Glamour, decadence, political strife, and the creativity of a new youth movement wanting to be at the forefront of stylist change were some of contributing elements to the British pop culture of the 80s – and this era had a “creative manifesto” (a term used in the movie “Soul boys of the western world” by the band’s songwriter Gary Kemp) that working class lads Spandau Ballet became the sonic and stylistic architects of fairly early in their musical career. Director George Hencken’s documentary “Soul Boys Of The Western World” chronicles the epic rise and fall of Spandau Ballet through a series of “well-pieced together” video footage and voice-overs from the bandmembers. The movie’s first screening in New York City was at the SVA Theatre as part of the DOC NYC documentary festival.
The movie vividly captures the key milestones and incarnations (The Gentry, The Makers) of Spandau Ballet as they went from school-kids with a dream all the way to Live Aid – one of the most defining moments in pop music history. Some of the most emotion-evoking scenes documenting the rise of the band include their first performance of “To cut a long story short” as The Makers, their first appearance on “Top Of The Pops” (a show “your Nan watches too”), their first live performance that was NOT invitee-only, their clothing and style which seemed rather incongruous relative to the high society of St Tropez during their short club residency there, the group of lads sitting in a poorly lit room singing what sounded like the first an embryonic version of their signature hit single “True”, the “Duran Duran vs Spandau Ballet” quiz contest, and the dance scenes that captured the spirit and the hedonism of the Blitz nightclub. There is something inherently escapist about these scenes.
The movie also does a reasonably good job of capturing the process by which the relationships in the band started to fracture. It becomes fairly clear in the second half of the movie that the Kemp brothers had aspirations outside of the band. Their high-profile movie “The Krays” in which brothers Martin and Gary Kemp played the Kray twins was the first step towards those aspirations materializing. At the movie, the crowd laughed at the scene in which the brothers were at one point asked how the rest of the band felt about their flirtation with movies while being an active part of the band. The laughter stemmed from the blank expression and seemingly indefinite lack of reaction from the brothers when they were asked that question. That was one of the priceless moments in the movie. The next interesting scene that captures what was later to become a hot-button issue for the band was the one in which band-members Steve Norman and Tony Hadley were asked how come they don’t do any of the songwriting. Steve Norman’s response was “I don’t know. Maybe I will try someday”. The imagery around the band showcased in this part of the movie successfully captures the emotional distance between the band’s factions and the open-ended nature of their future as a musical entity. The scenes outside the court during the songwriting royalties dispute between Gary Kemp and a faction composed of Steve Norman, John Keeble (the band’s drummer), and lead singer Tony Hadley offer a glimpse of just how irredeemable things had become for the band.
The movie’s ending was a positive one though. There was no better way to capture the happy reunion of the band in 2009 than to show the clip of the band’s post-reunion first interview with Jonathan Ross (this interview is an absolute must-watch!). The scene of the band playing to a sold out arena is quite a stellar reminder of the remnant love for a band that ended on a commercial low with their album “Heart like a sky”.
One of the hardest challenges in making a movie is to compress all elements of a story into two hours. The band’s story has various layers and something is bound to slip when there is a target of 2 hours within which a 30-year long story has to be captured. Some aspects that we would have loved to see explored are as follows:
– Conversation around what was running through Gary Kemp’s mind when he started to drift from the band.
– Most bands from the 80s failed to make a successful transition into the 90s. In the movie, it seemed like it was only the fractured friendship within the band that prevented them from moving forward as a band. The changing dynamic of the music scene was not really factored in. It would have been interesting to see that layer.
– A deeper perspective on Martin Kemp’s thoughts and ideas during the court case between his brother and closest mates.
– A spotlight on Steve Norman, John Keeble, and Tony Hadley talking about what they were feeling when they found out they would no longer be entitled to songwriting royalties for Spandau Ballet.
– Some insight into the elements of the conversation between Gary Kemp and Tony Hadley that helped them arrive at the conclusion that the band could be successfully reunited.
That being said, the movie is still very much a creative and artistic success for director George Hencken.
The true “grand finale” for the evening was the Q&A session with the members of the band. To say this was a priceless experience would be an understatement. Tony Hadley was kind enough to answer one of our questions. We asked him what change he would facilitate if he could hold the reins of the music industry for a significant period of time. His response was very intelligent. He said he would organize a unified consortium of the major record labels to launch a streaming service together. This is a brilliant idea as it would help address the perennial gripe of record labels that streaming services do not pay them enough for the monetization of their assets (i.e. the music of artists and bands on their rosters).
The Q&A session’s moderator Lori Majewski also posed the question as to why the band chose to make this documentary now. Once again, the band’s response was on point. They acknowledged that we live in an era in which it is not enough just to release music and tour. There has to be something more. This documentary was that “something more”. It offered a glimpse into some of the defining moments that bring a band’s creative efforts to fruition. There is a story leading up to the final product (both visual and sonic) that we see and there is a curiosity in connoisseurs of music for this rich back-story.
In a nutshell, the “Soul boys of the western world” event (both the movie screening and the Q&A) was an absolute privilege. We have included a few photos from the event via the link below:
If you have photos from similar “Soul Boys” screening events, please feel free to send them over and we will add them to our photo album in the link above.
STAR RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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“. Currently, “This Is Your Love” and “Steal” by Spandau Ballet are getting 5 plays EACH per day on our station.
Give us a spin when you get a chance.
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