Smash Hits 28th April 1983

You quite sure? This is The Human League, isn’t it? And what’s all about this about how they’ve stopped making “miserable” records and want to “grin at cameras and jig about”? And what’s with this painting houses business? Another great debate is in progress. Ian Birch keeps the peace.

"Somehow we've managed to waste a year and we're in a rush to get something done", sighs Philip (he doesn't like Phil) Oakey.
"No, we haven't," chorus Suzanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall, both obviously rattled at the suggestion. The three of them have motored down to London for the day while the rest of the band are up in Scotland doing a quick promotional tour of clubs, shops and radio stations.
"We went to America, came back in September and started working then," continues Suzanne.
"But it didn't get us anywhere," barks back Philip. "We were supposed to be going into the studio next week, having had all the time from 'Dare' - apart from 'Mirror Man' last November - to write songs in. But we haven't got the songs finished and that's really ridiculous."

The Human League are back and they're as prickly as ever. They've always loved the snap and crackle of an argument, spending hours - nay, days, weeks, months - discussing every last detail of the groups strategy.
It's hardly surprising that their new single, the excellent (Keep Feeling) Fascination was started long before Mirror Man, went through at least ten different mixes, took eight months to finish, and caused some ferocious battles with, as Philip says, "people actually leaving the room in tears".
Like their early singles, 'Fascination' has a colour coding. This time it's red (which means a disco record) but now it's accompanied by a new attitude. Out go those grim-faced photos and stiffly self conscious videos, as Philip explains
"Jo callis is a bit of a 'Glitter' fan, so I said, 'Great Jo, next record I'm going to get some white trousers with diamentes down the sides for Top Of The Pops and we'll have a right laugh."
"But instead we just did miserable single after miserable single. If you do 'Mirror Man' dressed like that you'd look stupid. You'd be pulling the rug out from under the record.
'Now we've finally got a happy record. We can grin at the camera and jig about. On the video Adrian laughs! I can even dance - well I make one dance step once!"

Nevertheless, the band are just as careful as ever about what TV programmes they appear on. As usual, Philip has very stron opinions.

“There’s fans and fans. I always remember what Bryan Ferry said about Roxy Music. There’s a lot of people who invade stage doors but Roxy fans aren’t like that. They go to the concerts, watch it and, afterwards, go home. That’s it.

“I always hoped Human League fans were like that and I think they are. We haven’t got many teen fans particularly because we absolutely refuse to go live on children’s TV. Those programmes are so patronizing.”

The new video was shot by Steve Baron (responsible for the last two Michael Jackson epics) in an area of London’s Docklands that was due for demolition.  That’s why the film crew were allowed to paint a whole house and part of the road outside bright crimson.

“The aim of the video,” says Philip, “is to show that we’re a group who play music together. As my brother says, there’s too much of a tradition now that videos are aimed to take your mind off the horrible music behind them.

“This should also help us in America where they believe we are a manufactured item mainly because we’ve never been live on TV there.”


Talking about the USA, the band have been criticized for not following their massive success there with “Dare” and “Don’t You Want Me”. “Love Action” died a death late last year and that was followed by silence. Philip is forthright.

“That was our choice. We didn’t fail to follow-up because we didn’t follow-up. We decided to take a rest. People had seen enough of The Human League.”

Indeed, their American company, A & M, refused to release “Mirror Man” because they reckoned it wasn’t worth promoting a single if there wasn’t an album hot on its heels.

However, in a couple of weeks time, A & M are putting out a special ‘mini LP’

which consists of “Fascination”, “Fascination Dub”, Mirror Man”, “Hard Times”, “You Remind Me Of Gold” and an unreleased curio called “I Love You Too Much”, which Adrian wrote and was originally slotted as a British 45. “It’s like The Glitter Band”, smiles Philip.

The reason it never saw the light of day here is that, once again, the outfit couldn’t agree on the final product at the time. The band gave the thumbs up but producer Martin Rushent wasn’t happy.

And that brings up another major change in the League camp. Martin Rushent has “resigned” and been replaced by Chris Thomas, who has worked with such veterans as the Sex Pistols, Roxy Music and the Pretendes.

The problem was that the band got to know Martin too well and they would spend more time enjoying themselves than grafting in the studio.

Before settling on Thomas, they had chats with such celebrated names as Swain and Jolley (who look after Imagination and Spandau), Alex Sadkin (Grace Jones), Andy Hill (Bucks Fizz) and Trevor Horn (ABC).

“There’s an evil thing that could be said here,” slips in Philip. “So far Trevor Horn has created a brilliant production on records that haven’t had very strong songs behind them and I thought it could be interesting to have that production on a song of the caliber that Jo can write.”

That’s not so much brazen arrogance on Philip’s part as a fervent belief in Jo’s songswriting craft and in The Human League’s music. He stoutly believes that the group have been enormously influential.

“Look through magazines,” he offers, “and so many people want to be The Human League. It’s really odd. Some of them so much it’s painful. Like The Thompson Twins. It stares out every time they go on TV – from their electro disco to the funny haircuts, funny clothes, a bit of make-up, admitting that they’re pop rather than pretending to be something else and being big in America. There’s not many bands who wants to be line Duran Duran. Only Kajagoogoo.”

There’s plenty more where that came from. He mentions how many bands now have “girls” and how their electronic format has revolutionised the way of making records today. He hums the intro of Yazoo’s “Don’t Go” and darkly suggests that this refrain began life as a Martin Rushent horn line.

What does he think of “Dare” in 1983?

“It sounds empty, too synthesized. It’s become a cliché although it wasn’t at the time.”


There’s no doubt that The Human League have learnt from their experience. The trio all agree that Adrian, for example, is a “much nicer person” now.  Philip recalls his days back in the early ‘80s and how pompous he was.

“We thought,” he muses, “pop music was rubbish but that those fools out there would buy it to finance our arty side. And at that stage we weren’t successful which helps that kind of attitude. Adrian and me were very scared. You can hide fear behind being pompous. There’s still groups doing it – mentioning no names.”

Joanne agrees. “I think Suzanne and me have changed their attitude on that. They were all arrogant – not in a nasty way – but they just felt that little bit better than everyone else in pop groups.”

Joanne and Suzanne’s positions are also radically different. They’re no longer occasional back-up singers and glamorous extras, as Suzanne makes abundantly clear.

“We were really fed up singing backing vocals that were a pitch higher Philip and sounding little girlish in the background. We didn’t say we wanted to sing lead lines but I think everyone knew we felt like that.”

“The verse line on ‘Fascination’, “returns Philip, “ are totally democratic. The first line I Sing, the second Jo sings, then the girls have a line each.”

“He doesn’t know what lines we sing!” snaps Suzanne.

“We have got names you know” mutters Joanne.

This is where we came in. The sound of healthy argument.