The sound of their soul: Seems like old times for reunited Spandau Ballet

SHARE The sound of their soul: Seems like old times for reunited Spandau Ballet

To borrow a line from one of their biggest hits, I know this much is true:

• Spandau Ballet, along with fellow “Blitz Kids” Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Wham!, Boy George and Culture Club, helped define the New Romantic Movement of the 1980s.

• The band’s songs have been covered by everyone from the Black Eyed Peas to Paul Anka.

• And nearly 40 years since the blue-eyed soulsmiths debuted their synth-pop stylings on chart-toppers such as “To Cut a Long Story Short,” “Gold” and the iconic “True,” nothing, not even a 20-year split, could keep the British quintet from the inevitable: a reunion tour.

Spandau Ballet is back, and its music has reached a new generation of fans.

Give a listen to their 2014 performances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” if you doubt.

Now in their 50s, Tom Hadley, Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp, Steve Norman and John Keeble are every inch those dapper Brits in their smartly styled suits and sophisticated stylings that made their imprint on pop music throughout the 1980s. (OK, perhaps a little grayer around the edges.) And though the band disintegrated back in 1990 (a split that lasted for some 20 years), Spandau Ballet reunited in 2009, toured the U.K. and Australia subsequent to that, and made quite the splash this past April at SXSW (the group’s first U.S. show in 28 years). Now they’re back on this side of the pond with a full-out tour across North America that hits Chicago’s House of Blues on April 25.

I recently chatted with Martin Kemp about the band’s musical journey, which includes the new documentary, “Soul Brothers of the Western World,” getting its Chicago release next month with a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

SPANDAU BALLET Matthew Harvat 7:30 p.m. April 25 House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn Tickets: $49.50 Info:

Q. What’s it like to be back with your bandmates especially after such a bitter split all those years ago?

Martin Kemp:There was that 20-year gap where everybody tried to sue each other out. I prefer to say we took 20 years off. We got back together in 2009; that took us through Britain and Europe [for shows]. But it was a testing sort of thing. We wanted to see if anybody out there was still interested in us and if we could still get on with each other and make it work. We were surprised at how well it did work.

Q. How bad was the “bad” during the tumult of the band’s breakup?

MK: The friendships didn’t endure. It all just broke down. It was the hardest thing for me; it was like watching parents go through a really horrible divorce. I was stuck in the middle of it. I wasn’t involved in the legal battles; that was the three guys and my brother. It was a scary time as well. Everything we’d known and worked for was falling apart around us. You have to remember how close we were; we’d known each other since we were all around 11 years old. We developed our personalities together as we traveled around the world. Thank God someone had the foresight and strength to put the band together again.

A vintage Spandau Ballet image in the documentary “Soul Boys of the Western World.” | IFC Films

A vintage Spandau Ballet image in the documentary “Soul Boys of the Western World.” | IFC Films

Q. What was the pivotal moment in getting the band back together?

MK: Gary and I lost our parents within four days of each other; they were both ill at the same time. Both died of a heart attack. I think that really brought everyone back around. You have to understand, the boys were the only family I had outside of my parents. They were the only ones I could talk to about it. Out of such tragedy came such joy. There was nothing my mother would have wanted more than to have the band back together.

Q.What was it like when you all walked into the rehearsal room after 20 years?

MK: It was wonderful. It was so strange, like a time [warp]. One minute everyone was arguing and going to court and the next everyone turned up for rehearsal. The tension was tough that first day, but the minute we started playing the music, the first song we played was “Through the Barricades,” and we knew we were back.

Q. Why do you think your music has endured?

MK: Maybe they’re just good songs. I think people have taken them to their hearts. They’ve become the soundtracks to the most poignant moments in people’s lives. People can relate to “True” or “Through the Barricades.” I can see it in their eyes when we perform them. That’s a tribute to my brother’s [Gary Kemp] style of writing.

Q. Is the feeling the same 30 years later as you sing the Spandau Ballet catalog?

MK: I think it’s even better. In our younger days, it wasn’t so much about going on tour and getting on stage, it was about what was going to happen after the show. It was about the boys being on holiday. Now it’s all about what happens on the stage and it’s so much more enjoyable.

Q. What’s the biggest difference about touring in 2015 versus 1980?

MK: It’s so much easier now. [Laughing] There’s no hangover to deal with from the minute you walk onto the plane. And the world has become such a smaller place. You travel quicker. The Internet keeps you home. Skype keeps you home. And the whole idea of free music. The music business is in such a state of flux, trying to find its feet. … Change is exciting. We’d be in a much poorer place if it was still a world of 7-inch singles.

Q. You guys really set some wild fashion trends back in the day because of your stage attire — Tartan plaids, oversized scarves, billowy sleeves, those great jackets. Any kilt-wearing these days?

MK: [Laughs] We’ve grown up a bit. I think we were all so involved in what we wore because when we were kids we’d never walk out on stage in jeans and T-shirts. We wanted a fashion edge. Some folks laughed at us at the time, but I’m really proud of how we presented ourselves. At the time it was really important. We represented what kids were wearing in the clubs, that whole cultural movement. We had no stylist; we put it all together ourselves. We still do. But no kilts or stuff we were wearing when we were 20.

Q. What surprised you the most when you finally saw the finished documentary?

MK: It was hard to watch the film for the first time. … One by one we went into a small, dark studio with a microphone and told our stories. Individually we told the truth about what we saw over those dark 20 years. So you’re listening to the drummer’s story, the singer’s story and the saxophonist’s story. Listening to the other side of what the whole thing was and realizing for the first time what it meant to them. I guess the biggest surprise was just looking back at myself and not just taking someone else’s story about it. Watching and realizing perhaps I was not feeling for them enough; I was being too headstrong about my own career. I was going off into acting. It surprised me that I didn’t take the time to understand the position I was in at the time. I guess that’s just a matter of age and experience. I’m now 53, and looking back at yourself when you were in your 30s, it’s just so completely different than being in that moment all those years ago.

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