◼ WHEN IS A TRIBUTE BAND NOT A TRIBUTE BAND? And what is it paying tribute to? Tribute to the first band, or to the singer, or to the songs?
When the star vocalist from the band that’s being tributed jumps ship to lead his own new team of musicians, does he become a tribute to himself? When half his live playlist consists of songs written for the first band, he is clearly paying tribute both to those songs written for him and to that band who made them chart hits half a lifetime ago in the Swinging 80s.
This is the conundrum that the former Spandau Ballet vocalist Tony Hadley found himself enacting last week as he sang to a sell-out audience at the UK’s most prestigious home of live entertainment, the London Palladium. His evident pleasure on-stage paid tribute to the songs written for his rich baritone voice and which fit him like favourite gloves. For a full two hours Tony gave a relaxed performance, smiling, waving and calling out to fans in the audience of 2,300.
It was a blast! But why should hearing Hadley in full fig at the mighty Palladium come as a culture shock? After all, his last tour fronting Spandau Ballet only four years ago revealed that the voice was growing magnificent in its maturity. For his own reasons he parted with his band of schoolmates a year ago. When his seven-date Talking to the Moon tour reached London, his presence dominated the stage, and he paced to all sides to josh with the audience and got on down miming to the drums, just as he once did alongside Spandau’s John Keeble.
The fact is that Hadley’s voice was very much the signature of the Spandau sound for 38 years. His former bandmates have recruited Ross Wild as their new vocalist and hit the road with their Next Line tour, also this month. So, with Ross having had to learn the entire repertoire of old hits, does all this now mean that he and the original musicians in Spandau have become the tribute band?!?!
Fans of both factions have been very vocal on social media: Tony’s claimed that his voice has taken the Spandau brand with it into the very tight Tony Hadley Band. At the Palladium, we heard familiar Spandau classics fizzing with new energy and melodic detail – numbers such as Chant No 1 and Only When You Leave moved along at a pace. An acoustic version of I’ll Fly For You delivered quite an electric treat as a seated duet with percussionist Lily Gonzalez.
In the Spandau camp, supporters have welcomed Ross as a rejuvenating new broom after seeing how he has raised the Ballet boys to fighting form. Though his voice has surprising range, it’s his lighter register that has woven gentle poetry into the more emphatic lyrics, for example, in Through the Barricades.
What we can say with confidence is that suddenly Britain boasts two superb bands at the heights of their powers, both refreshing a back catalogue that was in need of new life. If you like this blue-eyed soul music, you have more choice than ever now to enjoy it. And on Monday Spandau gives Ross his big chance to win over more fans at the huge Apollo Hammersmith, as he has already done at five concerts in Italy and Holland.
MEANWHILE BACK AT HIS PALLADIUM TRIUMPH. . .
❏ Big Tone took care not to spoil the genial mood with any remarks about splitting from Spandau – except laughing loudly after forgetting the words during a high-octane version of Chant No 1, then after finishing Highly Strung, just shrugging “I still don’t know what it’s about”. To Cut A Long Story Short was first to get the mums and dads to their feet. Despite Tony describing the many white-haired couples as “blokes dragged along by wives”, many of those men were happily rocking on their feet and mouthing the lyrics. During Spandau’s chart-topping True, Tony merely pressed the right button to initiate a very funny singalong by everyone present.
Equally impressive was the other half of his set-list which showcased his own consummate solo album Talking to the Moon and other covers. Tone’s giant cadences were most assured on vibrant numbers such as Tonight Belongs to Us, and Every Time, and Skin Deep, and several poignant songs that seemed to echo his own independence: Unwanted, and Take Back Everything, and What Am I? – not forgetting his classy closing number, Sinatra’s That’s Life.
On every level of presentation and execution, the Hadley show was superlative. He was utterly at ease fronting his supporting musicians, each of whom found plenty of sequences to let their individual virtuosity shine. For the record it’s right that they should share the credit for a magnificent evening of sheer music: Tim Bye on drums, Phil Taylor on keyboard, Phil Williams on bass, Richard Barratt on guitar, Simon Willescroft on saxophone, Lily Gonzales on percussion and backing vocals. Tributes all round, in fact!