I Know This Much by Gary Kemp (Autobiography)

Gary Kemp AutobiographyThe 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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6.  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.
  7. 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’.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntG50eXbBtc’]

23 comments for “I Know This Much by Gary Kemp (Autobiography)

  1. Grace
    February 10, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    I’d love to read this. I saw a Spandau Ballet documentary a little while ago and their breakup was an interesting story.from what I remember, Gary went to court over the rights of the Spandau songs. Martin was the only one that didn’t contest.

  2. Lisa
    February 17, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    As a screaming teenage girl in the early 80’s Spandau Ballet were always my faves, so this book was a great trip down memory lane. I actually listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Gary himself, which added so much more of a personal touch to the story – absolutely loved every word!

    • This Charming Mum
      February 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm

      Oh gosh, an audio book! That sounds wonderful and, yes, it would make it even more personal. I must keep an eye out for it.

  3. Em
    January 22, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    Great review about a great book. I was very inspired by his repect for fellow band members, friends and family. He displays a level of reflection that I think is often lacking in autobiographies. Im looking forward now to the John Taylor book you also reviewed.

    • This Charming Mum
      January 23, 2013 at 6:28 am

      Thanks, yes it was a very well written example of the rock bio genre.

  4. January 12, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    I hear the name ‘Spandeau Ballet’ often but can never actually recall any songs. Having said that, I have found myself singing along to songs and then found out they were Spandeau Ballet songs. I know that ‘Gold’ song. But if you asked me if I knew them I’d say no!

    • This Charming Mum
      January 12, 2013 at 8:58 pm

      Ha ha, some would say you’ve had a lucky escape Kelly! But yes, you would probably know more of the songs if you heard them. They tend to pop up in ads and in the background of movies etc!

  5. January 12, 2013 at 8:37 am

    Welcome to Sunday Book Nook – a new linky party at http://www.sundaybooknook.blogspot.com — where book lovers can share their reviews, see what others are reading and revel in their plain love affair with books.

  6. January 11, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    I loved Spandau Ballet and Gary was my all time fav I will be hunting for this book thanks for great review. I found you from FYBF cheers

    • This Charming Mum
      January 11, 2013 at 10:34 pm

      I have to say Tony was always my favourite Spandau, but all he’s produced recently is a mid-life crisis album of jazz standards as far as I know, so this was a lucky find!

  7. January 11, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Aaah Spandu – Sure they were cheesy with their aerodynamic should pads and intricate haircuts but they wrote some classics tunes. That Tony Hadley could really sing!

    • This Charming Mum
      January 11, 2013 at 6:56 pm

      I ran off and downloaded a budget best-of when I finished reading and was reminded that Tony’s voice really was pretty awesome. He rocks a pop ballad like no one else. Had a great time car-singing to ‘Through the Barricades’ this arvo 😉

  8. January 11, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Oh, I love Gary Kemp! He’s an amazing song writer! I was wondering which autobiography I should read next. You’ve solved that problem for me!
    Love your work, my dear!

    • This Charming Mum
      January 11, 2013 at 6:57 pm

      He did write some pop classics – probably more timeless than (dare I say it) Duran Duran’s early work. It’s a good autobiography generally, but especially for a fan. Thanks for reading 🙂

  9. Me
    January 11, 2013 at 11:12 am

    WOW – it’s been ages since i thought of those guys – thanks for the memories this generated !!!
    Have the best day !
    #FYBF visitor

    • This Charming Mum
      January 11, 2013 at 6:59 pm

      It did bring back a lot of memories for me too! Thanks for visiting 🙂

  10. January 11, 2013 at 8:31 am

    This is a great review! I was a bit late on the scene for Spandeu Ballet but my husband is a fan, and this sounds like a great book. Far out those ladies did get about didn’t they!?! I’m always really interested in families who are all creative and successful, . Thanks for this post I loved it.

    • This Charming Mum
      January 11, 2013 at 7:00 pm

      Wouldn’t it be great to know the formula for raising a successful family? According to this book all you need is love, really – and very supportive parents. It’s a good read. Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  11. Enid Bite'Em
    January 10, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Wow, I didn’t think I was that interested in Kemp – but those details do make me want to know more, and Sadie Frost, what a past, heading over to Youtube to look at Common People clip now!

    • This Charming Mum
      January 11, 2013 at 7:02 pm

      My Anglophilia moved on to Brit Pop once I outgrew the New Romantics (and Blyton), so I’ve always loved the Common People video. It was a very interesting read. Can’t wait for Sadie to release her own story!

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