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5 Albums I Can't Live Without

5 Albums I Can’t Live Without: Gary Kemp

Name Gary Kemp

Best known for Songwriter and guitarist for Spandau Ballet; Sy Spector in The Bodyguard; Ronnie Kray in The Krays; guitarist and singer in Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets.

Current city London.

Really want to be in A concert hall full of beautiful folk watching a show. I may or may not be on stage. I don’t bloody mind at the moment, just give me anything!

Excited about My new solo album, INSOLO (July 16).

My current music collection has a lot of Solo female artists in it: St. Vincent, The Anchoress, Lana del Rey, Rachel Eckroth…

And a little bit of Prog. Actually, a lot of prog.

Don’t judge me for Liking Yacht Rock.

Preferred format Always vinyl at home. It’s the arena albums were designed to fit in: two 20-minute acts, unless it’s prog, then it can be four. And, of course, it comes with big art to hold. Gatefold, please.



5 Albums I Can’t Live Without:



The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
David Bowie


5 Albums I Can’t Live Without: Gary Kemp


On July 5th, 1972, my life changed forever. Sitting in a friend’s house in London we were watching a British music program called Top of the Pops on a black and white TV, when a thin, androgynous being, wearing unfashionably short, spiky hair and a tight, shimmering onesie, came onto our screen. Two things happened that I never forgot: he draped his arm around the shoulders of the blond guitar player next to him, revealing his painted nails while the pair sang suggestively into one mic, and then he pointed down the barrel of the camera and into my soul and sang, I had to phone someone so I picked on you-oo-oo, and I knew he meant me. I was his disciple immediately. He was unlike all artists that had gone before and I fell in love with the creature in all his strangeness.

The album, with its loose concept of an alien suicidal rockstar come to Earth, is drenched in ambisexuality and glam eroticism, delivered on searing moonage riffs from the master guitarist, Mick Ronson (an influence on my lead style to this day), with Bowie’s high, cutting, London-sounding voice, both chilling and enticing, slicing though the ambiance. When my generation came to deliver its style to the world in 1980 he was our reference. He’d set the theatrical bar high.

Listening today I’m transported back to dressing-up to see him play and running around stage doors looking for the band. I tried to pay homage to this on a track on the new album called “Waiting for the Band”, which is a hymn to being a fan. The central part of the song takes us into the auditorium as the band hit the stage. I found some old interviews with Bowie fans from the ‘70s and put them under Theo Travis’s sax solo and they bubbled up like ghosts, caught in their own euphoria forever.



Performance Rockin’ the Fillmore
Humble Pie


5 Albums I Can’t Live Without: Gary Kemp


I wanted to include a live album amongst the five and this is my most played in the genre. Humble Pie get mentioned rarely in dispatches these days, but boy could they swing! The show became a template as to how to wow an audience. Marriott’s vocal is supersonic—high and full of vibrating soul—but the whole band dig in on this remarkable document of their live show. My brother Martin (he played in Spandau Ballet with me) and I would listen to this endlessly back in the mid-’70s and dream of one day playing shows ourselves. We both wanted to copy Stevie and be able to say to a crowd: “We go ‘ome on Monday, but I wanna tell ya, we ain’t ‘alf ‘ad a gas this time, it’s really been a gas.”

I do a regular podcast with Guy Pratt (bass player with Floyd, Gilmour and Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets). It’s called Rockonteurs (available on your favorite podcast platform!) and we had Peter Frampton on. Peter is the young, florid lead guitarist on this album, who also happened to go on to make an even bigger selling live double album himself.



A Saucerful of Secrets
Pink Floyd


5 Albums I Can’t Live Without: Gary Kemp


I have to include this album because it effected my life twice: once when I heard it for the first time as a young man, impressed by its musical freedom and anarchy and its painterly aural adventures, but secondly when it became the foundation for my more recent musical journey as guitarist and vocalist in Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. The very first “band” experience I ever had in the early ‘70s was in a friend’s basement where me and a few other kids jammed our way through “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” for most of the day. So it was strange but thrilling, nearly 50 years later, when playing with Nick on stage at the Beacon in New York, we were joined by Roger Waters for that very song.

I love playing the title track of this album with Nick and the band and creating the soundscaped chaos that begins the track. It’s beautifully juxtaposed with Rick Wright’s majestic chords which find their way out of the maelstrom, and, bringing peace and order, majestically move their way up into the crescendo of euphoric triumph that ends the track. I normally stick a solo on the end, too.

The album also carries the final wave goodbye of Syd with his whimsical, jester-like “Jugband Blues”. If it wasn’t for Syd I don’t think there would have been Ziggy or Johnny Rotten.



Abbey Road
The Beatles


5 Albums I Can’t Live Without: Gary Kemp


A couple of years ago I was reading Mark Lewisohn’s extensive first part of his Beatles trilogy, All These Years, when I started to well up with tears. My wife asked me what was I crying about. I told her that Paul had just met John for the first time, and that the truth was we wouldn’t be living in this nice house if that hadn’t have happened. All would be different. Before the Beatles all rock music was American and the Beatles changed that and I became another kid grabbing the baton from the bands that came before me that were inspired by them. The Beatles’ tale is the Greatest Story Ever Told and this album is where it ended. Obviously, Let It Be came out after, but this was their final recorded work and I think some of their most successful. George’s “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” are standout tracks. Who would have thought that he’d join John and Paul on equal terms as a major songwriter of his time. But for me the medley on Side Two is one of the greatest pieces of work in music history and captures all of their facets as a band, from hard-rocking guitar to high emotional moments of heartfelt melody, to the humor and storytelling that they embraced so much in their work. They were a band not just influenced by American rock and roll but also Vaudeville, British music hall, and the surreal comedy of the Goons.

In saying all of this I could have picked any Beatles album and told you why it was my favorite one.



Liege & Lief
Fairport Convention


5 Albums I Can’t Live Without: Gary Kemp


If I’m going to be forever on this desert island [with only 5 albums] then I need something to remind me of Britain and its green hills and mythology. I’ve been bewitched by British folk and folk rock since my days at grammar school in the ‘70s, visiting folk clubs to watch people sing with their fingers in their ears. It’s the storytelling and the sense of nostalgia for something I was never part of, of tales of suffering and pastoral beauty, of trysts and tragedy. I remember some of my first songwriting was turning A British Book of Ballads to music, as I only had the lyric version at home.

In this incarnation of Fairport Convention, we have the band committing themselves to the genre like never before, led by the ethereal voice of Sandy Denny, one of the greatest vocalists that England has ever produced, and answered by the yearning, weaving fiddle of Dave Swarbrick. Behind it all is one of my favorite guitarists of all time—Richard Thompson—snaking his dark majesty throughout the songs. And then there’s dance, in the shape of reels and jigs, so I can hop around if I’m feeling low.

If all was lost in a storm, it would be the one album of these five that I would try and save.