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Synth pop Comeback: Spandau Ballet Interview

Julia Johnston

Spandau Ballet is the British five some that ruled the synth pop scene in the 80s. They made six multiplatinum albums and had twenty-three hit singles (who hasn’t heard the catchy classics “True” and “Gold”?) Spandau Ballet’s influence on music is undeniable and everyone from Lil Wayne to the Black Eyed Peas to actor Ed Norton on ABC’s Modern Family covers their timeless hits. College News was lucky enough to snag a few moments to chat with Spandau Ballet’s busy bassist, Martin Kemp, on the brink of Spandau Ballet’s North American tour and new movie of the same name, Soul Boys of the Western World.

College News– Spandau Ballet is going to tour North America for the first time in nearly 30 years for the Soul Boys of the Western World tour, is it going to be just like old times?

Martin Kemp– It’s going to be a lot of fun, hopefully. We have a movie out at the same time it’s called Soul Boys of the Western World, which just got distribution in America and the show is kind of based off the movie in a way, which in turn is based on our lives. The show is going to be a bit of music…it’s a little bit of everything, it will be like a live theatric kind of thing as well. It sounds fantastic; I’m looking forward to it.

CN– Awesome. Will we be able to catch the movie in theaters as well as at the show?

MK– It will be in independent theaters, we’ve just done the distribution of that. It’s the movie of our lives, which is really fun. Which also means we can stand up there onstage at the show and play everything. We can watch the movie and we can play. It’s going to be good. It’s kind of a new style of show for us.

CN– That sounds great. Will we hear any new material at the show and in the movie?

MK– We just had a new album out called Story which is kind of a greatest hits album but what we did was put three new songs on that album so we’re definitely going to be playing those three songs. There’s one called “Steal”, another called “This is the Love” which is on the radio in the UK at the moment, and “Soul Boy” which is the name of the tour.

CN– Wonderful! So, I was doing a little research and I came across this interesting little piece of information that claims when you first joined Spandau Ballet you learned how to play the bass in three months. Is that a rumor or did that really happen?

Mr. Kemp laughs.

CN– Is that true!?

MK– What happened was I was playing in a punk band called “The Defects” which I played the bass for and I only learned how to play three chords. But, I think the best thing punk ever did for musicians is that it kind of opened the door so you could get into a band really quickly and enjoy yourself. Because before that it was all progressive rock, wasn’t it? So you had to be a great musician to be in a band. So I was playing in this band at school and my brother, Gary had his band which at the time was called Gentry. But listen I used to carry the equipment [for Gentry] when they were doing their small gigs around town.  I was just as jealous as you could ever imagine. My big dream was to be in my big brother’s band and one day their manager came up to me and was like “you can be in the band but you got three weeks before we go on tour.” You only have those windows every now and again, that come up and you know you have to walk through them and that was one of those windows and I learned how to play bass very quickly.

CN– That’s amazing because I’ll tell you, I’ve been trying to learn how to play the piano for quite a long time, years in fact.

MK(He laughs.) You know but there are some windows that change your life and that was one.

CN– Your songs have been covered by a lot of different performers like the Black Eyed Peas, Lloyd and Lil Wayne, and so many others.

MK– I think my favorite one is the Ed Norton cover of “True” on Modern Family. It was an anniversary present for his wife, and Ed Norton turned up with his bass guitar and he played “True”. That was my favorite cover.

CN– That must be pretty interesting for you, to hear all these variations.

MK– Absolutely, these people covering your records is a nice pat on the back, isn’t it? Someone saying “We appreciate what you’re doing”. But it’s a funny thing with “True”, because that particular record has been covered so many times, it’s had over like 6 million airplays in America. But it’s a funny thing when you have a record like that record, because it kind of represents you. But to be honest, the band isn’t all about “True” in a way, it’s kind of heavier than that. It’s nice to have a great record and be recognized for anything.

CN– What was it like being in the band with your brother? I know you were dying to get into the band but once you got in, was there any rivalry? Was it easy?

MK– It was nice. I think my mom put a lot of pressure on him as well, to be honest, to let me in the band. You know, “If your brother’s going, you’re going!” was what it was like, but it turned out really well. I mean it was a great way for me and Gary to spend time together. You know lots of brothers grow up and they’ve fallen apart or don’t see each other, but being in the band keeps our family very close.

CN– Are you all practically family now in the band?

MK– Oh my goodness, yes the band is the closest thing that I have to family. My parents are both gone and you know they’re the closest thing that I have to family. I’ve known the boys since I was eleven years old. It’s one of the nicest things when you’re onstage with those boys in the middle of a show, it’s nice looking around seeing your family onstage, but most people in bands will say something similar because you just become so close.

CN– Being in a successful band at such an early age, you guys were literally growing up together, you must have had some crazy times while on tour.

MK-Oh boy, well we spent all our lives growing up in the band, so we’re a bit more chilled out now.

CN– Yeah?

MK– Well some of us are.

CN(I laugh) Anyway, not only are you an accomplished musician, but an actor as well, and also an author. You wrote an autobiography, True: The Autobiography of Martin Kemp, which came out a few years back and it was on the Sunday Times Best Seller’s list for several months in 2000. What was that solo process like for you?

MK-I’ll be honest with you, it was a weird one. In the book, I talk about the brain tumor I had taken out. So, it was all kind of touch and go for a few years. My life, I didn’t know what way it was going during that time. It was pretty traumatic having no idea what was going on, so I was in therapy at the time and then in the middle of the night I would wake up and go downstairs and start writing about everything I had been talking about during that day in therapy. So, I was kind of putting the book together without knowing it. It was very cathartic while I was writing and it sort of carried on and carried on and it was one of the things that got me better. We’re talking about 15 years ago, but a few years later, someone came along and said to me “Martin we want to do a book on you” and I said “Oh, by the way I’ve got one. I’ve already done it.” It was already prepared. It was a nice process. I really enjoyed it.

CN– How about your acting?

MK– Yeah, I just shot a film that is coming out here in the UK, in I think, June, which is called Age of Kill, which is an action film. Here’s the thing, I love entertainment. I love being involved in any of it, whether or not it’s being in the band or acting or directing—I’ve shot a couple of films. I love all of it. So, it’s really nice in a way to mix it up, the main thing is to keep you busy. But, the one thing I love above everything, is playing in the band and the number one thing for me is being onstage with the band because that’s where it all started. When I was younger, I wanted to be in a band, I wanted to be Elvis Presley, I wanted to play live and that’s what we do.

CN-What advice do you have for people looking to pursue a career in music?

MK– My advice is everything you do when it comes down to entertainment–whether it’s music or acting or directing or whatever– number one, it has to be your hobby. You have to treat it like you love it with passion, and if it’s your hobby and you can make money off it, great. If you can’t, then you still love it just as much. That’s my thing. If you’re lucky enough to turn your hobby into your job, that’s success.

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