‘The Soul Boys of the Western World’
Best known then, and still known now, for their monstrous hit single “True,” Spandau Ballet is about to embark on a huge U.S. and World Tour, sparked by their new greatest hits collection, “The Story – The Very Best of Spandau Ballet.” The release will feature three fresh new singles.
Having just come off of guest starring on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” their first U.S. appearance since 1985, Spandau Ballet is a British New Wave and sophisticated pop band inspired by the New Romantic movement. The group was one of the most successful bands to have emerged during the 1980s.
After separating for more than 20 years, Spandau has reunited with a vengeance. Aside from their new album, their new singles and their International/American tour, they have also filmed a “Rockumentary” titled “The Soul Boys of the Western World.” Receiving incredible reviews, it tells of the band’s breaking up and making up.
I felt truly honored to have had the privilege of interviewing Steve Norman, Spandau‘s saxophonist, percussionist and guitarist, while he was in Islington, London, rehearsing for the tour. Amazingly honest and candid, I found him to be one of the most sensitive, humorous and amazing people I have ever spoken to.
Hey, Steve, how are you?
Hi, Eileen, how are you?
Well, thank you.
How’s tricks with you? We’ve got to be a bit clever here, Eileen, because you’ve got a bit of transatlantic delay around here. Yeah, we’re gonna have to get into the swing of it.
So there’s a lot going on for you and Spandau.
Yeah, there’s a hell of a lot going on at the moment.
Let’s talk about the tour.
We’ve got rehearsals going on. I’m trying to bring in some equipment. It’s all exciting and all fresh. I’m making sure what equipment we’re gonna be needing here.
Take a breath.
We’re looking at some old tunes that we haven’t played for over 30 years – yeah, that’s exciting in itself. There’s more percussion and all that kind of stuff. It’s the first time in a number of years. I’m not sure exactly now – when was the last time we were in New York? Are you based in New York, Eileen?
We certainly are, and along the East Coast.
The last time we played the East Coast, I think that was ‘82, ‘83.
That’s a long time.
That was a long time ago.
Well, welcome back.
Thank you. It’s a lovely thing. We did the South by Southwest Festival last year in February. In this part of the world, people kind of tend to forget you a little bit more. There’s not as much loyalty as in America; I realized that. When we went over there, the love for the band was quite touching. I thought it was incredible ‘cause we hadn’t been there for so long. It was almost like a second coming. It took us by surprise. Touring for us and playing live is the best part of it really, unless you’re one of those bands that’s constantly playing on the road. We had a long hiatus. We had a big period where we were apart, so we’re grateful to be together again and have fun. That’s the best bit really. It can be a little bit tedious listening to your own voice seven or eight hours a day. The touring bit, it’s just pure fun. It’s something we really look forward to. If you go by Southwest Festival, we only did like an hour’s special really, and God, it was fantastic. What a vibe. It was one of my favorite gigs ever.
Really? Well, I just saw you on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show,” and the audience went wild.
Yeah, well, that’s right. We only got to do about two or three numbers on that. It’s kinda frustrating, ‘cause once you get going, you just want to carry on. But great vibe. So refreshing to have that amount of respect coming back after 30 years.
What does it mean to you personally to have been reunited with the group?
To me it meant an awful lot. When we split up we didn’t even have a conversation amongst us; we didn’t even officially split up. It kind of just fizzled out. I remember trying to get a meeting together – this is back in 1990, I think. It was after the last gig we did. Just a meeting to figure out what the next steps were, and yet it never happened. We never had a meeting to decide whether we were going to take some time off or do another album, and I thought that was tragic and disrespectful as well, ‘cause we’d been friends for so long. There was no reason that it shouldn’t have happened, but it never did. We never spoke to each other. I mean, it’s all good now, but it was a hard thing going on back then. I don’t know if you’ve seen our film; have you?
I saw the trailer, and I’m looking forward to seeing the actual film.
It’s all nitty gritty nuts and bolts, as we say. It’s all in the film. We were falling apart. Well, I didn’t know what I was going to do professionally, but the deepest thing was that the band was my life. It really was. I didn’t know what to do at that point. So when we got back together, five years ago, it was kind of [like] “let’s listen to Spandau records again.” Anything that conjured up imagery of Spandau – the saxophone. You know, I went to live in Ibiza for a few years, and I just thought it was very symbolic, the saxophone of Spandau, and I put it away for a good number of years actually. Went back to the guitar. I got into dance music. To work with pop, it even felt like, so [why] am I doing this with whoever when I could be doing it with Spandau? I got completely into another thing. All the memories came flooding back. I couldn’t even enjoy my life with Spandau, even in my own heart. In my memories, but that didn’t happen for quite a while.
You all grew up in North London?
Yeah, we all went to school, secondary school, in Islington.
I was there in December. It’s the cutest town or village.
My mother still lives there. In fact, that’s where I am at the moment.
Now, you play like 1000 instruments?
I always get a little bit bored with one thing. I do sing, I produce, I can play bass drum – probably not to the standards I play sax and guitar though. I play congas and percussion and that kind of stuff. But I love doing music. I like the writing, the production, I like giving people advice whether they want it, need it or not. The world of music is just something that makes me so happy to have as my career, ‘cause it’s my love as well. I’m a very fortunate individual in that respect.
What type of music influenced you while you were growing up?
Your parents’ record collection is one of the first things, as well as the music you hear on the radio. My dad was into various different things, and even my mother, she doesn’t know she’s not technologically minded in any way, but she knows when something is good. She’ll have her opinion, and it’s generally worth considering. I liked jazz. I never sort of deeply immersed myself in jazz, but I like it. Blues is a passion of mine. Old-style R&B. R&B used to mean rhythm and blues, soul music, Motown – that’s my big thing. Soul music, I guess. I like rock music as well. When I was growing up, Stevie Wonder had a big influence on me, and Prince as well. Then there were certain bands like Led Zepplin and The Faces – all the British bands. Humble Pie, which kind of stole the blues from you guys, the Americans, and then sold it back to you. We’re quite good at that, the Brits. There’s some great YouTube footage out there of [Small Faces’] Steve Marriott. I’m a big fan of Steve Marriott. It’s really sad, cause he died penniless really. He never appreciated his own greatness. I think he is one of the most underrated guitarists of all time. A real Cockney lad, he was.
With all the free downloads and streaming sites, how do you guys make a living now?
Yeah, it’s really different, ‘cause back in the ‘80s, let’s say, you made money from albums, you didn’t make any money from tours really. In fact, I remember the last tour we did in 1990, we did six months, and I lost quite a lot of money on that. People weren’t going out to see bands or Spandau at that point. We have these great big shows, you know, we have to be a little bit more wise with it all these days. But it’s the other way around now – you make money on tours, but you don’t on the albums. What downloads, what tracks they want, they download them for free if they can, which I think is tragic, and I discussed it with certain artists. They give their music out for free. I don’t know what bloody YouTube are up to. It’s perfectly sad. I love their music, but how can anyone ever make a living then, especially when you’ve got a brand like YouTube, and like even Spandau. You know, if you’re a new musician, a new artist trying to make a living, you can’t. There was a huge backlash when they loaded their music onto everyone’s laptops, whether you wanted it or not. I find it intrusive. It’s like devaluing music. We’ve got to give music value.
What do you see in the future for Spandau?
Well, we’ve got the tour that kind of takes us to spring, summer, festivals, wherever. We’re looking at that, and I hope there will be an option to do a new album with brand-new songs at the end of it next autumn, or next fall as you say.
That sounds exciting.
Yeah, we did three new tracks recently to add on to a greatest hits album.
Yeah, that experience was wonderful, not just working with the great Trevor Horn, but also an experiment as well as how we can work together these days with new material. We found it to be very creative. We only had a week to get it together. There’s a creative spark in the band now, one’s chipping in and one’s writing. I think that’s because we are in a great place together right now really. Relaxed for the first time since we started, I would say.
This is such a happy ending or new beginning.
Yeah, well, it could be a happy ending – yeah, that’s it. I know we’re not going to be competing with the young artists, but I still feel like we can compete on a creative level. We still have energy. Why not, we’re full of ideas!
I hope that we get that opportunity to do that. If I’m honest, it’s like a second bite of the cherry. That’s fantastic, isn’t it?
We’re in a privileged position.
Steve, what’s your favorite color?
Good grief. I think it’s on the blue spectrum, purpley, a bit of red in there. I was told they’re very spiritual colors.
Is there anything that you’d like to promote besides the movie, the tour, the singles.
The best thing we do, if I’m honest, is give a good show. It’s very exciting; we’ve got so much energy. Every gig, even though it might be the same songs that we play – and we’re looking to change them up this time around, we’ve never really done that. We’ve always kept to the same set. Yeah, we’re gonna keep it a little more fresh and exciting, even for us as well. It’s all about the connection with the audience, isn’t it? I think that’s something we’ve accomplished, if I’m honest. I just want people to come and see us as a live band. I want it to be a legacy that people remember.
1/24 Los Angeles, CA Wiltern Theatre
1/25 Los Angeles, CA Wiltern Theatre
4/25 Chicago, IL House of Blues
4/27 Toronto, ONT Massey Hall
4/28 Washington, DC 9:30 Club
4/30 Boston, MA House of Blues
5/1 Red Bank, NJ Count Basie Theatre
5/2 New York, NY Beacon Theatre
5/3 Westbury, NY Theatre at Westbury