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Tony Hadley @ Symphony Hall Birmingham, 15th October 2013

Tonight in the exquisite Symphony Hall we are here for a ‘different’ and rare concert performance by one of the New Romantic stars of the 80s accompanied by the Southbank Sinfonia Orchestra conducted by Anne Dudley (former core member of The Art of Noise, composer and pop musician). In his very suave crooning style, in one of only three concerts across the UK, tonight ladies and gentlemen Tony Hadley will be performing the hits of Spandau Ballet.

Spandau Ballet formed in the late 70‘s, aligning themselves as part of the New Romantic movement along with the likes of local boys Duran Duran (who bizarrely started off life quite literally a stones throw away in the Rum Rummer (around where the Australian Bar is now on Broad Street). Early 80’s and with MTV in full video flow, Spandau like Duran, found themselves very much the girls’ favourite, with hits like ‘True’ and involvement in the Band Aid single and Live Aid taking them to global mega-stardom. As with many bands of the time, their star shone hugely brightly, albeit briefly and by ’89, after hiatus, a split as the Kemp brothers morphed into the Krays and disappeared into the acting world. Hadley continued, going solo, before in the late noughties it was tour reformation time for Spandau. Hadley’s currently in the studio, recording his next solo effort (which is taking some time), the release date initially due this year, is now looking at spring of 2014. So tonight’s performance is indeed a rare outing for Hadley.

Tonight will be a two-part set. Bang on 7.45pm on come the Orchestra, taking their seats. Then an announcement “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome on stage…. Anne Dudley”, followed by rapturous applause, as Hadley appears suited and booted in a shiny designer suit.

First up we get ‘New York Minute’; the balance isn’t quite there his voice is a little overpowering in accompaniment to the Orchestra. The track rolls on and on, the sound levels out, his voice is still pretty powerful. Hadley: “Good evening and thank you.” Second song – oh risky – this is Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ – which for me, doesn’t quite work, Hadley’s vocals missing the beat. He explains that this [performance] is very different – the first set is what he wants to do, it is the second set that will be the Spandau classics. On to next track, a cover of The Killers  ‘Somebody Told Me.’ He’s chatty and affable, clearly happy to be out performing and references memories of the old Ronnie Scott’s on Broad Street several times as clearly one of his favourite venues (it’s now a lap-dancing club). Couple of his new songs fit his vocals far better; ‘Heroes and Lovers’ and ‘The Dice’, which he dedicates to his daughter Zara, who is here tonight. The audience listens intently and follows each song with polite applause. “Oh you can hear a pin drop in here…used to do this in Ronnie’s…” as he goes into next track ‘Time in a Bottle.’

The audience seem a tad confused by this set, it is indeed quite an ‘old’ set; it certainly makes me feel a lot older than my years. “This set is different for us and different for us… I did this song with Elvis Presley’s Band in Hyde Park, met Tom Jones – he knows everyone…” Expecting a Presley, or even Tom Jones classic, we get Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’

A brief intermission, then to the main set of Spandau classics. We discussed during the interval as to whether, given Hadley was here with an Orchestra, he would attempt early Spandau tracks. This is swiftly answered with the first track: ‘To Cut A Long Story Short.’ The odd person stands and dances, big cheer after the song. Next track featuring the line “…she used to be a diplomat but now she’s down the laundromat…” that’ll be ‘Highly Strung’. I guess with Spandau, it depends which era of their music you like – the more naive, cruder early stuff or the later glossy, shiny hits. For me, in this set, it is the older tracks and ones that Hadley has least performed that are delivered the best; Dudley clearly has got her hands on just how the Orchestra should deliver such tracks. A song Hadley refused to do when Spandau reformed “… all loin clothes and Robin Hood outfits…”, ‘Musclebound’ has a cheeky spring in its step. A track from the first album never performed before, ‘Toys’, also has the magic of Dudley. ‘Chant No 1.’ has a good rhythmic beat and people start to boogey. The classic ‘True’, a single that went to Number 1 in 21 countries (“..we’d have probably been dropped by the label if this hadn’t happened…”) gets the audience waving their arms from side to side (given that waving lighters are a thing of the past) and receives loud applause and wolf whistles. Hadley speaks to audience members as they start to shout, “We love you Tony!” “I love you too…” comes the reply. He looks up to see girls waving from the top balcony – “Oh ‘ello – didn’t see you up there! Don’t jump…” he quips, as he goes into the aptly titled ‘I’ll Fly For You.’ And to complete the set – the classic and for Spandau pure, ‘Gold.’

Back on for an encore: “Everyone’s worked really hard here…” as he thanks the band, management, audience and anyone else he can think of. “Hope you enjoyed it.” And we’re into the final track of the night, which is, rather bizarrely ‘Fight for Ourselves.’

So thoughts on tonight’s performance. I can’t say I was a massive Spandau Ballet fan, but in the day, the bands of New Romantica for a teenage female audience, guys like Hadley achieved god-like adoration. There were clearly those here tonight that were part of that experience and can still relate to and love Hadley. I think, with Anne Dudley and the Orchestra in tow, I expected to see more of Dudley’s flourish over everything, not just ‘different’, more radical. The first set, being a confusing mixture, it was Hadley’s own tracks that suited him and the Orchestra the best; I really wasn’t sure on the covers. The second set far was better, for me – ‘Musclebound’ the stand out. While the Orchestra performed well, their accompaniment clearly suited the Spandau ballads and on the whole Hadley’s vocals delivered as expected – for me it all seemed a tad safe.

Fair play to Hadley for coming out and performing. For him, this was something different. His new solo outing should appear in spring 2014 – only time will tell if this is another true bit of gold…

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Spandau Setlist:

  1. To Cut A Long Story Short
  2. Highly Strung
  3. Only When You Leave
  4. Musclebound
  5. Round and Round
  6. I’ll Fly For You
  7. True
  8. Through the Barricades
  9. Toys
  10. Chant No. 1 (Don’t Need This Pressure On)
  11. Lifeline
  12. Gold

Encore:

  1. Fight for Ourselves

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Review for Gig Junkies; pictures: Ken Harrison.