1980 ➤ Starting gun for British clubland bands

➤ Spandau Ballet create a new
template for pop success

Posted on 27 October 2010

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Feb 1978: The Makers photographed by Gill Davies

Below: The evolution of Spandau from Gentry to the Scala. . .
Click any pic to launch slideshow

◼ TODAY’S THE DAY THE HOTTEST NEW BAND OF 1980 released their debut single 30 years ago. Inside a year, Spandau Ballet had clicked with clubland’s coolest fan base, played only eight bookings, refused to make any demo tapes but instead spent that year winding up the media and the music industry with word-of-mouth rumours of a youth movement right behind them. On October 10 Spandau signed an unprecedented deal with Chrysalis, on October 27 they released To Cut a Long Story Short, its insistent theme stabbed out by Gary Kemp on a monophonic Yamaha CS10 synthesiser: Daa-didi dada dada di-di dada didi daaa!

Spandau dubbed its four-to-the-floor drum-led genre, White European Dance Music. On November 15 the single entered the chart, meaning Spandau qualified for their first appearance that week on Top of the Pops — exactly one year after The Band With No Name had submitted their dream to an audience of tastemakers at Halligan’s Studios in north London.

Steve Norman

Kilt-wearing Steve Norman’s lace-ups

Among the stipulations in their contract was that each single should be accompanied by a promotional video, which in the days before MTV was quite an exception, so off they went to film in the London Dungeon — a waxworks of gothic horror. New outfits were created partly with Laurence Corner army surplus, and by the radical young designers of the day, Willy Brown, Melissa Caplan (note that drummer John Keeble sports a tabard-like variation on a gymslip by Melissa), and Simon Withers who decided on a strong tartan and kilt silhouette (worn with lace-up ballet shoes) for absolutely no reason connected with Scotland. Director Brian Grant adds edginess with lowlife extras drawn from the Blitz regulars, Chris Sullivan, Christos Tolera, Ollie O’Donnell and Holly Warburton, and showcases the highly directional Blitz jive with a couple of dancers in black lace and taffeta. Nobody could doubt that the New Romantic message was one of hedonism.

“We consider ourselves as being the
most modern dressers and thinkers in London”
— Gary Kemp on Countdown, 1981

Allmusic described the single as minimalist spiky synth-pop and compared its style to early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark with its dirty, overdriven synth and a stomping Gary Glitter-like backbeat. The reviewer feels that To Cut… might fairly be considered a minor lost classic of the early-80s UK synth-pop scene, in light of Spandau’s later change in style towards slick, soulful-pop. Ever in the vanguard, the band breathed new life into the track in 2009 with an imaginative reworking on the reunited band’s acoustic album, Once More.

Below: Continuing the evolution of Spandau from local TV to TOTP. . .
Click any pic to launch slideshow

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Nov 13, 1980: chart entry qualifies Spandau for their first Top of the Pops

“ME TOO!” AS THE STARTING Gun goes BANG

❏ In 1980, for every new band firing up their ambition in the wings, Spandau acted as pop currency, a kind of combined barometer and fuel injection system in one. With art students such as Simon Withers styling their stage shows, fashionistas Melissa Caplan, PX, Willy Brown and Stephen Linard creating clothes, and Graham Smith earning a first-class degree by supervising graphics on flyers and sleeves, Spandau pushed a button for the fashion-conscious young. They were signalling that the language of pop called for new imagery as much as new music.

ABC, Lexicon of Love, New Romantics,electro-pop, 1980s

ABC: “a product of the times”

For electro bands who had been nibbling at success in the previous couple of years — OMD, Simple Minds, Japan, Ultravox — here was the bandwagon. Many could scarcely be called New Romantics but like ABC’s shrewd Martin Fry, they accepted themselves as “a product of the times” and jumped on board. Two striking ingredients were a return to the well-crafted lyric, delivered with melody, which had been exiled under punk and disco. Tony Hadley’s crooning vocals were so novel in that moment as to seem impudent when they sailed over the 139 beats per minute like a Cruise missile.

To Cut a Long Story Short gave Vince Clarke the inspiration to write Depeche Mode’s Just Can’t Get Enough, and Gary Kemp’s signature riff was also used a lifetime later as a sample looping throughout the Freestylers track In Love With You on their album Adventures in Freestyle.

➢ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s: 100+ acts who set the style for the new music of the 1980s

♫ Listen to Spandau’s To Cut a Long Story Short from 1980, recast acoustically for 2009:

HERE’S THE VIDEO FOR THE ORIGINAL, NOW IN HD…


➢ My full history of the birth of the New Romantics
in the Observer Music Magazine

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TAGS – Britain, Chronology, Clubbing, Fashion, History, London, Media, New Romantics, Pop music, videos, Youth culture, ABC, Blitz Kids, Cut a Long Story Short, Gary Kemp, Gentry, Spandau Ballet, The Makers, Tipping points, Tony Hadley.

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