A chat with Heaven 17
Heaven 17 will forever be associated with the electronic music revolution which started in Sheffield as the Seventies moved into the Eighties…
Until relatively recently, they were a band that didn’t really exist outside the studio, but not anymore. In 2010 they played the Leadmill for what was astonishingly the very first time, and anyone who was there will not need much prompting to see them when they return in October. Ahead of their homecoming gig, I had a chat with lead singer Glenn Gregory.
Can you give us a quick history lesson in all things Heaven 17?
After being sacked from the Human League, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh recruited me to sing with them. We formed the British Electronic Foundation, a production company that would take in acts, work with them and then Virgin Records put out the result. As part of this, the three of us wrote and recorded ‘Fascist Groove Thing’ in a week and that was the start of Heaven 17.
We soon realised Heaven 17 was actually more fun, so we concentrated our efforts on that. We wanted to be mainstream. We loved pop, we loved funk, we loved black dance music and we loved Germanic electronic music. Somehow we wanted to mix these sounds together, but we needed to decide what we were going to write about. With the Human League the lyrics were a bit more Phil’s domain and they were odd, sci-fi sort of songs, which we all loved, but we were living in Sheffield. Thatcher had just shafted Sheffield and fucked everybody off. We were mad, our families were pissed off, so that’s what we wrote about. We started to put what we were really feeling into the lyrics of the songs.
We wrote and recorded Penthouse and Pavements in the same studio the Human League were writing and recording Dare. We were quite literally using it in 12-hour shifts. They worked days, 10 til 10, and we worked nights, 10 til 10, and I suppose it did get a bit competitive. In those days we didn’t tour, but a couple of years ago we got together a band to perform the Penthouse and Pavement album. Similarly the follow-up album The Luxury Gap, had never been played live but now music technology has moved on to the point where that has now become possible.
Those albums, Luxury Gap and Penthouse and Pavement were very much a reflection of the political situation in the early eighties; youth unemployment and redundancies, set against a backdrop of bankers getting rich. Do you feel somehow that your time has come again?
You’re right. We could release those albums now and they would be as relevant. Not only with what the songs are about but sonically as well, because the sounds that we were using then are back. Artist like La Roux, who we have recently worked with, have picked up on what we did and introduced it to a new generation.
You can also hear our influence in the music of Little Boots and even Lady Gaga.
Can you give us some idea of what to expect from the forthcoming shows?
The band is a really amazing unit now that works so well together. It took a while, but now we put on a really good show musically and visually, and throw in some different songs you might not expect. We’re doing a couple of early Human League songs that we’re never done before, because they are Martyn’s songs, and we all love those first two albums. I love those early Human League songs and people don’t get the chance to hear them performed live anymore. It won’t be just the Luxury Gap, there’ll be plenty of other stuff including Penthouse and Pavements songs. Anyone coming along I guarantee they’ll have a brilliant time. We’re not a tribute band, and you can expect a storming version of Temptation, as we’ve got an amazing female vocalist in Billie Godfrey who really makes it that song her own.
Heaven 17 play The Luxury Gap at Sheffield O2 Academy on Saturday 27th October. Click here for more info.