Title: Soul Boys Of The Western World
Director: George Hencken
Major Players: Spandau Ballet
Out Of Five: 4
80’s nostalgia is in full flow at the moment. Last month’s Pride is still packing them in at the cinemas and now we have a documentary with at least one foot in that decade, the Spandau Ballet documentary, Soul Boys Of The Western World.
It’s essentially their story from start to finish or, at least, the present day. They’re a group of ordinary lads in Islington who (nearly) all go to school together, get on well and simply want to make music. Finding their niche among the New Romantics, they make it big at breakneck speed, with a first appearance on Top Of The Pops when the youngest band member, Martin Kemp, is just 18. The number one album and single follow when he’s 23. More hugely successful singles and albums follow but things aren’t quite so harmonious behind the scenes, with the band eventually breaking up, followed by a much-publicised court case. Yet, despite all that, they manage to get back together ……
So, yes, it’s one for Spandau fans. It’s for music fans as well. But a large chunk of the film is a potted social history of Britain as well – London especially – as we watch the boys grow up and form their band to the background of contemporary news footage and music. Remember Anthony Newley’s Pop Goes The Weasel? This, after all, was their soundtrack and it’s hugely atmospheric and evocative of the time.
To give it that all-important personal touch, it’s fortunate that their families took lots of photographs and, later on, home videos. There’s some family stories as well, like the one about the Bishop of Stepney, Trevor Huddleston, who heard Gary Kemp perform some of his songs at a school prize giving and then turned up on the family’s doorstep, wanting to tape everything he’d composed. Huddleston himself is on the screen to confirm it happened – and his cassette recorder comes with a twinge of Guardians Of The Galaxy’s Awesome Mix!
Spandau’s career in the 80s is shown in parallel with the politics of the day. The rise of Thatcher, the general elections and the miners’ strike are just some of them. The decade is providing rich pickings for movie makers – we were there last month in Pride – and this film paints a similar picture. But here the style of the people in the clubs – heavy make-up, flamboyant clothes – is a vibrant contrast to the grey of the striking communities.
We’re also re-acquainted with the younger versions of some familiar faces – a remarkably svelte Danny Baker, commentator Robert Elms, DJ Mike Read and even Bob Geldof at the time of Band Aid and Live Aid. Director George Hencken goes so far as to include the footage of when he challenged Thatcher about the VAT charged on the single – complete with his sceptical expression when he hears her reaction. The clip comes from a news bulletin, with newsreader Peter Snow wondering who won the argument. And his money’s not on the PM!
After the more staged style of Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days On Earth, Soul Boys Of The Western World takes a more traditional approach, setting out to bring us closer to something of the truth about how the band came to be and how it broke up. There are insights into what it’s like to be mobbed by legions of screaming, hysterical fans – and you can see the fear in the band’s eyes.
The core of the film is the relationship between the band members. There’s a hint of sibling rivalry between the Kemp brothers at the outset, although this doesn’t come to anything more serious – to the extent that, during the legal battle over royalties, Martin deliberately removed himself from the whole issue, feeling torn between his brother and his friends. But the latter half of the film paints a less than flattering picture of Gary. When asked what the rest of the band contributes to its music, all he can talk about is that he writes the songs, making it clear that nobody else has a hand in it. His frequent references to “my” band and “my” songs portray him as controlling and the very final shot of the film is of him looking straight into the camera. Is he still controlling everything? You decide.
Soul Boys Of The Western World is a hugely entertaining slice of nostalgia with a broad appeal. For those who lived through the 80s, it will bring back memories. Music lovers will be more than happy, as will students of social history – and Spandau fans, of course, will be in their element. The music is bound to have them rockin’ in the aisles at the premiere at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday and then in cinemas when it’s released. And if you walk past somewhere showing it, chances are you’ll hear an impromptu Sing-Along-A-Spandau in progress!
Soul Boys Of The Western World is released in cinemas from Friday, 3 October. The film receives its European premiere at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday, 30 September, followed by a live performance by Spandau Ballet, both of which will be beamed by satellite to cinemas around the UK and Ireland. Tickets are available from www.spandauballetthemovie.com.