◼ AND WHAT TOUR DE FORCE the entire band made of Spandau Ballet’s rebirth last night to showcase their new singer Ross William Wild who effortlessly filled the space onstage vacated by Tony Hadley. At the age of 30 Aberdeen-reared Ross could easily be the son of any of the Spandau dads around him, yet he had infused new energy into them to inspire one of the tightest all-round performances in recent years. He embodies all a lead singer should: energy, confidence, instantly likeability and a strong singing voice that almost never sounds like his predecessor.
Ross was announced by the tabloids as an Elvis Presley impersonator so it was a relief that this is not what we saw or heard: in fact the inflexions in his singing voice do reflect his principal experience in musical theatre, most recently in The Million Dollar Quartet, The Witches of Eastwick, and We Will Rock You. And though in the Noughties he was the lead singer in a nu-metal band called Lethal Dosage, Ross performs with shoulders, arms, hips, feet – in fact, his entire body just as you’d expect in a stage musical.
From Spandau’s nostalgically involved opening hit Through the Barricades, Ross made each of the set’s 13 hit numbers his own (with almost as many changes of shirt!).
Spotlit on a darkened stage, his first three minutes were a vocal slow-burn alongside a masterly Gary Kemp on solo guitar. It was a daring move to persuade us to listen. By the second line, as he gave vibrato to the lyric, Ross was evidently “feeling strong”, and from here on he introduced us to his voice in gentle stages, slowly raising the temperature, until the pause. . . Then: bam-bam! Keeble’s drums announced the bombast of Barricades proper, and Ross let rip to command centre-stage, amid the familiar Spandau front-line on vocals. They climaxed with a big sound in an intimate clubby space, up close to 500 of their fans. What a statement of intent!
HEAR ROSS’S FIRST VERSE OF ‘BARRICADES’
Ross excelled in another emotional classic Only When You Leave, had the audience eating out of his spiralling hand for Round and Round, pogoing through Lifeline, and by the encore the hot summer’s evening had him stripped down to a vest as he gloriously re-energised To Cut a Long Story Short to sound like a brand-new number. Amazingly, at the bar afterwards, Ross said he was intrigued by its lyrics since he first heard this hit from 1980, but read none of Gary Kemp’s meaning into it or the lyrical quotation it contains. He imagines it is set in the first world war trenches and reflects the strange solitude of the soldier.
The band’s families and friends turned out along with veteran Blitz Kids and Beat Routers (smashing to see you again, genial doorman Ollie O’Donnell) who could all be seen grooving to Rusty Egan’s unique mixes at the after-party. Sentimental as ever, Martin Kemp had announced from the stage that last night’s venue, Subterania beneath Westway at Portobello Road, was chosen because in its days as Acklam Hall community centre, the original Spandau lineup had played a benefit there under their early name, Gentry, on Saturday 24 February 1979. In the after-bash I recognised the curly-haired photographer Denis O’Regan who was at work with his camera. Spookily I’d just posted one of his seminal band images here at Shapersofthe80s on my own tribute revisit to 1980 when Denis had posed the band in his studio and uplit them to create the dramatic shot of Spandau which became the expressionist motif of their live performance that spring at the Scala Cinema.
Verdicts from the band on their young vocalist are breathless. Gary Kemp said: “Ross’s great talent and passion has given us the confidence to continue.” Drummer John Keeble who drove the show with his usual percussive enthusiasm said: “I bonded with Ross over our mutual love of rock music. He may have come up through the theatres but he loves bands like Tool.” Steve Norman added: “He’s also a right nice bloke. We struck lucky.” [I often wonder whether Steve realises just how richly musical his own sax playing is! Ben Webster will be smiling benignly at this.]