Sounds 8th December 1979
THE HUMOUR LEAGUE HAVE NOT BROKEN UP
Nor The Human League either. GIOVANNI DADOMO finds big laughs, upended bears and assorted cigars in Sheffield.
THREE FRIDAYS past in Sheffield, fifth in the nation’s population chart, half a million beating hearts and then some. Four of which answer to the collective name The Human League, an appellative derived from a futuristic board game.
Like most of our big cities, Sheffield’s had it’s heart ripped out in the name of commerce and efficiency. Meaning shopping precints without interesting nooke and crannies: concrete and glass. Further out the town gets older and friendlier. Trees. Redbrick.
And sometimes even further in. The Human League are found on the second floor of a small rust-coloured factorybuilding in the appealingly named Love Street. Intoxicating smell of yeast from a nearby brewery. Like snorting Hovis.
The Human League are preparing for their forthcoming tour. The two who sing are busy with tapes and synthesizers while Adrian Wright (images) builds a pre-manufactured frame for the stage. Ian Marsh (who also sings but does not leave his console onstage) makes the tea, nearest in his loose double-breasted white on black pinstripe.
“This is the next album,” grins Phil Oakey, the one with the unusual hair. Phil’s finger indicates yards and yards of tape in a big tangle by his right foot. “We’re going for a really dirty sound this time.”
The Human League have thus long oblong room with a dody ceiling to work and play in. The tea things and a small portable TV occupy a small room at the back. Pop people look down from a pin board on the wall. Most of them are Lou Reed, funnily enough.
“We change those every time a new journalists comes ‘round, “a Leaguer one-lines.” Sooner or later the word ‘art’ will be mentioned. “Aaargh?” go The Human League when this happens.
“You look like Jerry Cornelius,” says Phil Oakey. The Human League are all Philip K. Dick fans and J.G. Ballard fans. ‘Circus Of Death’ drew inspiration from Dick’s ‘Unik’, Phil admits. Phil used to work in a bookshop and has seriously considered adopting the Cornelius persona himself. He even owns the out of print anthology of Cornelius stories Michael Moorcock didn’t write, the luck bleeder.
“There’s three or four new songs,” someone says. Some of the backing tapes are played and turn out intriguing but incomplete, which is how it should be.
THE TALKING proper, it’s decided, will be at Adrian’s. We won’t be able to smoke there because Adrian disapproves. “If you look during ‘Blind Youth’ I always slip in some slides of young people smoking,” says Adrian.
He also says we’ll have to take our shoes off before we go in, but is talked out of this temporary attack on pedalphobia by Phil.
Adrian Wrigth’s small crowded inner sanctum is a real palace of wonder. There’s a row of little Darleks by the door, shelves crammed with hundreds of annuals, the bias running heavily in favour of Gerry and Sylvia, Captain Scarlett, Joe 90, Thunderbirds and so on.
Adrian owns every ‘Man Fron Uncle’ paperback and a display case like the ones cafes use for cheese rolls and Penguins, but Adrian’s case contains Batmobiles, a pink Rolls Royce complete with tiny Lady Penelope and even a rare Green Hornet vehicle “That wasn’t shown for very long. It’s quite hard to get hold of”. In a few years time Adrian would like to start a museum, says Adrian.
“If anyone got any books or toys, they don’t want, I’d be glad to take them. Could you put that in the paper d’you think?”
Adrian never buys from collectors’ shops, sticks to street markets and jumble sales, Oxfam shops and the like. He only has three cups, which means the tea is supped over two shifts.
“I suppose we might as well tell him,” says Martyn Ware, from under his moustache. “It’ll be in the papers on Monday anyway. The tour’s off. Well, postponed anyway.”
Two dates remain, of the several planned. The decision’s still only a couple of hours old. Economics have something to do with it but no-one’s aware enough of what’s going on to be more specific.
Three days later an obliquely worded communiqué will arrive from the band and manager Bob Last, confirming the reduction of The Human League’s itinerary to two dates, and promising further developments in a new HL format around Christmas sometime. This little item will be read by Phil Sutcliffe and conclusions will be drawn. Phil will then ring Dadomo: “The Human League have broken up. Did you know?”
But only two days ago they were all eating pizzas and laughing together. No, I’m sure they haven’t broken up. They’re doing a TV show on tuesday.”
Eventually it will be confirmed: The Human League have not broken up.
IN ADRIAN WRIGHT’S living room the subject’s already forgotten, Adrian’s defending his images, eager for people to know that he’s not just trying to “be fashionable”, There’s no argument here: the room spells out – this isn’t a mere dalliance, more of an obsession. He’s none too happy about the fact that most reviewers will only ever mention the same, most obvious slides.
“They all say, Oh yeah, there’s Thunderbirds and Dr. Who. And I don’t like that at all.”
“The thing is, it’s unfashionable in reviews now to state that you like something that can’t be explained,” Martyn Ware chips in.
“Just because you present something to people that’s not very literal, they feel
that they’re not gonna be able to convey to the people that are reading the papers. So they end up saying Wow, Captain Scarlet, fantastic, Gary Glitter, great. Because they think that that’s fashionable. Which is not what the slide show’s about…”
“Which is very annoying,” Adrian continues. “Because I’m not doing it because it’s fashionable. I’m doing it ‘cause I like it.” Adrian says he finds it somewhat annoying to be reviewed by music critics anyway. “It’s a different genre to music,” says Adrian.
“You mean you want to be reviewed in ‘Screen International”, says Ian Marsh.
“He should be reviewed in ‘Psychological Illustrated’!” suggest Phil. Provoking guffaws all around.
“You should be reviewed in ‘Tits’n’Bums!” Adrian comes back.
“I haven’t got tits or bums,” says Phil, cracking up at his own mistake. “Well, I suppose I have mally!
“I’ve been labouring under the misinterpretation that I’ve not got a bum for twenty-three years,” Phil confesses. “It drags me down.”
Is this a band on the point of breaking up?
Pretty soon Adrian will reach under under a cupboard and take out a leather suitcase full of picture cards and for a good twenty minutes everyone re-lives selected adventures alongside Napoleon Solo, Cat Woman and Captain Kirk. For a second it’s hard not to imagine Adrian’s mum coming in to tell him his tea’s ready and would we get the mess off the floor please.
Only Adrian doesn’t live with his mum (who isn’t even from Sheffield) and we have to go out for food. “Of course you realise they get it all from me, don’t you?” says Adrian modestly as we walk to the bus-stop. “Don’t you think Martyn’s too fat?”
Eats are ate in a large new shiny pizza parlour that has Dylan on the muzak machine and a lightshow machine projecting slides on the wall. This is the real inspiration point of The Human League, of course,” someone quips.
The images that flick by as the wine and pizza gurgle the stomach – wards are probably the resturants holiday snaps, cutting haphazardly from touristy shots of Venice and Milan to a badly focused shot of a huge Nikon camera that sells film from its lens/shop window and to two bears at some zoo or other.
The shot of the two bears is projected upside down and causes about the same amount of amusement every time it re-appears as the snaps of what looks like the Brighton seafront about to be attacked by a swarm of big black flying things. An amusing little place.
NOW WE are crowded into a hotel room after hours in the bar and Philip Oakey is asking: “Are you convinced that touring does that much good?” He isn’t, and nor is he over-fond of the procedure from a personal point of view either. In fact the League planned to ‘play’ support on the Talking Heads tour without appearing on stage at all – just letting their tape machines speak for them, it was this, er, unique approach which lead them to be dropped from the Heads tour, as revealed in this organ last week.
The League have, by this time, admitted to being disappointed by the sales of their ‘Reproduction’ LP. Do they want to be enormously successful?
Affermative, Martyn Ware: “A lot of bands work just to stay on the one level, because it’s a social thing.”
“But we don’t,” says Phil. We believe we’re commercial.”
“If we thought weren’t going to be…not enormously successful but for a long period of time, like number Ten artists in the singles charts or in the LP charts, then I think we wouldn’t consider carrying on. We’re just not interested in being a B-broup.”
But then The Human League haven’t been around that long. Even the David Bowies of the pop world have paid their share of waiting time. “Exactly,” says Phil. “That’s why it doesn’’t worry me. Because I know that we are going to succeed.”
Maybe the factor of The Human league’s music is not being exactly obvious pop fodder should be considered, too as much as this writer personally might find League pop at its best the easiest thing in the world to assimilate and enjoy…
Martyn: “It’s such a common get-out clause to say that you’re ahead of your time. You always hear it from groups who think they’re too intelligent for their audiences. We don’t think we’re too intelligent, we just think tastes haven’t caught up with our tastes yet.”
“You’re just saying the same thing.” Phil points out.
“No I’m not, it’s a matter of taste…”
“You mean we’ve got better taste?” grins Ian Marsh
“In fact, we are more intensive,” Phil Oakey interjects, trying to keep things serious. “And we’ve got to that point through intensively thinking about things. Whereas it might take people more connections to get there.”
“I think it’s the fact that we metaphorically smoke Tom Thumbs, concludes Adrian with dry mock-seriousness. “And that’s it really.”
Much laughter follows.
Ten days later The Human League played a packed Lyceum. Adrian’s ‘Zero As A Limit’ movie is shown. It’s no ‘Citizen Kane’, but he probably will end up being a film director when he grows up (his ambition).
Gary Numan skulks around the back. Taking notes, no doubt.