We had a chat with the silver fox himself ahead of Spandau Ballet’s concert at the Motorpoint Arena on March 6.
Martin Kemp talks Steel City memories, Eastenders, the entertainment industry, and why he’d rather be Batman than Superman.
Great to have Spandau Ballet back at the Arena, Martin, how are you feeling about next week?
Can’t wait to get back on stage – 2009 was the last time we played here, and that was the first time for 20 years. When we announced the shows back then it was kind of the band putting our toe in the water – we didn’t know how many people would want to come, or if anyone would actually be interested after twenty years. To be honest we didn’t even know if we would get on with each other, after more or less pulling each other apart for so many years. But this tour is so much bigger, it’s taking us all over the world, so I just can’t wait to get it going! You’ve got to remember that this your hobby, not a job, being in a band. When I’m not playing I miss the adrenaline, and the volume, which is the funny thing.
Any fond memories of the steel city?
A really big one, a really good memory of Sheffield actually – we’d been on stage here, and the next morning ‘True’ had just got to number one in the UK. I remember being in the hotel the after the gig, having got the phonecall at 8 o’clock in the morning that the single had gone to the top of the charts, and all of a sudden there was this commotion outside our hotel room. It was John Keeble and Steve Norman on the room service trolley drinking champagne, being wheeled up and down the corridor – I don’t think that vision will ever leave me…
Do you have any stories about Sheffield bands? Human League, ABC, Heaven 17…
Human League were a big part of my growing up, I went to see them several times at the Marquee. This wasn’t not the Human League that was the pop band, back then they were the cult band – they were playing stuff from their early albums, ‘Being Boiled’, that sort of material. So yeah, a big memory. I also know Martin from ABC, who’s a very nice guy.
The Full Monty stage show is coming back to the city soon. Would you ever do the Full Monty?
The full monty, no, it’s not for me! Taking my gear off on stage, I don’t think my wife would be very happy… but hats off to all the actors that do it.
‘Hats off’, very good!
Oh yeah (laughs) Hats off!
You have an acting career that long predates some of your musical side. Would you say you’re moving back towards the music again?
Listen, I’m just so grateful I’ve had the chance to do a bit of everything, you know… acting, presenting, being in the band. Everything I do is in a big bubble called ‘entertainment’, and it’s an amazing place to be. Y’know, lots of my friends who are getting to around my age – very successful friends as well – all are changing their lives, so it’s great to be able to do different things. It keeps your mind busy.
Did you know who killed Lucy Beale, or who did you have your money on?
I had my money on Jane! EastEnders always like to stick it to Ian, don’t they, they always like to make his life hard, so I thought she’d be the culprit. In the end it turned out to be a bit of a ‘Chucky’ with Bobby. I loved it though, I was really proud of it. It’s the first time for years that I’ve seen it and been really proud to be a part of it. It went through a period where it lost itself; it became like Grange Hill, it nearly closed down, but now I think it’s back on top.
Disappointed not to be asked back on at all?
They blew me up into pieces! So it would be a struggle to put those pieces back together…
There’s always a chance isn’t there, they did bring Cathy back.
Yeah! I don’t think you ever saw her death, did you? And really if I was invited back on the show I wouldn’t be back on tour with Spandau, and that’s where I like to be.
Do you think Spandau Ballet would have been able to break into today’s music industry?
The music industry’s changed a lot, we all know that, it’s a completely different place to be. But then again, it’s exactly the same – if you want to get in the top 30, you’ve got to fight against 29 others. That hasn’t changed since The Beatles. We’re in a funny situation now where we’re not fighting to be number one, we’re not fighting to be in the top ten. But we’re enjoying it. We’re enjoying being in a band more than we ever have.
Any current artists you admire?
I like Ed Sheeran, so does everyone else at the moment. I think he’s doing incredible stuff. The Scottish kid… Nutini? Yeah, Paolo Nutini, I love what he does, too. I listen to a lot of stuff actually, because my son is a DJ for Capital Radio, so I listen to him a lot when I’m at home. It forces you to listen to a lot of stuff that’s current! I think the industry is a really healthy place to be at the moment.
How does touring now compare to thirty years ago?
It’s very different to when we started. When we started, the only way to earn money was through your records, touring was kind of secondary. Now it’s completely flipped on its head. The only way you can earn a living now is through playing live, so the whole thing is different.
What’s the difference in playing an arena and some of the more intimate venues?
You know, over the years, we’ve played in all of them! Small clubs, we’ve played in theatres like Hammersmith Odeon, and even the arenas, we’ve in played in the stadiums across Europe where there’s like 180,000 people in there. And to be honest, basically, there’s no difference. You get on stage and you enjoy it. Every time you play those songs, you’re playing it with the very same energy you played it the very first time, there really is no difference. Sometimes playing the smaller shows are fun, we played in Texas at the SXSW festival in Texas a while back, where all of the shows are small – it was the smallest show we’d done in years, it was one of the most fun. But then when you’re playing the Motorpoint Arena that has its own sort of fun, and you have to project a bit more.
Do you mix up your setlists on tour?
A little bit, a little bit. You’ll mix it up usually with what country you go to, you know, because countries all have their different biggest Spandau songs. If you go to America it’s ‘True’, if you come here it’s ‘Gold’, if you go to Italy it’ll be ‘I’ll Fly for You’, and in Germany it’s ‘Through Barricades’, so you do have to mix it up a bit. But usually for a show it’s not all improvised, it’s built around the light show, the multimedia stuff, so it’s quite difficult to say “hang on a minute, it’s time to play something else!” It’s a theatrical show, in the same way you’d do a piece of theatre.
Any favourite places to play? (Sheffield of course…)
Yes, Sheffield of course (laughs) It works out quite funny, if you go to a town and they’ve got big football teams – you’ve got two of them here – usually the audience is fantastic, because they know how to shout, they know how to get involved. And that’s what you want from a rock show, because it’s a 50/50 deal with the audience. Unless you can tell there’s the same amount of energy in the crowd as there is in the band, then it’s not going to work. It’s a partnership.
Batman or Superman?
Batman! Batman’s the only superhero with no superpowers, right… he uses tech, which is so relevant to everybody, and I love that. I like the darkness to him.
Would you rather have legs as long as your fingers, or fingers as long as your legs?
Fingers as long as my legs, being a bass player. I’m sure it would help.
And finally, in honour of one of your hits, which of these Sheffield facts are ‘True’:
Sheffield is twinned with Singapore
I’ve no idea… false? (correct!)
Like Rome, Sheffield is built on seven hills
Sheffield is known as the ‘city of steel’, but it now only has one jobbing knife grinder
Oh, that’s true isn’t it? (correct again!)
Sheffield takes its name from early settlers known as ‘Sheffers’
Well, you’ve asked me three ‘true’s in a row, so that has to be false (correct! Can’t fault the logic…)
Jarvis Cocker once fell out of a window trying to impress a girl
True! (correct, 5/5, sure you’re really from Islington, Martin?)
Thank you very much Martin… that was gold… that’s a new one, right?
(laughs) Oh, I hear that at least… several times a day!
Spandau Ballet perform at The Motorpoint Arena Sheffield on March 6. Head here for more information.