As you’ve probably noticed by now, Spandau Ballet are back and we reckon they’re ‘definitely the best reformed band of the year’. They’re also one of the most Londony, as Gary Kemp’s just-published biography reveals.
Anyone with even an ounce of fame must occasionally ponder what they’d call their autobiography. Gary Kemp, chief songsmith of Spandau Ballet, seems to have purposely seeded the band’s output with appropriate phrases, only to have been gazumped by his colleagues. Brother Martin Kemp bagsied ‘True‘ for his 2000 life story, while crooner Tony Hadley namechecked the band’s first hit ‘To Cut A Long Story Short‘. This third Spandatic biog, returns to the chorus of their biggest hit, with ‘I Know This Much’. Given Spandau’s internecine court case, ‘Communication Let Me Down’ wouldn’t have been a wholly inappropriate subtitle.
Reading through this well-paced biography, we learn that Kemp has the most Londony CV since Charles Dickens. Born within the sound of Bow Bells (at St Bart’s) and raised on ‘the wrong side of Essex Road’ he went on to play a career-making gig on HMS Belfast and later co-starred (with his brother) in the Krays movie. His autobiography therefore has an appeal much wider than the Spandau fan base.
The book is particularly strong at describing the West End fashionista hangouts of the early 1980s. Clubs like the Blitz (Great Queen Street) and La Beat Route (Greek Street) swarmed with as-yet undiscovered artists such as Sade, Steve Strange, Marc Almond, George Michael, Spandau Ballet and just about anyone else trying to break into the charts in 1980. Even the cloakroom attendants went on to find fame as Marilyn and Boy George.
The later sections of the book, on finding fame, attempts to break America, playing Live Aid, meeting Charlie Kray and the band’s eventual collapse, are all engaging enough but lack real revelations. That said, we had no idea that the band’s name was first suggested by BBC London DJ Robert Elms (possibly the only man with an even more Londony CV than Kemp).
The book closes with a sudden shift in mood. Just as Spandau Ballet were set to put aside their differences and begin comeback preparations, both Kemp parents died within days of one another. Gary’s description of his last moments with his father, and the subsequent birth of his own son, are particularly poignant.
I Know This Much is an affably written boy-done-good tale and the most tempting Spandau purchase since that spoof advert for a Tony Hadley Fabergé pineapple in Viz. It’s out now from Fourth Estate.