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Behind the Myths ~ The Name Revealed

The first Spandau Ballet Band
Photo taken at the Hope & Anchor, Islington, London
Left to right: Mick Austin, Mark Robinson, Gordon Bowman and David Wardill

A fortnight after Spandau Ballet reunited on the HMS Belfast, the original lesser known band of the same name have announced they will hold their own reunion in London in April. Band members Mick AUSTIN, Mark ROBINSON and David WARDILL, all originally from Ampthill, Bedfordshire, will meet up for the first time in more than 30 years to recall the days when THEY were Spandau Ballet.

Its TRUE says lead singer Mark Robinson: "The three of us were in a band in 1978 trying to think up a good name. I was reading the recently published "Spandau,The Secret Diaries" by Albert Speer and thought that Spandau, the prison near Berlin where Speer wrote the diaries before his release in 1966, would make a great name for our band. Mick and David used to love anything military and they were in awe of the German Maxim machine gun called the Spandau so they liked the name too. We randomly added the word "Ballet" via the "Bowie" method of cut up words in a hat, to form "Spandau Ballet".

Mick Austin adds: "Mark designed a poster with our new name for a performance at the Ampthill Youth Club on 30 August 1978. We didn't play the gig but all went to London instead. We got a new drummer "Gordon" through an ad. We played pop rock mainly, based on riffs and pretty simple melodies on the whole; quite catchy, certainly not wishy washy or boring". Mark remembers it as "new wave/ rock".

Early rehearsal tapes still exist.

The band performed at Islington's Hope & Anchor in support of The Softies on 6 May 1979. Expecting to make it big they spray-stenciled the name and logo "Spandau Ballet" on the toilet door of a well known, "Virgin Records' owned, London nightclub and at various other locations around the capital. The logo was a female ballet dancer silhouette wrapped in barbed wire. They believe their marketing campaign was so successful that it caught the attention of a certain Robert Elms who was good friends with Steve Dagger, the manager of a then unknown band called "The Gentry". In an Islington pub in November 1979, Elms suggested to Dagger and band members Gary and Martin Kemp, Tony Hadley, Steve Norman and John Keeble that they change their name to….. Spandau Ballet.

Years later Robert Elms admitted that he had seen the name written on a toilet wall but claims to this day that it was a wall in Berlin not London. Martin Kemp's autobiography mentions that "The name 'Spandau Ballet' must have belonged to another band at some point, but now it belonged to us - we were Spandau Ballet, and that was that".

First logo design 1978
(all rights reserved)
Original Spandau Ballet band poster

Mark Robinson remembers discovering the existence of "the other" Spandau Ballet in January 1980 when a newspaper mentioned that a band of that name would be performing at the Blitz club near Covent Garden. "Our friends all thought it was us" jokes Austin but he was annoyed at the time that another band had "used" his band's name. Robinson reflects: "We were young, angry, hadn't a clue what to do. We thought it would go away but how wrong can you be? If we had had any brains we would have protected the name but hey, that's rock n roll. The New Romantic Spandau Ballet were better than we ever were, but it still hurts. Just a punk band from Bedfordshire".

But the boys were not totally silent about the issue. Following publication of an NME story in which Robert Elms claimed credit for inventing the name "Spandau Ballet", a furious Austin wrote a letter to the magazine hitting out at Elms which was published in January 1981. He also wrote to Peter Powell at Radio 1 who read out his letter on air. It was to no avail and the Bedfordshire band, the original Spandau Ballet, never performed again.

By ironic coincidence, Mick Austin and David Wardill later discovered that their flatmates in 1978-79, Kim Bowen and Lee Sheldrick, were themselves friends of Elms and that Bowen had suggested the name "Spandau Ballet", either to Elms or one of his friends, because, as she told Wardill: "I didn't think you were using it any more."

Subsequently the band drifted apart. Mick Austin turned to art and eventually became the artist for Judge Dredd in 2000AD while David Wardill quickly found fame as bass player for The Passions, who went on to enjoy chart success in 1981 with "I'm In Love With a German Film Star". Mark Robinson now runs his own design company in Dubai.

So, do the original Spandau Ballet members think they can be as successful as their more famous namesakes second time around? "Nah" says Robinson, "we're just meeting up for a drink and a chat about the old days and perhaps we'll play a few of the old songs, just for fun. We don't think we will sell out the O2 arena"!

Mick Austin
Note the name on his guitar
1978: Lead guitarist of Spandau Ballet - Mick Austin


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