Music interview: Tony Hadley on Let’s Rock Leeds, Spandau Ballet and his ‘amazing’ time in the jungle

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Tony Hadley may be about to perform some of his best-known songs from the 1980s at one of the country’s biggest retro festivals – Let’s Rock Leeds – yet the former Spandau Ballet singer admits he isn’t one to dwell too much on the past himself.

“The weird thing about it is I’m not nostalgic at all,” he says. “I don’t ever go back and listen to my old albums, I don’t ever watch the videos. I sometimes like watching the old Top of the Pops that come on the TV, that’s quite good fun, but I’m in 2017, I’m happy to be making music now.

“People talk about nostalgia and retro and everything else. To me it’s just music, I’m just going out there and I don’t view it as a big nostalgia trip, I just see it as a concert, there are 10, 15, 20,000 people out there and my job is to sing and perform to the best of my abilities, and it’s the same with my band, so I don’t go, ‘Ooh, we’re going on an 80s trip’.

“Also I’m going into the studio tomorrow to try and put the vocals on what we think are going to be the first two singles [from my new album]. I listen to lots of new stuff, my daughter Zara is always saying, ‘Dad, you’ve got to check this out’. I’m a great believer that even though with streaming no one’s actually selling albums any more but you’ve still got to make new music. I think it’s a good thing to listen to the way people are writing songs today and the production and everything else so I definitely don’t live in the past.”

At 57 years old tomorrow, Hadley seems contented. “I do OK and I have a nice life. The most important thing for me is my family – my children, I’ve got five beautiful kids, and my wife Al – and just making music. The money side of things is a bit of a weird one. I’ve never really been into anything materialistic. People say ‘I love watches or cars’ or boats’, I can’t think of anything worse. Even if I was as wealthy as people think I wouldn’t know what to spend it on anyway. I like going to the pub and going out for meals with my family and just having a good time.”

As the son of an electrical engineer who worked at the Daily Mail, Hadley had a strong work ethic instilled from an early age. “All my family they’re good, solid people from London. Everybody worked hard. There were no freebies in the 60s and the early 70s. If you were out of work it was tough times so everybody worked as hard as they could to bring up their kids and give their families a good life, and I had a fantastic upbringing with my mum and dad. We were lucky enough to go on holiday once or sometimes twice a year, we used to go to holiday camp or something, so that kind of work ethic is in me. I don’t think I’ve ever been unemployed, I’ve worked since I was about 12 or 13. I’ve stacked shelves in a dairy and I’ve pulled the sheets off a hotel bed and I’ve been a maintenance man, I’ve worked at the markets, worked for British Home Stores as a salesman. I’ve done a lot of things before I ever got signed to a record company. I think it’s good to do that, you’ve got to work, it’s important.”

Spandau Ballet enjoyed a steady run of top ten hits between 1980 and 1982 but the song True propelled them to international stardom in 1983. Hadley remembers: “Previous to the recording of the True album we were more of a cult band. Although we were having singles success we didn’t sell hundreds of thousands of the first two albums. Our change of direction sort of came about because I think Gary [Kemp, the band’s main songwriter] and Steve Norman have always been influenced by the blue eyed soul thing, the Al Green vibe, and True in a sense owes itself to that. And Steve picking up the saxophone and percussion, and Gary’s style of writing started to change. But when he came up with True I didn’t think it was a single, which shows you how much I know. I thought it was a nice ballad but I don’t think I had any idea that it was going to be the song that it was, it was Number One in 21 countries around the world, top five in America, has been sampled God knows how many times and has been in how many films I don’t know.

“I think it was Simon Bates on Radio 1 and he played it. He said, ‘I’ve got the new Spandau Ballet album, there’s a song on here, it’s called True, I’m going to play it. If that’s not a Number One there’s no justice’. And then he played it again – which today you couldn’t even do as a DJ – and we thought, ‘Oh blimey, we’d better release that as a single then’ as Simon Bates was the biggest DJ on radio at the time. So that’s exactly what we did – and thank God we did.

“That and Gold especially. My favourite song is Through The Barricades, that’s the one for me that’s the most poignant and lyrically satisfying.”

As Spandau Ballet hit new peaks, there was a much touted rivalry with fellow New Romantics Duran Duran. Hadley says it only really existed in “the journalistic and popular imagination”.

“You always want a bit of spice in the music world and us and Duran being head to head was always good fun, like the Stones and Beatles, Oasis and Blur. But in terms of whether there was any truth in it no, we were always great mates who went drinking together. I’ve always been a massive fan of the band, they’re never afraid to try something different.”

After Spandau split up in 1990 Hadley found himself trying out a variety of different career avenues, including solo albums, orchestral shows, even musicals but a string of collaborations with dance producers seem particularly close to his heart. “I’ve done loads of stuff in Europe – a lot of techno, a lot of trance, worked with Martin et Claude, Milk Inc., Eddie Lock. Sometimes I used to go over and we’d write songs together or sometimes they’d send me backing tracks and I’d come up with melodies and lyrics and we’d do it like that. I’ve probably got a whole album of trance and techno. I’m kind of into it. If you look at where Spandau came from, on To Cut A Long Story Short it was synths and four-on-the-floor. That for me is why in the new stuff that I’m doing I try to incorporate what’s going on today as well as what’s in the past. I like hybrid things.”

Over the past 15 years Hadley has appeared in a couple of reality TV shows, winning Reborn In The USA and famously clashing with Lady Colin Campbell in the 2015 series of I’m A Celebrity... Get me Out of Here. “A lot of people questioned ‘Why are you doing that?’ but I did it for several reasons – number one, I’m a massive fan of the show, I love Ant and Dec, I think they’re hilarious; I’d been in the jungle before; I’d been with Spandau for a year and half [on their reunion tour], there was the film Soul Boys of the Western World, we’d toured around the world and I needed something to say, ‘Right, Tony’s back on his own again’. They asked me about four or five times if I wanted to do the show and I kept saying ‘No, I don’t do reality shows’, even though I was a massive fan.

“I had to think long and hard about it but I thought, ‘Actually, why not? Just do it, be stupid enough and brave enough to do it so people know that TH is back on his own again’. Spandau was such a solid brand, a big brand. So I did it and I absolutely bloody loved it, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done, it was great fun, it was challenging, it was interesting, the people were fantastic – apart from one, of course,” he chuckles, “but actually being in the jungle, with no phone... The biggest problem was missing family and not having the news either, that was a real big problem, but we created things, there was a lot of stuff that went on that people didn’t see, we built things and stuff like that, I absolutely loved it. I bathed in the cold rock pool every morning and every night, just chilled, looked at the stars and the animals, it was amazing.

“I’d do it again, I’d go back tomorrow. It’s great for weight loss – and they pay you to lose weight. My problem is I love a beer and a glass of wine and I’m a real foodie as well. The trouble is when they invented widescreen TV I cursed the day they did that, everyone puts on about a stone and a half, you look like Jabba the bloody Hutt, so I have to go on no drinking during the week, healthy eating, it’s bloody boring.”

Spandau Ballet’s reunions in 2009 and 2014 caught many people by surprise, given a very public fallout in the 90s that resulted in Hadley, Norman and drummer John Keeble unsuccessfully suing Gary Kemp for song writing royalties. At one stage there was talk of a new album, to be produced by Trevor Horn, but a hiatus followed.

Today Hadley reveals: “At the moment nothing’s happening at all. I did a year and a half [with them], we had another Greatest Hits album, we wrote three new songs, but I’ve got my own band. I’ve been a solo artist for longer than I was ever in Spandau Ballet. My band were fantastic in hanging around waiting for me. I’ve been talking about this solo album for ages but we’ve now got it in the bag and we’re really pleased with it, so for me it was a case of, ‘Guys, we’ve had a terrific time and it’s time to move on’. As far as I know there are no plans at all [for another reunion]. Certainly not at the moment, anyway.”

Four decades into his singing career, Hadley jokingly puts his enduring appeal down to the fact that “I don’t know what else to do”.

“I started off as a kid wanting to be a surgeon but the maths, physics and chemistry I’m sorry. In terms of the arts absolutely fine but I couldn’t cut it on the maths front and I discovered music and started as a kid in singing competitions at Pontins holiday camp one weekend away from my mum and dad and my brothers and realised ‘This is cool, I like this’, especially when you get the girls and you sign an autograph and you think ‘This is a really good job’. So then we formed a band at school and that was really the end of it.

“I was 20 when we signed the first record deal with the band. I think if you love something, I get a terrific buzz on stage...There are a lot of artists moaning ‘I do a lot of travelling’, I don’t mind it. Yes, it gets a bit tiring sometimes, but I’m doing long haul to LA later this year and it’s lovely, I can watch all the films, have a drink, fantastic. And also I love being on stage, I love singing and I’ve got a great band, we’ve been together a long time, we’re great mates and it just works.

“I can’t explain what it’s like but when you go on stage and there’s however many people there is and the voice is working, the band’s kicking, it’s euphoric, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Let’s Rock Leeds, featuring Tony Hadley, The Human League, Howard Jones and more takes place at Temple Newsam on Saturday June 17. www.letsrockleeds.com