released their final Top Ten hit, ‘Through the Barricades’ which arguably is their epitaph Inspired by the shooting in Northern Ireland of a crew member the spirit of the song came to exemplify them in more ways than one. No more than in 1999 when after a gap of nine years Hadley, Keble and Norman took songwriter Kemp to court over unpaid royalties, a perennial bone of contention. Like The Smiths’ pecuniary episode three years earlier (where Mike Joyce successfully sued Morrissey and Marr) the argument reigned as to unconscious work and input into half-crafted works, tellingly Tony Hadley said that up until the final studio album Kemp would arrive in the studio with almost formed songs relying on group work to solidify and mould them into complete works. However the result swung in Kemp’s favour pouring more salt into wounds. With that in mind it is remarkable and testament to the healing powers of time and the bonds of friendship that in 2009, almost 20 years since they parted thee band got together again.
Personally, as an avid reader of Roy of the Rovers I was disappointed that there was no mention of the time Martin Kemp and Steve Norman turned out for Melchester Rovers (alongside Bob Wilson and (Kr)Emlyn Hughes no less).
This is a warts and all summary of the exhilaration and insanity of a touring band, the thrill and spills of being young, desired, adored and how friendships can be strained, tested and fractured; capturing the togetherness and unity and subsequent deterioration. The film encapsulates the qualities that Tony Hadley believed the band to espouse, ‘elegance and romance’ and more than the sum of its parts.
(Post 11th September 2001)
‘The focus on terrorism elevated fear into a public presence, creating a new atmospherics that could be appealed to and exploited. Miraculously, out of the rubble and phoenix-like emerged a stronger state, a “superpower” or “empire”. Superpower was commonly defined as the capability of a state to project force anywhere in the world and at a time of its own choosing. It might also be described as power that is continually challenging the forbidden as its predestined other.
The terrorism being combated by Superpower, while real enough, is one whose image Superpowers representatives have constructed. Superpower’s understanding of the requirements of its own powers has been guided by the character it has chosen to bestow on terrorism. Terrorism repays the mimicry by embracing advanced military technology and countering “shock and awe” with displays of beheadings on television. Too irreconcilable forms of power, terrorism and Superpower, locked together, each dependent on each other’
Sheldon S. Wollin, ‘Democracy Inc.: Managed democracy and the specter of inverted totalitarianism, p73, 2008
‘If only the morons knew that we’re behind it ALL’
Beck ‘Heart Is A Drum’
Here he is, fresh from another car crash of the heart it’s Beck Hansen. During his many periods of gloomy introspection Beck’s come to the conclusion that the heart is like a drum. He’s right. It beats, it kicks and it snares (just not her heart). The song itself is atmospheric, folk with some nice tinkling of the ivories evoking the work of the short-lived Nick Drake. Quick, hide the meds from him, he’s only gone and rented a Herzog film! Employing metaphysical lyrics, Dr Hansen says that you must let your blood pumper guide you, that as long as it beats you’re still alive, there’s so much going on beyond the five sense realm, yeah. “See only what you feel/Keeps you turning when you’re standing still.” Soothing words of comfort seemingly inspired by the gospels according to Ol’ Mother L. Ron Hubbard. Beck, as a friend, mano-a-mano, when it comes to keeping ya girl, you’re still a ‘Loser’. I’m always here, mate.
The Kooks ‘Forgive & Forget’
With the endorsement of uber-bad taste maker Zane Lowe how can this fail? First that tattooed melt, (Not a real Professor) Green, now another (less reliant) lift from INXS’ ‘Need you tonight’. Luke’s discovered ‘da funk’ and where 2006’s ‘Ooh-la-la’ caught the ears in a more than pleasant manner, the rest of the Kooksters’ output has been all a bit meh. Featuring a chorus appropriated from Joss Stone overall I’m left with a feeling of, “I can’t forgive, Luke, because it’ll take repeated listens of the Only Fools And Horses theme tune to make me forget this.”
Pharrell ‘Come Get It Bae’ (with Smiley Virus)
Another thinly veiled misogynistic release from the “Twat In The Hat 2.0″ means Jay “Miroquai” Kay can breathe a sigh of relief and stick to driving his flash cars around his estate safe in the knowledge his moniker’s gone. For good. It appears to be heresy to point out his plagiarism, but this heretic fears no wrath. TITH 2.0 continues his assault on taste with yet more rehashed funk/soul/pop music with dubious subject matter, this time with pop’s Queen of Ebola, Ms Vyrus. But, but, I hear you cry, he wears a big hat! He sang on a film soundtrack about being happy! Scratch away and you’ll see that he veers from mimicking Jacko to sub-Stevie, less than marvellous Gaye, patchwork Prince, cut-price Curtis – he’s a one-man karaoke. An unwelcome one at that. Whereas Thicke (by name…) took the flak for last year’s omnipresent ‘Blurred Lines’, Phazzer continues with this Ballardian/Cronenbergian tale of the procuration of sex using a motorcycle as metaphor; the bike as a two-stroke phallus with Pharr’s dip-stick. Vroom vroom, vacate the room. When Prince did/does this imagery there’s humour involved, this is boring and lazy; another charmless turn from the Sad Hatter. Number One nailed.
Paolo Nutini ‘Iron Sky’
The Scottish Rod Stewart delivers this cri de coeur channelling the Brentford Mod’s turn in Python Lee Jackson (‘In A Broken Dream’). This is a slow-paced number with Stax- alike horns and ‘Iron Sky’ as a metaphor for the structure of control, fear and paranoia that exists in the everyday. He’s certainly got a bee in his bonnie bonnet about something. “Colonised nations and minds, mass confusion, spoon fed to the blind, serves now to define, our cold society.” Is it about Caledonia freedom? The Great British Bake-Off? Predictably gravelly, smoky and husky, however, it’s hard to dislike ol’ Paul the lil’ Nut though, his plea being that freedom is achievable, weez just gotta luuurrve one anuuvah more, ya hear?
Sam Smith ‘I’m Not The Only One’
Sam’s innamorato’s (or so he thought) been getting all gooey-eyed with another, all subsequent conciliatory gestures now falling flat, they’ve been rumbled, that cat’s out the bag. Speaking of which… Sam’s back with his classic catch throat gargling, the noises articulating that he’s desperate for you to know that he can’t go on, he must go on, he will go on… He’s right about one thing, he’s not the only one. Is he this year’s Plan B or is that John Newman? It’s nigh on impossible how to tell who’s the King of the Crapstrato nowadays. This is hardly Daryl Hall or Michael McDonald, those purveyors of blue-eyed soul. Blue-eyed arseholes more like. Sam, stick to brewing your ales, the Alpine is an especially good pint, otherwise you’d best resign yourself to being part of the Steve Brookstein Express this time next year, the evening slot on the P&O ferry to Calais is free. Just sayin’
The Script ‘Superheroes’
Shittin’ crikey, is it already four albums from this shower? It is. The obligatory deep and meaningful keys usher the sermon in; O’Donoghue is back doing what he’s best at. “Which is..?” you cry. No, no, no, not sitting in a swivel chair passing judgement on (yeah, I know, insane) but, over-emoting, playing at being the rock star having read Bono’s “How to be a hypocritical philanthropist with off-shore bullion and get away with it. Volume I: Having the right connections”. Apparently this is for all “the unsung heroes out in the world.” I wish he could be unsung. According to DO’D, working day and night is how a superhero learns to fly. So, nothing to do with those “super” powers then? Best tell the millions struggling to make a living, pulling shifts at any opportunity. Even the Westlife borgs would have recoiled at this; “Feck off, Louis, dat’s fockin’ shoite.” The video has Dan and the other fellas taking their inspirational wares to an impoverished Third World dirt-town. Haven’t you heard, music is the food of love, so tuck in and “turn the pain into power”. Jeez.