Smash Hits Magazine, 14th May 1981
A group from Sheffield explain their no bass/ no drum/no musicians policy to Ian Cranna. Then they have a meeting
and change their minds. Can you name the band? Is it; a) The Human League? is it b) ..... oh, you guessed.
"THE IMPRESSION is that there was a big bust up between me and Martyn.
There was always a big bust up between me and Martyn. I've know him seven
years, and so long as I can remember I've been arguing like the clappers with
him. I didn't talk to him for a year once. I remember chasing him down the road
throwing milk at him.
"But we were working together. I was certainly working on
a song of his with him right up to the split. Me and martyn argue openly, in front
of anyone. We've got quite strong opinions, and we won't back down on them."
The speaker is Human League vocalist Phil Oakey and the subject under
discussion is his relationship with keyboard player Martyn Ware which was
widely reckoned to the major factor in the split of last year which took Ware
and Ian Craig Marsh off to The British Electronic Foundation and left Oakey
and visual director Adrian Wright with the band's name, Adrian's slides and
not a lot else.
But, Messrs Oakey and Wright being at least as determined as they are
opinionated, The Human League Mk.II survived. Adrian found he could write
tunes like "Boys And Girls", schoolgirls Susanne and Joanne were recruited
by Philip in a Sheffield disco to act as dancers and backing vocalists, and local
synthesiser player Ian Burden was hired on a temporary basis for live work.
"He was roped in because we had four days before a German tour and we had
nobody to play synthesiser on stage, "Adrian remembers. "If we hadn't got
him, we'd have had to have gone out with tapes of me and Philip. Which we
wanted to do at one point but we sort of chickened out when we thought they
might kill us."
Burden, a tall figure with a very dry sense of humour and the tolerant air of an
elderly uncle overseeing a pair of particularly rascally nephews, is actually
something of a "serious" musician. He was formerly with - and still is on a
occasional basis - a Sheffield band called Graph, traces of whose work can be
found on Fast product's first "Earcom" package and on a Sheffield sampler
called "Bouquet Of Steel".
With his own musical tastes leaning more towards such things as reggae and
free music, Ian claims he was recruited to The Human League on a purely
mercenary basis.He even stated at one point that he didn't much like the
League's music so it's something of a surprise to find that not only is he back
with the group but his name is also on the writing credits for The Human
League's latest single, "The Sound Of The Crowd".
IAN, IT turns out, has been on trail with the band for two months - like a new
washing machine or something" - during which time the single was completed.
The big "Red" logo splashed across the label is, incidentally, supposed to be
part of a colour code of which red denotes a dance record. This curious idea
- that dancers somehow need a visual clue - is attributed by the band to the
departed Ian Marsh who isn't here to defend himself.
"It was specifically a dance record as opposed to a song record, "Ian explains
"If you go to disco's in Sheffield they'd always sling Human League records on
and people would attempt to dance to them. You'd see the most peculiar
contortions and straining to find a rhythm in there somewhere. They couldn't do
it, so we specifically did a dance one. It started out as a rhythm, not a song."
As I remember, "chips in Adrian, "Philip did a rhythm before Ian was involved.
Then Ian put a bass line over it, then he put a tune on it and that was it. While I
was wallpapering upstairs."
Ian's two months trail period with the group is now up but the final decision - as
seems usual with The Human League - remains to be made. Just about the
only firm decision they do seem to have arrived at is the reason for the band
(minus Susanne and Joanne who are concentrating on their 'A' levels) having
come down to London for a meeting with their record company, one that Adrian
anticipates (with some relish) will be a very noisy one.
The cause of the controversy turns out to be Adrian's and Philip's policy of
using vocals and synthesisers to the exclusion of everything else, and then
clinging firmly to that decision in the face of all opposition. Attempts to pin
Adrian down on the reasons behind this rather odd policy prove virtually
hopeless. Adrian, being Adrian, is not particularly troubled by concepts like
reasons or ideology. The best you're likely to extract from him is that they like
the idea as such and that it's a "personal decision".
Philip is slightly more forthcoming: "The whole experiment that evolved in the
very first place was: is it possible for a group - people who have never, ever
had anything to do with music - by using the brain and adapting modern
technology, that maybe they can get a record into the Top Ten without having
any traditional musical abilities? Doing it that way - that's what the experiment
IT’S A MEASURE of the lack of properly thought-out ideas in The Human
League that Adrian and Philip then proceed to disagree over whatever, in the
event of their getting a Top Ten record, the synthesisers only policy would end.
"I just don't like musical instruments really, "Philip offers. "I think they're old
fashioned." "But they sound good, "Ian points out.
"They sound all right - sometimes, "Philip concedes. "It's just that we're at a
different age. My brother works in a shop called 'Strings And Things' in
Coventry and he builds dulcimers, mandolins - this is at least part of his work.
And the shop just sells fittings for obscure musical instruments.
"I go round there - I like all these things, spinets and this strange thing that's
like an extended dulcimer but he's fitted a wooden keyboard to it. These
archaic things are great fun but it's a different age, isn't it?"
"What people don't seen to understand, " adds Adrian with the sort of appeal to
reason that has made him one of the foremost logicians of our age, "is that it's
our group and we can do what the hell we want."
Philip and Adrian's fear of musicians seems to boil down to two main reasons.
The first is the tiresome problem of having to work with other people instead of
silent, compliant machines and the second is losing a degree of the total
control with which they seem obsessed. When it's suggested to them that,
given rather precarious hold on the public's affection's they might be making life
unduly difficult for themselves by not taking advantage of what conventional
instruments like bass and drums have to offer, their reply is that it would be
more difficult for them if they had to put up with a drummer's temperament.
"The more people you've got, "Adrian insists, "the more chance you've got of
having arguments and things that don't help." "That's definitely part of it, "Philip
agrees. "If you want a guitar on a record, a decent guitar on a record, that
means you're going to have to put up with a guitarist. Besides that, we lose
some control at the same time."
"Like, on Sound Of The Crowd', I programmed the synthesisers, I was in
control of that sound. We're interested in understanding the lot. I want to find
out about everything that goes into it."
HALF AN HOUR and one presumably very noisy meeting later, it's all change.
Philip and Adrian have given in to the pressure from friends, record company
and their prized producer Martin Rushent to abandon their synthesisers only
policy. The pair seem suspiciously calm, however, and bear the look of
conspirators who will plead temporary insanity and revert to their old ways if
this new approach doesn't produce instant and total success.
So what happened to change their minds?
"Me and Philip saw sense - well a kind of sense, "Adrian corrects himself
hastily, "because we're very poor and we don't want to remain poor. And it
seems to be a step which will probably give us some money. That's about it
"I think we've just sort of agreed that anything that comes up in the studio won't
just be cast aside under the old disciplines, " Philip adds." The only worrying
aspect is that we don't want it to get out of our control. We don't want
musicians in and doing things we're not directly controlling every bit of."
Whatever the future holds for The Human League – and plans include films,
working with ex-Rezillos guitarist Jo Callis (Adrian: "We've taught him to play
keyboards") and - shock horror - a haircut for Philip ("It won't be as
extraordinary but it will in fact be sexier") - the commanding figure of Phil
Oakey stands tall in more ways than one. "You haven't heard the new song
have you?" he enquiries with confidence undimmed amid all the confusion,
arguments and worry. I've heard the songs."
Personally, I hope they make it.