Tony Hadley interview - ‘When I’m in the studio, I’m not allowed to touch anything’
As singer with New Romantic icons Spandau Ballet, Tony Hadley possessed one of the richest and most renowned voices of the 1980s.
His name may be forever linked with such pop classics as True, Gold and Through the Barricades, but there is much more to him than that, personally and professionally – and, in case you were wondering, that golden voice still sounds just as amazing today.
Speaking to the Cambridge Independent via Zoom from a room in his home with framed Gold records in the background, the sixty-something also looks pretty great – healthy and stylish in a modern striped shirt.
Tony Hadley’s 2022 UK tour – originally planned for 2020 – celebrates his remarkable 40 years in music. The singer, who will perform with his band, The Fabulous TH Band, will play 36 dates across the country, stopping off at the Cambridge Corn Exchange next spring. He will be performing tracks from right across his career, both as the voice of Spandau Ballet and as an established solo artist.
During our conversation, Tony, who received an MBE in December 2019 in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for his charitable work for the Shooting Star Children’s Hospice, reflected on his “16 months unemployed”, describing it as “the weirdest feeling in the world” and adding: “I hate it, I’m never going to retire.”
He believes that all this uncertainty has been difficult for a lot of people and continues: “We love what we do, it’s not a job that we hate – it’s more like a hobby that became a paid hobby. So it’s difficult for all the bands, crews, everyone in the music business, theatre world, arts world – it’s been bloody awful, actually.
“The lovely bit about it has been spending time with the family and stuff like that. Spending time with my wife and my two young kids, Zara and Genevieve, has been brilliant but then my three older kids most of the time I couldn’t see – they were stuck in London. So there were great bits about it and horrible bits, and I just hope and pray that we’re going to come out of it soon.
“We have to get the music business back to some sort of normality, in terms of playing live, so fingers crossed, legs crossed, toes crossed, everything crossed that we do.”
Is this the longest Tony’s been without performing in 40-plus years? “Yeah, it’s the longest I’ve been since I was... well, since I was a kid,” he observes. “Even when I was a kid at primary school, we would sing hymns every day at school.
“So from the age of five I was singing pretty much every single day, and then forming a band at 16 and singing at Pontins holiday camps and stuff like that... So this has been the longest time for about 54, 55 years, and it’s the longest time I’ve been at home since I was a baby – since my mum and dad had me, because as soon as you’re old enough you go to nursery.
“So a big day out for me is Waitrose, if my wife lets me, because she said I have to be really, really careful, because if I get this [Covid-19] and it affects my lungs, then that’s game over. I know of two singers that potentially might not be able to sing again.”
Tony also spent lockdown doing housework, gardening and homeschooling his two children. “Well, I’ve got to give credit where credit’s due, my wife did most of it [the homeschooling] to be honest,” he confesses, “because I mean I went to a great grammar school but some of it, I was like, ‘What?!’
“I even phoned my best mate up – he’s in the music business too – and I said, ‘Do you remember doing this at school, Pete?’ and he was like, ‘No, I don’t remember that’. Anyone that says education is being dumbed down, go and take a look at what my nine-year-old is doing – it’s not being dumbed down.
“As for my 14-year-old, she was completely self-contained on the computer, but my good God, the stuff they’re learning is pretty great. So my wife did the English and the maths, I did the geography, history, science.”
As a solo star, Tony has performed across the world both with his band, swing bands and orchestras. In 2005 he was awarded a Gold Badge from the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, while in 2007 he won a new legion of fans when he appeared as Billy Flynn in Chicago on the West End stage.
He also presents a live Sunday morning radio show on BBC 3 Counties Radio, and started a podcast and YouTube channel in July 2020 called Stars Cars Guitars with Jim Cregan, a rock guitarist, songwriter and producer, and Alex Dyke, a veteran British TV and radio broadcaster.
The podcast features the trio talking about rock and roll adventures, their favourite cars and tales of the stars and friends they met on the way – and touches upon the themes of success, fame, family, laughter, memories and dreams.
In 2018, Tony put out an acclaimed new solo album, Talking to the Moon. Not only was it chosen as BBC Radio 2’s Album of the Week, but the first single, Tonight Belongs to Us, was Single of the Week. Then last year, Tony released a new single Obvious, co-written with Mick Lister, which will be included on an upcoming new LP and which was again playlisted on BBC Radio 2.
Discussing his latest single, Tony says: “We put that out just before lockdown... I managed to get two vocals done on songs for the new album, the rest have still got to be recorded. There are a few lyrics to write here and there but not much to finish now, so all the songs are pretty much there and sounding really good – I’m really very excited about this one. I get excited about every one...
“Obvious was a fun song that we just wanted to release because it was lockdown, and it’s a bit kind of [American funk and disco outfit] Fatback Band, it’s a bit 70s, retro, and lyrically it’s just, ‘Look, we should be together, that’s what it’s all about, I love you, you’re wonderful, you’re part of my life and we should all hug each other’.”
Interestingly, the video for the single was shot mostly by Tony’s 14-year-old daughter Zara on her iPhone. “Then we gave it to Paul Green, who’s a video director I’ve done a lot of work with,” reveals Tony, “and he said, ‘I get the song immediately, I know exactly what it’s going to look like’.
“I wanted it to feel summery and I just want people to feel happy when they see the video because that’s what I wanted to convey with the song. So we put together all this archive footage of people at raves, people in the sun, people in swimming pools, just hugging each other, loving each other, just to make a fun bit of music.
“Obvious is probably not representative of the album, actually, but I hope people liked it – they seemed to anyway.”
Tony admits that when it comes to technical things, he’s “absolutely rubbish”, noting: “I’ve got a couple of producers, Gary Stevenson and Mick Lister, and when I’m in the studio, I’m not allowed to touch anything because it will go wrong.
“If it’s anything to do with electricity or technical stuff or buttons and bits and bobs, it will go wrong... Funnily enough, I do my radio show on Sunday mornings and the other week, it all just went wrong, for no reason. No one knows why, it just went wrong.”
When it comes to musical instruments, Tony says he’s not a “great player” but he does enjoy “mucking about” on his acoustic guitar, his electric guitar and his piano and coming up with “weird” chord progressions and “wacky ideas”.
“I enjoy writing with other people as well,” he explains, “so I’ve been doing quite a bit of collaboration, both with my band and Gary Stevenson and Mick Lister, and I find that quite interesting, because otherwise it ends up like ‘write the theme tune, sing the theme tune, play the theme tune...’
“I think sometimes it’s really good to just spark off one another and you could end up going in a completely different direction that you didn’t anticipate, and I always find that very exciting.”
In Spandau Ballet, Tony’s talents as a songwriter were never really called upon as Gary Kemp tended to write the band’s material. After reforming amid much publicity in 2009 – a press conference was even held on HMS Belfast – the five members, Tony, Gary, Gary’s brother Martin, John Keeble and Steve Norman, eventually went their separate ways in 2019, but not before recruiting Ross William Wild to take over vocal duties from Tony in 2017, after Tony announced he had left the group.
Since then, other band members have made it clear that they can’t imagine a Spandau Ballet without Tony Hadley, and it’s probably nigh-on impossible for the fans to picture it too. “I don’t miss being in Spandau, which is sad, but I think people have got to remember that I’ve been a solo artist for longer,” says Tony, who is still in touch with saxophonist Steve Norman (the only Spandau Ballet member with whom he has stayed in contact).
“When the band originally, I wouldn’t say broke up but just sort of dissipated, we just all sort of drifted off. I found myself saying, ‘Oh right, what do I do now? I was in a band, now I’m a solo artist’. But over the years, I’ve surrounded myself with great musicians who have become great friends, so although I’m not in Spandau I’m still in my own band, if you like.
“I call them The Fab TH Band and we love each other’s company, we have a great laugh on the road, whether it be a sleeper bus or an Italian restaurant after a show or something, we just have a lot of fun together.”
So anyone holding out hope that the original Spandau Ballet will one day get back together might be disappointed? “I think they’ll be very disappointed,” says Tony. “It was never my intention to leave the band, that’s not what I wanted...
“Listen, we’ve had our ups and downs over the years; it’s like a marriage: you argue, you fight, you make up, you love each other – so that happens with bands. But the reactions towards my leaving the band were pretty hideous.
“I’ve never said what they are and I’ve got no intention of saying so now or in the future. I think it’s for them to say and be honest, because they know why I left. They’ve tried to sugar coat the whole thing over the years in various interviews, but they know exactly why I left.
“And it’s unfortunate but I couldn’t do it any more. I want to be happy and music’s about having fun, it’s about being in a really good environment, and I just couldn’t do it. So I’m sorry to all the fans but it really wasn’t my fault. I think it’s sad for the fans, I think it’s sad for the band actually because we could have been celebrating a 40th anniversary tour.”
For any Cambridge fans wondering whether Tony will still be “wheeling out” the Spandau Ballet classics when he comes to the Corn Exchange next year, have no fear. “People do say, ‘Oh will you sing
True, Gold, Through the Barricades?’, says Tony, “and I’ll be singing all those songs on the tour – all the hits and more.
“People say, ‘Because of what happened with the band, do you mind singing those songs?’ No. I remember when I recorded them, I remember the chart positions – pretty much, I certainly remember True went to number one – and also those songs mean something to people.
“True has become the wedding song, my first love song, my first kiss song, Through the Barricades is such a powerful song – it’s my favourite Spandau song – and you can see people hugging each other, Gold is the anthemic football song... You can see those reactions with the audience and I’m not one to deny that.”