In September 1976, having just left school in Islington, North London, Gary Kemp formed power pop band The Makers with friends Tony Hadley, John Keeble, Steve Norman and Richard Miller.
Three years later, after Miller left, Kemp’s brother Martin joined the band on bass and they renamed themselves Spandau Ballet – taking their name from the grim German prison where the notorious Nazi Rudolph Hess was jailed. They also took their lead from the emerging New Romantic movement – an anti-punk, elaborately dressed, elite London nightclub scene.
In December, after playing a series of highly publicised but strictly exclusive London shows, they turned down an offer from Island Records boss Chris Blackwell in favour of starting their own label, which they called Reformation.
Their powerful debut, the harrowing To Cut A Long Story Short reached the UK Top 5. With their kilts and synthesizers, it was easy to assume that the band were just part of a passing fashion and over the next year, their singles The Freeze and Musclebound were average rather than exceptional.
The insistent Chant Number 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On) revealed a more interesting soul/funk direction, complete with added brass and a new image. The single reached the UK Top three, but again was followed by a relatively fallow period with Paint Me Down and She Loved Like Diamond barely scraping into the charts.
The band completed a couple of albums and employed various producers, including Trevor Horn for Instinction and Tony Swain and Steve Jolley for Communication. By 1983, the band had begun to pursue a more straightforward pop direction and pushed their lead singer as a junior Frank Sinatra.
The new approach was demonstrated most forcibly on the irresistibly melodic True, which topped the UK charts for several weeks. The album of the same name repeated the feat, while the follow-up Gold reached #2. The obvious international appeal of a potential standard like True was underlined when the song belatedly climbed into the US Top 5 the same year.
During the mid-80s, Spandau Ballet continued to chart regularly with such hits as Only When You Leave, I’ll Fly For You, Highly Strung, Round And Round, Fight For Ourselves, and Through The Barricades. A long-running legal dispute with Chrysalis forestalled the band’s progress until they signed to CBS Records in 1986.
The politically conscious Through The Barricades and its attendant hit singles, Fight For Yourselves and the title track, partly re-established their standing.
Their later work, however, was overshadowed by the acting ambitions of the Kemp brothers, who appeared to considerable acclaim in the London gangster film, The Krays (1990).
Martin Kemp later found greater fame with the role of Steve Owen in the long-running UK television soap opera, EastEnders.
Hadley embarked on a largely low-key solo career, and although his voice remained as strong as ever, his material has lacked any distinction. In May 1999, Hadley, Norman, and Keeble lost their fight to reclaim a share of £1 million in royalties from the band’s songwriter Gary Kemp.
They continued to tour although they were legally unable to use the Spandau Ballet name.
Despite all the animosity, the band did reform in 2009, hosting a press conference onboard HMS Belfast in London, the scene of a landmark early gig in 1980.
They toured the world, headlining the Isle of Wight Festival and produced a documentary about themselves called Soul Boys of the Western World. They even recorded a handful of new songs for the 2014 album The Story – The Very Best of Spandau Ballet.
Singer Tony Hadley released a statement in July 2017 stating “Due to circumstances beyond my control, it is with deep regret that I am required to state that I am no longer a member of the band Spandau Ballet and as such I will not be performing with the band in the future”