Spandau Ballet’s debut beneath festive bunting: left, Steve Strange in PX frills introduces the new band at the Blitz Christmas party in December 1979… Tony Hadley supercool in collar, tie, waistcoat and overcoat, Martin Kemp in jaunty trilby with Steve Norman beyond. Dagger’s blog seems unaware of these photos and after seeing them here at Shapersofthe80s, Gary Kemp recalls “being terrified while playing the little Yamaha CS-10, that we wouldn’t get away with it. Apart from many of the songs that made up our first album we also played Iggy Pop’s Fun Time and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”
On the 40th anniversary of Spandau Ballet’s debut
performance at London’s Blitz club spearheading
the post-punk new wave, the band’s manager
Steve Dagger publishes his eye-witness account…
❏ On the 5th of December 1979, Spandau Ballet was born. After a year in metamorphosis and following a successful preview show two weeks before at Halligan’s rehearsal studios, when they were named by journalist and broadcaster to be, Robert Elms, Spandau Ballet emerged onto the stage and into the world at the Blitz on the occasion of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan’s Christmas party in 1980 [1979 surely – Ed].
Much has been written about the Blitz and its extraordinary position as a cultural funnel at the beginning of the 80s. But Spandau Ballet’s two performances there and subsequent meteoric rise to success did much to drive this tiny club and its spectacular cliental [clientele? – Ed] into the headlines and its ethos into popular culture and serve as the template to the 80s.
What happened that night?
No band had played before at a Steve Strange/Rusty Egan event, so the audience was not used to seeing live music in this context. Music was normally provided by Rusty Egan’s DJing, an extraordinary montage of epic electronica which seemed to give a tantalizing glimpse of a future we were all going to take part in.
How would “Spandau Ballet” be received? The preview show had gone incredibly well, so a handful of our friends and key faces on the scene had seen the band already, liked them and spread the word. But it was an impossibly cool crowd. Whether they were fashion students, artists, embryonic designers, wannabe writers, film directors or just London’s coolest of the cool night people, they all had an opinion of themselves and everything else.
The usual crowd was supplemented by a sprinkling of older cognoscenti, a Chelsea crowd who had become aware of the Blitz scene. The likes of Keith Wainwright, uber-cool hairdresser of Smile; artist Dougie Fields to name but a few, plus some musicians who had been drawn to the Blitz. Richard Burgess of Landscape (Spandau Ballet producer to be), Midge Ure of Ultravox and Billy Idol, Steve Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Marco Pirroni of Adam & The Ants.
Spandau Ballet’s second Blitz date, January 1980, despite Dagger’s belief on his blog that this pic shows the band’s debut. Most are sporting bow ties – Gary Kemp on synth at left, Tony Hadley as vocalist, with Steve Norman and Martin Kemp on guitars held high in their anti-rock stance. Churchill gazes out from his photo on the rear wall
So the battle lines were drawn and into the valley [of] death… Actually, the band were much less nervous than they had been for the preview show and also excited about playing in “their” club. When Rusty’s music stopped and they got onto the tiny stage there was a degree of anticipation and curiosity. I think the band realised collectively it was now or never and they seized the moment and started to play confidently and with a bit of swagger. Some of the audience danced, some applauded but almost everyone watched.
Tony sang brilliantly. The set which included most of the songs on “Journeys to Glory” fitted the club. Spandau Ballet fitted the club. “To Cut a Long Story” sounded like a massive hit.
Halfway through the set I was feeling quietly confident and was standing by the mixing desk next to the sound engineer when I became aware of a man standing next to me. He spoke to me.
“Who is this band?”
“It’s Spandau Ballet,” I said.
The new name sounded f*cking great.
“Which record label are they signed to?”
“They aren’t signed.”
“Who is their manager.”
“I am,” I said proudly.
“Well I am Chris Blackwell and I own Island Records, and I would like to sign them.”
First gig as Spandau Ballet… 5-0 up. Another man approached me. He was Danny Goodwin from Peninsula Music Publishing. He wanted to sign them too.
The band finished their set. I could not wait to go backstage into the tiny dressing room to talk to them. We had all worked very hard for this moment. They were about to become a very important band. The only band that could play in the Blitz. The most important club in the world at that time. Everyone in the Blitz that night was hugely complimentary and positive about them.
We owned the space, we had claimed it. We were about to go through the looking glass and our lives were never going to be the same. The next day, I spoke to Chris Blackwell on the phone and arranged to meet him in a pub. He was softly spoken, charming and very cool. He owned the coolest record label in the world – Bob Marley, Roxy Music, Traffic, Free, Spencer Davis – and he wanted to sign Spandau Ballet. Now. He even gave me a list of lawyers he recommended to act for the band.
It all felt a little strange but somehow like it was all supposed to happen like this. I felt unbelievably relaxed and comfortable, empowered, and the band very confident, entitled energised. Uncrowned Princes of pop culture all of a sudden. We turned him down. But that is another story.
Steve Strange’s first interview with the Evening Standard, 24 Jan 1980, telling us of Spandau Ballet’s second performance that day
RARE VIDEO OF THE BLITZ A-BUZZ:
❏ You won’t find much authentic filmed footage inside the Blitz Club because so little exists and many posts claiming to show the Blitz at YouTube do not. The brief but glorious clip we see above captures the visual excess of its dancefloor in Spandau Ballet’s 2014 biopic Soul Boys of the Western World. The interiors come from Lyndall Hobbs’ short doc about London tribes called Steppin’ Out, shot in the summer of 1979. The first half-minute here comes from a TV report showing Blitz Kids gathering outside Sloane Square underground station to celebrate Steve Strange’s 21st birthday aboard a Circle Line train on 28 May 1980. We hear Martin Kemp voicing the sequence which zooms in on him at 23 seconds. The black-and-white stills collaged into the segment are Shapersofthe80s originals, and the closing seconds are from LWT’s 20th-Century Box.
Heritage award from the Performing Rights Society: In September 2014 Spandau Ballet returned to the site of the Blitz Club to see a plaque installed remembering their debut. The club’s original neon sign was also present for the photoshoot
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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
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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”.
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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 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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