How Spandau Ballet Embraced Their Inner Soul Boys 40 Years Ago on True

The third time was the charm for the New Romantics-turned-R&B merchants

Spandau Ballet (Image: Facebook)

Spandau Ballet bought a ticket to the world with True and never turned back.

When they started out in 1980, they were the cool kids—the pet band of England’s hippest underground club scene. As the darlings of what came to be called New Romanticism, Spandau Ballet combined Eurodisco, glam, funk, and pop for a sound so fresh that even their ridiculous name didn’t impede their progress. 

But by their second album, 1982’s Diamond, they were already feeling alienated from the cultish scene that gave them their start. They set about searching for a new identity, dipping into art rock and Eastern exoticism in the process. 

The search was still in progress when they started thinking about their third album. Ultimately, songwriter / bandleader Gary Kemp decided to go for the gusto by pursuing a pure pop vision. And in the realizing of that vision on 1983’s True, the band embraced the soul roots than ran more deeply than their New Romantic ties. 

Before the album’s release, you could have called Spandau Ballet pop stars without fear of contradiction. After all, they’d had four Top 10 British singles by that point. But their popularity didn’t really extend beyond the UK, and it was the kind of pop stardom that the British media can rescind just as quickly as it’s bestowed. 

Like the leap their old scenemates / rivals Duran Duran had made with 1982’s Rio, Spandau went from tentative UK stardom to worldwide renown with True. And they did it with class and musicality to spare.

Spandau started the sessions for the album with superproducer Trevor Horn. But it quickly became apparent that they were too independent-minded for Horn’s all-or-nothing approach. So they ended up making the record with the team of Tony Swain and Steve Jolley, who had already scored hits with Bananarama and British R&B group Imagination. 

Spandau Ballet True, Chrysalis Records 1983

The partnership proved to be a perfect fit. The band’s soul influences came to the fore on the album’s first two singles, the perky, hook-laden “Lifeline” and the slinky “Communication,” both of which connected on the British charts. The sounds Swain and Jolley stirred up on Imagination’s 1981 electro-soul album Body Talk had a direct effect on the production of True. And John Keeble had already been delivering some fiercely funky bass lines from day one of Spandau, so he simply kept right on. But the ballad that gave the LP its title would be the one that changed the quintet’s lives. 

Kemp and Altered Images frontwoman Clare Grogan were both seeing other people at the time, but after they became friends, Kemp developed a massive crush on the Scottish singer. Hesitant to reveal his feelings, he funneled them into the tender, soulful “True” instead, leaning heavily into slow-jam love song territory. 

Ad for Spandau Ballet’s True in the March 5, 1983 issue of NME (Image: eBay)

Kemp was trying to write something along the lines of Al Green’s slow-burning “Let’s Stay Together,” and “True” is what came out. Name-checking Marvin Gaye was a further nod to his intentions. “We were massive soul boys,” he would tell the Guardian years later, “this was us taking an anti-rock stance.”

Multi-instrumentalist Steve Norman had only recently taken up sax, blowing it on a Diamond B-side for the first time on record. But the R&B slant of the album dovetailed with his growing interest in the instrument. He’d been obsessed with the Grover Washington Jr./Bill Withers hit “Just the Two of Us” when he laid down his sax solo on “True,” and the inspiration helped him kick the already impactful song up to a whole other level.


VIDEO: Spandau Ballet “True”

“I bought a ticket to the world,” sang Tony Hadley in one of his most affecting performances. And “True” did indeed take the band around the globe, reaching No. 1 in multiple nations and finally breaking the band in the U.S. Suddenly, Spandau was everywhere, reaching a new strata of pop stardom. 

With Hadley’s cinematic baritone, Norman’s pealing sax, and Kemp’s splashy, aspirational lyrics, larger-than-life tunes like “Gold” and “Pleasure” were the ideal complement to the band’s newly minted kings-of-the-world status. And the cultural zeitgeist at that point was perfectly in line with what True was putting out. 

While Spandau Ballet’s subsequent discography wasn’t devoid of hits, True was the mountaintop of their career. And 40 years later, their name still sounds just as stupid, and these songs still bear the same soulful kick.



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One thought on “How Spandau Ballet Embraced Their Inner Soul Boys 40 Years Ago on True

  • March 19, 2023 at 3:55 pm

    John Keeble was Spandau’s drummer, Martin Kemp played bass. “…the band embraced the soul roots than ran more deeply than their New Romantic ties” should be “that ran…”


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