When Spandau Ballet played their debut gig, at the Blitz club, in London, it was very much like the scene’s house band taking to the stage. The five young men who would soon become teenage pin-ups and help shape the sound of the 80s pop revolution had made the Tuesday club night in a Holborn wine bar a weekly routine.
The Blitz club: “It was the place we could wear what we wanted”
The narrow, mirror-lined venue was the perfect stage for the bright young things who enjoyed dressing up as much as they enjoyed the night’s soundtrack of disco, experimental pop and soon-to-be standards from the likes of David Bowie and Roxy Music. “It was the place we could wear what we wanted, say what we felt and, above all, be ourselves,” said the band’s bassist, Martin Kemp.
The crowd that claimed the Blitz club as their own came from the design colleges and the city’s squats, and was also made up of working-class youngsters drawn to the bright lights and intoxicated by the dreams of bigger things. The London Evening Standard newspaper would bill them the “New Romantics”, and a new pop tribe was cast in an era when identity was everything.
The rehearsals: “Any breakthrough would depend on the five of us”
Steve Strange, the late star who would go on to front Visage, ran the night and offered the newly renamed Spandau Ballet a one-off gig at the Blitz club. The five men in the group had abandoned their previous name, The Gentry, not long before and were confident the new billing would support their stadium-level ambition alongside their love of exotica – it was a name that said nothing but implied a great deal more if you had the imagination to think about it.
The group’s set already included what would become their breakthrough single, To Cut A Long Story Short. “We spent hours playing, improving the songs,” said Tony Hadley, the former vocalist of the band. “We all wanted the same thing: to make the songs as good as they could be… We counted on each other, sensing that any breakthrough would depend on the five of us. We needed each other.”
Spandau Ballet tested their new material on a Saturday morning ahead of their debut gig proper, in a studio space rented for the occasion, and invited the Blitz crowd along to gauge their reaction. “The set went down well, but you have to remember we were playing to people who prided themselves on being cool,” Hadley recalled in his 2004 memoir, named after the group’s debut hit. “While they were appreciative, they didn’t exactly jump up and down.”
The debut gig: “Our Blitz appearance was rammed with London’s sharpest youth”
On 5 December 1979, the night Spandau Ballet played their debut gig, fate was on their side. Chris Blackwell, the legendary impresario who had founded Island Records, was in the audience and came backstage to meet the band. He was interested in signing the group, but they eventually walked away from the deal he offered them. It was a clear sign that the band had confidence in their abilities – and they did much to antagonise the then powerful musical press. With their eyes set on becoming one of the best 80s bands, Spandau Ballet’s relationship with their rapidly expanding fanbase was of far greater concern.
“Our Blitz appearance was rammed with London’s sharpest youth,” said the band’s songwriter, Gary Kemp. “Being at the show was about belonging to something… That night there were more people who wanted us to win than lose. We were raised on padded metaphorical shoulders before we’d even played an opening chord!”
Kemp’s clear songwriting prowess got a decent airing during Spandau Ballet’s debut gig, with only two covers – John Barry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service James Bond theme and Iggy Pop’s Funtime – added to the tight setlist, which included future highlights of the group’s debut album, Journeys To Glory, including Reformation and Age Of Blows. “We hammered out our white European dance music with all the self-importance and earnestness that should be struck by youth defining their art,” said Kemp.
The legacy: A defining moment for the new British pop invasion
It was a manifesto that would stand the band in good stead. Still one of the best Spandau Ballet songs, To Cut A Long Story Short would soon find an audience far beyond that legendary first gig in a crowded wine bar, while Spandau Ballet would go on to become one of the best New Romantic bands, helping to define the new British pop invasion that would see their music achieve success across the globe. By the close of the decade they would become synonymous with, Spandau Ballet would have 20 UK hit singles, including one of the best songs of the 80s, the chart-topping hit True.
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