Spandau Ballet’s pivotal gig filled with an audience of devoted Blitz Kids. The band members’ roots as working class youth in North London. Their residency in glamorous St. Tropez, where they sunbathed by day and played two sets each night. Their unforgettable trip to New York in 1981, after signing with Chrysalis and becoming legends in England. The band’s journey to The Bahamas in 1982, when they slowed down a bit and recorded their #1 hit, “True.” Then came the mainstream success…
It’s moments like these that director George Hencken perfectly captures in her new Spandau Ballet documentary Soul Boys of the Western World. The director viewed 400 hours of footage, from TV interviews to the band’s own home movies during a time she refers to as “a month of watching nothing but Spandau Ballet”. Hencken then took this amazing footage and lovingly compiled it into a perfectly paced film that challenges the conventional format of most documentaries. The band members are interviewed, but their voices are heard while archival footage plays, keeping the focus on the captivating content rather than interrupting the action with a revolving door of “talking heads”.
I had the pleasure of seeing the film at its South by Southwest world premiere, and when I arrived at The Paramount Theater in Austin, TX, convinced I was too late to get into the screening, two wonderful things happened: I discovered there was still a seat for me, and I got to walk past the entire band as they were being photographed out front. They were all there–Tony Hadley, John Keeble, Steve Norman, and Martin and Gary Kemp. Looking youthful and fabulous. And if I looked really hard, I could see them in the audience from my seat, watching the movie right along with me. It was a bit surreal!
Then there’s the thrill of hearing the music in a theater setting. And the fashion–the knickerbockers, the full sleeves, the draping fabrics tucked into belts. Let’s not forget about the touches of ’80s interior design, especially in key clips featuring Spandau Ballet interviews from the 1980s. We’re talking some serious geometry and potted plants here, folks…
These qualities and more make Soul Boys of the Western World an amazing viewing experience. And we can’t forget about those moments when we’re treated to rare footage, such as a game show-style competition with “rival band” Duran Duran–a “guess which song these lyrics are from” competition that pits group against group to determine which knows the other’s music the best. Or footage from the 1984 recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” a combined effort of the day’s top performers to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.
While Spandau Ballet may have been “the darlings of 1983,” tough times followed as life got in the way of performing. The Kemp brothers were approached to act in a film in the middle of a Spandau Ballet album recording project. They accepted. Day to day responsibilities began to set in, making it more and more difficult to devote an endless supply of time to the band. Then came the breakup, and the battle over the group’s song-writing royalties, which divided band members. Soul Boys of the Western World doesn’t gloss over these moments. In fact, it plunges into them head on–with the band’s blessing.
That’s what makes this documentary authentic. At the Q&A following the SXSW screening, Martin Kemp noted, “Sometimes being in a band is dirty…I think that’s what George has been successful in sharing.” [photo below by Buckner/Getty Images via Yahoo Music]
George Hencken added that she “wanted the emotional heart of the film to be about these five guys and their friendship.” That it is. Each phase of Spandau Ballet’s history is documented with the type of devotion only possible from a director who truly loves the main time period covered in her film, creating a finished product that never grows stagnant. Neither has the band. In fact, that very evening at SXSW, adoring fans enjoyed Spandau Ballet’s first U.S. performance in 28 years. As Gary Kemp noted, “You reach a stage in life when you want to take a look back.” As it turns out, some things are well worth revisiting.