Hits 21st June 1984
“That,” say the Human League, “is the frame of mind we were in when we finished the LP.” It took 2½ years to make, cost a fortune and gave everyone a lot of sleepless nights.
They talk to their psychiatrist: Ian Birch.
The air is already crackling with controversy and we haven’t even started the interview yet. As tea is delivered, everyone’s arguing about their favourite editions of The Young Ones.
Although they prefer the first series, Phil Oakey and Ian Burden put their money on the Dallas spoof. Adrian Wright’s in no doubt. He goes for the horror movie parody.
No-one’s giving an inch but what they’re all fascinated by are those split-second images on the show that looks like TV-interference. Phil and Joanne have spent hours with the freeze-frame button on their video trying to find out exactly what they are. They’re convinced that one of them is a picture of a downhill racer.
“Are you sure?” asks Adrian and, before another frank exchange views can develop, I mention a new LP called “Hysteria”.
“We called it that”, laughs Joanne, “because that was the frame of mind we were in when we finished.”
“Its just a word,” deadpans Phil. “I wanted ‘King Kong’, but Ian was the only one who liked it.”
This leads to another group outburst. Yes it’s that time of the year again. Let me present…the Human League interview!
We’ve had to wait two and a half long years for “Hysteria”, the follow-up to “Dare” which appeared in October 1981.
The reasons for the delay are typical of the group’s prickly and perfectionist nature. They wanted quality and quality is something, they firmly believe, cannot be rushed. To get it they went through a string of producers. First there was old comrade Martin Rushent but the problem here was that they all knew eachother too well. Then came Chris Thomas who happened to be working with The Pretenders at the same time.
They spent six whole months in London’s Air Studio and racked up such an enormous bill that in November manager Bob Last informed them that if tgey didn’t finish soon, they’d soon be bankrupt. “So you see why we’re not swanning around in Rolls Royces. We’ll be getting out the begging bowls soon,” chuckles Suzanne.
Simply to work in Air Studios costs £75 an hour and if you work there ten hours a day and five days a week for six months, you’ll have very little change out of £90.000. This tidy figure doesn’t even include the producer’s fee, travel, food (they’d often get sandwiches from Marks & Spencers around the corner) and hotel charges. It’s no wonder they began to get worried.
“We got into a strange state,” explains Phil, “where we weren’t doing anything. We were going in for nine or ten hours work a day and not doing anything. Instead, we played pool, watched TV and talked a lot about doing things. “A cheeky smile flickers over his lips.
“There is definite evidence that quite a few of us are mad now.
Can’t you tell?
They decided to take a Christmas break. Adrian went to Mexico for a holiday and had a rather unpleasant experience with what he thought was a shark.
Jo Callis (absent from the interview) went to Australia to marry his long-standing girl-friend. What was originally a two week holiday lasted from December 14 to March 2. “We thought he might not come back at all, “ sighs Phil.
Everyone else settled into either new houses or flats in Sheffield. Ian bought lots of crockery and furniture while Suzanne stayed in and “worried”.
“That was the stage when depression actually surfaced,” says Phil. “We knew something was badly wrong. I had three days when I couldn’t sleep I was so worried.”
“But we thought,” continued Joanne, “we can’t let this thing beat us. We had to get it out.”
Then in january they linked up with Hugh Padham who has worked with everyone from The Police to Phil Collings. They ruthlessly sifted through the hundrerds of tapes they’d accumulated. “At that point there more tapes than people,” cuts in Suzanne. “It was a joke.”
Finally, decisions were taken and “Hysteria” took shape. They stripped the sound down to its bare bones, whipping out in the process the wry humour and dreamy romance of “Dare.”
“We could get away more with dreaming in those days because we didn’t have any money and when you don’t, it isn’t offensive to sing about Rolls Royces.
But if you stay in the kind of hotels we stay in, you can’t sing about wanting room service. It’s like saying, “you got there, look how I live and isn’t it great! We couldn’t do songs like “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of” now because we’ve been to Australia, we’ve crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.”
With an attitude like that, it’s not surprising that the group’s political side shows more than ever on “Hysteria”. There’s obviously “The Lebanon”, which looks at the turmoil in the Middle East.
“Actually that’s less political,” continues Phil, “than “The Sign” or “Betrayed”. “The Sing” is about the people in the government who say don’t worry about nuclear bombs, we’ll look after you.
“Betrayed” says watch out for The Tories, they’re splitting our country up. Between the north and the south. People who live in the south where the country is run from and there are plenty of jobs don’t realise how tough it is in the north.”
The Human League aren’t alone in nudging politics back into pop. The Special A.K.A. did it with “Nelson Mandela”. Bananarama are doing it with “Rought Justice”. The list is getting longer.
“Bands care,” adds Suzanne.
“I don’t think most of them do,” continues Phil. “It’s extraordinary how similar bands feel.”
Adrian’s quick to point out that there are also love songs on the LPa and the classic one must be “Louise”, a kind of follow-up to “Don’t You Want Me.”
“”Louise” must have come from a film,” says Phil, “but I don’t know which one. I can see the bus station. It’s in America with Greyhound busses pulling in and out. The guys in a coffee shop.”
So far “Hysteria” hasn’t been that warmly welcomed. After such a long delay, people often expect not just the sun, the moon and the stars but the whole galaxy.
What’s more, the Human League haven’t returned with a new image. What was new, exciting and positively subversive in ’81 – Phil’s haircut, the arrivel of two girls, saying you like Abba – is now commonplace and, of course, the Human League must take a lot of the credit for giving pop a good name again. They’re aware of this as anybody.
Phil: “We’d love to do something different but you tell us what it is and we’ll do it.”
They discuss how extreme images are today but no-one will mention specific names, especially Phil. After he tore a strip off The Thompson Twins a year ago, he now feels great remorse”.
“When we came out,” he says, “my image was extreme. No-one had thought of doing that. But now everything’s moved on way beyond. There’s nothing you can do to beat the image of the image people. There’s no point in competing if you can’t win.”
“Besides,” Joanne chips in, “none of us would make ourselves up to look like a clown.”
“I want to ttake these people seriously,” shouts Suzanne in desperation, “but they’re not real people. Somewhere there must be a real person we never see.”
Wait a minute. Everyone’s in agreement. Am I hearing correctly? Does this mean you’re better friends than ever?
“We get on better now that we did two years ago,” confirms Ian.
“Which is really odd,” adds Phil.
Talking about just good friends, is the inside sleeve of “Hysteria” really Phil and Joanne’s sitting room in Sheffield?
“Yes,” smirks Phil. “We’ve been trying to cover the floor up but we can’t agree on a colour of carpet.”
“That’s also why there’s no furniture in the house,” returns Joanne. “We can’t agree on what we want”.
The film on the TV, by the way, is The Early Bird with Norman Wizdom (the one in the peaked hat).
“It’s a very great film,” explains Phil. “One of the greats along with Citizan Kane and The Wizard Of Oz. It’s quite like a Human League song. It’s the story of a milkman who works in a small diary with his horse Nellie and Mr Grimsdale. The consolidated Diaries move in and try to take them over. They break his bottles, poison his horse and are generally nasty. But in the end Norman beats them.
“All Human League songs are about the little people and Norman Wizdom is the perfect little person.”