TONY HADLEY (SPANDAU BALLET)
Photos and Review by Sheldon Ang
I know this much is true. It was perhaps the biggest live karaoke performance in Perth for 2020, as the near capacity crowd appointed themselves as the backing vocals, (ungracefully) belting their lungs to match the vocal gymnastics from centre stage.
Like a vocal vacuum, Tony Hadley – the former front person of the 80’s synthpop supergroup Spandau Ballet, inspired the X-Factor in the audience and propelled us into an era when music and dance were about the state of the heart…when Marilynn McCoo were unbelievably fashionable, framed in those shoulder pads that she (probably) borrowed from a quarterback for the Solid Gold Countdown of ’83. For under two hours, we were pinned into our childhood living rooms, cleansing ourselves under the nostalgic rain pouring from the roof of the Astor Theatre.
The guest performer was Timothy Nelson, an exquisite solo artist from Perth who mirrored against the metaphorical twin of Ed Sheeran and Harry on delivery and appearance, an enticing choice leading to the main act.
After the break, Hadley graced onto the stage and kicked off the set with ‘To Cut a Long Story Short’ from the 1981 debut album Journey’s to Glory, followed by ‘Highly Strung’ and the upbeat ‘Killer Blow’ from his 2018 solo album Talking to the Moon. By the end of the third piece, Hadley had gyrated his hips, wiggled his frame like Frank Stallone live, arms swinging laterally and pointing afar in a subliminal statement to the crowd – I’m the boss.
Yet, Hadley humbly acknowledged to the audience that they had come to listen to the songs of Spandau Ballet. We were honest, and with due respect we’re proud of our expectations.
Admittedly, I was looking forward to a handful of songs that became the anthem of the ‘80s. ‘Round and Round’ from the 1984 album Parade was one of them. The recorded version felt like a second gear ballad trapped in a TDK cassette compared to the live act as Hadley pushed his vocal limits, thematically embracing the track that was about yearning, frustration, desperation and obsession.
At almost 60 years young, Hadley’s range transcended the realms of defined categories, his vocals expandable and malleable to align with the eclectic styles of the Spandau Ballet’s discography. It was as if his unique chords had been encased in a time capsule, only to have climaxed for the first time in over three decades. Occasionally, the audience raised their arms towards the stage lights – hands curled in gestures normally reserved for the rock gods. It wouldn’t have been surprising if he had sung ‘Nessun Dorma’ to showcase his repertoire.
Hadley’s appearance fluctuated under the various poses and lighting conditions. For most of the night, there was something Alex Baldwin about the man from Islington, London – a standout debonair commanding the attention from both sexes by the virtue of his inert charm. There were times when Hadley oozed as a retired James Bond, and just as I had noticed the aura, he strutted a 007 pose, blowing his finger as he winked at his guitarist. At certain angles, Hadley transpired into the love child of Dustin Hoffman and K.D. Lang.
The Englishman drew the occasional screams of “I Love You, Tony”. As suave as Bond, Hadley responded with, “I love you more”, before sipping whiskey on the rocks. All that was missing was a Cuban.
Hadley dished a welcoming surprise by covering ‘Somebody to Love’ by Queen, taking us to the next level of the musical journey. It became the sing-along song of the night. It may not have been as ballsy as Freddie’s version (then again, who is?), but Hadley certainly gave the new guy a run for his money. But with a cast of thousand as backups, it didn’t matter as the crowd raised their hands and clapped to the cadence of Find me somebody to love on continuous playback – only to be outlasted by Hadley as he stretched the final words to lyrical eternity. It was a celebration of musical genius in Freddie.
As the journey drew close, it was true that everyone was waiting for the two moments of gold. Hadley cheekily exclaimed, “the next song has a lot of huh huh huh huh’s”. And from the look of certain faces behind the crowd barrier, some of the lesser diehards were relieved over the sounds of familiarity. ‘True’ was a worldwide hit. Like most songs in their catalogue, the song was written by the group leader Gary Kemp in 1983 for the album of the same name, charting at number one in the UK, subsequently becoming their seminal work and engraving Spandau Ballet into music royalty. Over in Australia, it peaked at number four. The performance glided for under seven minutes, only to be punctuated (and perhaps relieved) by the rapturing vocals of percussionist Lily Gonzalez, drowning the karaoke attempts from the audience.
After seventeen songs such as ‘Delirious’, ‘Soul Boy’, ‘Accident Waiting to Happen’ and ‘Barricades’ (accordingly this track remains as Hadley’s favourite song of Spandau Ballet), came ‘Gold’, a spy flick inspired piece, also taken from their third album True. The Astor was converted to a dancefloor, encouraged by the animated Hadley who gainly punched into the air as he sternly drove the word Gold. Appropriately, it was their final song of the night that continued to play in our heads long after the concert was over.
Some may only be familiar with only a handful of Spandau Ballet tracks prior to the night’s journey. But Hadley’s vocal delivery and performance has certainly ensured a wave of discoveries and revived obsessions, the sort of after taste that lingers long after the performance, blooming a new generation of time travellers in search of the tragic world of the New Romantics genre. To most, my generation is the golden era for music.
I know this much is true.