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Gary Kemp: When we played Through the Barricades in Belfast the reaction was incredible


Pure gold: Gary Kemp (right) and Tony Hadley on stage

Pure gold: Gary Kemp (right) and Tony Hadley on stage

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Spandau Ballet in their Eighties heyday

Spandau Ballet in their Eighties heyday


Pure gold: Gary Kemp (right) and Tony Hadley on stage

With their acrimonious split behind them, Eighties supergroup Spandau Ballet are back on the road and play Northern Ireland next month. Songwriter Gary Kemp tells Andrew Johnston how the band did a lot of growing up and finally found closure.

When 1980s pop legends Spandau Ballet got back together in 2009, it was the reunion fans thought they'd never see. An acrimonious legal battle over royalties between main songwriter Gary Kemp and his erstwhile bandmates had seemingly closed the door on any future offerings from the True and Gold hit-makers.

But 2009's reformation tour, which included a visit to Belfast's Odyssey Arena, was a sell-out success and now, five years later, the group are finally about to hit the road again for a UK arena tour. Guitarist Gary (55) can't believe they've been away so long.

"Time flies," he laughs. "Suddenly, it is five years, but we've all been doing individual stuff. Tony (Hadley, lead vocalist) has a solo career, I do acting and various other bits and pieces. We started the world tour with some small gigs in America a couple of weeks ago, but now it's arena technical rehearsals time."

And among the shows Gary is most excited about is a return to the Odyssey on March 4. Belfast is a city that holds a special place in his heart, dating back to Spandau Ballet's heyday. The band's 1986 Top 10 single, Through the Barricades, was inspired by events that took place in Northern Ireland.

"We had a guy called 'Kidso' (Thomas Reilly), who worked for us on merchandise during the True tour," Gary explains. "He went back to Belfast after the tour and was killed. (A soldier, Private Ian Thain, was convicted of murder after a lengthy trial).

"Kidso's brother, Jim, who played drums for Stiff Little Fingers, subsequently took me along to see his grave and the song was inspired by walking down the Falls Road. I got to experience some of the emotion of that first-hand and it just stuck with me.

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"I didn't expect it to come out in the shape of a 'Romeo-and-Juliet' sort of song, but it did."

The composition has become a concert mainstay over the years, as Gary continues: "We were quite nervous about playing it in Belfast in the Eighties, but the reaction was incredible. I remember one guy on his mate's shoulders, and the guy was crying and punching the air."

As for new material, the reconvened combo have released a handful of freshly penned tracks - two on 2009's acoustic set Once More, three on their latest greatest-hits CD, The Story - but fans shouldn't hold their breath for an all-new Spandau Ballet studio album.

"I don't know, what's an album these days?" Gary shrugs. "What does it even mean? A bunch of tracks, it seems to be. It's not the two-act piece it used to be, when it was on vinyl.

"But we are making new music. We made three really great tracks, so we didn't bother with any of the fillers. I'm really pleased with that."

Instead, the band - completed by saxophonist Steve Norman, drummer John Keeble and Gary's brother, Martin, on bass guitar - are promoting a documentary film, Soul Boys of the Western World, which recounts the story of their journey from the working-class backstreets of 1960s London to global stardom and beyond.

For Gary, who had a hands-on role in its production, the rave-reviewed movie was a labour of love. "Putting it together took a few years," he reveals, "trying different directors, collating the archive, finding the finance. Producer Steve Dagger is really to thank for doing the majority of the prep on it, and eventually we ended up with the wonderful director George Hencken. Our brief was rather simple, really - to keep it archive-based, no new footage, and to try to tell the story as good as we could. What we realised as we made it was that we had a great arc to our tale. Finally, we had some closure. We had a decent ending."

Nor does Soul Boys of the Western World flinch from portraying the ugliness surrounding the 1990s court proceedings that engulfed Spandau Ballet, when Gary won the right to retain the lion's share of the royalties from the outfit's 25-million-selling back catalogue.

But he insists that any bad blood between himself and Hadley, Norman and Keeble - Martin remained a neutral party between his brother and his old friends - is in the past.

"It's behind us," he says, firmly. "Otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to sit and watch the documentary together with 5,000 people at the premiere in the Albert Hall.

"You know, I went through a divorce before that, a break-up of my marriage to actress Sadie Frost, with my son stuck in the middle, and as nasty and horrible as that was at the time and for a little while after, both of us tried to get back together and heal that because of that child, and we did. It's called growing up.

"And you can see us on screen, growing up, growing from boys - rather angry boys at times - into men. I don't want enemies in my life. That was the driving factor."

For a while, the 1980s were regarded as a bit of a dodgy period for pop music, but the decade is now rightly viewed as a very fertile era, with acts like Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and Culture Club held in high esteem by the public and critics alike.

"Every decade gets dissed by the next decade," remarks Gary. "That's the job of youth, isn't it? That's what they have to do. They have to fight for their corner by diminishing their predecessors.

"I think if you look back to the Eighties, what you have is kids who weren't afraid to be commercial, who wanted commercial music. All the acts we loved were in the singles charts, whether it was (David) Bowie, or Marvin Gaye, or Marc Bolan. That was one factor, but also, we all wrote our own music. We all played our own music. How bad can that be, you know?"

As well as conquering the pop world, Gary and 53-year-old Martin have enjoyed a parallel career as actors, both together in the Bafta-nominated movie The Krays, and apart - Gary with supporting roles in the likes of The Bodyguard and Killing Zoe, Martin in everything from EastEnders to, er, Strippers vs Werewolves.

And unlike some other artistically minded siblings, the pair have remained close throughout, supporting each other through hardships such as the near-fatal brain tumours that struck Martin during the 1990s and the deaths of both their parents in the space of four days in January 2009. Could Spandau Ballet continue if one or the other were to leave?

"It's kind of an irrelevant question," Gary bristles. "I don't think the band could exist if anyone left. I think we are quite clearly these five individuals, and each one of us is as important as the other.

"John brings his great rock 'n' roll element to the band, I have my songwriting, Steve brings his incredible musicianship, my brother brings his musicianship and his fantastic looks, and Tony has his unique voice."

Still, if he or Martin ever do retire, there is a new generation of Kemps waiting in the wings. Gary and Sadie Frost's son, 24-year-old Finlay Munro Kemp, has a burgeoning career as a club DJ, but have his three children with second wife Lauren - Milo (10), Kit (five) and two-year-old Rex - shown any creative leanings yet? "My 10-year-old's on his Grade 6 piano right now," Gary beams. "He's an absolute genius on piano - classical music only for him. And the others are working at it."

  • Spandau Ballet play the Odyssey Arena in Belfast on Wednesday, March 4. For details, visit www.odysseyarena.com

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