ROCK stars are no strangers to exotic cars but John Keeble, a founding member of and drummer for 1980s chart-topping band Spandau Ballet, proved he’s a true petrolhead in Driving’s new Kicking The Tyres live show on Facebook. And he has a particular fondness for classic British sports cars.
While fellow band members spent their royalties on some of the best known sports cars of the era, including the Porsche 911 and Jaguar E-Type, Keeble had a craving for enthusiast machines from Lotus. Over the years, he has owned a Lotus Elan +2, Europa Special, Talbot Sunbeam Lotus and, more recently, an Elise R.
The band members first met at their school musical, at Dame Alice Owens, in Islington, London. But relations have been strained since 1999, when Tony Hadley, Steve Norman and John Keeble faced Gary Kemp in the High Court, as they battled for a £1m share of songwriting royalties – but lost.
Although there have been some live performances since, including the Reformation Tour of 2009 and 2010, these have been sporadic.
Now John Keeble, founding member and drummer for Spandau Ballet, says talks are underway for the band to get back together, perhaps in 2017.
Asked when the band will reform, Keeble told The Sunday Times Driving: “I’ve seen most of the boys in the last few weeks. We’re in the politics phase. Of course we will get back together.”
The band is preparing to re-release Through the Barricades, the 1986 album that featured the top ten hit of the same name. Recently, Keeble visited the studio to see it being remastered for release as an LP. “It was amazing to be in a cutting room… wonderful seeing a cutting lathe and going back to analogue days.”
— Gary Kemp (@garyjkemp) December 14, 2016
Keeble likened being in a band to “being in a relationship, a marriage” and said that no band expects things to last forever. However, 40 years on, he’s still at it. “It’s like the Cosa Nostra: once you’re in Spandau Ballet you never leave!”
Over the years, the drummer says he’s just lucky to have been paid to do what he enjoys. The only other job he admires is chefing, likening it to getting out on a stage to perform: “No one cares if you’ve hurt your finger, haven’t slept or haven’t eaten properly; come 8 o’clock it’s showtime.”
Some of the money he’s earned has been spent on cars. Keeble began with a humble Ford Escort MkI van, which he bought for £100. Once he became a full-time musician, his car insurance company refused to cover him.
Next came a pair of Ford Cortinas – one a hot GT version, with fur headlining – which would get Keeble and other band members around the country as they played small venues and built their reputation.
“I always carried a hammer… because the starter motor wouldn’t engage without a tap.”
Next came a rare Lotus Europa, a car Keeble describes as visceral. “You used to quip that the first metal you’d hit if you t-boned a Europa was the driver’s wrist watch.”
There followed a series of hot hatchbacks and sports cars, including a Renault 5 GT and Lotus Elan +2 and Elise.
After driving a Jaguar E-type coupé that belonged to fellow band member Martin Kemp, Keeble came away with the impression that the front wheels didn’t seem to be attached to the steering.
His Talbot Sunbeam Lotus suffered a mechanical problem that threatened to make Keeble miss performing at Live Aid
Keeble recalls racing back from Studio Miraval, a plush recording studio in Provence, where they’d been mixing Spandau’s Through the Barricades album. “Martin had a 911, Steve [Norman] had a [Lotus] Esprit S2, and I had the Europa. I couldn’t keep up with them… and told them to go on… unbeknown to me, Steve’s car had overheated, so I beat them home.”
On another occasion, his Talbot Sunbeam Lotus — an unassuming hatchback that packed a 2.2-litre engine and wide, competition wheels — suffered a mechanical problem that threatened to make Keeble miss performing at Live Aid, the 1985 charity concert that was organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, with performances split between Wembley Stadium in the UK and John F Kennedy Stadium in America.
Keeble currently runs around in one of the last Porsche Boxsters to come with a flat-six cylinder, naturally-aspirated engine. He says his dream car is probably the Lamborghini Miura, a car that was “technologically advanced at the time and beautiful, but a bit of a pig to drive.” But he admits craving a drive in a Ferrari, after having visited the Italian car maker’s factory in the 80s and seeing a top secret prototype drive past; a car that would transpire to be the acclaimed F40.
A self-confessed petrolhead, who would work on his own cars, Keeble remembers reading a certain Jeremy Clarkson’s column in Performance Car magazine, and still reads them to this day, in The Sunday Times Driving.