Life's still golden for Spandau's Tony
Ex-Spandau Ballet frontman Tony Hadley, a frequent visitor to Suffolk, is back again this summer.
Ex-Spandau Ballet frontman Tony Hadley, a frequent visitor to Suffolk, is back again this summer. He tells Steven Russell why he loves singing the old tunes, how the Tories asked him to get involved in politics, and that we could be seeing more of him
REMEMBER this, pop-pickers? Turn back the clock 25 years (plus a month or three) and Spandau Ballet were basking in success after True shot to number one in the UK charts.
“Did it?” asks former lead singer Tony Hadley in genuine surprise. “I can't even remember my own family's birthdays, let alone the anniversary of True! I'm shocking at dates. I'm not good at small detail - bloody awful!”
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Pause for short history lesson, then. The ballad might have proved the New Romantic band's only number one, but it was a massive worldwide hit, topping the charts in 21 countries. It gripped the UK top spot for four weeks and had the honour of being number one single on the 1,000th edition of Top of the Pops.
The Eighties might have been poptastic for Spandau Ballet - they enjoyed five top-10 hits before True, and later in 1983 saw Gold slot in at number two - but Tony Hadley is not a man to look backwards.
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“I'm not a nostalgic person; that's the one thing I'm not. I don't dig out old records or old videos and sit there and go 'Wow!' I remember I left school and everyone said 'Best days of your life, school.' The best day of my life is today. You've got to look forward; I hate looking back. Every day you wake up, there are new opportunities. To live in the past I think is really sad; I don't indulge in that.”
Mind you, change was always a feature of the Spandau story. It was always hard to stick a label on them: were they dyed-in-the-wool New Romantics, with Cossack outfits and makeup, or sophisticated smoothies in sharp suits?
The music altered, too: the frenetic electro-beat of To Cut a Long Story Short was a complete contrast to the slow and smoochy ballad of True.
“Yes, exactly. We could have ended up going down the Depeche Mode route of synth pop band, but as a band we changed a lot, and as a solo artist I've tried to do different things. I've worked with orchestras around the world, rock stuff, even did a recording of Jesus Christ Superstar, was Billy Flynn in Chicago - even radio DJ as well. (Party Classics with Tony Hadley - “All the best of the 80s and other timeless party anthems” - is on Virgin Radio on Friday and Saturday evenings.)
“It's nice to challenge yourself. The Chicago stint was good fun.” He did a stint in the West End musical at the start of 2007. “Three months was the most regular job I've had since I was 17. It was a great cast, really good people, but I couldn't do what some people do: six months or a year. Three months was a fantastic learning process. Bloody nerve-racking, though!”
He's even filmed a piece recently for the BBC's The Daily Politics show, about tackling truancy.
“Yeah. I think if you care about your country, then you should be into politics. I find it really disturbing there's quite a lot of young people that haven't got a clue about politics. If you think things are not right, that's the only way your voice can be heard.”
Does he ever see himself standing for office?
“I've been asked, but I'd rather stay on the side of reality! I drive about London, drive about the country, and travel the world, and most of my mates are brickies, tilers and plumbers and stuff. I like to think I keep my feet pretty firmly on the ground. I think a lot of politicians lose sight of what goes on in ordinary life. Some of them I've met and thought 'Bloody hell!' Outside of politics they haven't got a clue about what's going on.”
Which party asked you to stand? “The Tories.” And where would you say your politics lay? “To the centre right. I think the thing is, you've got to be a caring person - you've got to look after those who really need it - but on the other hand you've got to be pretty strong about those who are taking advantage of the system and stuff. So I'm a kind of middle-way Conservative, really.”
Tony was one of the major voices on the famous Band Aid song Do They Know It's Christmas? in 1984, and Spandau played at the Live Aid concert the following summer. Is it depressing to look back and see that more than two decades later the world hasn't learned some fundamental lessons?
“We're out of balance in the world. You look at Ethiopia and you think 'Bloody hell.' Twenty-odd years on and we've still got the same old problem. It's pretty depressing.”
Is that down to politics?
“Well, I think it's down to politics; I think it's down to the venture capitalist - people playing the money markets, the food markets, the oil markets. It's obviously weather-wise, as well, that there are problems. Too many people . . . I don't know. There are so many issues in the world today it's unbelievable. It seems every year there are more and more problems.
“You're talking about a world with over six billion people; you're talking about India, a surging nation, yet with people starving. It's wrong; the whole balance is wrong.”
On a happier note, things are going well personally. He's very busy: in Spain the week before talking to the EADT: a couple of dates in the Philippines the week before his appearance at Suffolk's Somerleyton Hall on August 15. Australia and New Zealand follow later in the year . . .
“F---ing don't,” he laughs. “I'm all over the place.”
Mind you, there are no complaints. “As well as writing and being in the studio, I just love gigging.”
Variety has been the spice of life since going it alone in 1990. His first solo album, The State of Play, came out in 1992, and in 1996 he was part of an orchestral tour of Europe, along with Joe Cocker - playing to 500,000 people over six weeks.
Tony's worked with dance acts and DJs, and legends such as Alice Cooper, Paul Young and Brian May, and has toured with Go West's Peter Cox and Martin Fry from ABC. In 2003 he won the ITV show Reborn in the USA, where he sang alongside Elkie Brooks and Leee John from Imagination.
Musically, jazz-swing has become a great love - and the perfect vehicle for the powerful Hadley voice. The album Passing Strangers was released in 2006, and was marked by a tour with a 17-piece big-band.
The genre is now a major part of many of his shows.
The Somerleyton gig will be a mixture of swing-style songs and some of the classic Spandau Ballet numbers.
“We've done some quite clever arrangements of True, Gold and a beautiful arrangement of Through the Barricades, and a brassed-up version of Only When You Leave. We're putting in some fun stuff from the album as well - good swing stuff. With a big-band, when you've got 14, 15 people on stage, it sounds a million dollars; it really does.”
Some artists are quite sniffy about reprising the old favourites. Madonna has, at times, been particular about showcasing new material rather than getting all nostalgic. Tony doesn't follow the logic.
“It's crazy. Too many artists don't want to sing what basically made them famous in the first place. And, also, I get letters from fans all the time, and you meet people, and they say 'That song means so much to me, my wife or girlfriend, or children, because we played that when our daughter went through a bad time', or something - songs like Gold and Through the Barricade especially.
“I think you're a fool if you deny your public, in a sense. I think it's pretty selfish, to be honest.”
Rolling back the years for Reborn in the USA wasn't a chore, then.
“It was good for profile. When you weighed up the pros and cons, it was nine o'clock on a Saturday night for eight weeks. You've got to look at it from that point of view and say it's fantastic profile. Most artists, given the opportunity, will take it.
“I wouldn't do reality - I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here or anything like that. It was based on music, which was fine with me.”
There's frequent talk of a Spandau Ballet reunion. Last Christmas, for instance, a newspaper suggested the original members might reform for a £2million show in Las Vegas - a rumour that appeared just that.
So, what are the chances at some stage?
“I've always said 'You can never say never', and if the right bridges were crossed, who knows? The one thing I do think is there was never proper closure. I know some of the fans who loved it then say 'We don't want Spandau to get together', but an awful lot of them almost live for the day when Spandau will be reunited, because in some way maybe they want to see closure on it.
“I don't know . . . we'd have to go a long way for it to happen. So who knows?”
The band did its last show in the spring of 1990 - and then, before the decade was out, there was the inevitable internecine dispute over royalties.
“You get sick of each other, sometimes,” he laughs about the split. “It's very difficult. There's a lot of politics about being in a band. It's just the way it is.
“Being a solo artist is so much easier. I have a fantastic rock band. Johnny Keeble, from Spandau, is there and he's one of my best mates, and we've been together for a long time, the band. Then we've got the swing band, and those guys are great players and friends as well. But at the end of the day I'm calling the shots!”
Tony Hadley's Swinging True: Big Band Somerleyton Hall concert, near Lowestoft, is on Friday, August 15. Tickets cost £27.50 (£15 for those aged five to 15 years) and are available on 01603 630 000. Doors open at 6.30pm for those wishing to bring a picnic to enjoy in the 12-acre grounds.
TONY Hadley is no stranger to our neck of the woods. Last year he sang at the Evening Star Press Ball in Ipswich, which raised thousands of pounds for charity, and this spring launched the East Anglian Beer Festival at Bury St Edmunds.
He's a bit of a beer fan, and is an investor in the Red Rat Craft Brewery, run from a barn in a village outside Bury St Edmunds. One of the brews it produces is Hadley's, a light and crispy golden ale.
“It's good. It makes a difference from a poncy vineyard!” he laughs. “No, I love wine; but I also love real ale. I'll be coming up to Suffolk more, actually. Eventually what we'd like to do is get a pub up there and have a large bar, with the brewery attached to the pub. That's what we're planning for.
“At the moment we're making stuff for Jimmy's Farm, Jamie Oliver - all sorts of people. It's getting bigger every minute. It's only a micro-brewery, but we're expanding at a rate of knots because they're great beers.”
Hadley's picked up four awards from the Campaign for Real Ale in as many weeks, including two golds: champion bitter at Colchester Beer Festival and best beer under 5% at the East Anglian Beer Festival. In August the brewery is in Sainsbury's beer competition finals and Crazy Dog Stout will be on sale nationally in its main stores.
Tony's connection with Red Rat Craft followed a speculative approach early last year from brewery owner Kevin McHenry, a fan of the singer, about raising money for Tony's favourite charities. In April, 2007, the first crate of Hedley's was auctioned at the Hilton on Park Lane, fetching £500 for Action Medical Research.
To cut a long story short . . .
Tony Hadley was born in Islington in June, 1960
He's got four children: Tom, 24; Toni, 22; Mackenzie, 17, and Zara, 18 months
Tony's a Gunners fanatic and regularly plays for the Arsenal celebrity soccer team
He also keeps fit by running, skiing and scuba diving
Other interests include the cinema and theatre
Released his autobiography in 2004, called To Cut a Long Story Short
Do you remember . . . Some Spandau Ballet singles highlights
1980 To Cut a Long Story Short reached number five in UK charts
1981 Chant No.1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On), number three
1982 Lifeline, number seven
1983 True, number one
1983 Gold, number two
1984 Only When You Leave, number three
1986 Through The Barricades, number six