Spandau Ballet: The inside story of the bitterest break-up in pop history

12 February 2021, 10:30 | Updated: 12 February 2021, 10:42

Photo of Spandau Ballet
Spandau Ballet have had one of the most tumultuous stories in music. Picture: Getty

By Giorgina Ramazzotti

So why did Spandau Ballet really break-up?

From playing their first gig in a school dining room to performing at Live Aid to a global audience of 1.9 billion, Spandau Ballet have seen huge achievement in their 40 year history.

But while their career as a band has been a rollercoaster of success, behind the scenes, the group have dealt with an ongoing feud that has involved court cases and backstabbing.

So just what caused relations within the band to hit such an all-time low?

This is the inside story of how one of the world's biggest bands became the epicentre for one of pop music's messiest public feuds...

Spandau Ballet, circa 1985. Left to right: saxophonist Steve Norman, guitarist Gary Kemp, singer Tony Hadley, bassist Martin Kemp and drummer John Keeble.
Spandau Ballet, circa 1985. Left to right: saxophonist Steve Norman, guitarist Gary Kemp, singer Tony Hadley, bassist Martin Kemp and drummer John Keeble. Picture: Getty

True Gold: Beginnings and Success

Brought together after Steve Norman and Gary Kemp met at school in Islington, the band was called Roots, The Cut, The Makers and Gentry before settling on the name Spandau Ballet in 1978 - a phrase friend of the group Robert Elms had seen written on a wall in Berlin.

The original line-up included Gary Kemp on guitar, his brother Martin Kemp on bass, Tony Hadley as lead vocalist, saxophonist Steve Norman and John Keeble on drums when Spandau Ballet exploded onto the music scene in 1980, becoming one of the most successful groups of the New Romantics era and selling 25 million albums worldwide.

Spandau Ballet - To Cut A Long Story Short

The group have had eight top 10 UK albums and 10 top 10 singles including 'To Cut A Long Story Short' and 'True', the latter becoming the most played sing in US history in 2019 with four million airplays - the equivalent of 22 years of continuous play.

But all was not rosy within the group, with Gary Kemp later saying: “My brother Martin dominated the way we looked.

Read more: How George Michael chaperoned a nervous Shirlie on her first date with Martin Kemp

“There were many, many arguments, particularly towards Tony, feeling that he wasn’t looking right or pulling his weight on that side of things.”

After ten years playing sold out stadiums across the world, Spandau Ballet played their last gig of their 10th anniversary tour at the Edinburgh Playhouse and announced they were taking a break.

Spandau Ballet - True

Spandau Ballet Perform At Live Aid In London on July 13th, 1985
Spandau Ballet Perform At Live Aid In London on July 13th, 1985. Picture: Getty

Only When You Leave: Breakup

The band members' careers took off with varying levels of success, with the Kemps finding immediate prosperity and the other three struggling to find their way as solo artists.

Gary and Martin Kemp starred as Ronald and Reggie Kray in the highly acclaimed film, The Krays, with Gary moving to Hollywood with wife Sadie Frost to star in The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston and Martin enjoying success in L.A. in Murder Between Friends and Sugar Town and later as Steve Owen in Eastenders.

Tony Hadley recorded solo album The State of Play released in 1992 and a self-titled album Tony Hadley in 1996 - neither which made a huge impact on the UK charts - and by 1993 he was suddenly in dire financial straits.

Spandau Ballet Sing True Live on True Gold

What came as a surprise to both the band's fans and executives of the music industry, was that Spandau Ballet had never signed a contract between themselves regarding the band's royalties.

See more: Tony Hadley, Gary Numan, Beverley Knight and more announce UK drive-in gigs for 2020

The school friends had only had a 'verbal' agreement in place and Gary Kemp as the songwriter was receiving the majority of Spandau Ballet's royalties, Tony Hadley, John Keeble and Steve Norman took him to court for £1 million.

The band said they had agreed informally on an equal split in loyalties of one-twelfth of the royalties, long before they signed their first record contract in 1980.

Spandau Ballet pictured in Lisbon in 1987
Spandau Ballet pictured in Lisbon in 1987. Picture: Getty

“We had an arrangement between ourselves, and we were schoolmates. We weren't cynical, we just did things on trust. Besides, we were playing in the Hope and Anchor, in small pubs at that time. The idea of sorting out a serious contract didn't cross our minds," John Keeble told The Guardian.

At the trial, the trio's lawyer Andrew Sutcliffe emphasised this, adding: “They all say that Gary Kemp agreed from the early stage of the discussions that it was fair that all the members of the band should have some share of the publishing royalties despite the fact that he wrote the lyrics, music and basic chord structure of all the songs."

Watch: Spandau Ballet's Gary Kemp pleads for Tony Hadley to return: "Come on, Tony!"

However, the judge ruled in favour of Gary Kemp, saying it was "unconscionable" that they had tried to lay claim to hundreds of thousands of pounds they knew that Gary regarded as his own, and while the bandmates had made "impressive" contributions to the band's songs, they did not influence the songs enough to be called joint authors. In other words: no royalties.

Spandau Ballet circa 1980
Spandau Ballet circa 1980. Picture: Getty

"Let this be a serious lesson to any up and coming artist or band. No matter how good mates you are or whether you were at school together, get a contract," Tony Hadley said after the verdict had been delivered.

“We did try to sort out the whole thing amicably many, many times," he added.

“In my heart of hearts I was hoping that someone would tap me on the shoulder just before the court door opened and say, ‘Come on lads this is stupid; let's go out to the pub, let's have a drink and sort it out.’ But it didn't happen. I don't think anyone can take pleasure in going to court to fight it out with their old best mates.”

Watch: Spandau Ballet's Martin Kemp bites off Tony Hadley's head in Celebrity Bake Off

Gary Kemp simply said: "I see this as a victory on behalf of all songwriters."

The verdict was a huge blow for Tony, John and Steve and cost them £200,000 each, an enormous sum for a trio looking for a mere £25,000-a-year salary from Spandau's royalties.

Martin Kemp responds to Tony Hadley about Spandau Ballet reunion chances

Through the Barricades: Reunion

The band went their separate ways once more, but in early 2009 the Spandau Ballet told fans to look out for "for an exciting announcement", fuelling rumours a reunion was on the cards.

On March 29, 2009 all five members of Spandau Ballet stood on the deck of HMS Belfast, the site of one of their earliest gigs, and announced a world tour - the hatchet had been officially buried.

"Time is a great healer," Tony Hadley said at the press conference. "As you can see, we are back together again and we are very happy boys.

The Kemps: All True trailer

"We first met in the pub, had a few beers, the stories and the anecdotes acme out and we just realised we are great mates."

Tickets went on sale two days later, with the O2 dates selling out within twenty minutes, two more dates were added due to demand and with each band member reportedly pocketing a cool £12 million.

Read more: Martin Kemp reveals he has three kidneys (and Gary only has one)

The band gave their "first public performance and interview anywhere in the world for 19 years" on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, and released a new album, Once More, in October that year earning them Best Comeback of 2009 at the Virgin Media Awards.

Spandau then went on tour to Australia in April 2010 before taking a three year break, coming back once again in 2014 with an anthology world tour to promote a critically-acclaimed documentary about the band's history Soul Boys of the Western World.

Spandau Ballet pictured on March 25, 2009 after making a public announcement that they were reuniting for a new tour
Spandau Ballet pictured on March 25, 2009 after making a public announcement that they were reuniting for a new tour. Picture: Getty

Onto 2015 and in scenes similar to the early eighties, the band once again took America by storm, appearing on TV shows including The Talk, The Today Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live and releasing a greatest hits collection called The Story – The Very Best of Spandau Ballet, that charted in both the UK and US.

To Cut a Long Story Short: The end?

So after what had seemed to be a peaceful time for Spandau Ballet, Tony Hadley shocked everyone when he tweeted in July 2017: “Due to circumstances beyond my control, it is with deep regret that I am required to state that I am no longer a member of the band Spandau Ballet, and as such I will not be performing with this band in the near future.”

The band quickly replied with their own public statement: “Much to our frustration, Tony had made it clear in September 2016 that he didn’t want to work with the band anymore. This has not changed and 2015 was the last time we were able to perform or work with him. So we have now made the decision to move on as a band.”

What is The Kemps: All True documentary and when is it on TV?

Saxophonist Steve Norman confirmed that the split wasn't amicable saying they were "shocked" by the move, with Martin Kemp later adding: "It’s been frustrating with Tony. He’s got to do what he’s got to do, but he left us a bit in the lurch. We’ve had the energy to keep going since 2009 when we first reformed."

Tony has since implied his suggestion of getting together every few years like Phil Collins and Genesis was rejected by the group: "So, put it this way – if they wanted to get rid of their lead singer, they went about it the right way", he said.

Martin Kemp facts: Who is the Spandau Ballet star's son Roman and wife Shirlie and how old is he?

On June 6, 2018, after a lengthy audition process, Spandau Ballet announced their new 30-year-old lead singer, Ross William Wild, and re-released 'Through the Barricades'.

Ross William Wild (centre) joined the group as Spandau Ballet's lead singer in 2018
Ross William Wild (centre) joined the group as Spandau Ballet's lead singer in 2018. Picture: Getty
Tony Hadley pictured in Berlin in November 2019
Tony Hadley pictured in Berlin in November 2019. Picture: Getty

But after just five months all was not well with the new line-up, with Ross announcing out of the blue on his Twitter account: "I can't wait around for Spandau! Unfortunately Gary [Kemp] has commitments, so we're waiting him to finish until we crack on."

But despite quitting the band publically, Ross has recently said he became suicidal after the band went on TV the next day and dismissed him out of hand.

“I told Spandau I wanted to leave and they wished me luck. I couldn't afford to be left on a shelf, not knowing where my next meal was coming from," Ross told The Sun.

Read more: Spandau Ballet's Ross William Wild reveals suicide attempt after band 'sacked' him on live TV

“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, to own any part of my story. I was so humiliated as they had treated me so badly for so long. That's when I tried to kill myself and I wound up in hospital in Cannes.”

Ross went on to say: “I’d just been made to look like I wasn't worth s**t but it was me that quit Spandau. They humiliated me. It hit me like a tonne of bricks.”

He insists he has kept good friendships with both Martin and Steve since leaving the group, but has had little contact with Gary.

Read more: Tony Hadley hits out at Spandau Ballet’s Gary and Martin Kemp’s TV show and rules out reunion: ‘I’m done’

After Ross’ departure, sax player Steve clarified said: “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.”

Tony Hadley quashes Spandau Ballet reunion rumours

Since the release of Martin and Gary Kemp's mockumentary The Kemps: All True many fans have been hoping for a Spandau Ballet reunion, but their former lead singer Tony Hadley has ruled out rejoining the band, revealing he is “done” with it.

Fans will know the band is fast approaching its 40th anniversary celebrations, but Tony said: “I wasn’t approached and would not have anything to do with it. I’m done.

“They want me back for good but it ain’t going to happen. I’d rather be happy on my own than be in that band again. If they want another lead singer, that’s their choice.”

It comes after Tony exclusively told Smooth Radio: “You know what? I think the whole thing is really sad. I’ve never said it publicly, and I probably never will say exactly why I left."It just got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore – you know, for whatever reason. It just all went too far.

Read more: Tony Hadley facts: His height, wife and why he quit Spandau Ballet revealed

Martin also exclusively told Smooth Radio: “I’m always up for it. It’s a really weird thing. Sometimes — it’s about ego a lot of the time. You know, it’s people getting over arguments."I would do it tomorrow, because I know how many people want to see it out there. And that gives me a buzz. But trying to get everyone to do it tomorrow is difficult.

"But the way things are at the moment – Spandau, you know, we’re very volatile. We’re best friends when we’re together, and we’re not when we’re apart.

"Trying to get us together is so difficult. Too many things have happened, and too many things have been said over the years."