It was an odd decision for the uber-European Spandau Ballet to pick Austin, Texas, a town in which they had previously never even performed, to launch a bid for a stateside comeback. But at SXSW on Wednesday, the new career-spanning documentary, “Soul Boys of the Western World” premiered before an enthusiastic crowd at the downtown Paramount Theatre, the film features footage of all the major players on the British pop scene of the time, including the three acts that Spandau songwriter/guitarist Gary Kemp viewed as their top competitors: Culture Club, Wham! and Duran Duran.
“Soul Boys” follows the fledgling five piece from their humble punk-era origins in London through several name changes before finally settling on “Spandau Ballet,” two words of graffiti scrawled in a Berlin toilet which referred to the death throes of prisoners hung at the nearby Spandau Prison. Once the band had a record deal in place, a Top 5 UK hit came immediately with “To Cut a Long Story Short,” a short, punchy number which captured the flash of the then-burgeoning and actually quite avant-garde New Romantic movement (which had a significant influence on the fashion world, and still does to this day). Numerous singles followed, with varying degrees of chart success, until massive international stardom arrived, as we now know, in 1983 in the form of “True”.
Film director George Hencken does a deft job of bringing Spandau’s heyday to life, paring down over 250 hours of material to only the choicest concert footage, Top of the Pops and MTV appearances, and ’80s-specific newsreels of Margaret Thatcher’s time in Parliament for context. The band were too busy living the high life to be overly concerned with politics, at one point in the film even admitting their concern over how the Falklands War would impact a single’s chart position.
After “True” where could it go but down? The scenes of the early days of the “True” world tour is pure youthful frivolity, with the lads parading their tanned chests and blond highlights poolside. But the pop treadmill has a way of wearing a young dandy down and soon members are being a bit too candid in front of the camera and the inevitable grievances about band royalties begin to cut away at Spandau’s solid gold armor. By the close of the 1980s, the band had split, and in 1999 various factions of the group were appearing in court, battling over royalties.
Following the premiere, the reformed band played a SXSW showcase at Vulcan Gas Company, trotting out classics like “Chant No. 1”, “Lifeline” and “Gold.” A full Stateside assault is also in the works.