Q&A with Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp: ‘I wanted to be in the biggest band in the world’
British pop-rock quartet Spandau Ballet will forever be remembered for smooth, radio-friendly soul ballads True and Gold. But before that pair of 1983 hits, the band – formed in north London five years earlier – played a pivotal role in the United Kingdom’s short-lived, synth-driven New Romantic movement.
Six albums later, the group self-combusted only to reform and join the growing hordes of arena-packing nostalgia acts 20 years later. In the interim, bassist Martin Kemp went on to find fame as an actor, appearing for four years on hit British soap opera EastEnders, playing villain Steve Owen.
With Spandau Ballet returning for a gig at Dubai World Trade Centre tonight, the 53-year-old opens up about fame, adoration, money and regret.
Last time you performed in Dubai, at the Sevens Stadium in 2009, people said you blew co-headliner Rod Stewart off the stage.
That’s what they tell me. It was a great honour, really, getting on stage with Rod Stewart. It doesn’t matter who blew who offstage, it’s about two bands up there enjoying themselves and that’s what we do. Getting up there every night with your mates and making a huge noise that everybody loves is a lot of fun.
That kind of adoration must never get old.
It’s not so much adoration you’re after. When you produce any kind of art – whether it’s a painting or a film or anything – what you want is for as many people to see it as possible.
At the start of last year’s documentary about the band, Soul Boys of the Western World, you say: ‘I didn’t want to be a cult hero, I wanted to be a pop star.’
Of course – like every kid wants to be a footballer or play in a band. We started off as a small, cult band but I always had it firmly in my mind that I wanted to be in the biggest band in the world.
You almost were. Was it painful to look back at all the highs and lows of your 1980s heyday?
Why would it be painful? That was a really important part of my life. We got a band going that was appreciated all around the world. There is a lot in that film that we have learnt a lesson from, but I don’t have a living regret.
Does that include breaking up in 1989?
Listen, all bands fall apart at some point. Usually it’s girls, money or drugs – and we were no different to anybody else. All I will say is that we fell apart and it was tough, but if we hadn’t fallen apart [then], we most probably wouldn’t be here today.
When the music did collapse, you returned to your first love, acting. One of your most celebrated roles was alongside your brother Gary, playing the eponymous Kray Twins in the 1990 movie The Krays. What do you think of the new Tom Hardy movie, Legend, in which Hardy plays both roles?
It’s not an issue at all. I haven’t seen the film but I’m expecting it to be good – he’s a great actor. We made ours 25 years ago and, as lovely as it is, it is quite dated, so the story needed bringing up to date.
Spandau Ballet endured some very public acrimony in the 1990s, when singer Tony Hadley, saxophonist Steve Norman and drummer John Keeble sued your brother for songwriting royalties – and lost. Who was most reticent to embark on the band’s reunion?
I wouldn’t say anyone was reticent. I would say some people were slower than others. I think the slowest person was Tony. Tony carried the scars of what had gone on maybe a little deeper than the other guys. But I have to say today, for Tony, Steve and John – to have the personality to get over this, and be able to move on and repair their friendship and their business – all credit to them.
You mention ‘business’ – the thing everyone says about reformed acts is that they’re only in it for the money. What proportion of your motivation to return to the stage was financial?
I don’t care – I absolutely don’t – if people do it for the money or for the fun. For me it’s the most ridiculous question I’m ever asked. Why shouldn’t somebody go out and do something for the money? Why are bands not allowed to do that? It’s a mental question. There are bands out there that are just doing it for the money. Good on them. And there bands like us doing it for lots of reasons and, more than anything, it’s to see the look on thousands and thousands of faces when they hear their favourite song. And why you shouldn’t you give that to them?
Spandau Ballet perform at Dubai World Trade Centre on Thursday, September 17; doors open at 7pm. Tickets are from Dh300 at
Updated: September 16, 2015 04:00 AM