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SPANDAU BALLET (GARY KEMP) INTERVIEW [2003]

YOU'RE ABOUT TO RELEASE A SPECIAL TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY EDITION OF THE 'TRUE' ALBUM, CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT IT'S BEEN TWENTY YEARS?

It still feels quite modern, I mean it still feels... current is probably the word to use, because not only is a lot of it constantly on the airways, but you hear tracks from the albums on commercials or in films, and also young black hip-hop groups in America are often using bits of it. The publishing company are often issuing the rights to use the tracks in various ways, and also I think that in the eighties a certain production sound was discovered which was very landscape and very three-dimensional and that in a way hasn't been bettered because there's been so much fashion in the last fifteen years to have very retro sixties and seventies sounding production sounding quite flat and two dimensional that a lot of the tracks still sound like a modern record.

LISTENING TO THE ALBUM AGAIN NOW I THINK THERE'S CERTAINLY A TIMELESS FEEL TO IT, AND I THINK THAT MIGHT BE PARTLY TO DO WITH PRODUCTION, BUT IT'S ALSO A LOT TO DO WITH THE SONGS THEMSELVES...

Well, you can't say the same thing about the first two Spandau albums which were both very much of their era; the sort of monophonic synthesizers of the first one... in fact this album 'True' was really the first time that polyphonic synthesizers had been properly used, but up until then you could only play one note on a synthesizer.

THERE SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN A VERY MARKED TRANSITION BETWEEN THE FIRST TWO ALBUMS AND 'TRUE' WHICH HAS A VERY DIFFERENT SOUND...

I think that once we'd discovered this particular sound, up in Nassau at Compass Point, it became the sort of sound that we ended up playing for the next seven years, that cleaner sound with Steve Norman on the saxophone, but more song orientated, whereas the first two albums were very much about four-on-the-floor dance beats; on the first album with a rather European sounding synthesizer backdrop, and on the second playing around more with traditional funk grooves. This kind of melodic and song-orientated stuff really happened here on 'True', but I think the main reason was that we were very much a cult group, and a group that had grown out of the club culture of London, and that's how we saw ourselves - very much as part of that world and representing that world but after being on Top Of The Pops six times there comes a moment when you realise that you can't continue being a cult group, and if we were going to continue and succeed - and I certainly wanted to sell records in the rest of the world - it had to be a much more song orientated record, so it was with a lot of pleasure that I sat down and wrote this album knowing that I could draw on my other song writing influences like Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and people like that, and just approach this record in a completely different way, and then also to say we're going to go to Nassau; Compass Point, a studio outside of London for the first time, and a studio that was very representative of a kind of blue-eyed soul music with artists such as Robert Palmer playing there, and obviously with Chris Blackwell, the Island Records head, running the studio; Grace Jones had recorded there, Sly & Robbie were the in-house rhythm section at that time, Talking Heads were there at the same time as us, obviously doing their crossover between black and white music...

So they were interesting times, people take it for granted now, this cross between black music and white music, but the thing that really made the eighties music different - if you're a young person now and you listen back to the music from the eighties you just don't get how subversive and different it sounded then, and it sounded that way because we were taking dance music on one side of the fence; disco records like Chic and people like that, and mixing it with punk and rock, and David Bowie and people like that, and the combination of rock music and dance music was really the fundamental marriage of music that created the eighties sound and you can hear it in Spandau and in Duran and in many, many other artists of the time.

YOU JUST MENTIONED THE INFLUENCES OF THE STUDIO IN NASSAU WHERE YOU RECORDED 'TRUE', AND I JUST WANTED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT A GREAT FEATURE OF THIS EDITION OF THE ALBUM WHICH IS THE EXTRA CONTENT, INCLUDING SOME VIDEO FOOTAGE FROM YOUR TIME IN NASSAU WHICH I BELIEVE WAS SHOT BY THE BAND?

Well it was actually shot by myself and Tony Swain. Video cameras had just been released; in fact video tape had only been out a couple of years and we had these big cameras; and we took a couple of them down with us, I had one, he had one, and I think Steve Norman had one as well - although I don't remember ever seeing and footage from him! Last year I asked Tony if he still had all that stuff and he did and we just sifted through it all - a lot of it was completely unusable... very, very private I would say, and I don't need any more lawsuits! But we edited together what we had from the two cameras into something that we thought would go very well with the CD because it captures where we were, although there are very few moments in the studio - in fact there weren't that many moments in the studio to choose from, and the part we used; us doing 'Pleasure' is pretty much the only thing we did record, that and the moment where we're playing a half-finished version of 'True' in the studio with everyone singing along! What we had to do because the sound wasn't very good, we had to use the actual track of 'True' which we dubbed over that scene, but yeah I think the video stuff is a really big bonus because what I wanted to do was put out a package that was really about the making of the album including photographs from that time - our snapshots that we took, and Steve Dagger put together the sleevenotes for it, and there are also more bits and pieces, including notes I've written about the tracks on our website...

WATCHING THE VIDEO FOOTAGE AND HAVING THE MUSIC FROM 'TRUE' IN THE BACKGROUND MAKES EVERYTHING FIT SO WELL... THE MUSIC JUST WORKS SO WELL WITH THE IMAGES OF SUNSHINE AND PALM TREES AND EVERYTHING.

Actually on the website there's a piece I've written about every song, and 'Code Of Love' which is a track we used in that footage and it's slightly reggae feel and arrangement was definitely inspired by the area, and I think that there's an element of that in the production and in the sound of the percussion and the saxophone... but all round it had to be very much drawn from our surroundings...

I THINK 'LIFELINE' WAS ALREADY OUT AS A SINGLE WHEN YOU WENT THERE, BUT WERE ALL THE SONGS ALL WRITTEN BEFORE YOU LEFT THE UK?

Yes, they were all written. Written and rehearsed in London, but various arrangements and production sounds and things did change when we were out there to a greater or lesser extent. 'True' actually changed quite a bit; I hadn't quite envisaged the big backing vocal and originally I had Tony singing it before I decided to do it and it became the sort of breathy vocal sound - we discovered that in Nassau... 'Code Of Love' had a very different arrangement, it didn't have that reggae feel that we eventually found for it while we were out there. Trevor Horn actually helped with some of the arrangement on the track 'Pleasure'; that was one of the first songs I wrote for the album and he was around at that time, and 'Instinction' as well he was around when we were messing with the song, and it was his idea to put the outro into a seven-eight time which is a rather unusual time as most songs are in four-four, so the album built up over a period but I think Nassau did have the biggest influence.

HOW FAR DO YOU IDENTIFY NOW WITH THE GARY KEMP OF TWENTY YEARS AGO IN THAT VIDEO FOOTAGE AND IN THOSE PHOTOGRAPHS?

It's not me now... I don't really identify with it. In fact it's an interesting moment in our lives because the Spandau Ballet that you know didn't even exist at that moment because we were literally a rather cultish group selling records in the UK alone and had started to have a moment where it had dipped a bit - we had a record called 'She Loved Like Diamond' which didn't even make the top forty, although we had picked it up with the remix that Trevor Horn did of 'Instinction' but Spandau Ballet as the international success that it became, with the identifiable sound that we had later didn't exist at that point - we were taking a bit of a chance going out there and recording a record like this because it was completely unlike the records we'd made previously. So I look back at those pictures and at that video and it's quite interesting because we were at the cusp of a lot of success and a huge life-change... I think that at that moment in time in 1982 I was 22 and I was still living at home with my mum and dad! I suppose I also envy myself as well - I envy the all-encompassing passion to have success with the group, where I was 24/7 just living and working for Spandau Ballet...

FROM WHAT I KNOW ABOUT YOU, AND PARTICULARLY FROM MARTIN'S BOOK IT SEEMS THAT SPANDAU BALLET WAS VERY MUCH COMING FROM YOU?

I think it wouldn't have been what it was without all five of us. Actually I'd say all six of us because I would include Steve Dagger in that. I was the writer of the songs so the kind of music we made was coming from me, and I was also very much doing the interviews and driving that side of things, but I do think that every individual in the band had an input that created the whole, we were only ever as good as the sum of the parts, put it that way... I could never have fronted the band; Tony's wonderful voice and look was so much a part of it. A group has different levels; there's a level of creativity, a level of recording, and a level of presentation and people play different roles to a greater or lesser extend within each one of them.

THE TITLE TRACK 'TRUE' WAS A PHENOMENAL SUCCESS AND A MARKING POINT IN SPANDAU BALLET'S HISTORY, AND IN POPULAR MUSIC HISTORY AS WELL... HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT IMPACT IT MADE? PROUD OF COURSE, BUT IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE?

More than proud... sometimes fearful - certainly in the early days there was a kind of fear of it because it became kind of monolithic later on in our career. I wouldn't say it became out worst enemy but it gave us a lot to live up to and I think in many ways there were other songs later that sat alongside it very comfortably; 'Only When You Leave' and 'Through The Barricades' probably did, but to write one classic in a life is more than enough! I don't know what it was or what it is about the song that has captured people's imagination for so long... I think it's the sentiment of the song that I like, which is the idea that the writer doesn't really know how to be very honest... it's about a writer trying to write a song and being scared of being too honest in case she finds out it's about her, but I think it's also about the recording of the songs itself; I think it's to do with the backing vocals and the way they sit in the track, but if definitely became the school disco number one in 1983 and it got under people's skin. I remember the first time I danced in a disco with a girl it was to a song called 'Betcha By Golly Wow' and to this day when I hear it I get goose-bumps and I get nostalgic for that time!

OF ALL THE SONGS YOU'VE WRITTEN DO YOU HAVE ANY PERSONAL FAVOURITES?

I'd have to say 'True', I'd have to say 'Through The Barricades', and there's a really great song on 'True' that I still get a buzz from when I listen to it and that's a song called 'Heaven Is A Secret'... probably those, another song on the last album called 'Empty Spaces' that I'm really pleased with lyrically in particular and that's about the breakup of a relationship I'd had that was at the same time as the great storm in 1987 and it's about me taking a walk with her while all these trees were laying on the ground and finishing that relationship...

WILL YOU DO ANY MORE MUSIC AS A SOLO ARTIST?

I don't know. I am thinking about making an album, but I had such a huge inspiration to make the first one which was to do with huge changes in my personal life; a divorce, a reassessment of myself and a lot of things that I wanted to say and needed to get out and music was the way to do that. It was also an opportunity to make music and work with musicians who I couldn't have worked with in the band, and make the kind of music that I couldn't have made in the band. That kind of got it all off my chest in a way and at the moment I'm not sure how I'd like to make another album if I do.

HOW DO YOU ACTUALLY GO ABOUT WRITING A SONG? DOES THE SENTIMENT COME FIRST, OR THE LYRICS, OT THE MUSIC?

You know in those days the inspiration to write songs was slightly different, the inspiration to write a song was to try and write a great song, to be as good as other people who I thought wrote great songs, and it was to write songs that would be hits for Spandau Ballet rather that it being a need to get something out of my system because of any personal reason. Having said that I have to draw on the personal and the 'True' album is very much the first album where I had written about love and about unrequited passion - which is what a lot of the album is about, I was actually suffering from the pangs of that at the time...

IT DOES SOUND AND FEEL LIKE A VERY HONEST AND PERSONAL ALBUM...

A lot of it was about me being in love, for example 'Code Of Love' is very similar in theme to 'True' and it's about not being able to express your love directly so you're coding it in particular ways; in the ways that you hand around with her, in the ways you talk to her and give her little gifts, the way you laugh at her jokes or whatever it might be... and hoping that she gets it and notices but maybe not!

YOU MENTIONED EARLIER THAT THE 'TRUE' ALBUM WAS WRITTEN VERY MUCH WITH AN EYE ON WIDENING YOUR APPEAL AND GAINING INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS, AND YOU VERY MUCH ACHIEVED THAT, BUT WHEN YOU HAD IT WAS IT EVERYTHING YOU HOPED IT WOULD BE?

It was but I think that we struggled with a certain amount of longevity in America particularly; we had successful albums and then when we moved to Sony we had a situation where 'Parade' was never released in the US, there was this kind of blindness to the band from Sony US that has always frustrated me... and it was ironic because one of the reasons that we left Chrysalis and went to Sony was because we felt that we weren't really being sold as well as we should have been in the states. But in saying that during the successes of 'Parade' and 'True' when things were going very well for us then of course it was - it was always a fantastic ride and a great desire for all British band internationally during the eighties to take part in the Live Aid phenomenon which wouldn't have happened without the international success of British groups during the eighties - I wouldn't say to anyone 'copy what we did musically because the eighties was the best time ever', but what I would say is can we please have more autonomy among our artists again, less creative input from record companies - record companies should just be the machine to get records in the shops and not something that determines the styles of the music we like. I think also the kind of bands like ourselves and Duran who were writing our own songs, producing our own songs, being responsible for the way we looked, everything were also very aspirational and I don't think we have that at the moment - we have a sort of divide between rock which is very student orientated and pretty un-aspirational, and on the other side we have a kind of light entertainment culture which is frivolous and is controlled by elderly gentlemen and we don't have anything that sits in the middle and we certainly don't have anything that really sells internationally.

TO HAVE HAD THE SUCCESS IN THE US THAT YOU HAD, AND TO BE A WHITE GROUP BREAKING OUT OF THE BLACK MUSIC AND SOUL MUSIC COMMUNITIES MUST HAVE BEEN A VERY GRATIFYING EXPERIENCE FOR YOU, PARTICULARLY GIVEN YOUR SOUL INFLUENCES...

Yeah we went and did 'Soul Train' and Kiss radio in America, all of that stuff and we crossed over and that was pretty hard - we recently picked up this airplay award for three million plays of 'True' in the US and it was interesting to see that Beatles tracks... I can't remember which one but I think it was 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' was on three million too and you think god, that's been out for years longer, but the real reason is that we get played on white and black radio and The Beatles don't. I think that is something I'm most proud of because as a working class kid dancing to black music - and black music was hated by the British music press at the time; unmentionable at the time for two reasons; one that it was danced to by real working class kids, and two it was aspirational music at a time when music wasn't supposed to be aspirational and punk was the opposite of that - but I liked both... I liked punk and I liked Bowie and I liked disco - that's not the most glamorous word but it wasn't called 'dance' music then! But to have success like that is probably one of the things I'm most proud of.

YOU SEEM TO HAVE BECOME A KIND OF CURATOR FOR SPANDAU BALLET - THE ATTENTION TO DETAIL AND THE WORK THAT YOU'VE OBVIOUSLY PUT IN ON THIS RELEASE OF 'TRUE' AND ALSO ON LAST YEAR'S 'REFORMATION' PACKAGE IS STAGGERING...

You know, I'm very honoured that you said it that way, rather than looking on it in a cynical way. For me after the court case it was very important to reclaim what we had destroyed... I listened back to the music a lot during the court case because we had to, and I think that sitting in the trial listening to the music it was so paradoxical because it was music that made me want to get up and embrace the other guys who were attacking me, and just saying 'Listen to what we did! Wasn't it great?', but on the other hand it was being used in evidence against me which was so much irony! So I thought we had besmirched our own name and we had pissed on our own doorstep and I wanted to reclaim that. The other reason is that although it's beyond my control that EMI will put out packages of Spandau Ballet's old stuff I wanted to make sure that if they did that then they did it well and they did it right, so I have been involved in it, and trying to keep all of the stuff that is released is good and worth buying, and in a few years’ time when people listen back they will have a genuine idea of what the band were. Something I've just said no to, is a cheap Sony package that will go out at £3.99 with a very poor cover, badly pressed and all of that - something to be sold in garages and things.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO AT THE MOMENT, OBVIOUSLY ALL THIS SPANDAU BALLET WORK HAS BEEN TAKING UP YOUR TIME, BUT YOU'VE BEEN ACTING TOO HAVEN'T YOU?

I've been doing some acting, there was a thing out on TV a couple of weeks ago called 'Murder In Mind' and I'm involved in something else for ITV which is a new series I'm going to do a bit in... They’ve only got a working title for that at the moment but we start shooting for that soon, I'd better not say what that's called just yet. I'm convinced that we will have at least some airing of a musical I've written with Shane Connaughton which is presently called 'A Terrible Beauty' and is about the relationship between the poet Yeats and the aristocrat/revolutionary Maude Gonne which we've put a lot of work into and at this moment we have producers who are interested and we're looking at ways of putting it on in London, and possibly elsewhere with the director of Les Miserables.

IS THERE ANY CHANCE OF YOU ACTING WITH MARTIN AGAIN?

Yes there is, there's a chance we might be doing something this year, but we're actively trying to find something to do together for television.

DO YOU MISS PERFORMING AS A MUSICIAN?

Yep! I miss the big stage certainly, but I enjoyed doing a bit of theatre recently when I did 'Art' and that kind of gave me the same sort of adrenaline buzz, and I really love that feeling.

WHAT ABOUT SONG-WRITING, IS THAT STILL A PART OF YOUR LIFE?

I did some music for Snoo Wilson with Guy Pratt which will hopefully get an airing this year, and I've been doing some pop writing for some artists for Sony and for Polydor.

IS IT A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE, WRITING FOR OTHER PEOPLE?

Well I've always written for other people if you think about it, in Spandau I always wrote songs for Tony Hadley to sing, so apart from my solo album most of the songs I've ever written have been for other people, but I quite like the bespoke quality of it, but with Spandau I always knew a song was going to get on the records, but when you write for other people there's no guarantees and you're never quite sure if the producer will take it. But that gives me the opportunity to write pop songs.

AND FINALLY, A GOOD WAY TO FINISH... WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE SPANDAU BALLET MOMENT?

They all fall into my head at once... probably running into Tony Hadley's hotel room at about nine o'clock on a Tuesday morning and telling him that we'd gone to number one with 'True' and all of us jumping up and down on his bed!

FEBRUARY 2003

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