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Reunited Spandau Ballet enjoying 'unexpected' U.S. reception

In Manhattan on Nov. 14, 2014, Spandau Ballet

In Manhattan on Nov. 14, 2014, Spandau Ballet talks about their first tour in 30 years and their love of Long Island's WLIR before their show at NYCB Theater at Westbury in February. Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Spandau Ballet guitarist and chief songwriter Gary Kemp laughs as he remembers a conversation he had with Duran Duran bassist John Taylor when both New Wave bands were taking over pop culture in the '80s.

"He said, 'We've got America. You've got Europe. Let's just call it quits,' " Kemp recalls, back in the days when Spandau Ballet's "True" was duking it out with Duran Duran's "Is There Something I Should Know?" at the top of the pop charts. "A bunch of working-class kids from England who could carve up great empires!"

"World domination!" singer Tony Hadley says. "The same old rock and roll dream."

"Now, we do have a little bit of America," Gary Kemp says, looking at his brother, bassist Martin Kemp, as the whole band gathers in a quiet corner of Sirius XM Radio headquarters in Manhattan.

"And we want some more," adds saxophonist-percussionist Steve Norman.

They may get it. Thirty years after their last American concerts, Spandau Ballet is the subject of a buzzed-about new documentary, "Soul Boys of the Western World" -- out April 29 in theaters and available on video on demand and iTunes -- and in the middle of a new tour, which stops at the Beacon Theatre on May 2 and NYCB Theatre at Westbury on May 3.

"It's all so unexpected," says Martin Kemp, adding that the response the band received from its "Jimmy Kimmel Live" appearance last year that shut down Hollywood Boulevard was especially surprising. "It takes you back to the old days and it really makes you realize what an incredible position you're in to make people happy. We realize that even more this time."

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Part of what makes Spandau Ballet's reunion so special is that it seemed impossible for so many years after the band broke up in 1989. In 1999, the rift grew so deep that Hadley, Norman and drummer John Keeble unsuccessfully sued Gary Kemp for a larger share of royalties.

That dispute and some of the other issues that caused it is well covered in the documentary, despite the embarrassment that goes with it. "It had to be like that," Gary Kemp says. "The reason this works is because it's a story with a car crash in it. . . . Because we know who we are now, we are able to look back at who we were then."

Martin Kemp says that the documentary helped place everyone's perspectives about the band in context. "That was the first time that each of us heard all of each other's stories," he says. "I was learning things about the other four guys that I never knew."

"It's not an easy watch," Hadley adds. "I've seen it three times now. I can't watch it again."

But all of Spandau Ballet feels that they have moved on from that chapter. "I feel like I'm a very different person now," Gary Kemp says. "The guy on the screen doesn't know my four children. He was obsessive. I don't think he knew he was that obsessive."

He adds quickly, "And the end is so euphoric."

The documentary's end is the reunited Spandau Ballet's beginning in 2009, a fresh start that includes new music -- produced by Trevor Horn, no less -- and the American tour that they have long wondered about.

"We left it far too long," Hadley says. "We had the breakup and stuff, but we should have toured here the last time."

Martin Kemp points out, "The last time -- we weren't even sure about touring England. We didn't know."

Gary Kemp adds, "We were worried about being together in the same room. What we found out was that we did get on and we could keep going."

"After that first show in Dublin, we were all happy as Larry afterwards," Hadley says. "There was an easiness within us."

"That's when we realized how time flies," Gary Kemp says. "Suddenly, we feel like we've been playing together for ages."

"If there was a question in anybody's mind as to whether it would work, I don't think any of us would be here," Martin Kemp adds. "We wouldn't have started it."

But they knew there was something special between them. "There's nothing else that any of us do where you get this thrill, especially playing live," Keeble says. "You can't get that fix anywhere else. We need each other to get that."

Denis McNamara, who played Spandau Ballet on WLIR-FM when he was the influential station's program director, says there has always been an aura of mystery surrounding the band.

"We first treated them as an underground, protest club band," he says, adding that the Long Island station was one of the few on this side of the Atlantic to play the band's British smash "Chant No. 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)." "Suddenly, they turned a corner and did 'True.' That was a perfect pop song."

Gary Kemp says that he's OK with the idea that most people only associate Spandau Ballet with "True." "It's a classic love song for a certain generation," Gary Kemp says.

"I think we worried that America had a very narrow view of the band," adds Martin Kemp. "Our career was certainly longer on either side of 'True' in the rest of the world. But 'True' has become such a part of American consciousness."

Martin Kemp says "True" propelled the band's move into the pop world. "We didn't want to stay as a cult band -- just sell a few records and play to a few people and have the credibility," he says. "We wanted to play to as many people as we could."

"If you play American football in high school, you want to play in the Super Bowl," Keeble adds. "It's the same if you're in a band. You want to play Madison Square Garden, which I'm kind of pissed we haven't, but we haven't ruled it out."

Maybe someday. "The next time we come back again, we're going to have a new album," Hadley promises. "We have to."


WHO Spandau Ballet

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. May 2, Beacon Theatre, Manhattan; and 8 p.m. May 3, NYCB Theatre at Westbury, Westbury

INFO $39-$86; 800-745-3000,; and $49.50-$69.50; 516-334-0800,




Spandau Ballet has tackled all sorts of musical styles in its legendary career. Here's a look at some of its stops:



SINGLES "To Cut a Long Story Short"; "Musclebound"

STYLE Experimental synth-pop influenced by German electronica and other exotic musical and fashion flavors that they mixed into something new and wild.


DIAMOND (1982)

SINGLES "Chant No. 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)"; "Instinction"

STYLE The edgier end of the New Romantic movement that launched Duran Duran, leaning on European electronic simplicity and American funk.


TRUE (1983)

SINGLES "Lifeline"; "True"; "Gold"; "Communication"

STYLE Halfway between New Romantic pop and dramatic American '60s soul, the mix struck a chord internationally, establishing them as global stars.


PARADE (1984)

SINGLES "Only When You Leave"; "I'll Fly For You"; "Highly Strung"; "Round and Round"

STYLE Adding straightforward American rock to the mix of "True," with the soul ballads becoming even more dramatic.



SINGLES "Fight for Ourselves"; "How Many Lies?"; "Through the Barricades"

STYLE The rock anthems became more stadium-oriented, while the ballads became subtler and prettier.



SINGLES "Raw"; "Be Free With Your Love"

STYLE A mix of hard rock and smooth synth pop that reflected the strain of the band's internal strife.


ONCE MORE (2009)

SINGLES "Once More"

STYLE Following their reunion, they reworked many of their hits in a more acoustic style to let the melodies shine through.

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