The school holidays are keeping me from any lengthy blog posts right now, but I simply couldn’t hold myself back from writing something about the fascinating I know this much: from Soho to Spandau by Spandau Ballet guitarist and songwriter, Gary Kemp. Unlike the autobiography of John Taylor (Duran Duran) which I reviewed awhile back, this was not a book I’d coveted but one my sister found by chance in a remainder bin and passed my way as a holiday read. I’m so glad she did! For those of you loosely in the Gen X cohort, this book will bring back memories and fully sate your desire for gossip about the likes of Culture Club, Wham and others born of the androgynous, post-punk era of coiffed and heavily made-up protest that was 1980s London. But even if you’re not into the ‘80s, any biography offers a certain insight into the human condition and Kemp’s reflections on births, deaths and relationships are as evocative as his passionate prose about music.
OK, I need to speed this review up, so here are some snapshots from a colourful life…
- Kemp and his equally famous brother Martin grew up with loving, working-class parents in a two room flat in central London. When I say two rooms, I mean two rooms: with a Roald Dahl-esque double bed in the living room and a bathroom shared between three families. It’s hard to imagine upwardly-mobile Islington in these terms if you visit its gentrified quarters nowadays.
- The Kemp boys were successful kids despite their humble beginnings: Gary was a child actor, heading off to the local drama school with the women who would go on to make Birds of a Feather and starring in critically-acclaimed British films, while Martin was a hot shot footballer up until Spandau got off the ground. Gary and Martin would later famously star in The Krays, and Kemp describes a fascinating, if sinister, research trip to Broadmoor – Britain’s high security prison for criminal nutcases.
- If you’re a child of the ‘80s, Band-Aid and Live Aid are your ‘where were you when…’ moments. Kemp brings to life all the bitchy, drug-induced, competitive shenanigans that underwrote this great event in pop charity history. I love that Sting had his driver drop him off around the corner as it wasn’t seemly to be dropped at the door of a charity gig in a car worth several thousand Ethiopian meals; a rookie mistake made by Spandau and Duran whose hungover rush to the studio from an all-night German drinking session could only have happened with the help of private jets and chauffeurs.
- You’ll never guess who Kemp dated? Patsy Kensit and Sadie Frost! Seriously, those women seem to have made celebrity marriage a competitive sport, listing everyone from Liam Gallagher to Jude Law amongst their ex’s. For Kemp, though, Kensit was merely a crush, whilst Frost was a marriage and is the mother to his eldest son. She provided him with a wild side when he was in a melancholy lull and he gives more pages to their whirlwind romance than he does to the meeting of his later, longer-term partner. Frost is the painted mystery girl in the video for Gold (whom I’d never noticed, being too distracted by Tony Hadley and his dapper suit). She was also in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (which I love) and was ‘the girl’ in Pulp’s Common People video (love, love, LOVE!) I have a lot of reasons to want to come back as Sadie Frost in some future time-warped incarnation.
- Kemp is famously the writer of the bulk of Spandau songs and by cleverly hanging onto royalty rights, the likes of True will probably keep him in ski trips for a long time to come. He is a darn good writer of autobiographical vignettes too. A typical descriptive phrase: “I’d been forced into a lug of a cigarette in the loos at Ally Pally ice rink by some predatory girls with red knees. I watched cross-eyed as the thick, grey smoke left my mouth like a serpent and they laughed with dry mouths at my inability to take it in. Real boys who had girlfriends smoked very seriously.” Nice description of adolescent angst, Gaz.
- Kemp did his fair share of partying in the heady days of pop stardom, but there is a refreshing absence of addiction in this story. No rehab, no major crises and a clear headed ability to comment on the toll those things took on his fellow musos. His biggest stressor seems to have been managing the legalities and interpersonal equilibrium of the band – an inevitable roller coaster for a group of lads who have lived in each other’s deep, designer pockets since the school yard.
- Kemp’s respect for his parents is equally remarkable. They supported him unequivocally throughout his life – from sending him off on tour with boil-in-the-bag dinners to making floor space available to the waifs and strays of the London club scene. They are the people he always returns to, no matter how many millions he has in the bank, and it’s their shoulders he seeks when he’s down. It’s the kind of relationship I can only hope to emulate with my own kids. His description of their deaths is moving and romantic – how lucky he was to be near them when it happened rather than gallivanting in pop star land.
I couldn’t put this down once I got stuck in, and I couldn’t wait to download a Best Of album once I’d finished. As Bob Geldof states on the cover blurb, with characteristic candour, : ‘Great bloke, great band, great book’.