IN THIS PHOTO: Tony Hadley/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press
Why Decades-Lasting Artists Remain At a Time of Brevity and Uncertainty
THE ‘Gilt’ part of this feature’s title…
IN THIS PHOTO: Spandau Ballet (with their new lead Ross William Wild, centre)/PHOTO CREDIT: Denis O'Regan
refers to the act of making something golden/gilded. It is an appropriate piece of wordplay – pat on the back for me! – because one of those bands that refuse to quit is Spandau Ballet! Tony Hadley is no longer with the band after a particular vicious towel-whipping incident permanently bruised Gary Kemp’s right testicle (although, the official cause of his replacement is different!). Even if four-fifths of the new-look band are greying/older – except Martin Kemp’s McCartney-esque trick of draining the supplies of Just for Men! – there is a reason why Spandau are still around and making new music. With a new singer, Ross William Wild, we might not see the Hadley-led belters like Gold. Maybe there will not be a True 2.0 or anything that scored our 1980s scene: the fresh incarnation, as this article shows, is going to be somewhat different:
“British pop group Spandau Ballet introduced new singer Ross William Wild in a small club show at London's Subterania on Wednesday (June 6) night. Wild was selected as a replacement for Tony Hadley after the longtime frontman departed the band last year, and is helping to usher the famed '80s musicians into a new era.
"This is a rebirth of the band," guitarist Gary Kemp told Billboard ahead of Spandau Ballet's performance. "But it still feels like the band. It still sounds like the band. The energy is the same. We've still got the main songwriter. We've still got all the same musical protagonists. And now we've got this new guy who is filling us with new vitality. He's really stepped up to the plate with a lot of talent and passion and knowledge."
The British group, which formed in London in 1979, released six albums during their heyday in the '80s before splitting up in 1990 due to disagreements over royalties. They reunited in 2009 with a new album and two global tours, and have continued to perform and write music since. When Hadley announced via Twitter last July that he was leaving the group there wasn't any doubt as to whether Spandau Ballet would carry on, largely because the musicians didn't feel finished.
"We felt that only one fifth of the group left," Kemp said. "We wanted to make it work. We really felt we couldn't let this one go. It hadn't run its course and there are still people out there who want to hear the songs played by the original guys. We just had to find a guy who would sing it".
There is an argument to suggest bands like Spandau Ballet have survived for so many years because their existing fanbase has been with them from the start. They fell for the music in the 1980s and, whilst looking for alternatives, found nothing that was as pure and memorable. Whilst modern Pop music seems to be cramped with overly-energised and throwaway tunes; Spandau Ballet refuse to modernise – lest they look limp and out-of-step – and are making a more mature and slow-burning variety. Many might see the word ‘mature’ as a synonym for ‘crap’.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
I am a fan of the group and loved the work they did back in the 1980s. I feel, although they are Hadley-less, that is not to say they will feel limbless and lighter. Ross William Wild's introduction seems like a lateral move and the band knows trying to live in the past is a bad move. Tony Hadley is planning his own album and it seems, like his former bandmates, there is stock and appeal to be mined. A lot of the bands from the 1980s have gone the way of Hitler because, oddly, the ‘fashions’ and trends of the decade have died. It is easy to see some of these legendary bands remain whilst others, who have just started, have struggled and are going out of business. Does that lead to guilt and a sense of blame? I feel like there is a place for every artist and the market is varied enough to accommodate everyone. Duran Duran are another band who have stood the test of time and keep making music – they are not the only ones. ABC and other 1980s bands are operational and artists who have been around even longer, like Elton John and The Rolling Stones, are pulling in the masses! It is interesting discovering bands of the 1980s still going and making new music. What surprises me about, say Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran, is the fact their core is not entirely middle-aged. They are bringing in young listeners – that does not shock me...
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
So many new artists are, without irony, revisiting the 1980s – or experiencing the sounds for the first time. Big acts like Madonna and Talking Heads are being updated; you get plenty of new Pop that reminds one of the 1980s’ best, too. One can understand why epic groups like The Rolling Stones and The Who have managed to last this long. They are not subject to the same machine and demands as new artists – they have leeway and rights that exempt them – and there is not the same need to get gigs in and comply with the Spotify-minded process. The music they made back in the 1960s and1970s still sounds fresh and there is someone, somewhere that wants to go see them. Look at the 1990s, too, and artists like TLC, Steps and Shed Seven are still making music. En Vogue released an album, Electric Café, recently and Destiny’s Child made a rare appearance at this year’s Coachella – led by Beyoncé and blowing the audiences away! I will look at that side of music soon but it seems like current demand and a wave of nostalgia is providing oxygen to older icons. Music, good or bad, is dictated by fashions and a sense of style. One can assume certain artists would find limited scope today because of their looks and sound. Spandau Ballet and ABC, let’s say, are not making the same music they did decades back; great bands of the 1970s and 1980s, whilst popular then, appear outdated and a bit tragic at a time that is very hip and modern.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Is there, then, a set of rules and configuration – schematics, for instance – that dictates which artists remain and which are best left in the past?! Should the reformed and enduring artists feel a sense of guilt when they see promising newcomers split and struggle in the industry – given the fact they are not as concerned about finance and starting from scratch. It is not their fault the industry is so hard and, if anything, the durability and evolution they have shown (older acts) should provide guidance and heart to newcomers. You can easily explain why bands like Erasure and Depeche Mode remain relevant; why Gary Numan is still making music. They were lauded in their day but, as children, we revelled in their sounds and thought, if we become musicians, we’ll follow their path. These children are grown up and are paying tribute to their heroes. Because of that, we are seeing a modernised version of Synth-Pop that means the original creators are still relevant and demanded. Maybe a ‘return’ of the 1980s is short-lived and will go in cycles. The Beach Boys and Queen (sans Freddie Mercury) are kicking it and U2 are not showing any signs of being aged – other acts like KISS, unfortunately, are still playing music.
I have talked about 1990s bands like Steps and Shed Seven and why they are back in the limelight. The Charlatans are still recording and, a couple of decades since they hit their peak, there is that curiosity and loyal base that will not wane. It is interesting seeing these bands survive given the fact their current music, in my mind, is weaker and less potent than their heyday best. Kylie Minogue recently turned fifty and on her latest album, Golden, she has gone Country and is a different artist to the one in the 1980s whose sugar-sweet and memorable brand of Pop that inspired a generation. Maybe that is the secret to a rich (in more ways than one…) and successful career: not only moving with the times but not trying to live in the past. There are decades-old bands living on past glories but, for the most part, the existence of the legends is down to knowledge of what the market wants. Their audience may be on BBC Radio 2 (as opposed to BBC Radio 1) but they are able to hold their own and still show huge enthusiasm. Modern music is using elements of every decade, and so, it is understandable some of the artists who were around the first time would fascinate sapling ears. Look at Destiny’s Child, for instance – the ‘Survivors’ part of the feature’s title could easily apply to their hit of the same name – and how 1990s Pop/R&B holds weight.
All Saints are recording still and, again, it is less sassy and young than their original run. I am glad certain artists are able to continue at a time when we are seeing so much premature extinction and loss. Maybe having that reputation and sense of national trust means it is not shocking discovering bands we thought were through come back up and return to form. I am worried that modern music is about conforming to platforms and certain moulds; being part of a process and not really existing in any organic and personal form. Even though music was not as streaming-driven and competitive back in past decades; established artists from back then are able to adapt. Maybe these groups/songwriters are a little creakier and grey; they are not as cool as they were and a little outside the nucleus of relevant and fantastic. They should not feel bad artists with spunk and great songs should suffer and struggle to keep their heads above water. The industry is tough and it was pretty brutal back in the 1980s – look at the mullets to realise artists had more than enough on their shoulders! I am glad we still have Spandau Ballet playing and thrilling the young and not-so-sprite alike. Their durability, strength and sense of ambition has, like their peers, ensured they have a voice today and are planning on a long future yet. It may not be Gold for the altered Spandau Ballet but, to paraphrase a famous quote…
IN THIS PHOTO: The original (1980s) Spandau Ballet line-up (with Tony Hadley, centre)
NOT all that glistens has to be gold!