Manchester Evening News 23rd November 2003

Business as usual for The Human League

David Henry

THE Human League are suddenly everywhere again. The Sheffield group, who became one of the biggest-selling bands of the eighties, are enjoying a dramatic renaissance.


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."

Revival


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.

 

Brainchild


And the band has also been attracting another new audience thanks to
 

Popstars 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."

Recognition


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 eighties.


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."