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A re-evaluation of Spandau Ballet as they prepare to return to America

24 February 2014 14 Comments
This blog belongs to Radio Creme Brulee – an internet music radio station that broadcasts globally.

spandeau-balletThis article was inspired by a recent piece of news indicating that the original New Romantic London quintet Spandau Ballet is slated to perform their first gig in America since 1985 in Austin. The gig is part of their promotion of a new documentary about them titled “Soul Boys Of The Western World“. The movie’s premier is also slated to happen in Austin during the SXSW music festival – one of the US’ biggest annual musical festivals.

These days, whenever I ask someone my age if the name Spandau Ballet rings a bell, I get only the following responses.

No, I have no idea who these guys are.

Hmm…aren’t they the guys that recorded the hit single “True“.

Weren’t they a one-hit wonder? Never really heard anything besides “True“.

All of the above responses are quite unfortunate. In our article on “The illusory dream of cracking America“, we delved into how terrestrial radio’s geocentric bias and need to limit the mainstream were the primary reasons for the American market. This unfortunate dynamic did not exist in the years that Spandau Ballet emerged as a potent force in the global music scene (sans the US). In fact, at the time, there were plenty of British acts assaulting the charts in the US – Tears For Fears, Wham, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Simple Minds etc. The list is endless. Is it possibility that Spandau falling off the radar was due to a problem that is the opposite of the one we face today in America – the problem of abundance in the mainstream? Hence, it remains mind-boggling that Spandau Ballet’s legacy in the US revolves almost solely around their US #4 hit single “True“. Here are some factoids that might get the average American to rethink their current views on Spandau Ballet:

- The Spandau story dates back to the late 1970s. Their sound evolved almost entirely from London’s club scene. London was experiencing a movement at the time but that movement had no soundtrack. Spandau Ballet jumped right in and provided that soundtrack with songs built on a foundation of baroque and art-disco theatricality. The band’s chart success started way before “True” was ever recorded.

- The club scene oriented sound of Spandau Ballet relegated them to a cult status and became their limiting factor to global stardom. “True” (the album and the single) was a stylistic overhaul aimed at breaking from the “shackles” of a stardom that was purely domestic. Fortunately, for the five boys, it worked VERY well and gave them the global footprint that they desired.

- It seems like “True” is the last piece of music that the average American has heard. Folks stateside are blissfully unaware of anything that followed. The definition of a one-hit wonder is an act that does not chart in the top 40 more than once. This does NOT apply to Spandau Ballet. They had a top 30 hit with their single “Gold” and another top 40 hit with “Only When You Leave” (from their “Parade” album).

- The band reunited in 2009 against all odds and released a new album of reworked versions of their hits on album titled “Once More“. The title track was one of two new recordings. Both had an acoustic feel and sounded nothing like their earlier material.

- Soon after the release of “Once More“, the band embarked on their sellout “Reformation” tour – an arena tour that took them all over Europe – and then to Australia (where they toured with Tears For Fears). This is a noteworthy achievement for a band that did not split at the height of their career as a 5-piece. In fact, their final album “Heart Like A Sky” went barely noticed outside of Italy and the Netherlands. The album simply got lost in the midst of all the music that was being played in the late 80s. In fact, Radio Creme Brulee just might be the only station that routinely features songs such as “Crashed into love” and “Be free with your love” from the “Heart Like A Sky” album. Not only was the tour a sellout tour, but it was also anything but a “low budget” tour. It was done with the same style and panache that characterized the band even in their heyday. Very rarely can a band that did not quit at their zenith command that type of love and support after a 20-year hiatus. Could it have been a syndrome of “absence makes the heart grow fonder”? Perhaps but as every band from the 80s knows – nostalgia has a shelf-life and a band from yesteryear has to deliver a whole lot more than nostalgia to get the attention of people – especially in light of the fact that they disbanded at a commercial low. In our opinion, the success of the Spandau Ballet reunion was due to a re-evaluation of the band as musicians as opposed to “pretty boys” that duked it out with Duran Duran in the arena of musical rivalry (at least outside the US).

We can only hope the the new documentary and the “Vulcans Gas Co” gig in Austin leads to a re-evaluation of the lost opportunity that Spandau Ballet was on our side of the Atlantic in the 80s. Hopefully the response to the documentary and the gig paves the way for future gigs in the US for Spandau Ballet. It would be even better if the band recorded new material and gave us a 2010s take on the “New Romantics” tradition of songwriting and production.

We would like to leave you all with two forgotten gems that might just have you think of Spandau Ballet as being more than just the band that recorded their global hit “True“. Here is “Round And Round” from their “Parade” album.

and here is “Only When You Leave” – also from the “Parade” album:

Please feel free to share and comment!

Broadcasting Worldwide

We are an American internet radio station that broadcasts worldwide. The station features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. The music of Spandau Ballet is a fairly regular staple on Radio Creme Brulee. We also feature “rare for radio” tracks by the band such as “Be free with your love”, “Round And Round”, and “Once More”.

Give us a spin when you get a chance.
We just might become your alternative of choice!

14 Responses to "A re-evaluation of Spandau Ballet as they prepare to return to America"

  1. Frannie says:

    Yes, I think you’re right people in the US have never taken much interest in Spandau Ballet. I do remember hearing Only When You Leave a lot on the radio though. To me, they never seemed as interesting and compelling from a visual or personality standpoint as a lot of other 80′s artists such as Cyndi Lauper, Culture Club, Duran Duran etc. I did read articles about the reunion tour, and I heard about them releasing reworked versions of their old songs. I’ve never been a fan of artists reworking their old songs. I don’t see the point. So just them doing that sort of made me not have any interest in them and turned me off of wanting to know more about them..

  2. @Frannie: I think the bit about releasing an album of reworked versions of old songs definitely seemed a bit lazy and probably did very little for the band. I think what really worked for them was the Reformation tour. It was a smashing success and it was done on a pretty grand scale. In fact, every bit of their comeback was done in style -right from the original press conference on the HMS Belfast to playing multiple date at the O2 arena in London. Not bad for a band that went out at a commercial low. I can understand why the last two albums did not fare well in the US but I definitely thought that songs like “Only when you leave” and “Round And Round” fit well alongside everything else that was being released that year. I can only guess that it did since I was a three-year old when that album released. As always, thanks so much for the comment!

  3. Frannie says:

    Well, I think most bands tend to break up at a commercial low. That’s when the personal issues really come out and they start fighting. When a band is doing well, there are usually less arguments or the problems are put to the side because the money is rolling in. But that doesn’t mean if they get back together years later, people aren’t excited to see them together again. But I think the problem with these reunions is people are excited to see them together on a reunion tour once and hear all the hits, but where do they go after that? It gets boring to keep doing hits tours but if they release new music often it doesn’t do very well and sometimes is nowhere near as good as their best. After so many years apart, it’s hard to keep going as a band. I actually think sometimes it’s best if band just does a reunion tour for the fans and then goes their separate ways, instead of trying to keep coming back. The Police and the Spice Girls were fab examples of great reunion tours, but they didn’t try to keep on going.
    What was the big dispute in Spandau Ballet? I think I read it had something to do with a legal fight over royalties or something like that? Sometimes, I think that’s easier to overcome than deep rooted personal and emotional conflicts that some bands have.

  4. @Frannie: The dispute between the Spandau members was a nasty one – which made it seem very unlikely they would ever reunite. Gary Kemp wrote all the songs (almost all). Typically, all songwriting royalties go exclusively to the songwriter. Gary Kemp initially set up a deal to split the songwriting royalties between the five of them. This is highly unusual. I am not sure why any songwriter would set up a deal like that. Before the band’s final album, he pushed back and said the split of the royalties was no longer effective. By law, Gary Kemp was entitled to all of the songwriting royalties. Hence, he was able to hold on to those payments. Three of the members (the fourth is his brother Martin) sued him in the London High Court to win back their royalty payments. Needless to say, the other three lost the case and had to pay out a HIGH amount in legal fees and settlements. A very bitter ending to say the least.

    I think it is OK for a band to come back with new material. The material does not do well since terrestrial radio is ageist and refuses to play any new material from yesteryear. That causes the material to never see the light of day in any meaningful way. I am thankful that yesteryear’s stars release new material. For the most part, a lot of their musical sensitivities are intact and are a far improvement over the best that the current crop of artists have to offer. The Police did a great job with their tour but things did not go well for the Spice Girls. Their new single “Headlines” tanked quite miserably and they had to cancel quit a few tour dates because of lower than expected demand.

  5. Frannie says:

    Thanks for the information about Spandau. A lot of bands have this agreement they will split the royalties equally no matter who writes what so that they will be making the same amount of money and no one will get jealous. It is supposed to keep the band together longer. But usually in those cases, the other band members are contributing to some of the songs. Usually there’s not one person doing everything and still splitting the royalties.
    It’s nice when older artists release new material sometimes. But a lot of times for me it’s not as good as their old stuff. They have grown apart and it’s not so great and the magic is gone. I know fans are thankful to have new stuff, but a lot of times it’s a letdown. A perfect example for me is Garbage. I loved their music during the 90′s. They recently did a reunion album and although it had a few decent songs, it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the older records I loved.
    I know the Spice Girls single didn’t do great and a few gigs were cancelled. But I saw them and it was a great tour, I was never that big a fan, but they really put together their show well. It was really well staged and thought out. I think someone who did Madonna’s tour directed it. I’m not sure if dates were cancelled because of less demand, it was more that Posh Victoria Beckham didn’t like performing and got sick of the whole thing. I was so disappointed they didn’t film it for a DVD because it was actually one of the best shows I’ve ever been to.
    Speaking of the Spice Girls, are you familiar with the solo albums of Melanie C? She does some more mature pop/rock that would fit your station well. Her last album the Sea was kind of ignored, but it actually is one of my favorite albums of recent years. She has four other solo albums and they actually are all great more mature pop/rock/acoustic/ballad type of albums. I recommend them all very highly.

  6. @Frannie: This is one of those situations wherein all the work from a composition perspective was done by Gary Kemp – so legally speaking, he was entitled to the songwriting royalties. That being said, pulling the rug from under the feet of the other four was unfair.

    On the topic of older artists returning with new music, we actually played a bunch of the material from the Garbage reunion album. In fact, Shirley Manson tweeted at us at some point when we were promoting the material from that album. But you are right, it wasn’t earthshattering. I do not think it is fair for us to expect bands from yesteryear to put out fantastic albums. Expecting them to churn out good singles is a fair expectation. Some of the bands from yesteryear that have continued to churn out great career highlights include Duran Duran, Take That, Kajagoogoo, Johnny Hates Jazz (i.e. the guys that recorded the timeless classic “Shattered Dreams”), and a-ha. Even Simple Minds had a half decent single last year called “Blood Diamonds”. It was nice if not earthshattering.

    The song by Melanie C that we play a lot is “On The Horizon”. Have you heard that one? She is a pretty decent solo artist. I’ve heard a bunch of her solo material. I have to admit I was never a Spice Girls fan although I really did like “2 become one”.

    As always, thank you so much for the comment!

  7. Frannie says:

    Yes, I’ve heard On the Horizon. It’s from her second album Reason. My all time favorite song by her is Better Alone from her third album Beautiful Intentions. I was never a Spice Girls fan either. I fell in love with Melanie because of her first solo album, part of which was done with William Orbit who is one of my favorite all time producers. I actually went to see the Spice Girls reunion concert more to see Melanie! I wasn’t expecting too much, but I was blown away by how good they were.
    One group that did do a good comeback album was No Doubt. Their album was kind of ignored but it was actually really good. Gwen Stefani has some great solo stuff I love too. One of my all time favorite songs by her is Early Winter which she actually wrote with Tony Kanal from No Doubt even though it’s a solo song.
    I have heard the new stuff from Duran Duran, but not those other groups. I guess part of the reason Duran Duran is good is actually they never totally broke up even though some members left so they were able to keep some kind of chemistry together. I have some interesting news on Duran Duran’s new album. On one of their forums, some fan spoke to John Taylor and he said they are no longer working with Mark Ronson as a producer because he’s too busy to work with them which is a shame. Apparently they are going to produce the album themselves. It is supposed to come out at the end of this year or early 2015.

  8. @Frannie: I need to check out “Better Alone” by Melanie C. Will do that today. I wasn’t a big No Doubt fan back in the day but I quite liked what they came back with in late 2012. In fact, we featured “Settle Down” and “One More Summer” on high-rotation on our station. I was under the impression that Tim Rice-Oxley from Keane wrote “Early Winter” for Gwen Stefani – but I could be wrong.

    It is true that Duran Duran never officially split up even though they were only down to two original members in 2001. That is when I watched them in concert for the first time. Warren Cucurullo was with them at the time. It is a shame they fired him from the band. His guitar arrangements on the “Wedding Album” were brilliant. It is an even bigger shame that Mark Ronson will NOT be working with the band for their next album. Self-produced albums are a VERY bad idea. I know of only two artists that from era that could pull it off – George Michael (and even his ability as a producer is starting to slip a little), and Roland Orzabal (Tears For Fears). As always, thanks for the comments. It is great to see conversation evolving out of these posts.

  9. Frannie says:

    I agree with you that self produced albums are a bad idea. Not because an artist lacks talent but because I think it’s very difficult for someone to step back from their own work and be objective about what’s good about it and not so good. I’m a writer by profession and I do feel I need an outside editor to give me feedback. Tori Amos is one of my favorite artists and she usually produces her own stuff. Her albums are good, but I think they could be even better if she got an outside producer to take her away from the usual stuff she always does. But I think some artists feel the only good producers are the super famous ones like Mark Ronson, Brian Eno or Nile Rodgers etc. who are kind of expensive or in high demand so they think a producer isn’t practical if they are not big selling artists anymore. But I think there must be talented producers who aren’t the big names.

  10. @Frannie: I do not remember what the compensation scheme for producers is. I assumed the upfront fee to them was minimal and that their compensation is more in the form of a 9% producer royalty but I could be wrong. Given that Duran Duran has parted away with Sony, it is likely that they’re footing the bill for a producer by themselves. It is a shame if money is the reason Mark Ronson cannot be a part of this project. Nile Rodgers did a great job on their “Notorious” album. It is a shame they have never worked with Brian Eno. There are plenty of talented producers who aren’t big names. In fact, Madonna has made a career out of bringing producers out of obscurity. Stuart Price is an example of one such producer that Madonna brought into the limelight via her “Confessions” album. I hope at least one of the songs from “Reportage” (the album that never got released) make it on to their new album. As always, thanks for the comment!

  11. Frannie says:

    That’s interesting. I did not know how producers get paid. But wouldn’t producers want to work with artists that sell a lot of records because then they get paid a lot more? I don’t know what Mark Ronson is doing these days that keeps him too busy for DD. The last I heard of him is he produced some songs on Paul McCartney’s new album. Awhile back, Mark Ronson was all gung ho on the 80′s. He did that song with Boy George Somebody to Love Me which I thought was quite good. There was also talk of him producing a new CC album. But I guess maybe Mark Ronson lost interest in reviving the 80′s artists. I read something about the Reportage album. Was that the more rock oriented album they were going to do at one time, but shelved?

  12. @Frannie: Reportage was a very New-Wave album but Sony rejected it because it did not have an instant lead single and asked the band if they would want to work with a more modern producer. That is how Timbaland got picked and that project morphed into “Red Carpet Massacre”.

  13. Frannie says:

    That’s interesting. But All You Need is Now was kind of a new wave album and a return to their 80′s roots so how is Reportage different from that? Maybe I don’t remember correctly, but I thought I read on a DD forum that Reportage was a harder rock album with political lyrics. I could be wrong about that. I know Duran Duran has a rock element but I don’t know if a heavier harder more aggressive type of sound would really suit them. I guess the problem they have is where do they go now? They made a return to their roots on the last album, but I see them as a forward looking band that likes to experiment with different sounds so I don’t know if they won’t to keep doing just a new wave sound even though their hard core fans would love that.

  14. @Frannie: My sincere apologies for the delayed response to your comment. The sense I got about Reportage is that straddled New Wave and something more alternative. I personally would like Duran Duran to build off the Astronaut album if they can as opposed to building off “All You Need Is Now”.

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