Breaking Through Japan's Barricades
Tony Hadley in Japan, November 2012.
Clad in his debonair dark suit and crisp white shirt, Tony Hadley sprightly walks down the lobby of the Hilton Tokyo Hotel, all ready for an exclusive interview, two hours before hitting on stage at Billboard Live Tokyo last November 10. The once (and still) shining heartthrob vocalist of the legendary UK pop rock band, Spandau Ballet, that embracingly swept the ‘80s Romantic Movement with its undying hits, True, Gold, Only When You Leave, I’ll Fly for You, Through the Barricades, and more, Tony finally unveiled a long-awaited reappearance in Osaka (November 8) and Tokyo (November 9 and 10) after twenty-seven unbelievable years of absence, since Spandau Ballet’s last performance in Japan in the stifling summer of 1985.
Unknown to many audiences, after Spandau Ballet’s unfortunate and controversial breakup in 1990, Tony continued to linger on his singing career as a solo artist, capturing music enthusiasts worldwide with his powerful and amazing voice, and successfully releasing his solo albums of ballad and swing music. With Spandau Ballet’s swinging comeback in 2009 and the Reformation Tour that brought screaming fans back on their toes, and the new release of the Once More album, Tony is up and about, ready to titillate Japanese fans again. A quarter of a century felt like a long, suffering wait. But, it certainly was worth it.
WSI: So, here you are, back in Japan. Why the long wait?
TH: It’s the first time I’ve been here since twenty-seven years ago. We came in the mid ‘80s, but we didn’t come back again. We were quite a bit of a success here, and it would have been great if we came back again, but I don’t know why (we didn’t). Then, the band broke up. And, I’ve never had the opportunity as a solo artist to come back. I get asked to go all over the world. We got offers from New Zealand, Australia, America, Europe…I think we made some inquiries, but I really don’t know why we never came back…I really can’t explain it, honestly. Then, finally we got billed at Billboard Live, which is great.
WSI: So how did that come about? What made you come back?
TH: Do you know I can’t really remember (laughing)… I tell you what it was. It was Simon Watson, who manages and looks after Belinda Carlisle and Human League. My manager says, “We never get to play in Japan, how come?” And Simon says, “I’ll put you in touch with the people, and consequently, we’re now here.” This must have happened nine months ago, something like that. So, obviously my manager phoned Billboard Live. Then, we came to an arrangement, so that’s it.
WSI: Still, why only now?
TH: I don’t know. But, Simon manages Belinda Carlisle and Human League and they haven’t been back in Japan in years. Maybe the promoters were just concentrating on Japanese artists, or maybe it was too expensive to bring foreign artists over… I don’t know.
WSI: So, how are you feeling? Being back in Japan…?
TH: I’m okay. I’ve just been to the gym. We did two shows in Osaka, rehearsal yesterday, did the sound check. And we’re on at 6:00 today. I hope you enjoy it.
WSI: How were the Osaka shows? Did you go to Osaka last time, too, twenty-seven years ago?
TH: It’s gone down very, very well. Yeah…I think we did Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Tokyo, maybe Kyoto as well. We did about five or six cities with Spandau Ballet. Lily Gonzalez, the percussionist, told me the reaction in the Osaka shows was fantastic. Normally, it’s like a jazz club, quite reserved…but wow…the reaction we got was quite fantastic.
WSI: Was the audience jumping in the air, screaming…?
TH: Oh yeah! They were dancing, singing along, and last night as well (in Tokyo)… both shows… fantastic. I think people are happy, I hope so. Well, they may be happy to see me. But, we got to make sure we got a fantastic band. We got John Keeble (drums) here from Spandau…Spandau band is one thing, and Tony Hadley band is a completely different thing. But John Keeble, eversince I was a solo artist, has always been with me. John’s great. And we got Philip Williams on bass, Philip Taylor on keyboards, Richard Barrett on guitar, Lily Gonzalez on percussions, and Dawn Mynott on backup vocals… it’s quite a big band.
WSI: So you’re doing songs from your solo albums and also from Spandau Ballet, right?
TH: (Looking at his CDs) We’re not doing anything on Passing Strangers (album) ‘cause that’s a swing thing, so you need a big band. I’ll have to do a different concept for that with a big, big band. To be honest, I’m mainly doing the Spandau songs because people want to hear me sing True, Gold, Through the Barricades, and stuff. And, then, we’re doing some interesting cover songs. I don’t think we’re doing anything from True Ballads (album).
WSI: You’re missing Love Is All, the song you wrote.
TH: I know… But, I don’t know if people know it or not. So, I decided to concentrate on the songs that hopefully people will know. Feeling Good by Nina Simone, Somebody Told Me by The Killers—someone told me Japanese are big fans of The Killers… My Imagination is a new song which should be in the new album… Home is a Michael Bublé song. I really love that song. Somebody To Love is Queen and I love Queen. Rio is a Duran Duran song. We haven’t even done Woman in Chains in years. The trouble is you do a set for a certain time, then you argue a lot, “Let’s do something different.” And, at the moment, we’re working on the new material for the new solo album. It’s sounding great, I just need to spend more time (on it).
WSI: Your fourth or fifth album?
TH: You know… I don’t know (laughing). I’ve got albums out, DVDs, the swing album…State of Play was my American album. And here, in the Passing Strangers, I have my oldest daughter, Toni here. She’s a bit of an actress and a model. She just came back from Italy. And I told her “I need to photograph you.” She’s one of my five kids. I love kids.
WSI: So, how is your family adjusting to your lifestyle? …Although you’ve never really left singing. Even after the Spandau Ballet break up, you continued your singing career, and not many people know that.
TH: This is the funny thing… that people don’t know. I’ve never really stopped: performing, the singing, the massive tours in Europe… with the orchestra, tours in South America… I’ve done the big band stuff, Toronto, Europe… I’ve done a musical, and on top of that, touring with my band in the UK and Europe, America, Australia, and all over the world. So, I’ve never stopped (laughs). Japan is the only place I never came to.
WSI: And that’s why you’ve maintained the same voice quality. It’s amazing.
TH: Yeah, it’s like with anything, if you stop performing… it’s like I’ve had this bad back for a year and a bit. So, normally I’m training and boxing and everything. I trained really hard… for a year and three months, I’ve had this agony with my back, and suddenly, I’m training again. I’m doing an hour and a half a day. I’m trying to be fit again. And, it’s the same thing. If you don’t keep your voice, you get back into training. It’s really hard, mentally and physically. And. if you don’t keep your voice trim and use it… and that’s why Tony Bennett, Tom Jones, Jack Jones…these guys can still sing very well because they use their voice all the time. So… (kissing chin and forehead)… knock on wood…
WSI: That’s right, you never have that problem with your voice because you sing all the time. And, your singing voice will always be there…maybe still in the next ten, fifteen years (laughs)…
TH: Yeah, I sing all the time. I love singing. Well, Tony Bennett is 85, and I’ll be happy to be singing at 85, if I’m still alive (laughs). I just enjoy what I do. And, I’m grateful (that) the thing with the music business is it does keep you young. You either get to the point where you hear artists say, “Oh, I don’t like touring anymore… I don’t like doing videos anymore… I don’t like this, I don’t like that…” But, hold on a minute. You were a kid. This was your dream. You got the chance to be in the music business, making records, singing, touring, playing… then, you tell me you don’t want it anymore. I don’t quite understand that. Because to me, all I’ve always wanted to do was to sing and perform. I love the writing side of it. I enjoy that, and being in the studio. But, the best thing for me is being up there on stage.
WSI: And, touring…
TH: Yeah! It’s hard on the family. My two youngest miss me. They’re 5 years old (Zara) and 8 months (Genevieve). My eldest is Thomas, 28; then Toni, 26—she’s married, then Mackenzie, 21…five kids, and it’s great. I spoke to Toni yesterday, she’s really missing me, and so do the boys. You miss your kids, but it’s your job. To be honest, that’s all my family has ever known. I don’t go away as long as I used to now. If I go away, maybe three to four weeks is maximum. But, when I was younger, with Spandau on the road, we were away sometimes six, eight, twelve weeks. But, my job is easy.
WSI: Is that your energy level going down a bit?
TH: No… my energy level hasn’t gone down at all. But, you tend to do a lot of other things: festivals, then come back home. But, even with Spandau, when I was touring Europe, if I had two to three weeks away, and had a day off, I’d always fly back home and leave the guys in Europe to see the kids. So, I always try to keep contact with the kids as much as possible. It’s difficult… but, my job is easy. These guys in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the military… their jobs are really tough. My job is no comparison by far. I really got no complaints.
WSI: What are we going to see in your next album? Do we see more of the ‘80s? Swing (because you love swing)?
TH: It’s not going to be swing. I’ve already made the swing album, and I’m really pleased with that. I’ve done that. The new album is a kind of pop rock. I love contrasts, like guitar-bass songs, but with lots of ‘80s style stuff. Some songs will be quite perky. It’s good old-fashioned pop rock, but with an edge. I love The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs… I think they’re really interesting bands.
WSI: And, how about your brewery?
TH: Oh, that doesn’t exist anymore. We just stopped it. It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. That’s a bit of a shame. I have other stuff I’m doing. I’m doing my radio show again. We do an ‘80s show. And I’m doing Tony Hadley Party Classics. There might be radio stations in Japan who might buy it. It’s really crazy. It’s a mad show; it’s good fun. But, mainly, I’ve got to finish the new album. We’ll probably release the single end of February, March 2013, and the album like end of September... probably.
WSI: When will we see Spandau Ballet back in Japan?
TH: There’s a possible talk of getting back in 2014. To be very honest, I don’t know why after twenty years of getting back together again, because we fell apart awhile, then we toured in October 2009-2010, I don’t quite know why we didn’t come back to Japan. We thought about it. But, maybe the production was too big.
WSI: But, you also did tours in other parts of Asia? Hong Kong? Taiwan?
TH: No, not this time. I’ve done quite a bit in the Philippines. So, I’m hoping when we come back to Japan, we can build a reputation. The audience seems to love what we do, and I’ll come back again. If you’ll have us, we’ll come back. Everybody seems to be enjoying what we’re doing. Life is pretty good. I’m doing what I love and still doing it.
WSI: Well, you look young…
TH: I still feel good. I’m 52. There are a lot of other guys who are 52, and they look like older people… I look at myself, and “Wow… ” I still play football (Arsenal), I love boxing… I still enjoy life. I’ve got an 8-month old baby, you gotta be fit anyway.
WSI: Twenty years ago, there was the “previous” Tony, and now we have the “new” Tony. Do you see yourself this way? Like you’re projecting a new you or is now just an extended version of the “previous” Tony?
TH: Naww… I’m the same. I’m just a guy who’s in a band, and in a dream come true. I think you have to be careful about re-inventing yourself. I’m just a guy who sings. And, hopefully, people like my voice and appreciate what I do.
WSI: Hopefully, you can stay this way, and will still be singing the ‘80s Romantic Movement. Why do you think the ‘80s made this comeback? Are people being sentimental or nostalgic, or do the ‘80s speak of the true music of the heart, perhaps?
TH: I really don’t know why people are still with the ‘80s. You ask yourself why I love Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett… because my mum and dad played their records. And young kids are coming back and saying, “Hold a minute. This sounds pretty good.” I think there are a lot of young people getting back to the ‘80s whether it’s Spandau, Duran Duran, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Tears for Fears… I wasn’t born during Bill Haley & His Comets, Little Richard…but I know their songs. I think if you really love music you embrace the whole thing. That era still works. People still like it. And the main thing is to make new music as well.
WSI: I hope you can write more songs after Love is All.
TH: Yeah, we’ll do more in the new album.
With that final note, Tony and his band whipped the Billboard Live stage with endearing songs from nostalgia. By the third number from Spandau Ballet, Highly Strung, the Japanese audience was up on its feet, clapping, dancing, singing along, and some passionate repeaters even stayed on till the second set, which undoubtedly brought the house down. Yes, Japan is ready for a second return. And, Tony Hadley may just as well go “round and round” the globe, doing what he loves most, and earning himself the steady recognition of still, being one of pop music’s most stunning vocalists.