Spandau Ballet’s ten UK top ten singles, eight UK top ten albums and an extensive list of accolades, including a BRIT Award and Ivor Novello, makes them one of the most successful pop groups of all-time. Regarded as one of the pioneering bands of the Eighties’ ubiquitous New Romantic scene, they have influenced countless musicians and crooners. In 2009, they returned to the stage for one of the most highly-anticipated world tours of the past decade.
There to experience it all over again was Spandau Ballet’s founding member and gifted saxophonist, Steve Norman, whose solo on the band’s No.1 hit ‘True’ remains as iconic as the era itself. And so it was with stars in our eyes that we welcomed Steve to BIMM Brighton for a masterclass with Jake Shillingford and an eager audience of students, the majority of whom were not alive at the height of Spandau’s fame, but who have been influenced by the group nevertheless.
Drawing on his decade-spanning music career, Steve spoke candidly about cutting his teeth on London’s pub circuit; the aftermath of punk; and 1980s Soho, where the band found their ‘voice’ among the New Romantics zeitgeist. “We were all looking for our tribes when we were younger. I think people still do to this day, but it’s a little bit less obvious maybe,” he said, on the subject of youth subcultures, such as the mods and goths.
“The fashion became as important as the music… there’s always a place for that in culture.” Asked whether the fashion explicitly influenced the music, Steve said that the two going hand in hand, and the need for bands to find a visual aesthetic among all the humdrum, which led to a conversation about the 80s revival. But it was Steve’s stories about Steve Strange’s iconic Blitz Club – the mecca of New Romanticism – that genuinely inspired our students.
Little did he know back then, the Blitz – whose clientele included Boy George and Marilyn – would be the springboard to Spandau’s success. “We invited a group of these people to come and see a rehearsal in 1979’. Steve [Strange] was one of them, and he said this is great, this is exactly what we want… he said why don’t you come and play the Blitz. If he hadn’t have said that and we hadn’t have played the Blitz, it might not have happened for us.”
Talk later turned to Spandau Ballet’s rivalry with Duran Duran, their manager Steve Dagger and their biggest tracks, which the saxophonist admitted were not originally instant classics. However, all that had changed by the time the group played in front of 72,000 people at 1985’s Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium. “It was a phenomenal day, it had never happened before, and it hasn’t quite since,” he told our students.
The London-born hitmaker also touched on some of the band’s darker times, including their 1990 split and subsequent court battle for the rights over the key change and sax solo for ‘True’. “You really do need to know about the business,” was his advice to our students. “It’s so important to get all this cleared up early doors.”
Steve’s appearance at BIMM ended with a performance workshop and an insightful Q&A with our students. A true one-of-a-kind, his tales of fame with Spandau Ballet and the inner workings of the music industry made for a truly outstanding masterclass. He joins an extensive list of decorated musicians and special guests who have passed through BIMM Brighton, and we very much hope he returns soon.