Click picture to view an immaculate video of Bowie singing The Man Who
❚ HERE’S A RARE CHANCE TO VIEW one of the most inspired renderings of The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie during a performance on Saturday Night Live on 15 December 1979. As backing singers we see the bizarre German punk Klaus Nomi at centre and wearing red at left is American performance artist, Joey Arias, who became a regular act at Club 57 in New York’s East Village. Anyone who visited the 2013–2015 touring exhibition, Bowie Is, from London’s V&A museum, will have seen Bowie’s huge tubular costume at first hand…
Luckily, this 8-minute clip also includes brilliant versions of TVC 15 with Bowie in a skirt and heels, plus Boys Keep Swinging where he sports a nude puppet costume with bizarre extremities. Nomi introduces us to his poodle who appears to have swallowed a TV set in this gifted trio of performances.
The Man Who Sold the World – title track of Bowie’s third studio album – was written in 1970 but released on the B-side of a single hence missed the charts in its own right. It did reach No 3 after Lulu covered the track in 1974 and other covers followed, including one by Midge Ure. Critically the song is widely regarded as one of Bowie’s essential best and only in his last couple of decades did he start rendering it in live performances in utterly different and often haunting ways. Nevertheless, the SNL video from 1979 is powered by a cascade of supremely confident operatic flourishes, “Ohhhh-oh-ohhhh, ohhhhhhh-oh!”
Oops, there goes another singer, airbrushed out of history. Denis O’Regan’s official photo of Spandau Ballet with their new recruit Ross William Wild, shot last summer at Subterania. Who’s laughing now?
[UPDATE 28 MAY: SEE RESPONSES BELOW
FROM BOTH ROSS AND STEVE NORMAN]
+++ ◼ SPANDAU BALLET HAVE FROZEN OUT Ross William Wild, the new vocalist they called a “perfect fit” when they recruited him last year. Following his first public performance last June, bass guitarist Martin Kemp declared: “We’re playing with more vigour than I’ve ever heard from us, and I think that’s because of the way he sings.” What Ross’s romantic stand-out voice brought to the samey old Spandau repertoire was some much-needed freshness. Now, a matter of months later, there are suddenly no plans for any more performances. And there hasn’t been one word of apology to Ross or the fans.
To add insult to injury, not one member of Spandau or its management has explained the events leading up to their furtive decision to freeze Ross out when it became sensationally but indirectly a major news story on Thursday. As an afterthought in a seven-minute interview on other topics for the ITV show This Morning, Spandau’s Mr Nice Guy Martin Kemp broke the news by implication, but without even saying out loud that Ross would no longer be working with them.
Giving only one reference to Ross as “a lovely man, lovely singer”, Martin just started musing out loud: “We tried [Ross] for about six or seven shows through Europe and it was great fun. But what I kind of started to realise was what people really want is the five of us together…” [Implying the five that includes Spandau’s original vocalist Tony Hadley, without even using his name]… “I think what we should do to be fair is to put it into a box and let it sit there until that happens.” Sorry, Martin. Did you really say all that? About a box?!?! (Answer: Yes. Listen to your interview below.)
LISTEN TO THE CRUCIAL 99 SECS OF MARTIN’S ITV INTERVIEW:
This feeble stream of consciousness was about to wreck another man’s career, yet without any words of sympathy for Ross, Martin added: “If one day the five of us [meaning Hadley] can talk and get back together it would be wonderful.” He confirmed that they will not be touring Spandau “until Tony comes back”! (Fat chance, given Tony’s own frequent pronouncements.) Martin then rubbed yet more salt into Ross’s wound: “I would love it to happen because it is part of me. It is part of my soul. I would do it tomorrow. But it means all five of us saying yes at the same time.” Ouch, as the sixth man might have said again!
All of which forces us to assume that, oops, after a year recruiting and rehearsing this new vocalist into their 40-year repertoire, the band didn’t think much of Ross’s efforts despite having billed and cooed after his first showcase at Subterania last June when Martin said: “Ross is a perfect fit for Spandau, and brings a new younger energy to the band that we are all enjoying!” Ross attracted enthusiastic reviews from critics (including Shapers of the 80s), as did October’s major London gig at Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo – the purpose of which was to impress the industry and fill Spandau’s 2019 diary with major festivals and prestige dates. One obstacle to this was that in May 2018 Gary Kemp had already started jamming with Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, which offered him an alternative future.
ROSS PUTS HIS CASE
28 MAY UPDATE: Singer and actor Ross William Wild has been in touch with Shapers of the 80s to say that after months of being cold-shouldered, it was he who quit Spandau Ballet. He was still waiting for a response when Martin Kemp started talking about getting Tony Hadley back into Spandau during Thursday’s ITV interview. Ross says: “I’d put my whole life on hold and was sick of waiting around for them to make up their minds. I told the boys I was quitting and then never heard back from them, apart from Steve, who’s had my back since day one. I love Martin as a friend and always will do, but the way things were put out on TV made me feel like crap.” ========
28 MAY: Spandau’s sax player Steve Norman has also written to clarify his position: “With regard to these recent revelations from Spandau Ballet, I want to make clear that I was neither involved in nor informed of any discussions or decision-making regarding the future of my band, least of all Ross’s position in it. I will add that, as a founder member of Spandau Ballet and as a friend of all band members (past and present), I’m so very disappointed and saddened by the handling of it.
Ross has put a lot of work, love and dedication into our band and I have enjoyed immensely performing with him. He is not only an amazing singer and entertainer but has also became a dear friend. Therefore I will still be performing the odd gig with Ross in the future (eg, Berlin in September). And as for the future of Spandau Ballet? To quote my own lyrics from Once More: “Never say never…” ========
1 JUNE: Earlier this week Shapers of the 80s invited both Spandau’s drummer John Keeble and manager Steve Dagger to offer their versions of events but so far we have heard nothing. ========
❏ Back to Thursday. At 6:15am, Ross himself was the first to post the plain unadorned truth – with familiar echoes of Tony Hadley’s exit in 2017 – by also turning to Twitter to say: “I have formally quit the band Spandau Ballet to pursue my own music with my band Mercutio.” Ross added that its new single is pointedly titled Where the Pain Lives.
A collective howl of anger and indignation went up from Spandau fans and anybody else with a sense of decency. It took 24 hours before the band’s management confirmed the news officially on social media, by that stage prompted to offer belated thanks to Ross for his musical contribution last year. They had also removed Ross’s photo from the headers of their websites, though Ross’s own still say “Lead Singer @SpandauBallet”.
“Do I look bovvered?” – Today’s Facebook video of Ross aboard a swank yacht
Only two months ago, fans intuitively suspected a silent howl of pain from Ross when he suddenly announced that he had joined a new band called Mercutio, though insisting he was merely filling time before the next Spandau tour (read our exclusive report here at Shapers of the 80s). With hindsight, all these events smack of non-disclosure agreements having been signed, so let’s hope Ross has walked away with at least a thumping great payoff as some kind of compensation for his humiliation. Today Ross is putting on a brave face by showing a video at Facebook of himself aboard a swank yacht somewhere in the sun as if to say “Do I look bovvered?”
Tony Hadley will be laughing loudly at the irony of what we must assume was a yet another clash of egos back-stage. Last October he outflanked his former mates only days ahead of Spandau’s Next Line tour which showcased Ross. Big Tone packed out the legendary London Palladium and delivered a show of stonking musicianship. He and his Hadley band magnificently reinvented songwriter Gary Kemps’s own classics with fizzing new energy and melodic detail – matched by as many more numbers from his own consummate solo album, Talking to the Moon, plus a splash of Sinatra.
Tony Hadley and his band: making magic at the London Palladium, October 2018
In the fall-out, Spandau now find themselves in utter disarray, without any imaginable future. Other band members have assiduously invested in their solo careers over recent months, notably songwriter Gary Kemp who has spent a year working with Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, with further plans to continue into next year. What both Kemp brothers seem to ignore is that the others don’t have champagne millions like their own to fall back on and might presumably prefer to be working.
There’s more, much more to report, below. But right now one other person is feeling the pain and shedding stinging tears over all this talent and time going to waste, and excuse me, dear reader, when I say that person is me. It saddens me to report any of this grizzly saga, as the journalist who was first to write about Spandau Ballet when they were brash and young and mounting their second live show at the Blitz club in 1980, and who created this website Shapers of the 80s to set in context both their long-awaited first reunion in 2009 as well as the New Romantic youthquake they once led.
I had laughed out loud when their savvy manager Steve Dagger took me for our first drink near my Fleet Street office to reveal all about his unknown band. “You did, you did, you laughed out loud: ha ha,” he has sworn ever since, in a wickedly accurate impersonation. He’d been describing to me the “really weird people” who followed the band. “The latest thing is romance, pushed over the top,” he’d said. “Chris Sullivan makes even the SS look normal”. . .
As somebody who was there in clubland’s social mix, I found myself playing a role behind the scenes that shaped Spandau’s lift-off from March to July 1980. A spooky domino ripple of my own strategic encounters landed them various newspaper headlines, a documentary by London Weekend TV’s 20th Century Box and their fortnight in the sunshine of St Tropez, most of which they’ve been largely unaware of.
Within a year Spandau found themselves setting the pace while London street fashion and new music swept round the world to define the Swinging 80s.
“A chance to front a band like I’ve never done before”: Spandau songwriter Gary Kemp, second right, touring the States with Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets
❏ Amazingly, it was Martin’s brother Gary Kemp who hammered the first nail into the coffin of his own band by giving a killer “no future” interview to an American blogger, Mickey McCarter, just over a month ago. It came as Kemp ended his North American stint playing guitar on 30 dates with Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. So insouciant and tactless were the squibs he tossed into the public domain that they ignited fury among the Spandettes, an international coven of ultimate Spandau fans who travel air-miles to meet-and-greet their 80s pop heroes.
Imagine you were a devoted Spandette reading Kemp, your favourite band’s leader and songwriter, saying this in McCarter’s blog: “There are no plans for Spandau going into 2020.”
And this: “I have a lot of stuff going on outside of Spandau Ballet.”
Then imagine you were Ross William Wild, the newly auditioned and appointed lead vocalist of Spandau Ballet, critically acclaimed last summer and autumn when he inherited Tony Hadley’s role in six showcase public concerts. Bear in mind Kemp is approaching 60 while Ross is a mere 31. Here was his kick in the teeth: “When I listen to the lyrics of [my] new songs, they just seem to be about me. [Not] the kind of material that a younger man could sing.”
As if a practised songwriter couldn’t manage some new ones for his new singer… There was more: “I’m thinking about doing a solo record.” And yet: “There are no plans for Spandau.”
On top of which Ross had to take this whiplash: “I would still personally love to play on stage with Spandau Ballet, including Tony Hadley.”
“Spandau’s on hold, yeah.
There are no plans for Spandau.”
Now imagine you were any one of the remaining members of Spandau Ballet, John Keeble, Steve Norman or Martin Kemp, reading that Gary’s work with the Saucerful of Secrets is a continuing project: “There are lots of plans. There are plans for possibly some recordings. There’s another European tour we’re doing throughout July. We’re playing open-air amphitheatres, and we’re headlining a couple of festivals across Europe. After this tour, we go back to Britain, and we’ve got some more British dates as well. There are plans going into 2020.”
Next, all four members of Spandau could read of the joys of Gary’s travels with Saucerful: “I’m loving it, absolutely loving it. It gives me a chance to stretch out on stage like I’ve never done before. It gives me a chance to front a band like I’ve never done before. And the camaraderie and the musicianship are extraordinary in this group.” Slap!
Spandau’s finale at Ross Wild’s glorious debut, Subterania, June 2018: John Keeble takes the mic to say “Thank you very much: We are Spandau Ballet”
So his interviewer McCarter asked: Spandau is on hold while you’re doing this? “Spandau’s on hold, yeah. There are no plans for Spandau. So after this, I’ve got some more acting work coming up in September. We’ve been through quite a lot of disruption over the last few years. And I don’t know really where that’s left us, to be honest.”
His fan-boy interviewer says all this makes him feel rather sad. So Gary just turned the tourniquet some more: “Yeah. I don’t know. I still struggle to imagine Spandau Ballet without Tony Hadley. And whether that will ever happen again, I don’t know. . . I would still personally love to play on stage with Spandau Ballet, including Tony Hadley. I still think that’s the ultimate goal and it always will be.” OUCH !!!!!!!!!
By now fans were spitting tacks in social media, Ross probably gnawing his knuckles, and this US interviewer presumably needing a very stiff drink. Then the came the bombshell: “And if it doesn’t, then maybe that’s it. I don’t know at the moment.”
Maybe that’s it?!?! Gary “doesn’t know” at the moment! Martin “doesn’t know” either and wants “to put it into a box and let it sit there”! This Great British Blight has become known as Theresa May Syndrome and the only known cure is to quit the job.
“I would still love to play on stage with
Tony Hadley. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Zoom back to today, and here I am contemplating this internal drama the two brothers have been airing in public. By now I too am shedding tears for that original bunch of five bright and funny Angel Boys from Islington who made such natural music-makers at school. As a writer I’d believed in Spandau as pop pioneers and as a social historian I’d followed them as their riveting cult injected creativity into London’s bloodstream more effectively than any group since the Small Faces in the Sixties. Theirs was a social whirl driven by collaboration.
As brothers in arms Spandau knew their bonds of friendship were indestructible. For 20 years. Then came the first parting of ways, prompted by the Kemp brothers’ acting ambitions. Then silence, then the 1999 court case and more silence. Then suddenly in 2009 came a reunion, for one year, then silence. In 2014 another reunion which lasted one year. But no more silence, only bitter feuding and a bid for independence by Tony and the search for his replacement which led to Ross becoming the “perfect fit”! Apparently not.
And here are Spandau now in their 40th year, still tearing themselves apart and saying they “don’t know” about their future. Usually musicians want to do nothing but play their music. . . Either Spandau must refresh or quit because many of us haven’t the patience to endure yet more of this dithering while Tony Hadley embodies their music superbly in his own triumphant show. Far better for Spandau to call this The End, now. There: that’s my own bridge burnt. Oh, how true are the words of their old mates Blue Rondo a la Turk: “The heavens are crying”
❏ It took a full 24 hours before any official confirmation of Ross’s departure came in a short post on Spandau’s website where Ross’s photo has now been removed: “Spandau Ballet would like to thank Ross William Wild for his brilliant performances with them last year and wish him every success with his band, Mercutio, and the many other exciting projects he’s working on at the moment.” But still neither public explanation nor apology to either Ross or the fans.
Carioca then and now: left, the cover for Chris Sullivan’s band’s 1982 single Carioca and, right, his new upfront reworking for 2019
Leah Seresin and mum Deirdre, newly painted by Sullivan
◼ WHO IS CHRIS SULLIVAN THIS WEEK? That all-round creative dynamo who drove much of the Swinging Eighties and ran the influential Wag club for 19 years epitomised that New Romantic era by declaring “One look lasts a day”. Suddenly he is enjoying another creative spurt. Fans will have noticed a series of bold and comic painted caricatures of his friends appearing on Facebook this month. As affectionate portraits they speak for themselves. But then last week he posted one called Carioca, inspired directly by the 12-inch single sleeve for his band Blue Rondo a la Turk. It was included in their album Chewing The Fat which dates from 1982.
Fans will also recall that Sullivan as vocalist not only put the band together as a septet of crazy soul-jazz-Latin musicians on a 0-to-10 sliding scale of eccentricity – where all of them scored at least an 11 – that won them a £500k contract with Virgin. He also painted every one of their vinyl record sleeves in his own playful version of cubism. So here above we can now compare his restrained vamp Carioca from 1982 with her current rather more in-your-face madame for 2019. So what’s this all about, Chris?
Bear in mind Sullivan was one of that gang of St Martin’s heroes who put London clubs such as the Blitz, Beat Route and the Wag on the map from 1980 on, and had studied first on the college’s fashion course, then switched to fine art. I am off to Soho to find out and will be reporting back. . .
Sullivan caricatures: A pair of what the painter calls Beat Peeps from Eighties New York
STEPPING OUT TO CARIOCA ON THE ITV SHOW RAZZMATAZZ 1982
◼ RECORD PRODUCER TREVOR HORN – who helped shape the sounds of such 80s acts as ABC, Grace Jones, Pet Shop Boys and Frankie – last night shared five keys to being a successful pop artist. During the repeat of The Secret Science of Pop on BBC4 he said:
1 – Be able to write or have access to the best material.
2 – Have a really great voice, across two octaves.
3 – Have personal charm and charisma.
4 – Be physically and mentally strong.
5 – And, you’ve got to want it.
All of which made a deal more sense than the deluded “scientist” – a professor at London’s Imperial College who doesn’t deserve to be named! – who attempted to analyse success in the pop charts of the past 50 years by deconstructing thousands of hit tunes note by note. Nothing he proposed made any sense at all and after wasting 60 minutes of our time he shamelessly admitted he had “singularly failed” to out-flank Horn.
As compensation, Horn’s production team shared quite a lot of their intuitive magic in perhaps 15 of those minutes. Shame the whole documentary wasn’t about them instead.
Bowie as a projected image in the video for Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)
“If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel capable of. Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting” – David Bowie
◼ THE MOST GRIPPING SEQUENCES in the new TV documentary about Bowie’s final surge of creativity are those which assemble every musician in the bands he worked with from 2012 to the end. Each band re-enacts pivotal moments when they rehearsed the music, inspired by his lyrics, and laid down the tracks for the albums The Next Day and Blackstar. Particularly revealing is the session when pure jazz soloists created the nerve-tingling Sue (Or in a Season of Crime), which Bowie added to his 2014 “best-of” collection, Nothing Has Changed.
To mark the first anniversary of the star’s death, this weekend BBC2 screened David Bowie: The Last Five Years, Francis Whately’s sequel to his other superb documentary Five Years broadcast in 2013. The role of jazz in Bowie’s musical temperament seldom gets discussed, though his producer Tony Visconti says the jazz influence had always been there in the music but underneath the surface. As a small child Bowie heard a jazz band and right away said: “I’m going to learn the saxophone. When I grow up, I’m going to play in [this] band. So I persuaded my dad to get me a kind of a plastic saxophone on hire purchase.”
In 2013 in New York he met Maria Schneider, a jazz composer, handed her a demo disc and asked her to extemporise around a tune called Sue. In turn, she told him he had to listen to this sax player Donny McCaslin and without missing a beat Bowie went straight into the studio with his group and Maria and out came possibly the purest jazz number of his career, a discomfiting tale of infidelity. It won Schneider a Best Arrangement Grammy in 2016.
Maria Schneider was one of many musicians – three complete bands – who re-formed to walk through the creation of the music. Drummer Zachary Alford still looked shocked at the NDA handed him as he showed up to work on The Next Day. “If I said anything about it,” remembered bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, “I would be in big trouble legally.” Nobody was asked if Bowie really would have sued his collaborators for spilling the beans.
The recent collaborators reflected on the extent to which the new music was steeped in the past. But there was also good stuff from the old lags who worked (and sometimes slept) with Bowie in the feather-cut era: Ideally there would be a DVD with extras featuring much more from each of them. Chief keeper of the flame Tony Visconti sat at a console and played excerpts of Bowie’s unaccompanied vocal takes. On Blackstar came the haunting sound of Bowie wheezing like an ancient mariner fighting for every last scrap of breath. . . ” / Continued online
➢ A treat and a treatise on music’s departed genius
– by James Hall, Daily Telegraph “ The Last Five Years wove previously unheard Bowie interview material with on-screen contributions from collaborators including producer Tony Visconti. The access and insights were faultless. Whately’s programme was essentially a treatise on artistic rebirth. And it showed that although Bowie’s musical style constantly changed, the themes that preoccupied him — alienation, escape, the notion of fame — were there until the end.
During his final creative burst, Bowie gradually revealed to collaborators that he was ill. In the most poignant scene, we learned that Bowie only discovered his cancer was terminal three months before he died. This was in October 2015 when he was filming the video for Lazarus, in which he sings the line “Look up here, I’m in heaven”. Bowie worked and cared and joked until the end. Through tears, Visconti said that he was at ‘the top of his game’. . . ” / Continued online
Brixton tribute concert for Bowie: Gail Ann Dorsey singing Young Americans with Spandau Ballet’s Steve Norman. (Photo: Getty)
❏ On what would have been Bowie’s 70th birthday his friend the actor Gary Oldman gathered at the Brixton Academy a 30-strong all-star lineup of musicians who had collaborated throughout his career, with some glorious orchestral and choral support. The show is the first in a run of gigs around the world taking place in cities that have a strong connection with Bowie and his work.
The London concert featured Mike Garson, Earl Slick, Adrian Belew, Mark Plati, Gerry Leonard, Sterling Campbell, Zachary Alford, Holly Palmer, Catherine Russell, plus such guests as Tony Hadley and Simon Lebon. Special highlights saw Gail Ann Dorsey singing Young Americans with Spandau’s Steve Norman on sax; and an audience singalong to Life on Mars? led by Adrian Belew and gifted vocals from Tom Chaplin from the band Keane. Plenty of live videos at YouTube.
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MORE INTERESTING THAN MOST PEOPLE’S FANTASIES — THE SWINGING EIGHTIES 1978-1984
They didn’t call themselves New Romantics, or the Blitz Kids – but other people did.
“I’d find people at the Blitz who were possible only in my imagination. But they were real” — Stephen Jones, hatmaker, 1983. (Illustration courtesy Iain R Webb, 1983)
“The truth about those Blitz club people was more interesting than most people’s fantasies” — Steve Dagger, pop group manager, 1983
“See David Johnson’s fabulously detailed website Shapers of the 80s to which I am hugely indebted” – Political historian Dominic Sandbrook, in his book Who Dares Wins, 2019
“The (velvet) goldmine that is Shapers of the 80s” – Verdict of Chris O’Leary, respected author and blogger who analyses Bowie song by song at Pushing Ahead of the Dame
“The rather brilliant Shapers of the 80s website” – Dylan Jones in his Sweet Dreams paperback, 2021
A UNIQUE HISTORY
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❏ Header artwork by Kat Starchild shows Blitz Kids Darla Jane Gilroy, Elise Brazier, Judi Frankland and Steve Strange, with David Bowie at centre in his 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes
VINCENT ON AIR 2022
✱ Deejay legend Robbie Vincent returned to JazzFM on Sundays 1-3pm in 2021… Catch Robbie’s JazzFM August Bank Holiday 2020 session thanks to AhhhhhSoul with four hours of “nothing but essential rhythms of soul, jazz and funk”.
SEARCH our 800 posts or ZOOM DOWN TO THE ARCHIVE INDEX
UNTOLD BLITZ STORIES
✱ If you thought there was no more to know about the birth of Blitz culture in 1980 then get your hands on a sensational book by an obsessive music fan called David Barrat. It is gripping, original and epic – a spooky tale of coincidence and parallel lives as mind-tingling as a Sherlock Holmes yarn. Titled both New Romantics Who Never Were and The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet! Sample this initial taster here at Shapers of the 80s
CHEWING THE FAT
✱ Jawing at Soho Radio on the 80s clubland revolution (from 32 mins) and on art (@55 mins) is probably the most influential shaper of the 80s, former Wag-club director Chris Sullivan (pictured) with editor of this website David Johnson
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