Smash Hits September 1990

The Human League

They’re Philip, Joanne and Susan! (and Neil and Russell)
They come from Sheffield
They argue constantly!
And they used to be very famous indeed!

WORDS: MARK FRITH

The Human League are sitting around on sofas in their posh new studio in their home town of Sheffield, surrounded by trendy magazines and videos. Singer, Philip Oakey (34), is very tall with long hair which he wears tied back and is dressed in leather trousers and sturdy boots. He looks the epitome of a mean and tough biker, though he’s currently engaged in unpacking the new mop he’s just bought from the local department store. The two other singers, Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley (both 27), are sitting on the settee, discussing their night out on the town they had the other week and what they might wear on Top Of The Pops.

Every now and then, they all stop what they’re doing and argue with each other. The Human League argue about anything and everything: music, the Poll Tax, the local council, Sheffield – you name it and they’ll disagree about it!

The two newest members of the group, Neil and Russell, sensibly keep out of it and quietly tinker about on the studio console in the background. We’re all gathered here to contemplate the League’s return to the pop arena and they most certainly have a story to tell…

 

“We were the biggest band in the world for six months,” says Philip and indeed they were. At the end of 1981 and the beginning of 1982, The Human league were massive. They had a million-selling Christmas Number One single in Britian with “Don’t You Want Me” and led the British pop invasion into America. They became known for their lop-sided hair-do’s, dodgy dancing but top-notch pop songs.

But it wasn’t always so good. The League used to be a strange boffin-like band who showed arty film slides during their gigs until two of the original members left to become Heaven 17. Then Philip met Joanne and Susan in a local nightclub and decided they’d look great in his group. Deciding to be a proper pop group, they turned into a glamorous musical sensation overnight. But they took years to make new LPs and everyone got fed up of waiting for them. They did have a hit in 1986 with a song called “Human”, which they made with Janet Jackson’s producers, but it was only a brief return to fame. Nevertheless, The Human League were on of the finest groups ever.

 

The League was always credited with making great record and to this day pop icons like the Pet Shop Boys and S’Express credit them as influence. And now they’re returning to the charts with their new single “Heart Like A Wheel” and there’s a forthcoming LP “Romantic?” But what do they think of the competition that’s cropped up while they’ve been gone?

Philip: “The new stuff that’s happening is really good. Things like Tricky Disco

 



 

and LFO are the sort of thing we were doing 12 years ago. We didn’t have drum machines because there weren’t any but apart from that we were doing it. It’s good stuff, that. My favourite record of the last year was the Fresh Four single ‘Wishing On A Star’…

Susan: “I like Kylie – she’s got a good voice.”
Philip: “You don’t like her, do you Joanne? (Joanne shakes her head most emphatically.) I do – I like most Stock, Aitken & Waterman stuff. They’re really good songwriters.”

Susan: “You listen to a record because you like it, wheter it’s made by Kylie Minogue or Whitesnake. Take the music for what it is. What do I think about New Kids On The Block? I don’t think about them.”

Joanne: “I don’t understand them.”
Philip: “Their manager’s done bloody well. You can’t fault him, old Freddie Starr…”
As well as having “strong” opinions on just about everything, The Human League are, as we observed earlier, justly famous for having arguments – particularly with one another. They’ve always done it. Indeed, Joanne and Philip – who were going out with each other for six or seven years – have actually just split up. It’s still a sensitive subject so we don’t discuss it. But, generally speaking, are they all still friends?

Susan: “It fluctuates daily, but yeah we are. You’ve got to be really. I argue the most and I cry the most.”

 

The reason that they’ve been away so long this time, say The Human league, is that they’ve been waiting for their new studio, a small but rather posh affair in the centre of Sheffield, to be built. They don’t think much to the music business at all and don’t even see themselves as pop stars, despite having had 11 Top 30 hits in the last ten years. “George Michael and Paul McCartney are pop starts – we’re not,” reckons Joanne. In fact, The Human league say they are really quite content ti sit in their studio, go to their favourite Yankees hamburger restaurant and be “quite boring” for the rest of their lives. But Los Angeles – the swimming pools, the swank pads, the limos! Susan, surely you’re tempted…

“I’d get off to LA tomorrow if I had the chance! Actually, to tell you the truth, even if we could afford it we probably wouldn’t end up doing it. We’d probably stay in Sheffield.”

And they would as well.