the sound of Thatcherism

Michael Hann has an interesting piece in the Guardian about the reformation of Spandau Ballet:

[T]he Tony Hadley homepage on his agent’s website describes the band’s demise thus: “As the Thatcher years drew to a close, Spandau disbanded.” You don’t hit on that formulation by accident. Hadley himself is a committed Conservative who attends party conferences and was rumoured to be interested in running for Parliament. And he’s definitely not at the Cameronian “hug a hoodie” end of the party: he liked the way Thatcher did things.

But the link between Spandau Ballet and Thatcherism is about more than the personal politics of Tony Hadley. It’s about the emptiness of Spandau, the aspiration to do nothing more than look good in a nightclub, the happy embrace of style over substance. Billy Bragg has even attributed his decision to become a performer to them: “One day [I] saw Spandau Ballet on Top of the Pops wearing kilts and singing Chant No 1 and something in me snapped. I was waiting for a band to come along to play the kind of music I wanted to hear, and none was forthcoming, so it was that moment I finally realised it was gonna have to be me,” he said at a press conference in August 2003.

And we still haven’t talked about the music. We haven’t mentioned the sexless funk of Chant No 1. Nor the oddly fascistic undertones of Musclebound. Nor the dreadful wine-bar soul of True, which was No 1 for four years between 1984 and 1988. And that’s because, really, Spandau Ballet weren’t about the music, just as chrome-and-black-leather furniture wasn’t really about sitting down.

I don’t have the visceral loathing for Spandau Ballet that Hann does (but don’t get me started about U2). But because pop music is so much about attitude and style, particular bands do tend to encapsulate particular eras. If Spandau Ballet embodied Thatcher, Oasis represented the early, Cool Brittania days of Blairism.

Haven’t really thought through how it works in Australia, though. What bands represented the Keating years? Is there anyone who stands out as a musical incarnation of the Howard era?

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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  1. I think Guy Sebastian sums up the Howard Years for me. Need to ponder Keating. I think I was going through a weird dance party electronica phase rather than listening to Australian music for most of the Nineties which means the group that comes to mind is Deelight.

  2. Yeah, maybe Guy Sebastian — but also perhaps that other Australian Idol guy. The country one, the fellow who sings the Biggest Loser theme song (my memory has blotted out his name).
    Peter Garrett now seems to embody, in quite different ways, both the Keating years and the Rudd years.

  3. Having just discovered the relationship between Kate Grenville and her father, pioneer Trotskyist turned arch-reactionary Ken Gee, I’m wondering about the Veronicas. They’re both called Origlasso, yeah? Could they be some relationship of Sydney Trotskyist leader Nick Origlass? The music listening public demands to know!
    And, yeah, you are right. Garrett belonged to the Hawke era, and all the anti-uranium stuff around then

  4. Nikki Webster: from ‘cute’ blonde frilly-socked Olympic darling to ordinary fourteen year old video-hits belly-button bearer and on into obscurity.

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