Tony Hadley made his mark fronting suave British pop band Spandau Ballet, whose commercial peak came during the first Reagan Administration and resulted in such hits as “True,” “Gold,” “Communication” and “Only When You Leave.”
But he doesn’t necessarily feel that time period produced more memorable tunes.
“I really like a lot of younger music; I’m a big fan of The Killers,” said Hadley, 51, while driving through the English countryside toward Oxford.
“Some people say, ‘Oh, the Eighties were the best.’ I say, ‘Whoa, c’mon mate.’ Look at The Killers, My Chemical Romance, Kaiser Chiefs or even more established artists like Queens of the Stone Age and Foo Fighters. I think Pink is absolutely fantastic."
The singer just embarked on his inaugural U.S. solo tour, the first concerts here since performing with Spandau Ballet in the mid-1980s. Why the long wait?
“I’ve wanted to come for years, but it’s been very difficult. I wasn’t given the opportunity.” Recently, an American booking agent caught Hadley and his own band – which comprises Spandau drummer John Keeble – at a European music festival and finally set the wheels into motion. “Hopefully, this is the beginning of something we can build upon.”
A longtime admirer of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, Hadley tackled pop/swing standards on his last solo album, the impressive “Passing Strangers.” Among the more familiar selections are “Sea of Love,” “Just a Gigolo,” Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” Young Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure?” and the Norah Jones hit, “Don’t Know Why.”
“I felt the Sinatra thing had been done too much of late with Robbie Williams, Westlife and others…so I also wanted to take on obscure stuff,” he said. “There are sniffs from Mel Torme, Sammy Davis Jr. We covered some interesting avenues. The arrangement of ‘Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered’ is particularly fantastic.”
Fans heading to the shows can look forward to a rocking atmosphere that could incorporate Hadley’s takes on tunes by The Killers and Kaiser Chiefs.
“We’ve done this really wicked version of [1965 standard] ‘Feeling Good’ [done by Nina Simone, Muse, Michael Buble and others] a couple times. We play it with a lot of gusto” and people don’t expect that.
The live shows are “a mix of Spandau stuff, mainly from the two albums that were successful in the States and maybe some really early songs like ‘To Cut a Long Story Short’ and ‘Chant No. 1’…we want to show people what we’re made of. Getting on stage and singing – I still love it to bits.”
Already familiar to dance and hip-hop enthusiasts through PM Dawn (who sampled “True” on their 1991 chart topper “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”), electronic act Tin Tin Out, DJ work and club-oriented singles, Hadley’s robust voice was heard earlier this year on “Goodbye Malinconia,” a top 20 European single by Italian rapper Caparezza.
“He wanted to work with someone that had a real classic ‘80s voice,” Hadley said of the intriguing collaboration. In the accompanying music video, Hadley sings and appears as a truck driver.
It was his second minor acting role lately, having portrayed a club owner last year in the independent U.K. film drama “Shoot the DJ,” co-starring fellow vocalist Kim Wilde [of “Kids in America” fame].
“I got the script and thought, ‘yeah, I can learn that in two seconds, fine.’ I’ve been asked to do a couple other films as well, but I want to do something that’s really good…the experience is essential, but I’m not going to do just anything.”
On his next studio album, due in 2012, Hadley plans to do a different “Malinconia” version. He also intends to do a songwriting session with Barry Gibb and son Ashley soon in Miami.
Admitted Roxy Music acolytes, the stylish Spandau Ballet formed in 1979, then spearheaded the New Romantic music movement alongside Duran Duran, ABC, Culture Club and others. The London synth pop band took part in both the Band Aid and Live Aid charity events and notched 15 top 20 U.K. singles and five gold or platinum records over a six-year span. The quintet’s success in America was short-lived though.
“It was post-punk, avant garde and a very creative time for music and fashion,” recalled Hadley.
“A lot has been made of it intellectually. It was very arty and musical…and the last period, really, when fashion and music went hand in hand.”
Spandau followers never thought they’d see the group, which split acrimoniously in 1990, get back together. Various members were later involved in a bitter court battle over songwriting royalties. The 2009-2010 Reformation Tour did bang up business around the world, but didn’t make it Stateside. Hadley has said the reunion was a “one off,” but doesn’t rule out future activity.
“I think we all desperately wanted to come out there, but for some reason, it just didn’t work out. That’s always been Spandau’s problem with America – we never toured enough.”
New acoustic album “Once More” paired with a live DVD from that tour (available on import) saw the veteran musicians strip down arrangements on their old hits, plus two originals, with the usual panache.
“We reconstructed and deconstructed them. It was nice to take a different vocal approach - really get into the lyrics [penned by guitarist Gary Kemp] and what they meant. Because you have a different interpretation of what you recorded at 23 and what you record at 49.”
Since Hadley has a four-year-old daughter, he doesn’t watch much TV, let alone broadcasts from across the pond. But he was told that Spandau figured prominently into the plotline on an episode of ABC sitcom “Modern Family” in ‘09. Edward Norton played a former band member mistakenly hired to give character Phil Dunphy a private performance.
“When someone recognizes or appreciates your music - even in a fun way – listen, I’ll buy that one every day of the week.”
Hadley concludes his U.S. tour with shows on Aug. 20 at Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas and Aug. 21 at Red Devil Lounge in San Francisco.