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 1979.
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 clientele 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.
So the battle lines were drawn and into the valley 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.
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 on 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.
SPANDAU RECALL THE BLITZ IN 2014: