June 2018: Spandau Ballet showcase their new recruit, vocalist Ross William Wild at their debut gig in Subterania
◼ TODAY’S SUN RUNS A GRIM ACCOUNT of how singer Ross William Wild was pushed into attempting suicide after being frozen out of Spandau Ballet last year. Only 11 months after he took over from frontman Tony Hadley, Ross took some pills and “crashed out” but thankfully a friend raised the alarm.
At that time in May 2019, Shapers of the 80s reported the whole curious background to Ross’s crisis of confidence. After his first impressive performances with Spandau he says he was “ignored” by management and claims he was banned from taking other music and theatre jobs, losing out on much needed income. The Sun reports today:
“ When he finally mustered the courage to quit, he was humiliated on national TV the next day when the band announced it would never perform again unless Tony rejoins — effectively sacking their young singer live on air. I couldn’t afford to be left on a shelf, not knowing where my next meal was coming from. Then the next day they forced Martin Kemp on This Morning and made him act like I was just being brushed aside. I never even got to say that I quit. I was so humiliated as they had treated me so badly for so long. It hit me like a ton of bricks. That’s when I tried to kill myself. ”
Shapers of the 80s revealed that Ross made the first move by tweeting that he had resigned, after which Martin Kemp went on ITV to flannel around the issue, barely mentioning Ross but yearning for the day Hadley would rejoin Spandau, saying this was “what people really want”. You can still hear this clip, below. Equally tactless had been Gary Kemp giving a killer “no future” interview to an American blogger only one month earlier. “There are no plans for Spandau going into 2020,” he’d said, and we reported that car-crash interview here too, in all its insulting detail.
LISTEN TO THE CRUCIAL PART OF MARTIN’S ITV INTERVIEW 2019:
Within a couple of days Ross gave us his side of the saga, saying “the way things were put out on TV made me feel like crap”. His good friend sax player Steve Norman also got in touch to say: “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.” All of which still makes for a gob-smacking read.
Ross’s account in today’s Sun is well worth reading for its courageous candour. He says: “Spandau didn’t realise that they were dealing with a person. I’m not a titan of the music industry like these guys. They gave me a chance, little old Ross, and then they just brushed me aside.” There’s some consolation in knowing that last week Ross saw his new band Mercutio have its raunchy single Slap Bang! voted Classic Rock’s track of the week [see video at YouTube].
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.
Heading to Camden Rockfest: Ross Wild in white shirt with members of Mercutio. (Photo by Giorgio Lattanzi)
◼ HERE IS A PICTURE OF ROSS WILLIAM WILD amid musicians of Mercutio, a seven-year-old “alternative and experimental” rock and grunge band, only four months after he was showcased in concert as the stunning youthful replacement for Tony Hadley in Spandau Ballet, the 80s New Romantic pioneers. After Hadley had walked out a year earlier, Spandau hoped Ross would be their key to being signed for this year’s landmark rock events from Glastonbury down, but so far no plans have emerged. Suddenly out of the blue, yesterday Ross announced at Facebook: “My new band! Come rock out with us on April the 13th in Camden!” He features prominently in the band’s new photographs.
Ross Wild’s Facebook announcement yesterday
Coincidentally Spandau songwriter Gary Kemp is currently in North America channeling the guitar of David Gilmour with Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets tour, while Martin Kemp and Steve Norman are also boasting busy diaries. Otherwise, both Ross and Spandau have been zip-lipped silent, which raises the suggestion that what gossips tend call “creative differences” might perhaps be simmering away under the lock-down of signed contracts.
Mercutio were offering no further clues, except in their publicity. This all-Italian band who work in London are advertising future live dates starting in April at The Monarch in Camden followed in June by the CamdenRocksFestival. Ross’s Instagram photos show he has been in rehearsal on a #secretproject#itallianscottish with the band since January. He is also pictured rehearsing at home in what he tags as #singersongwriter #makeshiftstudio #homestudio.
“Secret project”: Ross pictured on his Instagram page last January
Ross Wild photographed with Mercutio for their website by Giorgio Lattanzi
ROSS TALKS EXCLUSIVELY TO SHAPERSOFTHE80S
❏ A couple of days have now passed, and it’s been good to reach Ross by phone, at the suggestion of the founder of his new band, Gianluca Cucchiara. I told Ross that his sudden announcement was all the more surprising because only last month I’d bumped into Gary Kemp and when asked about Spandau’s plans, he would say only “There is no news”. Nothing more.
Ross replied: “I know. It’s all so shrouded in mystery at the moment. The main thing is Spandau don’t want to just go out and do a bunch of shows for the sake of it. The next step must be something great. It must break the mould. So we’re throwing ideas around for new music. Unfortunately Gary has commitments, so we’re waiting for him to finish until we crack on. Same for Martin and Steve.”
Mercutio publicity: poster for the Camden festival includes Ross in the lineup
Surely, though, it’s a bit strange to join another band when his Instagram still describes Ross as “Lead Singer @SpandauBallet”? He said: “I can’t wait around for Spandau! I’ve been a songwriter all my life – it’s a natural thing for me to do. I met Gianluca at a workshop a year ago and we gelled so well. But I said I’d got another band and couldn’t really talk about it before Spandau announced my role. I’ve been into rock music and metal all my life, and always wanted to pursue it, then the right musicians came along.”
So how does his new sound square with Spandau’s very different music? Ross said: “I’m into absolutely everything. I’m not a one-genre guy by any means and this new band Mercutio reflects that. It’s not death metal and it’s not thrash but very much metal with melody at its heart, plus a heavy focus on lyrics and story-telling. It’s a different flavour but it’s the same heart really.”
“I’m not a one-genre guy by any means”
– Ross William Wild
Mercutio are working on a full album. The first single will be recorded soon and it’s called Where the Pain Lives. Of his own role, Ross said: “I’ve written lyrics for it along with Gianluca and Fabio the guitarist. Then we picked up one of my own songs called Alex – more melodic and melancholy, a funky feel with a big emotive chorus. We’re chuffed that we’re going to debut these tunes in Camden for an album that is very Nirvana-esque mixed with Muse.”
As for the lack of news from the Spandau camp, Ross said: “We’re talking all the time about what to do at the end of the year. It all depends on 4-5 guys juggling their schedules. Nothing is yet set in stone. Put it this way: we’re not finished.” So the message is optimistic? “Absolutely, without a shadow of doubt. I’ve met a bunch of new best friends doing Spandau Ballet. . . I have my own ideas about marketing strategy but at the end of the day Steve Dagger’s the boss, so you’ve got to roll with it.”
Mercutio website: Ross pictured as vocalist
A BAND WITH A LONG PAST BUT FEW TRACES
◼ MERCUTIO’S FOUNDER GIANLUCA CUCCHIARA also multi-tasks. He got in touch this week to say: “I’m currently producing with Giovanna Romagnoli a new musical called Vanara, with my own music and orchestrations. Giovanna has an Academy Award for Cinema Paradiso and is also producing Mercutio with Diverge Records. Ross was one of the leads in a workshop we did last May in London” [only days before Spandau announced Ross as their new singer] “and the cast included also the Tony nominee Eva Noblezada. I simply asked Ross if he was interested in collaborating with me on a rock project as he loves pop and musical theatre, but he also is a big fan of grunge and hard rock. We share an incredible passion for bands like Tool, Nirvana, Muse (to name a few).
“A few months after the tour with Spandau, Ross and I started writing some songs together with my friend and guitar player Fabio Staffieri. In the band we have also bass player and producer Emanuele Nazzaro and drummer Francesco Lucidi. Francesco will be Elton John’s drummer in the biographical movie Rocketman coming out at the end of May.”
It is still a curious fact that Mercutio seem to have no public profile at the major reference websites Discogs, AllMusic or Wikipedia. Evidence of their existence comes from their own website which lists their first tour details starting 21 Sep 2011 at Nambucca in London to their last tour ending on 18 June 2016 at the Tram and Social. This year new dates have been announced for six gigs in April and June.
Other slim details about Mercutio online include three gigs in Rome and London between 2014 and 2016 which are documented at ReverbNation, where we can hear the breathy vocalist covering a rocky Karma Police after it opens with a lush string orchestration. We can however view videos there for No Compromise, a pained romantic ballad, and a grungy tease-trailer for the band inviting us to “Smell bass, hear speed and taste rock”. Reverb comments: “Taking influence from Radiohead, Muse and Porcupine Tree, the guys wrote, recorded and toured together for several years in various bands before forming Mercutio.”
Though Mercutio haven’t been active for a couple of years, it doesn’t faze 30-year-old Ross. He said: “I don’t care. I’m making them work and they’re making me work. Right now, I’m looking forward to a summer tour with Mercutio in the UK and Italy, maybe some festivals. The team behind it is phenomenal. Gianluca is an amazing composer and orchestrates our music brilliantly. It feels brand new to me and will feel brand new to the audience.”
New boy at centre: Ross Wild photographed for Mercutio’s website by Giorgio Lattanzi
❏ UPDATE FROM ROSS: He has now posted the Mercutio publicity poster at Instagram and adds the words every fan wants to hear: “Yes, I’m still happily with @spandauballet but until our next tour I’m staying creative with this bunch of amazing musicians.”
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
“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
A UNIQUE HISTORY
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VINCENT FROM EASTER 2021
✱ Deejay legend Robbie Vincent returns to JazzFM Sundays 1-3pm from Easter 2021… Catch up on Robbie’s JazzFM August Bank Holiday 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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