Gig review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with photography by Ken Harrison

Well. This chap is kinda famous. He’s an actor – famously  in Eastenders; done films – probably most notably The Krays – and possibly more famously was part of one of the biggest New Romantics 80s band out there – Spandau Ballet. With tales to tell in bucket loads, Martin Kemp, brings his spoken word tour to a small town in the Black Country tonight.

Martin Kemp 29/10/16

This is a small and cosy venue but is pretty much full to the brim. On the stage two seats and a table –  for a chat. Kemp takes to the stage with interviewer Fred, waving to the crowd.

Martin Kemp 29/10/16

So just why is Martin Kemp out and about talking in small venues up and down the country? Kemp relates the world on being on stage playing arenas. You can’t see the thousands of people watching, when you are up there, and when the house lights are up – people look like tiny specs of dust in the distance. And it struck him that that is was those who are sitting affair must see – a tiny spec of dust on stage.  So these spoken word gigs are about relating tales that he couldn’t say on TV or in the press, and to prove that he’s not a spec or dust – to get up close and personal.

The interview takes him through his life, growing up in poor, post war Islington in London – the relationship with his family, and his brother, Gary – also actor and member of that New Romantic band.

He was painfully shy, and to get him over it, his family enrolled him into drama school. Soon him and his brother we taking part in TV – from Jackanory and a range of other shows, though never TV adverts – his drama teacher looked down on such ventures.

Martin Kemp 29/10/16

Martin Kemp 29/10/16

He relates a tale where he is cast in a BBC drama, and as a (painfully shy) 15 year old has a scene in showers, where he is expected to stand up, naked, camera filming his behind, and urinate on the boy next door to him. The story is entertaining, as are all his tales, spoken clearly with genuine whit. Needless to say, he couldn’t ‘do the deed’ and to add to that, a young production girl was provided to hide and provide a jug with the water, to produce the liquid the scene required. Kemp was modified, and came across the director later in life for a part. He studied and prepared for the audition and when he walked in the room, came face to face with the director once more, crumbled. The auction didn’t go well, however the director gave him the part anyway….

So he roadied for older brother’s Gary’s band. He hated it. He prayed for something terrible to happen to the other band manners so, in dream like scenario, he could take their place. He was working as an apprentice – his father had got him this precious job – an outside scenario from what he could have expected. Then one day, just before said band were due to be on Top of the Pops – band manager Steve Dagger, and band member Steve Norman, told him they wanted him in the band. He told his dad he wanted to be in his brother’s band – and without a thought his dad write a letter to his employer:  “Could you please release Martin from his apprenticeship cos he wants to be a pop star…”

Within 3 weeks he learnt to play bass, on 12 songs, and on his eighteenth birthday he was on Top of the Pops performing ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ with Spandau Ballet.

There was no phased success with Spandau. It was from nothing to everything. He teamed up with Steve Norman, Gary at that time didn’t really want his kid brother in the band, let alone following him around. The hedonistic days of young lads, given everything – money and access – lead to crazy times. A time in Munich in a sauna with Norman, of hanging out with the late Steve Strange and the “rubber house”.

Martin Kemp 29/10/16

Of rivalry with local lads Duran Duran, where the deal was they continually tried to out do each other – parties, drinking games – even the original Live Aid single became a race between the bands of who could get there first. All Kemp know was that Bob Geldof had phoned about being on a charity single. They were living in a bubble and knew nothing of the wider word – as shown when a camera was pointed in Steve Norma’s direction. He was asked what he thought about the people of Ethiopia, he responded by saying “Sorry we couldn’t get down there this year – try and tour next year…”

Kemp’s tales are told from experience – but also with hindsight and looking back thinking – did that REALLY happen?

After 10 years, Spandau Ballet acrimoniously split up. Law suits were actioned, three of the band pitted against Martin’s brother Gary, though both sides kept Martin out of it. For Martin the split of the band was devastating – it was his passion, his love – and his family were splitting. To this day he regrets not standing up for his brother in court….

He met his wide Shirley (of Wham!) after seeing her on TV, and meeting her at a party a couple of weeks later. She brought a friend on their first date – George Michael. Their wedding was just on a cliff top in a foreign land – no one but then and the person conducting the ceremony, a polar opposite to his brother’s huge event. They had a party when they returned with an amazing wedding cake. A cake made up of more ingredients than you can imagine!

Martin Kemp 29/10/16

So the Kemp’s became The Krays – in the film of the same name. Their journey took them to visit Ronnie Kray in prison – he was in Broadmoor, a prison hospital. Looking exactly what you would imagine Ronnie Kray to look like, Kray spent two hours saying exactly which ways he would kill a range of people given half the chance. As Kemp’s mind drifted off at the repetition, he glanced across to see the Yorkshire Ripper sitting opposite. That morning he’d been on Saturday Superstore with Spandau Ballet. Another did that REALLY happen moment?

So the world of excess and stardom also came into a sharp focus when he had brain tumours. One the size of a grapefruit was removed, another removed with cutting edge lazer surgery. The effects were temporary loss of use of his legs, eyes, spacial dyslexia. He’s the luckiest man in the world – he got away with it. It turned him onto a man.

Eastenders – he loved the role of Steve Owen. The producers told him they loved him being involved, that they’d never kill off his character. The he mentioned he’d got a deal with ITV – he went to set and as with every cast member, they glance through the back pages to see what happens. And in it, it said “STEVE OWEN BLOWN UP.”

Brief break and then we get some of his own personal footage from the Spandau Ballet reformed tour in 2015. Tonight’s punters have been writing questions and they now appear on stage, in a brown box for Fred to select and ask the questions….. The names are read out of the questionee’s and Martin waves to them as their name is called. Each writer squeaks in glee as their name and question is read out.

Will Spandau tour again? No sure – it appears lead singer Tony Hadley doesn’t want to do it again. And their tour rider is still as excessive as it was back in the day – it would be bad luck to change it….

Who has he been starstruck by? He met Buzz Aldrin – one of the first men on the moon. He stared at his feet all night – thinking – those feet have been on the moon…..

Live Aid concert –  Kemp hates helicopters. and when they were being flown there he discovered he was being flown by Noel Edmunds! Spandau were due to following Status Quo. So at the sound check – the guys were dancing and jumping up and down as the Quo played rocking all over the world. For him – a happy place with his band mates.

Martin Kemp 29/10/16

He was inspired by those with charisma – Elvis, Bruce Lee. And musically punk. The Clash, Buzzcocks and co.

In the new year he’ll be on our tele – as a panel member on Gary Barlow’s TV show ‘Let It Shine.’ With 45 years in the business he’s keen to share and mentor youngsters.

Martin Kemp was genuinely engaging, friendly, witty, and clearly looking back with the ‘did that REALLY happen?’ amazement.  With one hand on mortality, he’s someone that if offered an opportunity and goes and does it – a lust for life and opportunity – clearly this tour is one of them.

And to end with a broad grin: “Thank you. Glad you think I’m a real person not just a spec of dust…”

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An auction tonight which raised £400 for Mary Stevens Hospice.

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