| 10.7°C Dublin

Spandau Ballet's Martin Kemp on bitter rows, reunions and partying in Dublin


Martin Kemp

Martin Kemp

Spandau Ballet

Spandau Ballet

Martin Kemp and wife

Martin Kemp and wife


Martin Kemp

When Spandau Ballet temporarily relocated to Dublin in 1985, it wasn't for creative purposes. The New Romantic pin-ups had moved here to take advantage of Ireland's generous tax regime for artists, setting up shop in Stillorgan and Dun Laoghaire to write Through the Barricades. But they'd also come for the party.

"Oh my goodness," recalls bassist, actor and resident Spandau heartthrob Martin Kemp. "Listen, it was about nightlife when we were over there. The place that we all remember was Leeson Street, you know, the Pink Elephant. And we were there doing a tax year, but at the same time we used to go to the Pink Elephant with Def Leppard and U2, so there was quite a little community and it was a good time."

Such a good time, in fact, that when the original, suited and booted Blitz boys (whose million-selling hits included Gold, True and the era-defining To Cut a Long Story Short) decided to reform in 2009, almost two decades after they'd parted ways in a blazing wave of bitterness, they could think of nowhere better to kick off their celebrated Reformation Tour.

"Dublin is a place that's always been close to our hearts," says Martin. "Everyone knows that. I mean, we spent a year-and-a-half there.


"The moment before that opening gig of the 2009 tour at the O2 was probably the best moment in my whole career with Spandau Ballet, because it was the moment that you never thought would happen again. It was after a 20-year break, and all the arguments, the court case - everything - and to see the band back on stage, for those few moments before the lights went up, was just so special."

No surprises, then, that they've decided to keep things going. A new best-of compilation (The Story, featuring three new tracks) and music documentary (the critically-acclaimed Soul Boys of the Western World) suggests times are busy in the Spandau camp.

They've come a long way from that aforementioned court case in 1999, when three band members - frontman Tony Hadley, saxophonist Steve Norman and drummer John Keeble- became embroiled in a royalties dispute with guitarist and chief songwriter Gary Kemp (Martin's brother).

It didn't end well for the trio, and although Martin (52) wasn't involved in the case, it still affected his relationship with Hadley and Co.

"Absolutely," says the affable Londoner. "I was best friends with those guys. I was in that situation where it was kind of like watching your parents divorce and it was difficult. It was a break-up of a family, and it affected everybody.

"All of us needed to get the monkey off of our backs, and we needed to put that argument to bed, to grow up. When we got the band back together in 2009, it wasn't so much 'Oh, we wanna hear the music again', it was 'I wanna see my mates again'."

They've all had solo careers. Martin, in particular, moved into acting in the intervening years. In 1998, he took on the role of notorious bad boy Steve Owen in EastEnders, a job that lasted for four years before Steve was killed off in an explosive car chase. So, you know, don't go expecting any shock comebacks any time soon.

"No, because they blew me up!" says Martin. "When I went in and told the BBC that I was leaving, they said to me, 'What are you gonna do next?' And I said, 'Well, I'm going to ITV for a couple of years', and then they said, 'Okay, we'll blow you up!' That was it. That was their choice."

On a personal level, things could have turned out quite differently for Martin, who underwent emergency surgery in the late '90s after doctors discovered two tumours in his brain.

"It came around so fast," he recalls. "It was like, one day I knew it was there, next day I was in hospital, and they were cutting the tumours out."

A metal plate was implanted under Martin's skull. It was a life-changing operation, for sure, but as he explains, there's only so long you can look at things through rose-tinted glasses.

"You come through it and you say, 'Oh, my life is different', and you appreciate every day, but that only lasts for a couple of years, I found, and then you're back on the treadmill - and so you should be, otherwise you wouldn't get anything done."

It's worth noting too that Martin's marriage to former pop star Shirlie Holliman (of Pepsi & Shirlie/Wham! fame) is one of the longest-lasting in British showbiz, the pair having married in 1988.

"I think you've got to be best friends to make it work for that long. That's my only secret," says Martin.


As for the future, there's only the small matter of a world tour next year. And one thing is for certain - Spandau Ballet will be in Dublin soon.

"When we're all dead and buried, what we're gonna be remembered for is Spandau Ballet," says Martin, "because that's the most important thing that all of us have ever done.

"And I think, again, it's about getting together with your mates and enjoying it. And thousands of other people enjoy us getting back together."

The Story: The Very Best of Spandau Ballet is out now