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Steve Norman Talks 40th Anniversary Tour Of ‘Journeys To Glory’, Life In Spandau Ballet

Steve Norman Talks 40th Anniversary Tour Of ‘Journeys To Glory’, Life In Spandau Ballet

In this interview, Spandau Ballet’s Steve Norman reveals the many highs – and the odd low – of being in one of the biggest bands of the 80s.


The significance of the hit song TrueSpandau Ballet’s signature track and a bone fide classic – took some time to build. Recorded in sessions at Compass Point, Nassau, The Bahamas, at the end of 1982, it wasn’t even its parent album’s first single. “We put it at the end of the record and didn’t think it was our best track,” Spandau Ballet’s saxophonist and co-founder Steve Norman reveals to Dig! “It was just this ballad… but I do recall a moment in the control room where we were all listening to a tape of the recording and singing along to it.

“It has become my signature now,” he says. “None of us in Spandau Ballet can ever really escape True. Nor would we want to. We used to get a bit bored of it in the mid-80s, but not now. It always uplifts the crowd and I love playing it.”

Listen to the best of Spandau Ballet here.

“I’m coming to it afresh”

True is certain to get an airing during any Spandau Ballet-related event, including Norman’s upcoming Journeys To Glory Tour, which kicks off on in Wokingham on Friday, 30 September, and will continue through to Monday, 31 October, but the multi-instrumentalist is also using the tour as an opportunity to delve deeper into his back catalogue by celebrating the 40th anniversary of Spandau Ballet’s breakthrough debut album, Journeys To Glory. Accompanied by his five-piece band, The Sleevz, which also features his son Jaco on bass, Norman will play the entire album, including its classic singles To Cut A Long Story Short (Spandau Ballet’s first Top 5 UK hit), The Freeze and Muscle Bound.

“The last time I looked at Journeys To Glory was a few years back and it struck me how weird it is that The Freeze doesn’t follow To Cut A Long Story Short in the running order,” Norman says. “We played both those songs a lot as Spandau Ballet, but no one has performed the whole album like this. I’m coming to it afresh.”

“I was actually a frustrated drummer”

Norman and Spandau Ballet’s principal songwriter, Gary Kemp, met at grammar school. “There are things that draw people together and, in our case, it was guitars,” Norman says today. “We loved music and went to see bands that were playing in many of the great London venues that have been lost over the years.

“We were into all types of stuff – even folk, but that was more Gary’s thing! We were so close back then. I recall laying back on Hampstead Heath [in London], looking at the stars, when we were both a bit worse for wear… we liked our beer. It’s one of our little bonding things we have to this day.”

Norman had always been passionate about music, and his first obsession was Foot Tapper, by Cliff Richard’s backing band, The Shadows. The song became a UK No.1 hit in 1963, when the future Spandau icon was just three years old. “I was actually a frustrated drummer but could never afford the kit,” says Norman. Instead, he picked up a guitar before moving on to his Spandau Ballet trademark: saxophone and percussion.

“We felt we were indestructible and that this was our moment”

Absorbing diverse musical influences along the way, the two schoolfriends formed groups with vocalist Tony Hadley, drummer John Keeble and, eventually, Gary’s younger brother, Martin, before finding the scene they would make their own. “Things move so much faster when you are younger,” Norman recalls. Gary and Steve would hang out together at Soho nightclub Billy’s, before moving on to the Blitz club, which opened in a wine bar on London’s Great Queen Street and became the epicentre of the New Romantic movement. “We had been in a power-pop band and had just found girlfriends, so were on a bit of a hiatus with music,” he notes.

“We were a bit too young for punk – though we had seen the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Buzzcocks on the same bill – but this was different. When we started listening to the stuff that [Blitz DJ] Rusty Egan was playing, it made a huge impact. It was European dance music, and no one else was really playing it back then. It blew our minds.”

It was at the Blitz club, in December 1983, that Spandau Ballet performed their first-ever live gig. “The musicality of our band really then came out,” Norman continues. “We felt we were indestructible and that this was our moment. It was a small movement, but everyone looked like they had just landed from another planet. Out went our wedge haircuts and the peg trousers and in came the skinny jeans.”

“In truth, we were pitching for the Bond theme song”

Things would go further on the fashion front as Spandau Ballet experimented with kilts and make-up, becoming one of the best bands on the New Romantic scene, which was starting to draw national attention. After signing a recording deal with Chrysalis, things moved fast, with the single release of To Cut A Long Story Short landing Spandau Ballet on the BBC’s pivotal Top Of The Pops TV show within months.

Released in the summer of 1981, the band’s fourth single, Chant No.1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On), went to No.3 – their biggest success to that point – but their second album wouldn’t arrive for another eight months, and momentum seemed to stall. “We were on cloud nine until we got to the Diamond album,” recalls Norman. “Second albums are always tricky. I was never wholly convinced by [single] Paint Me Down – the track just felt, somehow, a bit flat. There are some brilliant things in it, such as the bass, but it needed a remix.”

A remix was soon to give Spandau Ballet a next boost, after a further single from Diamond, She Loved Like Diamond, failed to crack the Top 40. Sensing a crisis, the group, turned to Trevor Horn to remix Instinction. Horn’s rework of the song got them back into the UK Top 10. “We all knew it was make or break with Instinction. Richard James Burgess [who had produced the band’s first two albums] is a great producer, but Trevor Horn really knew how to do a pop record.”

There had been plans for Horn to produce a full album for Spandau Ballet, but friction between him and drummer Jon Keeble led to a rethink. Instead, the five-piece turned to Bananarama and Imagination pop producers Steve Jolley and Tony Swain, and the hits, including Lifeline, Communication and True’s global smash title track, followed in quick succession. Another highlight was the album’s final single, Gold. “That song has also taken on a life of its own in the years since,” says Norman. “In truth, we were pitching for the Bond theme song when we were recording it.” Now fondly remembered among the best 80s songs, Gold became Spandau Ballet’s second-most successful single at home, and it remains a favourite of music programmers for sporting events around the world.

“I heard it was actually us who were Princess Diana’s favourite band”

The mid-80s was a glorious time for British music, with the rise of MTV providing a platform for the best music videos of the era, which in turn stoked healthy competition among a new generation of stars thrust into pop’s premier league. Spandau Ballet’s main chart rivals, Duran Duran, may have stolen more headlines, but the group secured a significant victory over their Birmingham-based rivals, despite press claims to the contrary. “I heard that it was actually us who were Princess Diana’s favourite band,” says Norman.

Norman and co joined the recording for Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? at end of 1984, a year that had seen the release of Spandau Ballet’s fourth album, Parade. “Parade was probably our peak, and our success in Italy really took off around then,” Norman says. “The amount of fuss we created there was ridiculous. I think that album has come to be my favourite. I really enjoyed playing the arenas and taking part in events such as Live Aid. My favourite song off Parade is I’ll Fly For You. It’s a special track, with sax all over it. I sing it now at gigs, but it took me ages to approach it and to make sure the sentiment and tonality of the vocals really comes across.”

“I didn’t know what the next step was, and that upset me a lot”

Recording for Spandau Ballet’s next record took place during an extended stay outside the UK. “We only went as far as Ireland because we were really just home boys,” says Norman. “But I fell in love with Dublin and the Irish. It was a real bonding time – we drank a lot of Guinness! I remember we introduced Def Leppard to Spinal Tap. We showed them the film and the five us started to look at each other and went, ‘Oh my God, it’s about them.’ They were great times.”

1986’s Through The Barricades contained another big hit in its title track, but the musical tide was shifting and the album would prove to be the band’s last significant success of the decade. “At the end of the 80s, we had the public turning against us because we weren’t flavour of the month anymore,” says Norman. “When someone shouts at you across the road, ‘Oi, Milli Vanilli!’, that’s tough.”

By Norman’s own admission, Spandau Ballet were “falling apart” during the recording of 1989’s Heart Like A Sky. “We never officially split then – and we haven’t to this day,” he says. “I didn’t know what to do next, so I moved to Ibiza – I love the island and had been there a lot during the 80s. They say you can lose yourself in Ibiza; well, I found myself and stayed there for 12 years.

“I love dance music and spent a lot of time in the clubs,” Norman continues. “I got a record label together and we put out some compilations. We created a production team and I loved that. But I put the sax down when I went to Ibiza because it represented Spandau to me and it broke my heart. At the time, I didn’t know what the next step was, and that upset me a lot.”

“I thought it was going to be the springboard for everything to carry forward”

There were better times ahead, with the original Spandau Ballet line-up reuniting in 2009 for a major tour and another record. “The reunion was one of the best experiences of making an album I’d had,” says Norman. “Gary and I were getting on well and we had written some tunes for other artists. It felt a bit like getting to know each other all over again.”

Norman co-wrote the band’s comeback single, Once More. The decision to rework some of the best Spandau Ballet songs on the album that followed was inspired by listening to Raising Sand, by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. “I loved that album’s darkness,” says Steve. “One of the tracks was in the same key as To Cut A Long Short and so that began to set the template for the direction of the whole record. We were coming up with some really creative stuff. That whole experience was wonderful. I thought it was going to be the springboard for everything to carry forward, but it wasn’t to be.”

Instead, Norman keeps incredibly busy with projects such as 80s Pioneers, a collective, led by Norman, that sees him performing with other artists who broke through in that decade, including Paul Young, Kajagoogoo’s Limahl and Carol Decker from T’Pau. “Life is very good,” Norman says from his home in Brighton, on Britain’s south coast. “I have never felt so creative. I wasn’t always like that before, as I used to feel a little insecure. Life hasn’t always been so kind. But I’m really living it to the full now.”

Buy the 12” vinyl reissue of Spandau Ballet’s classic Journeys To Glory single To Cut A Long Story Short at the Dig! store.

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