Tony Hadley: I’m very lucky my voice still works
Tony Hadley’s has had a career full of Gold-en moments. He talks royalty, rocking round the world and why Spandau Ballet won’t reform
We’re a couple of minutes early and Tony’s already scratching his head.
“There’s an announcement from Buckingham Palace at 10am,” he says. “Do you know what’s going on?”
Much as we’d love to have a bat phone to Buck House that keeps us in the loop on all matters constitutional, we have to confess our ignorance.
“Sorry, Tony. We don’t know.”
“What can it be?” he says. “It must be something pretty big for there to be a public announcement.”
And so we begin. With Tony on tenterhooks as he waits to find out what’s on the mind of the Palace.
He’s long been a fan of the Queen and in a post-Brexit, pre-election world, he’s also one of rock’s few openly Tory-supporting politicos.
Not that the Spandau Ballet frontman, who is enjoying a career resurgence, is wasting time debating May vs Corbyn.
Today Tony’s looking forward to Shropshire and Staffordshire – to headlining Let’s Rock Shrewsbury on May 27 and to involving himself in the Lichfield Festival, after becoming its latest patron.
The Shrewsbury gig is a peculiar one. Tony would normally find himself at the top of any bill of artists made famous by the 1980s. But on this occasion, he finds himself at the bottom – a result of a two-gigs-per-day work schedule that would make kids half his age blush.
“Shrewsbury will be a good day. It’s unusual for us because we’re opening the festival, rather than appearing higher up the bill. We’ve got a second gig later in the day, in Surrey, so it’ll be a crazy day.”
Let’s Rock Shrewsbury will feature Tony alongside Billy Ocean, ABC, Heaven 17, Nick Heyward, Nik Kershaw, T’Pau and others. And though such a line-up might have been daggers at dawn when the artists were duking it out to be number one back in the 1980s, these days it feels like the happiest of reunions.
“I look at that bill and basically, it’s all of my mates. Normally, I’m playing higher up the bill so I get to hang out during the day when the other guys are doing their thing. It’s always good fun because we go back such a long way and are all great friends. There’s a nice atmosphere back stage. It doesn’t matter what era you’re from, musicians tend to gravitate towards one another and have a beer and a chat.
“The people who run that 1980s scene create a really nice, family atmosphere. So backstage is really lovely. They really try to look after the people.”
His attention fades.
“Hold it – the news is on.”
It’s a message from the Palace and thoughts of Let’s Rock Shrewsbury and of becoming patron of Lichfield Festival are put to one side. It’s 10am and Prince Philip is announcing his withdrawal from public life. “How about that?” says Tony, as he takes it all in.
In many ways, Tony is pop royalty himself. The blue-eyed soul singer enjoyed phenomenal success with Spandau Ballet as the band achieved hits with True, Gold, Chant No 1, Only When You Leave and Through The Barricades. They were honoured at the Brits, the Ivor Novello Awards and were one of the key bands of the New Romantic Era before a difficult split in 1990.
Recreating the hits of that era is thrilling for Tony, who enjoys spending time with fans as well as his fellow performers.
“Everyone just comes for a good time. That’s what it’s about. There’s nothing pretentious about it. My own kids sometimes come along too, although they can’t come along that day because it’s the Happy Days Festival as well. To be honest, I was supposed to be going on holiday that day, but I decided to do the gigs in Shrewsbury and Surrey. I’ll join the wife and the kids the next day. It’s her birthday celebration too.” So he’d better not be late . . .
Tony is enjoying the most successful period of his career. Shorn of the responsibilities of Spandau Ballet, he can dip in and out of different projects, keeping himself busy and happy at the same time. There’s his occasional work with Spandau Ballet and his gigs on the 1980s heritage circuit. Then there’s his crooning tours and new albums. Life has never been so busy and having survived the rollercoaster of pop, Hadley is making hay while the sun shines.
“I enjoy the fact that I can do different things at different times. My main thing is the pop shows and I’ve been with my band for a very long time, so we’re all good mates. I can dip in and do the swing thing in Europe, playing in Italy and elsewhere, when I like. I’m really lucky actually, I’m really lucky. I have to pinch myself that I’m still doing this.”
The reason for his enduring popularity is his voice. While others fall by the wayside as fashions change, Tony has no such concerns. He has the finest weapon in his armoury that any star can have – talent. Ever the accomplished singer, Tony remains a class apart. His honeyed vocals keep him in demand and give him the opportunity to reinvent, to avoid being pigeon-holed the way some of his contemporaries are.
“I’m lucky the voice still works,” he says, humbly. “But that’s the pay off, that’s the buzz. Some artists get to the point where they don’t want to tour because they don’t like the travelling and no longer enjoy it.
“But for me, I’m still as enthusiastic as when I was 16 and in a school band, I get a massive high from being on stage. I love the sound through monitors and the wave of noise when the band kicks in. I love it when my voice is feeling good. It’s quite euphoric.
“When you have a great crowd, there’s nothing better. And the Let’s Rock people are just there for a good time.”
So while Tony could kick back and enjoy the fruits of his labours, he’d rather be on the road. As well as performing, the star lends his name to good causes, such as the Lichfield Festival. The Spandau Ballet singer and I’m A Celebrity star has agreed to lend his weight to the Midlands’ premier multi-arts festival which brings world-class music, arts and entertainment to the city, in July.
He has joined existing patrons: Lichfield MP and arts enthusiast Michael Fabricant MP; the celebrated former cellist, now Principal of Birmingham Conservatoire, Julian Lloyd Webber; and Russian conductor and artistic director of St Petersburg’s famous Mariinsky Theatre, Valery Gergiev.
“This is the first arts charity I’ve been invited to support and I was delighted to be asked. For me, the importance of supporting the arts is in the impact that it has on individuals of all ages. I know Lichfield well through family connections and I’m really excited to see where my patronage of the Lichfield Festival will lead in the future.”
Yet despite his touring commitments, Tony finds time to write new material. Having watched the career resurgence of fellow 1980s star Rick Astley, who shot to number one with his album, 50, he feels as though he’s also on the crest of a wave.
“I’ve been working on new tunes with the band and they’re sounding fantastic. We think we’ve got the first three singles and we’ve got a great albums’ worth.”
It’s not just his own music that excites Tony. He keeps in touch with what’s in the charts thanks to his kids. His nine-year-old daughter, Zara, is his eyes and ears, keeping him in touch with what’s new. The second-youngest of his five children, she regularly tells him what to listen out for.
“Zara gets me into a lot of new music and I still get very excited. You know, we’re in an age where albums don’t seem to matter because there’s so much streaming. People think ‘what’s the point?’ But for me there is a point. I still love the idea of albums.
“You look at people like Rick and Martin Fry, from ABC. I was with those two guys recently and Bradley Walsh – I love him – and they still sell huge amounts of records. They’re looking at 150,000 copies which in today’s climate is ‘wow’.
“So even though the record industry is supposed to be in the doldrums, all of a sudden the record companies are realising that us guys still have something to offer. Rick and Martin are singing great and Bradley has a great crooner voice. A while ago, my generation was almost dismissed but now the record companies realise that there’s mileage in us after all. I’ve got several record companies interested in what I’m doing, I’m keeping them at bay until I’m ready.”
Remarkable as it may seem, at the tender age of 56 – a time when most 1980s singers are all washed up and opening local supermarkets or finally getting a day job – Tony’s biggest problem isn’t finding work, it’s finding the time to do it all.
“Time is the biggest challenge. I’m working on a new song now, with a friend of mine. It’s a corking tune but I just need a bit of time to do it. Then I’ve got to make time to do some writing in America. After that, there’ll be another album. And you need time to listen back to stuff: you know ‘is that a good tune?’”
Like many of his generation, Tony experienced a lull when the 1980s were replaced by Britpop. For a while, he was out of vogue; out of time with the modern age.
But he found himself the recipient of new found respect as the 2000s dawned and winning the ITV reality TV series, Reborn In The USA, helped him capitalise on that.
“That feels like a long time ago, but it certainly helped. The thing is, when I came out of Spandau I was a solo artist and I didn’t know what to do because I’d been in a band all those years. I had a great fanfare when I signed to EMI but I made the wrong album. I was going through my ReoSpeedForeigner phase and nearly went to live in LA. And it was completely the wrong album to make.
“Now I feel as though I’m going right back to the start. I loved the early Spandau stuff, Chant Number 1 and so on. And a lot of the stuff I’m working on now is a bit more dancey than the later Spandau music.” And though musically he’s taking inspiration from the past, Tony is looking to the future. He marvels at the careers of stars who are still singing into their 70s and plans to join that set.
“You can’t take time off, if you think about it. If you take a year off, your voice goes. It’s the same as if you’re a runner and you take six months off, then it becomes very difficult to run again. The reason that Jack Jones and Tom Jones and Tony Bennett and Bruce Springsteen and Daryl Hall keep going is because they don’t stop.
“But, to be honest, I’d be bored rigid if I took time off. I enjoy working. I don’t mind flying, even if the short haul flights are a drag. The long haul stuff is great. There’s no phones and plenty of wine – who could argue with that?”
The reason Tony’s managed to keep his career on track through the inevitable ups and downs is because his fans have stayed loyal. When obscurity knocked, his most loyal followers stayed the course. He’s forever grateful. And it’s those people he’s looking forward to singing to in Shrewsbury.
“The fans have been brilliant over the years. They’ve been magnificent and they never cease to amaze me. They’re there in Italy and Germany, in Shrewsbury and Surrey, in far flung parts of the world. And as much as they love True, Gold and Barricades, they will listen to a new song and be really receptive.”
Though Tony returned with Spandau Ballet in 2009/10 and again in 2014/15, he’s not sure that they’ll play again. Their 2015 world tour was a great success but these days he’s happy to go it alone. And besides, he has so much work that he’s booked for the next few years. “What happened in the band when we split up was very unfortunate. We could have been together 20 years and we weren’t and I think that’s sad because we had the chance to produce more great work. The last album we made, Heart Like A Sky, I can’t listen to. It was such a horrible record to make. I just wish we’d had some time off because then we might have produced some of our best work.
“We got back together, of course, but we’ve done that now and are getting on with our own solo careers. There’s a legacy there. There’s books and newspaper cuttings and albums. There was Live Aid and the Mandela concert. So from that point of view, wow: great band, great legacy.”
It’s those good times, rather than the bad, which Tony prefers to reflect on. For despite the court cases and the rows over royalties, he considers himself lucky.
“We had great success. The Mandela concert felt like we were part of a world movement. Apartheid was falling apart and I was glad to be a part of it. I was the first artist from EMI to visit South Africa after the break-up.
“And then there was Band Aid. When we were first approached about that single, I don’t think anybody thought a bunch of musos would change the way the government would operate. Most of us were just happy to be a party of it. Then it mushroomed and got so big.
“Live Aid was also phenomenal. I was 24 and ended up meeting all my heroes backstage. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. My biggest memory was Queen, who blew me away. Then Quo did Rockin’ All Over The World.”
From Rockin’ All Over The World to Let’s Rock Shrewsbury – it’s been a long old road for Hadley and co. And he’s still enjoying every moment.