Martin Kemp and Steve Norman of Spandau Ballet look back: ‘We were stern young men who wanted to take over the world’ | Pop and rock
Pioneers of the New Romantic movement, Spandau Ballet’s career launched in the late 70s within the walls of Blitz, an enigmatic club in Covent Garden known for influencing the sound and style of 80s pop. Formed by London school friends Gary Kemp, Tony Hadley, Steve Norman and John Keeble – and later Gary’s brother and former roadie Martin – Spandau Ballet went on to soundtrack the bombast and excess of the decade, selling 25m albums globally. Known for their bitter breakup – Tony, Steve and John launched an unsuccessful case against Gary for a share of the band’s songwriting royalties – they’ve since reformed but are now on hiatus. Martin has gone on to have a successful television career, while saxophonist Steve and his band, the Sleevz, celebrate the 40th anniversary of Spandau’s debut album with a UK tour later this year.
This was on the set of the video for To Cut a Long Story Short, our first single. I was 18 at the time and my face is very serious. We were stern young men who wanted to take over the world. But behind that mask we had the best laugh. I always thought of Spandau as five boys who went to Benidorm for 10 years. After this photo was taken, the single went on to sell about 400,000 copies and everything shot like a rocket. Before I joined the band, I used to tag along to some of my brother’s school parties. Steve would be there and I always liked him. He never treated me like I was younger or looked down on me. We became best friends really quickly. When the band went away in the early days, we had no money so I always shared a hotel room with him. There are lots of secrets from those days but sadly nothing that we are allowed to share publicly!
My favourite days were right at the start when we were completely unknown, travelling the world and totally clueless. On our first trip to Germany, Steve said to me: “When we get there, I’m going to take you to a sauna!” At this point in the 80s, all of the saunas were mixed. I was just a teenager at the time, so sitting on the top shelf of a sauna looking down at these naked women, it felt like I’d landed on a different planet! After a while, Steve said: “Come outside, I want to show you something else.” There was this long trough full of pummel stones. He said I should get in it – according to Steve it was great for getting the dead skin off your feet. So there we are, both completely naked, walking up and down this trough, digging our feet into the stones, dead skin flying off, and all of a sudden this German woman bursts out of these double doors and shouts: “What are you doing? You are in my plant pot!” We weren’t even in the sauna any more, we were in the reception. Those memories beat anything like playing in front of 150,000 people in Madrid.
Every friendship goes through ups and downs. It’s how you deal with it that’s important. My band dealt with it well for a certain amount of years, but we found it a struggle in the end. I have nothing against anyone in the band – if I saw Tony tomorrow, I would speak to him and love him the same as I do Steve today. If that’s reciprocated, I’m not sure, but I pretty much guarantee if we bumped into each other in a room, we would be laughing and joking within seconds. But what’s made mine and Steve’s friendship last so long is that we’ve never fought. We had a few years, during the court case, where we didn’t speak on the phone. Then there was the period of time in the 90s when I was having treatment for my brain tumour. I have no idea which friends came to visit, Steve might have been there, but all I remember is Shirlie [Holliman, Kemp’s wife]. It’s a big black hole in my head and it turned me from a boy into a man. But whatever has happened in my life, Steve and I still loved each other very much.
Having fun was always core to Spandau, and when I think of Steve, in my head he is laughing. He hasn’t changed an inch. Inside and out. He still fits into that kilt!
When this was taken, we represented a huge, burgeoning movement. We rocked up at the London Dungeon to shoot the video – it was before they tarted it up and made it into a theme park. It really was quite scary. There was an incongruousness to seeing our look against that kind of decay. We felt like we were smashing our way through the doors into the future.
The first time I met Martin he was 13 – I’d popped over to Gary’s family home, off the Essex Road. They shared a room at the time: Gary had posters of Bowie, and on the other side, Martin had Bruce Lee. I was into both of them. We got on straight away.
Before the band got properly big, both of us spent a lot of time in the arcades playing Space Invaders. We had odd jobs, like handing out magazines at Chancery Lane, but were skint, so we’d drink at home before going out. I had a beer-making kit and a couple of pints of it was like rocket fuel. Or we’d nick a bottle of Martin’s dad’s homemade wine which was lethal.
One time we were drinking that stuff all afternoon, and decided to head off to Exmouth Market. I can’t remember too much; we went to a pub, and there was a stripper. We were meant to be going to Blitz – it was the time when people were popping pills, so I got us some Pro Plus tablets instead. The next thing I know it’s the next day and we’re passed out in a tiny little park in town, being woken up by a homeless guy who’s saying we’re sleeping on his bench.
Martin was a sweetheart back then and still is. To this day he’s never been in a fight in his life. Well, I’ve seen him in one with his brother in the early 80s and it was handbags at dawn. No punching, just flapping. Spandau were always gentlemanly but when it came to bolshiness, we were right at the front, sticking up for each other. We’re coming! Better move! We were mob-handed in that respect. We needed to be, as what we wore was quite shocking – on trains people would stand and stare like we were aliens. The band that fell to Earth. Then, soon enough, Princess Di was wearing frilly collars and it had hit the mainstream.
Even though I never treated him like a younger brother, I always looked after Martin – I still do. He’s a popular man. Since he was in EastEnders, people often approach him when we’re out together, so I tend to step in and say: “No autographs! He’s got to go!” I love it. I’d hate to have the fame he’s got. I’m surprised he can handle it because he is such a shy man.
At the peak of Spandau’s fame, we’d be touring together for the best part of a year. We’d desperately need space from each after we got back home. But back in the day Martin and me had girlfriends who knew each other, so once our bags were unpacked, he’d give me a bell and say: “Steve, do you fancy going for a pint and a curry with the girls?” I’d reply: “I’ll see you in an hour!” I’m never tired of Martin. Never anyone in the band, but least of all him.