British pop group Spandau Ballet introduced new singer Ross William Wild in a small club show at London’s Subterania on Wednesday (June 6) night. Wild was selected as a replacement for Tony Hadley after the longtime frontman departed the band last year, and is helping to usher the famed ’80s musicians into a new era.
“This is a rebirth of the band,” guitarist Gary Kemp told Billboard ahead of Spandau Ballet’s performance. “But it still feels like the band. It still sounds like the band. The energy is the same. We’ve still got the main songwriter. We’ve still got all the same musical protagonists. And now we’ve got this new guy who is filling us with new vitality. He’s really stepped up to the plate with a lot of talent and passion and knowledge.”
The British group, which formed in London in 1979, released six albums during their heyday in the ’80s before splitting up in 1990 due to disagreements over royalties. They reunited in 2009 with a new album and two global tours, and have continued to perform and write music since. When Hadley announced via Twitter last July that he was leaving the group there wasn’t any doubt as to whether Spandau Ballet would carry on, largely because the musicians didn’t feel finished.
“We felt that only one fifth of the group left,” Kemp said. “We wanted to make it work. We really felt we couldn’t let this one go. It hadn’t run its course and there are still people out there who want to hear the songs played by the original guys. We just had to find a guy who would sing it.”
Following Hadley’s exit, the remaining four musicians hired a casting director and auditioned over a dozen singers. Wild was one of the first, having met bassist Martin Kemp in The Million Dollar Quartet tour in 2016, and Spandau Ballet was immediately impressed by his voice and presence. “We weren’t looking for someone who sounded like Tony,” Kemp noted. “But they needed the range and the gravitas and the power.”
Their London show opened with “Through The Barricades,” a fitting introduction to Wild as it was the song he performed in his audition. The track, from the band’s 1986 album of the same name, was a top 10 single in the U.K., peaking at No. 6. The band focused primarily on the hits with a 12-song setlist that also included “I’ll Fly For You,” “Communication” and “True,” the group’s 1983 single that peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. They capped the night off with a short encore of “To Cut A Long Story Short” and “Gold.”
Subterania, a 600-capacity venue, was previously known as Acklam Hall, playing host to The Clash and Joy Division in the ’70s and ’80s. Spandau Ballet formerly performed in the club as The Gentry, a prior incarnation of the group that featured the Kemp brothers. “About 40 years ago there was a bunch of young kids who played on this stage called The Gentry,” Martin told the cheering audience. “This time it feels like it’s come full circle and we’re starting out again – except this time it feels more exciting.”
Presently Spandau Ballet doesn’t have any plans to release new music as a follow-up to Once More, released in 2009 via Mercury, although Kemp is currently writing songs. “Once people get to know his voice then it’s going to be an easier thing to do,” the musician said. “One thing at a time. Maybe we’ll introduce some new stuff into the live show, who knows? I don’t think you can make a plan until you know the reaction from the fans.” The band has announced a one-off show at London’s Eventim Apollo Hammersmith on Oct. 29, and hopes to continue playing live, particularly since the musicians feel re-enlivened by Wild’s presence.
“This feels a lot better,” Kemp said. “The energy in the room feels much better. Everyone wants to do this. Everyone’s happy. I think Tony found some of it difficult and I think we’re really excited about it.”
Hadley, who has his own solo album Talking To the Moon out this week, continues to perform Spandau Ballet songs separately from the band. Although Kemp says the musicians were disappointed when he left, they understood. “We’re all guys in our fifties,” he said. “We have the right to leave a band. And that’s absolutely fine.” As for whether they remain on good terms? “I wouldn’t say that,” Kemp said. “I think we wish him well. We wish him well, but it’s probably best if we steer clear of each other for a few months until the dust has settled.”
The crowd of fans in Subterania last night didn’t seem to miss Hadley too much, quickly embracing Wild into the fold. The singer’s nerves visibly dissipated after the opening number. “It’s an honor to be here before you guys,” Wild told the audience. “And with these guys.” By the end of the hour-long set, Spandau Ballet were relieved of any lingering nerves. “This has been fun,” Kemp said, grinning at the fans. “Thank you for your acceptance.”