Cape Canaveral concert: Duran Duran celebrating the launch of Apollo 11 in 1969, accompanied by a 300 drone art performance by Studio Drift. (Getty)
◼ WHO ELSE BUT DURAN DURAN – whose debut hit in 1981 was titled Planet Earth – could the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida have chosen to celebrate the 50th anniversary of man’s journey to the Moon in Apollo 11 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on its surface? On Tuesday the Rocket Garden at NASA’s primary launch centre at Cape Canaveral saw Duran Duran climaxing the Apollo 50th gala day of special events with a headline concert backed by a 16-piece orchestra and 12-voice choir, plus 300 Intel Shooting Star drones flying in formation overhead.
Performing before the Saturn 1B launch vehicle and a platoon of iconic space rockets, Duran were watched by all the surviving astronauts who have walked on the Moon since 1969, plus an audience who had paid $300 a ticket to support the Aldrin Family Foundation. Obviously the British band kicked off with The Universe Alone, followed by a selection of their space-themed hits including Planet Earth, New Moon On Monday, Anyone Out There, Astronaut, and Ordinary World. The Brummie boys capped their 90-minute show with their biggest hit Rio.
Keyboardist Nick Rhodes, who had watched the Moon-landing on TV as a seven-year-old, said: “It was surreal and awe-inspiring. Science-fiction unfolding before us, opening our minds to what mankind was capable of achieving.”
Duran Duran at Cape Canaveral: playing their space-themed hits to honour the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon launch. (Getty)
❏ KSC setlist – The Universe Alone, Planet Earth/Space Oddity, Anyone Out There, Astronaut, Ordinary World, (Reach Up for the) Sunrise, Walking on the Moon (Police cover), Wild Boys, Hungry Like the Wolf, Come Undone, Notorious, Pressure Off, White Lines (Don’t Do It) (Grandmaster Melle Mel cover), Girls on Film, Save a Prayer, View to a Kill, Rio.
Moment of bromance for Mercutio: Fabio and Ross nuzzle each other like wild beasts onstage at Dingwalls
◼ TODAY “Ex Lead Singer @spandauballet” Ross William Wild fronted only his second gig with his new band Mercutio whose sound is “Nirvana-esque mixed with Muse – very much metal with melody”. Playing Dingwalls this afternoon, Ross’s emotional vocals seemed wrenched from his soul, drenched with introspection and yet were fierce in their delivery.
The first of six mainly melancholy songs from their new album made a big opener presumably titled by Ross, Where the Pain Lies, with two fingers aimed squarely at the Spandau gang who have recently spurned him. In other numbers such as Shed and Playtime the tall muscled Scot twisted and contorted his body, stamping, pogoing, even throwing himself to the floor, as if being tortured by demons from within. There was also a bromantic moment when Fabio and Ross nuzzled each other’s backs like wild beasts.
Francesco moonlighting from Mercutio
Ross’s performance was infinitely more physical than his outings last year with Spandau Ballet – the UK’s supergroup from the Swinging 80s – and the tiny Dingwalls stage clearly cramped his style. Just relaxing a bit might help establish rapport with the audience nearest to him instead of reaching for the back of the room.
The Dingwalls sound system did his voice few favours, though at its most romantic his relatively high register succeeded superbly against the essential grunge vibe, as in the song called Alex, and became sorrowfully plaintive in the medium-pace closing number The Ghost.
The support from his new Italian pals is strong: Naz on bass provides a melodic anchor through even the quietest moments, while Fabio on guitar dazzles frequently when the tempo needs raising, as does Francesco who you may recognise playing Elton John’s drummer in the current biopic Rocketman. The band’s first video is expected next week.
Mercutio at Dingwalls: Ross centre-stage in his second live gig with the new band
Mercutio at Dingwalls: Ross on acoustic guitar, Naz on bass
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.
Scott Walker in 1970: still transitioning from pop idol to icon
◼ ONE OF THE MOST RESPECTED singers of our age died on Friday in London aged 76: the US-born Noel Scott Engel, who became a British citizen in 1970.
I interviewed him as Scott Walker in 1967 at the very moment he was transitioning from teen idol into a more serious solo icon with his first album Scott, released in September and featuring the brilliant rendering of Brel’s angsty songs My Death and Amsterdam. For him the last straw had been to appear that April in the Walker Brothers trio on the Sunday-night TV variety show hosted by Bob Monkhouse at the London Palladium, and on viewing it Scott decided to split. Among his solo moves that December he released as his first single the risqué Jackie, from the new album Scott 2 (another Brel co-composition with louche themes that caused the BBC to ban it from airplay). As it headed up the UK pop chart, we met during rehearsals for Scott’s appearance on a TV Christmas special at ABC’s Teddington studios.
He lived in Marylebone at the time, had split from the Brothers (who were not actually blood brothers), gone into a monastery to study Gregorian chants and then set about starting an idiosyncratic solo career. He hated both the idea of being a pinup and his all too evident “pop-star” good looks. His most startling admission to me was that he was drinking “a bottle of wine and a bottle of Scotch a day” – in order to coarsen his baritone voice, he said! Scott recorded four seminal albums, Scott 1 to 4 and then disappeared.
In 1984 came Climate Of Hunter, the first of an experimental and challenging series of albums over many years, with titles such as Tilt 1995, The Drift 2006 and Bish Bosch 2012. All of them broke the rules of regular music and back in the day I listened to each album twice and remain gobsmacked today. (There’s a great video clip, shown above in the 30th Century Man trailer, of a percussionist punching a side of raw pork to achieve the exact kind of thwack Scott sought for the song Clara on The Drift.)
In recent years Scott could often be seen in my local supermarket in west London doing the shopping with his partner Beverly. Older and gaunter, he pulled his baseball cap down over his face but it was quite obvious to perhaps six other shoppers marking him that we knew who he was and as respectful fans we kept our distance. Scott is survived by his daughter, Lee, his granddaughter, Emmi-Lee, and Beverly.
➢ 30 Century Man (2007), directed by Stephen Kijack: Comprehensive survey of Scott’s life from his early days as a jobbing bass player on the Sunset Strip in which he describes his “lost years” in terms of creativity. Premiered at the 2006 London Film Festival followed by the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival. Available from Amazon on Blue-Ray and DVD.
Bowie’s search for identity: the hippy look for the Hunky Dory sleeve 1971 and red-haired alien for Space Oddity 1972. (Photos by Brian Ward and Mick Rock)
◼ WHAT AN EYE-OPENER! Nine failed bands in ten years of struggle before David Bowie emerged as a star. “He was no Marcel Marceau,” said his mentor and lover Lindsay Kemp of David’s attempts at mime. Saturday’s TV doc Bowie Finding Fame directed by Francis Whately was chock-full of jaw-droppingly frank evaluations by all his pals and workmates from his earliest days in music. Among the kindest was his girlfriend in 1968 Hermione Farthingale who said: “He was actually 21 and looked about eight. . . He wasn’t lost, but he wasn’t found either”. For 90 minutes Bowie’s own voiceover was disarmingly full of insight too and this episode, the third in Whately’s consummate trilogy for the BBC, proved probably the most moving of all.
And today comes a thorough and informative appreciation of this the latest landmark documentary about Bowie’s early life in a review published by Andy Polaris, Eighties singer with Animal Nightlife, at his website APolarisView. As a fan utterly in thrall at a formative age to Bowie’s charisma, Andy brings personal insights to the final doc, which follows on from David Bowie: Five Years (2013) and The Last Five Years (2017), both being repeated live tonight from 11.15pm (despite the confusion in newspaper listings guides), and subsequently viewable on iPlayer.
Andy also adds further essential points of reference to the Bowie story omitted from the new biopic, possibly because, as its series consultant and Bowie chronicler Kevin Cann has explained this week, the production team ultimately had to exclude masses because of time limitations: “Sadly there are a few fabulous interviews we made that we couldn’t fit in – all important in their own way. . . At one point we had close on a three-hour edit. We were basically overwhelmed with options at times – and that’s exactly why future generations, I’m sure, will never be bored of this man’s immense talent. He will never cease to impress.” Another gem they discovered was the complete Russell Harty TV interview from 1973: “. . . the whole Bowie section, interview and song performances. Even though ITV erased their original master a year or two after original broadcast, the recording we have still belongs to them, so its immediate future is yet to be decided.”
“ I came away admiring Bowie more as an artist due to his single-minded pursuit to achieve his goal and establish a career in the arts. Eleven years (which brought massive cultural changes generally) and nine different bands failed to launch his career. With such limited rewards most people would have fallen at the second or third hurdle and contemplated a different choice of career. A lot of the bands I had heard of, but the film surprised me by exhuming the music of Riot Squad (a name sounding more like a later oi/skinhead band) where he spent eight weeks as their singer in 1967.
“ Bowie learned quickly to jettison anyone or thing that stood in the way of his mission and made sure that he was front and centre of the action. Early associates talk of how he was the driving force behind stage performances, style and presentation and how to stand out from the crowd.
“ Whately’s biopic marks the first time I can remember hearing about the inspiration for Letter to Hermione (a beautiful song on Space Oddity) in a filmed interview where his former girlfriend talks candidly about their love affair and the aftermath of their break-up. In a rare moment of personal confession it reveals the crushing effect it had on David at the time and he wanted her to forever realise the hurt. . .” / Continued at APolarisView
➢ Bonus clips at the BBC’s programme website:
❏ Of the surplus footage researched for Finding Fame, Kevin Cann reports that My Death survives in full, as does the whole interview. As also does probably 90% of the 1970 Glastonbury set. “Just in case you haven’t seen them, here are some of the brief edits that came out along the way. There are many more and I hope, over time, more is made available.”
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 Shapersofthe80s to which I am hugely indebted” – political historian Dominic Sandbrook, in his book Who Dares Wins, 2019
A UNIQUE HISTORY
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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 new 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
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