Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Sing Hi! for the New Romantic

Spare a thought for the new romantic, as he crimps his fringe till dawn
Using a sandwich maker to the sound of a flugal horn
Sing Hi! for the new romantic and the peacock feather in his cap
Silver buckles rattling, frilly shirts flapping in the breeze
Sing Hi! The New Romantic, Vic Reeves, 1991

As Philip Larkin once
noted, they fuck you up your mum and dad... they may not mean to but they do... There is no escaping that I have my mum's love of Tony Hadley and Spandau Ballet's 1984 album Parade to thank for me being at the Rod Laver Arena this week. Still, at least childhood trauma explains my unexpected appreciation for Spandau. I'd be interested to know the reason the notoriously earnest Tears for Fears had for sharing a stage with the frilly shirted fops of the Ballet more than twenty years after all their primes – filthy reformation lucre aside.

OK, first some facts: 1) a tennis arena is an awful place to enjoy live music 2) just about everyone feels a bit funny about being here – apart from two women in their forties dancing in our aisle who could easily have been transported in time from a 1983
Countdown crowd 3) tonight is uniformly about nostalgia and singing along unashamedly to pop songs 4) no one ever wants to hear “a new song we just wrote”, no matter how much it means to the band, or how bored they might be of playing the same stuff for a quarter of a century 5) if you don’t like Spandau Ballet or Tears for Fears nothing I’m about to say will change your mind. You probably despise them. Clever you, well done, gold star. On that understanding let us proceed…
Erm, other way Tony mate... other way...

The lights went down for the ‘Fears just in time to spare me from having to watch a sweaty lady in front stuffing a Rod Laver chicken burger into her mouth, so for that reason at least I was delighted to see them. As for the rest, well, it wasn’t bad but once they’d played the marvellously pompous Sowing the Seeds of Love (how they must resent Noel Gallagher’s luck) and an underwhelming rock-opera karaoke version of Mad World I lost interest. On the plus side Roland Orzabol’s voice was fantastic (ditto that of a scarily feminine-sounding male backing singer) and the inevitable Shout was impressively relentless but overall there were a few too many fillers for a once-in-25-years set.

Not so the Ballet who took to the stage with a hilariously overblown intro culminating in the words STEVE… GARY… JOHN… TONY… MARTIN flashing on a big sheet, with accompanying screams from the crowd (especially for Martin, more famous of late for his stint on Eastenders). Looking through a Greatest Hits compilation before the gig Mrs Custard and I picked out a possible fourteen Spandau winners, every one of which was exuberantly played.

The band themselves have been affected by time in different ways. Drummer John Keeble and guitarist/songwriter Gary Kemp looked like they’d been left out in the sun too long, the once svelte Hadley has suffered from Al Gore/Alec Baldwin syndrome and Martin’s serious ‘sucking-on-a-wasp’ pout is now permanently etched on his face. Only saxomophonist Steve Norman has aged well, although quite why he was sporting some kind of Victorian-urchin velvet waistcoat was beyond everyone.

Spandau now, recreating Cher's If I Could Turn Back Time video
Speaking of Norman (who once said "Hi to all our fans in Ethiopia, sorry we won't be able to make it over there this year, but we're going to try for next year" in a sound bite for the b-side of Do They Know It’s Christmas) a word of advice for future gigs, STOP RUINING EVERY SONG. Everybody hates saxophone… everybody. It’s the worst instrument in music (apart from Auto-Tune…) I accept that some Spandau songs have a bit of saxophone on them, but don’t add bits where there aren’t any (the three minute extension of I’ll Fly For You especially). You look like a dick, and it sounds shite. And whilst we’re at it Martin Kemp, when is a sleeveless leather waistcoat ever acceptable? Answer: never (ever).

As well as my inevitable leaning towards songs from Parade (I’ll Fly for You, Only When You Leave, Highly Strung, a reworked With The Pride and Round and Round cutely illustrated with some old Super-8 cine footage of the band) the stand outs were the very early (saxophone free) songs including The Freeze and To Cut a Long Story Short. If all you know is True and Gold (that’s you Patrick Donovan from
the Age) then these little new wave numbers might explain why Spandau were once on the cover of NME – even if they did end up in cheesy ballad land.

Still, cheesy is as cheesy does and a bit of arch pop camp is always welcome in our house, especially sung well. Hadley’s voice was very much up to the job and even covered up some occasionally patchy playing from the rest of the band - not something that could be said of Simon le Bon when I saw Spandau’s arch-rivals Duran Duran on their reformation tour (Yes… I did. And I enjoyed it more than the recent Pavement reunion. Suck it up).

So in sum, mostly ace with just a few wobbly moments, notably a breaking of rule 4 as listed above (no really, no one ever wants new songs’). This still wasn’t enough to upset the 10,000 plus who cheered deliriously at the idea of another show in two years. I don’t think I’ll be there for that one, but I’m glad I finally got to wave my seaside arms in the air with Spandau. My mum would be proud.


Rani said...

I was in the crowd at the tennis centre around 1985 when Roland Orzabal told us all to shut up. He was singing "I Believe" (a song that doesn't really mean anything, surely) and he was being interrupted by screams, him being at the height of his perceived attractiveness. He stopped the song and said "Shut up and listen." Wonder if he missed the screams this time around.

Mint Custard said...

Hmmm, interesting as he suggested to us that he'd never player there before - he was excited about playing Rod Laver ("the scene of so many British tennis triumphs"). I was never a TFF fan but I really love Sowing the Seeds of Love. There's a funny story about them going away before STSOL 'to create a new kind of music' and when it came out one reviewer said they had created a new kind of music: 'sounding like the Beatles.' Though given what happened with Britpop it's kind of true...

Rani said...

When I say "the tennis centre" it's likely I am probably referring to another tennis centre that was the tennis centre before the current tennis centre, if you know what I mean. I'm pretty sure there was no Rod Laver arena in the mid eighties. Just to clarify, because I would hate to contradict Roland and incur his wrath...again.