[See Sep 21 update below]
❚ “YOU KNOW WHAT MEN ARE LIKE when they get a new bit of kit — it’s like Christmas.” This is Spandau Ballet sax player and all-round percussionist Steve Norman reliving his teenage kicks. “I’m loving my latest toy. It’s a guitar pedal-board with all the bells and whistles. As a guitarist, when you’ve got sounds at your feet — in literally one stomp of the box — you can go from the driving funk of the Isley Brothers to the more soulful sound of George Benson.”
We tend to forget that Steve was playing rhythm guitar as a co-founder of Spandau when they became the Blitz Club’s house band in 1979 with synthesisers well to the fore. Ten years of international chart fame saw him picking up almost any instrument that was needed in the five-piece outfit, most notably the saxophone, on which he was self-taught. His solo breaks became as much a part of Spandau’s stadium sound as Tony Hadley’s bel canto baritone. By the time they were belting through their 2009–10 reunion tour, Gary Kemp was introducing Steve as “The most soulful saxophone this side of Young Americans”!
Right now Steve has three reasons to be jumping. He’s back in training for the first Cloudfish gig in ages: this is his five-piece band with Shelley Preston, ex of Bucks Fizz, partnering on vocals. Second, his new box of tricks is beefing up his funky guitar-playing with “all those wa-wahs and overdriven solo sounds”. And third, he’s back in the songwriting groove, and audiences at the Cloudfish gig in Holland in November will be the first to hear some numbers that have not yet been recorded.
Steve says: “One’s called Kinda Wonderful and another is called Star. It’s a bit dancey — mad for blues guitar, mad for a groovy drumloop. Everything I do tends to have soul running through it. Even if there are heavy guitar riffs, there’s always an element of soul in there. I’d call it funky lounge music. There’s a lot more edge to Cloudfish these days. These songs are groovier. We’ve moved away from the chillout thing.”
Steve reckons his return to England after living on the sun-soaked Mediterranean island of Ibiza for 12 years has cranked up the Cloudfish tempo.
“I had this conversation with Paul Tucker of the Lighthouse Family and he agrees with me. Living in Ibiza takes the edge away and makes everything fluffier! I noticed when I got back to the UK I got drawn towards more urban sounds and lo-fi and started messing sounds up for the sake of it. Shelley likes that on her voice, too.”
The outing on November 6 is a toe in the water, proposed by a promoter based in Arnhem who feels Holland and neighbouring Germany have been starved of the Norman talent for too long. It’s bad luck that Cloudfish’s regular percussionist Joe Becket has a prior date in London and can’t make it — his friendship with Steve goes back before Spandau’s 1990 tour. (Steve’s longstanding mate Deuce reminds us that Steve met Joe at a legendary Sunday clubnight called Passion at La Valbonne in Maidenhead in 1988. As host Deuce had the bright idea to invite Joe, “through the haze of strawberry-flavoured smoke, to play along with the deejay’s tunes, to maybe make things more danceable. And thus, ‘Joe Bongo’ was born”. )
For Arnhem, Steve says: “It turns out our bass player Joe Holweger is also a fantastic drummer so he’s stepping in, and we’ve gone for Kerim Günes on bass. Henry Broadbent on keyboard is another mainstay — he’s done a fair bit with Kula Shaker, too — which makes five of us onstage, as usual.”
With the gig being on a Sunday evening, British fans keen to sample the new Cloudfish sound will need to overnight in Arnhem (last week Shapersofthe80s worked out the cost of three ways to get there), but the good news is that it’s a beautiful part of Holland for a sightseeing weekend. Tasty beer too.
Nevertheless, the burning question remains: What about a UK gig? To which Steve says: “Definitely, you’ve got to play your home town. But we want to see how this one goes first.” Right, we’ll take that as half a promise.
➢ Support Steve Norman by clicking on his new official page at Facebook and visit his own website steve-norman.com
❏ Sep 21 update: Next week Steve will be in Arnhem, Holland, on promotional duty for his Cloudfish show at Max Brothers on November 6. Fans can meet him at a meet-and-greet session 19:00–20:00 hrs at the Cafe De Schoof, Korenmarkt 37 on Thursday Sep 29. The next day, you can hear a live interview with Steve on Optimaal FM between 09:00–11:00 hrs, also available via webplayer at Optimaal FM
❏ Sep 21 update: The competition to meet Steve in Arnhem in November is to be decided today and the winners wll be announced online at Six Degrees Promotions