June 25, 2015 Interview – Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet
During the 1980s, there was a new wave of bands coming out of the European region, reshaping the music scene. Following the late 1970s Punk movement, the style shifted to what became called New Romantic, and at the forefront of the movement was London’s Spandau Ballet. Achieving initial success with their 1981 debut Journeys to Glory, Spandau Ballet would go on to becoming one of the most popular bands in Europe, achieving one chart topping record after another. Breaking into the USA market with their 1983 quintessential Pop track “True,” Spandau Ballet forever etched themselves in music history. Re-activated in 2009 after a hiatus in the 1990s, now in 2015, after three decades, Spandau Ballet return to the USA, have a new album in the works, and are riding high on the buzz surrounding them. Recently we sat down with bassist Martin Kemp for a look into the history of the band, the story behind their hiatus, returning to the USA, his career in film, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Spandau Ballet came together some almost four decades ago and are considered one of the pioneers of the New Romantic scene that took over the 1980s. Tell us, what were those early years like for the band?
Martin Kemp – The early years were like any other band starting off. The very early years, it was a school band. It was my brother’s band that started in the sixth grade music room, and that turned into Spandau Ballet. We were very lucky as a band in some respects and we had none of that travelling around the country in the back of a type of mini van. The first record came out, because the band had a cult status in those early years, was number 5 on the charts. We went from kind of nothing to everything, and the first record was number 5 in the UK. It was a hit around most of Europe, so, there was none of that trudging around in the back of a van and feeling like you were paying your dues. It was kind of immediate success as bands go.
CrypticRock.com – Right, and as you said, the band did achieve major success with that first LP in 1981, and then in 1982 you had success as well with Diamond.
Martin Kemp – Yes, we did, but the second album was kind of much slower. I think the band suffered from that same old second album syndrome that most bands have. The first album is very easy to put together because you have been playing it for two or three years as a band. The second album, the band is kind of put on the spot to write a brand new album and to follow-up the success of the first album. That for all bands, the hardest album you ever make is that second album. I think what Diamond did for us was it shows that we were capable of writing Pops songs like “Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)” and “She Loved Like Diamond.” I also think it shows our roots in a way from the 1970s Progressive Rock. I think that second album was kind of a mixed up affair.
CrypticRock.com – That makes sense. As they say, a band has their entire life to write their debut record. Then it is usually a little more difficult to follow-up as you said.
Martin Kemp – Absolutely, we were not completely different than any other band with that.
CrypticRock.com – In 1983 you came out with the True album, and that record actually launched the band into international success. Obviously the title track is considered a generation defining track. What do you think made that 1983 record so special that it blew up like it did?
Martin Kemp – I think it was the fact that if you follow the bands career, when we released the first album, Journeys to Glory in 1981, we were coming with the fact that we were a cult band, in London. We came out of the Glitz and Billies, which were small cult clubs that happened. We created that whole New Romantic scene. The second album was not as successful as we wanted it to be. I think after the second album, my brother sat down and actually went out of his way to write a Pop song. That was the first time that he had done that; he had been forced into a corner to write a Pop song. We knew that if the album True did not do as well as we wanted it to, then we were going to lose everything. I think Gary had a bunch of songs and I remember him showing the song “True.” He showed it to me on an acoustic guitar in my mum and dad’s house in one of our bedrooms, and he said listen to this, and played it to me on acoustic guitar. It is one of those moments that you never forget when the hairs on the back of your neck go up. All I remember is, the moment being broken by my mum shouting down the stairs, “Martin and Gary, your dinner is ready.” It was one of those strange moments that happen. There was a big difference in the album, it was full of classic Pop songs.
CrypticRock.com – It is an interesting story you tell right there about the behind the actual track “True.” That is something you never forget.
Martin Kemp – Yes, absolutely, but there were a few tracks on that album that did the same. I think Gary just hit such a purple patch with his writing. Songs like “True,” “Gold,” and “Lifeline,” are songs that you never forget. That is most fun about us going to America, playing those songs to people and feeling like we were playing them for the first time because it is the first time that people are hearing them live. We know that those songs are like theme songs for the most poignant moments in peoples lives. It is just so much fun.
CrypticRock.com – One can imagine that it is. Following the 1989 record, Heart Like a Sky, the band opted to part ways after a decade together or so. Was that a difficult decision to kind of put the band to an end at that time?
Martin Kemp – Well, it never really came to an end. It was one of those things that the band stopped working and things were sort of falling apart by the end of 1990. Music was changing in general. It stopped being the era of the band, as in the 1980s, it stopped being the era of the Pop song. The 1980s turned into the 1990s and the 1990s was more about DJ culture. It was more about DJ’s mixing people’s records together in different ways, so the shelf life of Spandau Ballet had kind of come to an end. It was more of a fizzle out. It was more of it faded away rather than us bringing it to an end. I think sometimes it would have been much easier on everyone if we had said, “Okay, Spandau is over,” and then everyone could have moved on. We never ever did that. It was quite strange looking back at it.
CrypticRock.com – Right, it is very exciting to fans two decades later because Spandau Ballet is back. What inspired this idea of bringing the band back in full swing as you have?
Martin Kemp – I think during the period we were not together, there was the whole court case. That was the whole theory about Spandau Ballet as it were, and people sued each other, and it is no different to any band, all bands go through this period. I think it was a real push to get the band back together. The first time that we all spoke about it, I think it took about five years to bring it around and to talk everybody into the idea of putting the band back together. It was hard work, I have to say, but I think in the end, what everybody realized, is that when you make something like Spandau Ballet; when you make records of “True,” “Gold,” “Only When You Leave,” you know that is going to be the thing you are remembered for.
CrypticRock.com – Understood, obviously the band’s legacy lives now. You recently came to North America for the first time in over three decades. What was it like for you to return to The States and be treated with the overwhelming positive response that you received?
Martin Kemp – It is amazing, absolutely amazing. America was always somewhere we battled with. We always wanted success, but we were never willing to spend the time there in the 1980s. We didn’t because the band was so huge in Europe that we kept going back to Europe. This time around it was just a really lovely surprise to see how well-received the band is in America. It is kind of difficult because when we decided to come back, we did not know what the reception would be for the band anywhere. It is kind of like dipping your toe in the water and seeing what the reaction was going to be. When you are an established band you kind of equate how many tickets you are going to sell, to how many albums you have sold, or what position you are in the charts. We did not know any of that, it was just let’s get together, and see what happens. It was a really nice surprise when you get that good reaction.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it certainly has been a fantastic reaction. Obviously it has been a very special return for the band, you released a documentary in Soul Boys of The Western World in 2014, you are touring, and now there is a new album in the works. What has it been like working on some new Spandau Ballet tunes?
Martin Kemp – Working on the new songs has been fantastic. I think what it is, is from the last experience from going through all those dark times when we never spoke to each other, I think what you learn is that you need to give each other more respect. That is more respect as human beings, more respect as friends, and more respect as musicians. Working in the studio with each other now is most probably the happiest environment I have ever been in with Spandau Ballet.
CrypticRock.com – That is fantastic. Sometimes bands go through those periods, it is just the nature of the beast. Now that you have been through the fire you can really enjoy things more?
Martin Kemp – Absolutely, but it is the same as a bunch of friends going through the same thing. We have been together for the better part of nearly forty years as people. When bands fall out at some stage, there are not many bunches of friends that are still together today after forty years that have not gone through that moment where you fall out, then you get back together. We are no different than anyone else, our story is the same as everyone else out there.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true. As you had mentioned, music started to change around the ’90s, music has changed over the years, but there has been a resurgence of the classic New Wave style lately in a lot of Indie bands internationally. With that said, what do you think made that classical alternative movement of the ’80s so unique and special like it was?
Martin Kemp – I think the ’80s for me was the era of the song. We had so many fantastic bands, with so many fantastic songs. That was what the ’80s were about for me. I think there was so many classic songs written during that time and that is why we can look back at it with fondness.
CrypticRock.com – Very true, there certainly were a lot of fantastic songs, and it was a very diverse time in music. There was a lot of different styles going on.
Martin Kemp – Yes, absolutely, I think it is even more pronounced when you think about what the ’90s held. The ’90s were not about that. The ’90s was much more about the DJ culture in the UK.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that is right. Besides being a musician, you have also had quite a lengthy career in film and television, what has your career as an actor been like?
Martin Kemp – It has been good. Like you say, I started off as an actor. I was seven years old when I went to a drama club. I was nine years old when I was first on television in Britain. We made The Krays movie in 1990, and Gary went off and did The Bodyguard in 1992. I think I lived out in LA for about three and a half years, making NBC movie of the weeks and stuff like. It has been really good. I think, overall, what I am pleased about is that I have always spoken to my kids about this as well. I think to define success in anyone’s language, no matter where you come, it is not about how much money you earn, it is about turning your hobby into your job. You turn your hobby into your job, and that is success.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, that is where the most redeeming qualities come from; following your passions.
Martin Kemp – Absolutely, I agree with that. That is what I love; everything to do with entertainment, whether it is acting or the band, or writing songs, or presenting. I love all of that, it is my hobby, and I am lucky enough to be making a living from it.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, you are actually in the midst of of a few new films projects, and you have played in some very popular Horror films such as the 1995 film Embrace of a Vampire, and 1992’s Waxwork 2. Do you have interest in Horror cinema?
Martin Kemp – I directed one called Stalker in 2010. I love Horror movies, but I love old fashioned Hammer house of Horror. I love those old English Hammer Horror films. I love the early Dracula’s. I love that genre. With Stalker, I tried to put everything I love into that film, which was great fun, and it was a great way of getting it out of my system. So yes, I love Horror.
CrypticRock.com – That is fantastic. You mentioned the old fashioned Hammer films. They have actually recently relaunched Hammer with the The Woman in Black series. Did you enjoy the remake of The Woman in Black in 2012?
Martin Kemp – I saw it and loved it. I thought it was a great film version. I love old Hammer style, for me that is what I grew up with. When I see a Horror film, that is the kind of style that I love. My favorite Horror films are The Omen (1976) and The Exorcist (1973). Those are classic ones and I love them.
CrypticRock.com – Those are classic films right there. There is something to be said about those films because of the dialogue and the atmosphere they create. There is something really special about it, the tension about them.
Martin Kemp – Yes, of course, but it is also about the location they are shot in, which usually becomes more of a character. It is one of the big characters in the film, not just the location, but it becomes a person, and a character in the movie. That is what those films are really good at doing. Every room you go into, you do not know what is behind the door, but you know something is going to happen in that room.