1981 ➤ Why naked heroes from antiquity stood in for Spandau on their first record sleeves


Spandau Ballet, The Freeze, John Keeble, video, New Romantics
♫ BLUE SING LA LUNE, SING LAGOON… ♫ No, nobody has ever known what the lyrics to The Freeze were going on about, but that wasn’t the point 30 years ago today when it entered the UK singles chart at No 24. It wasn’t an obvious choice for Spandau Ballet’s second single, after their first, To Cut a Long Story Short, had peaked at No 5. The Freeze was not chosen for singability but for its New Romantic clubbing credibility. In 1981 the pathfinding band were consolidating the new approach they had styled White European Dance Music — led on The Freeze by Gary Kemp’s two-fingered synth arpeggios, plus enough percussive kick-drum snaps underpinned with bassline rhythms to fill dancefloors even in Birmingham, where Duran Duran had yet to release their debut single.

The Freeze was a subtle rallying call to soulboys and girls up and down the land, as distinct from the new wave’s “electric” factions who were inventing alien soundscapes haunted by multi-layered synthesisers. Spandau were to release one more double-sided single and an album in similar style before throwing New Romantic rivals into confusion by changing their sound utterly — and fashionably — to funk by mid-summer. Spandau moved ever onward by translating the New Romantic mantra that “One look lasts a day” into its musical equivalent.

Likewise, the new video dispensed with their earlier tartans to reveal a mix of a medieval doublet from PX, masculine string vests, a pair of dark-glasses to transform Tony Hadley into Donald “The Forger” Pleasence [♫ The art is pretending it’s art ♫], and a grey pleated Melissa Caplan “gymslip” [above] for drummer John Keeble (not known in the years since for cross-dressing — although, no, hang on, there is one as-yet unpublished pic of him as Carmen Miranda on tour in the US).

Spandau Ballet, record sleeves,

Graham Smith’s minimalist livery for Spandau Ballet’s white record sleeves: To Cut..., The Freeze, Journeys to Glory

While ex-Middlesex art-school fashion-designer Simon Withers set the style for Spandau’s staging and clothing, a complete livery for their suite of vinyl record sleeves was masterminded by Graham Smith while still studying graphics at Camberwell (all of which counted towards his coursework and earned him a first-class degree in 1981 and, fortuitously, an entire window display in HMV’s Oxford Street record store). The early singles — To Cut…, The Freeze, Musclebound and Glow — were taken from Spandau’s first album Journeys to Glory, which reached No 5 in March, and were styled in black-on-white with minimal distraction beyond a few classical motifs, like those decorating the set in The Freeze video. Most daringly, there wasn’t even a photograph of the band on the debut single.

Graham says now: “I wanted to create an overall corporate visual package for Spandau that was cutting edge and reflected their aspirations. It had to have style. Style was the buzzword at the time. Even magazines were being named with Style in the title. It’s overused today, but it wasn’t then.”

Spandau Ballet, New Romantics, record sleeves

Sleeve for Spandau Ballet’s Glow: Another hero, by Smith after Flaxman

His minimalist vision was pretty prescient for 1980, though he wasn’t alone. Up North, former classmates at Manchester Polytechnic Peter Saville and Malcolm Garrett had been transforming graphic design in the record business for a couple of years, Saville for Joy Division and OMD among others while establishing a bold house style at Factory Records (where one post-punk sleeve was made of sandpaper as a Situationist joke), and Garrett for the new-wavers Buzzcocks and Magazine. Both were inspired by the pioneers of 20th-century typography to let stock fonts alone evoke mood and character, just as Penguin Books had done. The Mancunians, too, had often abandoned band portraits to underscore musical integrity.

Even so, it was quite a feat for Graham Smith to convince Spandau’s manager Steve Dagger and his five ostentantiously dandy band members with trendsetter ambitions that they remain invisible on their first set of singles.

Graham says: “This was obviously seen as a perverse and uncommercial move by Chrysalis [the record company], but that was the whole point. I felt by doing so we gave mystique to this new and very visual band. It added a strength to Spandau as they were clearly stating they were not packaged by the record company, but doing things on their terms. This move would still be considered questionable in marketing terms today.”

Spandau Ballet, Musclebound, record sleeves

More Flaxmanesque heroes: Spandau Ballet sleeve imagery for Musclebound

A few tasteful nudes from classical antiquity stood in for the band, resonating with the New Romantics’ lifeline back to Bowie’s “Heroes”. Graham says: “The iconic imagery for the album was based on Greek sculptor Myron’s The Discus Thrower. Glow was based on 18th-century etchings by the neoclassical sculptor John Flaxman. The Freeze image I sourced from a reference book on Egyptian icons — the chariot simply worked with the Journeys to Glory theme. The white spartan package was pure and reflected some of Gary’s lyrics and statements at the time, such as I am beautiful and clean.”

“There were claims at the time that some of the imagery had Aryan overtones which mirrored the band’s earlier fashion choices. I somewhat misguidedly thought this was perfect at the time – think of Bowie saluting at Victoria Station in an open limousine several years earlier!”

Spandau Ballet, St Tropez, Simon Withers, Graham Smith, Robert Elms,New Romantics

Graphic designer Graham Smith (right): The Spandau Ballet entourage in St Tropez in 1980 also includes writer Robert Elms (left) and stage/fashion designer Simon Withers (centre in white). Photograph © by Jean Aponte


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