League are suddenly everywhere again. The Sheffield group, who became one of
the biggest-selling bands of the eighties, are enjoying a dramatic
They have been attracting more attention in the last year than they have for
nearly a decade, thanks to an annoying car advert, a hit song by a bunch of
reality TV stars, and the re-growth of electronic dance music.
But, according to lead singer, Phil Oakey, a man as famous for his one-time
lop-sided fringe as his deadpan singing style, they never really went away.
In his distinctive south Yorkshire drawl, he explains that the band have
been touring almost constantly since they made it big.
He says: "Touring is what we do now. We perform gigs all over the world. We
have never stopped doing it. It has become our way of life."
In previous years, the band have performed in the eighties revival show,
Here And Now, alongside other icons from the decade that fashion forgot,
including Kim Wilde and Five Star.
But it is a testament to their rediscovered popularity that, this year, they
have branched out on their own again, headlining a huge UK tour, which
arrives in Manchester on Wednesday, December 17.
"I guess a lot of people have been discovering us lately," says Phil. "It's
funny, whenever we do gigs in Europe, the vast majority of the audience is
under 25. In Britain, we mainly get people remembering their youth. But it
is starting to change here, too."
The main reason for this change is the recent growth in electronic dance
music, much of which seems inspired by the industrial funk synthetic sound
The Human League pioneered.
"I think young people who listen to bands like Daft Punk can relate to our
music. The electronic sound has developed in many ways, but I think part of
what you hear today began with what we were doing when we first started
out," Phil says.
And the band has also been attracting another new audience thanks to
losers, Liberty X. Their hit, Being Somebody, combines Ain't Nobody, by
Chaka Khan, with the Human League's Being Boiled. It was the brainchild of
record producer Richard X and proved massively popular.
Oakey says: "I love it. It is a great song and sounds fantastic. I have
known Richard for quite a while. He approached me about using the song on
his album and I was really pleased by the way it turned out."
But he was less pleased when one of The Human League's most famous songs,
Don't You Want Me Baby, was used in an advert for Fiat cars.
"I tried my best to stop that. I hated the idea of using the song in that
way. But there was nothing I could do because I do not own the publishing
rights," he says. "In the end I just had to accept it.
"I thought we should have got more money for it, and I really hated the way
it laughed at people from Birmingham, because I like Brummies."
Now 48, Phil says the record industry has changed beyond recognition since
The Human League started out.
He says: "I think the music industry is finished. New talent isn't able to
find its way through. You used to be able to make a good living out of doing
live gigs in clubs and pubs. But that is just not possible any more, so new
bands really struggle."
The Human League released their first record in 1978, but only tasted chart
success when Sheffield schoolgirls, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall,
joined in 1980.
The combination of Phil, with his pierced-nipples and geometric haircut, and
the bizarre dancing of the girls proved irresistible to the youth of the
The band went on to have a host of smash hits and led the mini-invasion of
the American charts by the big British acts of the time.
But Phil admits he is glad they achieved success when they did. He says:
"The music industry is no longer sustainable.
"I think everyone will get their music free off the internet. I honestly
think the industry will be dead in a few years."