Tony Hadley: 'I do not want to become my own tribute band'
On June 15, the 62-year-old former Spandau Ballet singer will headline Holmfirth’s 650-capacity venue Picturedrome.
“I love festivals, but you are slightly restricted because you’re only on for 35 or 40 minutes – well, if you think about it, True, Gold and (Through The) Barricades is 15 minutes on their own, so it doesn’t give you a lot of scope,” he says.
When an offer came in to play at the Picturedrome, it seemed too good to turn down. “It sounded like something out of a ’50s films, it sounds delightful,” he says. For that show he and his band promise “an hour and 40 minute full theatre set”.
The show will be one of three dates in Yorkshire in the coming weeks, along with Let’s Rock Leeds at Temple Newsam on June 17 and Bridlington Spa on July 14.
Besides the UK, there is, he says, “stacks going on in Italy and Spain, we’re going to Scandinavia as well and Israel – I’ve never been to Israel before – and then Belgium, Holland. We do a mini European tour at the end of the year.
“I don’t think we’ll get to America this year,” he adds, “but we have plans to do quite an extensive tour next year when the new album comes out.”
During the pandemic, Hadley had kept up spirits by posting impromptu performances of songs from his home on YouTube. He sayshe is thoroughly relishing being back on tour.
“Some people get tired of performing, I don’t," he says. “There’s nothing better than walking onstage whether it’s to 200, 2,000 or 20,000 people and performing, I get a massive kick out of it, I love singing, and also my band we’re all mates but they’re amazing musicians as well.
“So when the Covid thing hit it was a massive blow not just to me but all the peripheral industries as well, like the lighting, sound, all the technicians. Some people gave it up, certainly on the technical side, which has left us in a bit of a mess because trying to get a tourbus, for instance, these days is very tricky. We’re lucky that our crew have stuck with us, but once (playing live) was green-lighted I’ve not stopped, it’s bonkers mad but I’m not complaining.”
Last year he embarked on a 40th anniversary world tour. He says the “big mainstays” of his set were still very much hits such as True, Gold, Through The Barricades, To Cut a Long Story Short, Highly Strung but he enjoyed going “off piste a little bit” with songs such as Confused. “I also tried to tell a bit of a story, that wasn’t just hit after hit,” he says. “We played the first song that I did with the band that was going to eventually become Spandau Ballet, which was an old Chuck Berry song. We played The Damned’s New Rose – they were my favourite punk band and they used to play The Hope and Anchor, and so did we when we were a punk band. We also did the first song I did as a solo artist and some new ones plus Round and Round, Fly For You. It was a big set.”
Hadley marvels at the fact that his career has lasted four decades. “It’s something that you always dream about as a musician,” he says. “When you first sign a record deal and get your first hit record you’re caught up with the moment, but then as soon as that moment’s gone you’re thinking ‘I hope we have another hit single’. Then you hope and pray because you enjoy your job so much that it’s going to last for ever. I’ve been incredibly lucky that I’ve survived – and I do say survived because it can be a tough, tough business.
“It’s tough for younger artists as well that just don’t get the exposure they need. It’s always been difficult but I do feel for some of the younger artists. I’ve met bands that are doing pretty OK but they’re having to do jobs on the side just to supplement their income because the music is not making enough money for them. That’s really sad because when you love music all you want to do is music.”
In the past two years Hadley has released two singles, Obvious and Because Of You. He says he had planned to follow them with an album this year but decided to delay it as he is “too busy with gigs”. “We’re thinking rather than rushing this, let’s make sure we get it really right, so we’re talking about late summer or early autumn next year. But we’re going to release two or three singles before we get there.
“Obvious was something we felt we should release during the lockdown because the lyrics were about being together and we couldn’t be. The video is like a Coke advert – everyone splashing around in the sea and stuff like that. Because of You we thought was a great track, it was one of the first ones we finished and we just thought ‘Yeah, let’s release it’, and it was number one on a couple of charts so great.”
Both singles had a contemporary sound, Hadley feels it is important to keep up with the times musically. “There are loads of other artsist out there of a certain age – and artists even younger – who are not making new music because number one, it’s extremely expensive and number two, they’re never going to make their money back. As I said, it’s very difficult, but I do not want to become my own tribute band. As much as I love singing all the hits from the past – I think it’s important because they’re soundbites to people’s lives and mine too, I’ll never get bored of singing True because every audience is different – but at the same time I like to say ‘This is a new song, check this out, it’s the first time we’ve played it’ or whatever and just seeing people’s reaction.
“I think if you treat the audiences with respect, and give them what they want but then introduce some new music as well, they’re really (receptive). One of the songs that we’ve been doing live is called Alibi – we only did it in Italy a few weeks ago – and everyone’s been saying’ ‘Wow, love the new song, it’s really great’ and that’s brilliantly positive for us, that makes us feel really cool.”
Last year the singer released a photo book, My Life in Pictures. He says “some of it” made him feel nostalgic as he was looking back through his life. “I’m not a terribly nostalgic person,” he says. “I was doing Sounds of the 80s with Gary Davies (for BBC Radio 2) and we were chatting aawy about the Spandau music and I thought ‘wow, I’ve not heard this for years, it’s actually quite good’ and he said, ‘Do you not listen to it?’ and I said, ‘No, I never listen to old Spandau music. When I make a record I listen to it for the mix, once it’s done and dusted, but I’d rather listen to new music.
“I will listen to Panic At The Disco, The Killers, Foals, The Wombats. I think Sam Fender’s amazing, as is Zara Larsson. I listen to a lot of new music because I don’t want to be stuck in the past. My voice is my voice, I can’t escape that, it always sounds like Tony Hadley, but it’s good to listen to contemporary music and ideas and production. Hopefully the new album will reflect that as well.”
This year is also the 40th anniversary of Spandau Ballet’s True album, whose title track gave the band their first UK number one. Hadley admits it’s a record that changed his life.
“In 1976 we were playing R&B songs at school, then we became a punk band, more like a Generation X-style band, but by the time we became Spandau when Martin (Kemp) joined us and we discovered synthesisers in ’78 the sound had changed quite radically and we were really a sort of indie electro band, we could have easily gone down the route of Depeche Mode – one of my favourite bands, actually.
“We kind of took a Bowie-esque route and try and decided we would try to progress and change on every album. Sometimes it would and sometimes it didn’t – the second album (Diamond) I don’t think worked at all – but by the time we got to the third album, Steve Norman had discovered the saxophone and was massively into percussion, that influenced Gary’s writing. We recorded in the Bahamas for tax reasons and the whole sound of the band changed, it became a little bit more maniana, and also we needed a big hit album. I feared that we would have been dropped if we hadn’t pulled something out of the bag, and it did, it changed our lives massively.”
Although Hadley remains friends with Norman, it seems the door is firmly closed on any further Spandau Ballet reunions after relations broke down in 2016. “I wish them all well and I actually do on most occasions when I play live I thank them because without us all being together as a band I wouldn’t be here now standing in front of 20,000 people,” he says. “It’s just very sad that it got to the point where I seriously couldn’t do it any more if people are going to treat me in such an appalling way.
“I do feel for the fans and as I’ve said many times, it wasn’t of my doing, but no, there won’t be a reunion, so you’re stuck with me.”
He adds: “I need to be happy. (Now) I’m surrounded by fantastic musicians, they’re all my mates – our bass player Phil Williams had been with me for over 30 years, RJ, our monitor guy, who has saved my voice on so many occasions, he’s so good at what he does, I think we’ve been together 25 years, it kind of works.
“So unfortunately there won’t be any reunion – you’re stuck with me.”
Earlier this year, the singer collected an MBE for his fundraising work for children’s hospices. He says of the award: “It’s not just me, I think it’s everybody from music, the world of acting, whatever, if you’re in a privileged position most people try to do something locally or nationally or globally to help other people. I’ve had a vey fortunate life, it’s been up and down but I’ve got five wonderful kids and life has been pretty OK, so you do what you can when you can.”
Tony Hadley plays at Holmfirth Picturedrome on June 15, Let’s Rock Leeds on June 17 and Bridlington Spa on July 14.