The Newcastle Journal 8th November 2002
Susanne's unexpected start in the pop world

David Whetstone

How many people who spent their teenage years desperate to make it in the pop music business are now working as teachers or accountants or even journalists? There must be an awful lot.

On the other hand, there's Susanne Gayle who as a 17-year-old was poised to take her A-levels and go off to university to study for a business studies degree.

She never made it. The pop music business plucked her from obscurity and sent her off in a direction which had never entered her head, even as a wild adolescent dream.

Susanne agrees that she has told the story of how she became a member of Human League a million times but is happy to tell it yet again.

"We were in a nightclub in Sheffield and Phil (Oakey) asked if we wanted to come on tour with them. We were still at school doing A-levels but we discussed it with our parents and they said yes."

Susanne - Susanne Sulley as was - was with Joanne Catherall in the Crazy Daisy Disco. They had been best mates since they were 13 and were both at the point of deciding where they should further their academic studies.

"I'd had a few university offers, one from Sheffield, another from Manchester and one from London. I think we'd decided we would go to London because we wanted to get away from home." They were letting their hair down when up came Mr Oakey, a one-time hospital porter who had been a member of the fledgling but successful band Human League. Like an amoeba, it had just split in two.

Oakey retained the name (the others went off to be Heaven 17) but needed new recruits. Instead of advertising for experienced musicians, he picked on the two bopping teenagers.

"It wasn't really about being in the group," recalls Susanne. "What we really wanted was to get four weeks off school. We had never even thought of being in a pop group. At first we just did a bit of dancing and it didn't matter that we couldn't sing. We just had to jig about. We did a bit of singing but it was just

sort of `ooh, ooh'.

"But we all got on really well on the tour and when we got back we found ourselves going out together as a group, going for meals and drinks. And we started to do a bit of backing vocals. In the end we did join the band but it just happened really. It wasn't a great dramatic decision."

The band's album Dare sold more than five million copies and the single Don't You Want Me was a massive Christmas chart-topper in 1981 and went on to be number one in the United States.

The band is inextricably linked with the 1980s which is why it is part of the line-up, along with Kim Wilde, Five Star, Dollar, Altered Images and others, for the Hear & Now Christmas Party at Newcastle Telewest Arena on December 12.

Make no mistake, Human League is still very much here and now. "We've never stopped working," says Susanne. "We've had our ups and downs like anyone else but we're still going.

"We came back from Canada not long ago and we've just been to Belgium, Holland, Ibiza.

"Our last album, Secrets, came out last year and went into the Top 50 but our record company went bust at the same time which didn't help matters."

Susanne, who retains her married name although the marriage didn't last, doesn't sound like a precious pop star and claims not to be one. "The thing is, we never left Sheffield and I think that kept us on the ground.

"We can go to the gym or the supermarket and nobody takes any notice of us. No-one's bothered. Joanne's been married for years and has a little boy.

"I don't think I'd still want to be jigging around at 60 (Susanne's 39) but we don't have a plan. We just go along with things and if they seem right, we do them.

"We were very big in the '80s and we have not been so big since then, although we have had Top 10 hits. But I really don't care how people remember us as long as they come and see us."