As one of the leading New Romantic bands, Spandau Ballet racked up a number of British hits -- as well as one Top Ten American hit, "True" -- during the early '80s, becoming one of the most successful groups to emerge during the new wave. The only other new romantic band to enjoy greater commercial success was Duran Duran, yet Spandau Ballet was there first, scoring three Top Ten hit singles during 1981 with their synthesized dance-pop. By 1983, the London-based quintet had shed its Roxy Music-inspired robotic art-disco and picked up on Bryan Ferry's latter-day crooner persona, revamping themselves as a slick, stylish white soul act. It was in this incarnation that Spandau Ballet experienced its greatest success, as "True" reached number one in Britain and number four in America. However, their time in the spotlight was short-lived. Though they had a few more hits in Britain, none of them were particularly big, and in America they disappeared at the end of 1984. By the end of the decade, the group had split, with their core members, brothers Gary and Martin Kemp, launching acting careers with the 1990 film, The Krays.
The Kemps -- who played guitar and bass, respectively -- founded Spandau Ballet in 1979 with Tony Hadley (vocals), Steve Norman (rhythm guitar, saxophone, percussion), and John Keeble (drums). The group hired their school friend Steve Dagger as manager. Spandau Ballet began playing nightclubs in London that had responded to punk by embracing exaggeratedly fashionable clothes and makeup. Soon, the band was one of the most popular attractions on this scene, which was subsequently dubbed by the British press as "New Romantic." Chris Blackwell, the head of Island Records, saw the group at a London party and offered them a contract on the spot. They rejected his offer, choosing to set up their own label, Reformation. Early in 1980, the group licensed Reformation to Chrysalis, giving their label the distribution power of a major label.
"To Cut a Long Story Short," Spandau Ballet's first single, shot to number five in Britain upon its fall 1980 release. It was quickly followed by the number 17 hit "The Freeze" in early 1981, and "Musclebound," which reached number ten in the spring. The singles made their way over to America, where they received play in dance clubs. By the spring, their debut album, Journey to Glory, had been released. In the summer, they released a new, non-LP single, "Chant No. 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)," which boasted a funkier beat and soulful flourishes. The group continued to pursue this direction on their subsequent singles, including the gold-selling Top Ten U.K. hits "Instinction" and "Lifeline," as well as their 1982 album Diamond, but it didn't reach its fruition until the 1983 album True.
True was a full-fledged white soul album, much like the sophisticated pop of late-'70s Roxy Music albums. The title ballad reached number one in Britain during the spring and a few months later, the single and album became a hit in America, peaking at number four and 19, respectively. Spandau Ballet managed to hit the Top Ten once more in the U.K. with "Gold," which peaked at number two; in the U.S., it reached 29. "Communication," a third American single from True, fizzled in the spring of 1984. Its failure was the beginning of the band's commercial downfall. "Only When You Leave," the first single from 1984's Parade, was a number three hit in the U.K., yet it only reached 34 in the U.S.; furthermore, it was their last American hit ever. Parade was a success in Britain, but it wasn't as big as its predecessor. In 1985, Spandau Ballet sued Chrysalis, claiming that the label wasn't providing enough promotional support for the band, especially in the U.S., and thereby harming its career. The suit was settled in 1986, and the group jumped ship for CBS/Columbia (Epic in the U.S.), where they released Through the Barricades that same year. The title track was a Top Ten hit, but its follow-up, "How Many Lies?," became the group's last Top 40 hit ever. Following the release of Heart Like a Sky in 1989, the group quietly disbanded.
Gary and Martin Kemp played the notorious British mobsters the Krays in a 1990 film of the same title. Gary Kemp pursued acting as his vocation during the '90s, appearing in The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston, HBO's The Larry Sanders Show, and Embrace of the Vampire with Alyssa Milano. Tony Hadley released a solo album, State of Play, in 1993.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine