Spandau Ballet star Gary Kemp wins BMI Icon Award: “Some songs have stood the test of time, I feel very proud”

Gary Kemp after being presented with the BMI Icon Award at the BMI London Awards (Ian West/PA) (PA Wire)
Gary Kemp after being presented with the BMI Icon Award at the BMI London Awards (Ian West/PA) (PA Wire)

Spandau Ballet star Gary Kemp has said he feels “proud” that some of his music has become part of the British songbook, as he was recognised by the BMI London Awards.

The 63-year-old was a guitarist in the 1980s group, who were at the forefront of the New Romantics movement. Kemp was the band’s principal songwriter, and wrote hit singles including True, Gold and Through the Barricades, before going on to pursue his own solo career

His 1995 debut solo album Little Bruises was produced by Bow Wow Wow bassist Leigh Gorman, who was also well-known for his work with Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren. After collaborating with Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason in his psych-rock band Saucerful of Secrets from 2018 onwards, Kemp then released his second solo album INSOLO. Unlike his folk influenced debut, the 2021 follow-up draws more heavily from his time in both Spandau Ballet and Saucerful of Secrets.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Kemp told the Standard, the day after the October 2 awards ceremony. “To be honest I had more nerves on that stage than I’ve ever felt on any stage before. There’s this sense that almost any musician or artist has felt: ‘You’ve made a big mistake here, you’ve picked the wrong guy.’ That feeling lives with me my whole life.”

“I found it really emotional… I found I was rather shaky when I got up on stage to deliver my speech, and gave a rather shaky rendition of True,” he continued. The musician celebrated afterwards at a low-key gathering with friends and family. “I’m not a drinker, so there’s no hangover for me this morning,” he said.

Kemp also credited his Spandau Ballet bandmates for their role in shaping his identity as a songwriter. “Spandau Ballet…. I mean, this is the truth, and it’s important to mention this; through all of our ups and downs, for all of our rather fey arguments and stuff, I’ve got to say that Tony Hadley is one of the greatest singers in the world,” he said. “Steve [Norman] and John [Keeble], and my brother Martin [Kemp], were so important to who I am. I wouldn’t have got that award last night if it wasn’t for them, and the sound that they helped create.” Read the full interview here.

On Monday night, the artist, now also a co-host of the podcast Rockonteurs with bass player Guy Pratt, was presented with the BMI Icon award at a ceremony in central London for his contribution to music.

He told the PA news agency it is “very nice” of the BMI to honour him, but feels he’s not good at the spotlight being shone upon him.

“I’m the same whenever I get told anything about me that’s nice, I feel a great sense of imposter syndrome. [I think] ‘They must have made a mistake’,” he said.

“This is the way I’ve been all my life. But, I suppose, I’m still here. I’m still making records, I still made music, my records are still being played and embraced in different ways, and become part of the ether really, so it’s nice.”

The musician said the recognition has energised him to continue creating, and that he enjoys writing now more than he has ever done.

“It’s not as easy to have the same success as I did in those years, because every writer has a moment, a period of ten years when everything happens for them,” he explained.

“They are riding the wave, their age is right, you’re in the zeitgeist and things happen for you.

“Certain generations of people hearing music in their formative years will carry that music under their skin for the rest of their lives, and that is something to be thrilled about.”

He recalled attending an Arsenal football match as a fan with his son recently and felt a sense of “pride” when the crowd began to chant to one of his songs.

Kemp said: “Some songs have stood the test of time and become part of the British songbook, you feel very proud.

“At the same time, it becomes extra baggage every time you sit down to write a song now.”

In the 1980s band, which had an original line-up of Kemp and his brother Martin, Tony Hadley, Steve Norman and John Keeble, they created six studio albums, with a reunion album featuring some of the members being released in 2009.

Reflecting on what is the secret to creating a good song, he recalled how Spandau Ballet’s hit song True was “much more personal” than any he had written for the band before, which may have impacted its success.

However, he noted that the music industry has shifted; where radio play was once crucial, other factors like having a presence on social media now matter just as much.

He added that he has noticed British bands have not been dominating like they did when Spandau Ballet was at its peak, but feels that it has become no easier to climb the charts. “The competition has always been high, it’s always been hard to get yourself heard.”

Asked if he has any worries about AI being introduced into the music industry, he said: “The authenticity of the industry has always been changing anyway.

“Most records you listen to now don’t even have musicians on them, they’ll just have a singer and computerised music, it’s been leaning that way for a long time.

“Whatever tools you can use to be creative, that’s what counts.”

He added that AI was not something he was interested in exploring in his work but feels as long as people are honest with their usage of it then it “doesn’t matter”.