www.bbc.co.uk October 2004

The Human League - Sue speaks out...

Susan Sulley of the Human League spared a few minutes to have a chat about joining the New Romantic chart toppers, 24 years of touring and saving Richard Branson's empire!

Bernie Clifton

Susan Sulley from the Human League popped in for a chat with BBC Radio Sheffield's Bernie Clifton ahead of their Christmas tour around England…


The band have been busy this year having toured South America and South Africa, but Susan is still looking forward to the upcoming tour in England!?

Susan and Joanne had an interesting strory in how they became members of the band, she said most people don't believe the story.

"Everyone thinks it was made up," said Susan.

"But it was the Crazy Daisy [club] here in Sheffield - It's not there anymore - I think it's a building society now.


"The original group had split-up, and for Phillip to keep the name 'Human League' he was contracted to do a tour of Europe, so they wanted some more members because they thought it would look a bit odd - 2 guys on stage.

"So Phillip went to the local nightclub that played their sort of music - originally he was looking for one girl, but he saw me and Joanne together, and he
thought we looked quite good together.


"He thought we were obviously friends and could look after each other - we were still at school doing our A-levels… but eventually they [parents] relented and said we could go."


So they must have been displaying some serious dancefloor moves?


"We never could dance [laughs], we wave our arms in the air and shake our bottoms and hope for the best basically and we've done that for 24 years now.

"At the time it was right at the height of what people now call New Romantic's and it was also at the latter end of punk rock.

"What Phillip said was that in a nightclub full of very, very outrageous people, what Joanne and I looked like was quite classical - he said we looked as though we would fit in anywhere and we wouldn't date.

"He said that was the first thing that he saw about us - that we didn't have we didn't have wild red moheican haircuts or we weren't in wedding dresses - we'd got hats on and baggy trousers, but he said it was quite stylish - I'm sure he's regretting that ever since!


"Our parents were very against us going - but my dad did realise that if something had have happened, as it did, he would have regretted stopping me... and school thought it would be educational! They thought we would visit museums and things [laughs].


"Phillip never actually asked us to join the group - he just said 'would we go on the tour?' - but what happened was we all got along so well, we started all going out together to nightclubs and things when we got back from the tour.


"When Phillip and Adrian stated to make the album 'Dare' Phillip rang up one day and asked us if we could have a day off school and would you like to come and sing on this track - we said yeah, ok, and went down and things just progressed really.


"After 'Sound of the Crowd' became a hit we went on to make 'Love Action' and



we went to make 'Dare' - following the album was the summer that Joanne and I left school.

"Suddenly it was looking like it was gonna take-off quite big, and the manager of The Human League said, 'do you want to join the group?'

"They put us on a £32 a week wage, which we were still getting when 'Don't You want Me' was number one… I'm not joking at all!

"We went to places that in my widest dreams I would have never thought that I would end up… and even now we've been doing it for 24 years, I still get the same sort of buzz and kick out of doing it.

"This year we've already been to South Africa and South America, both places I'd never been to before and it's such good fun and it's a priviage to go to these places.


On Richard Branson…

"Richard Branson said that we saved Virgin Records from bankrupcy… the record that had done really well for them was Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells.

"But after that they'd had minor success but nothing major… and then we went quite mega and he still says in his book that we saved him from bankrupcy!"


On not being a tribute…

"We've never stopped working, we've made records throughout our career, some of them have not been as sucessful as others… and we've never stopped performing.

"It's still the core three of us, Joanne, Phillip and myself - with Neil, Nick, Dave and Rob. These people we've been working with for around 20 years.

"We always do some old songs, 'Don't You Want Me' and 'Love Action' - but we do some new songs as well - we're very fortunate that after 24 years people still want to see us."


On looking good…

"I go to the gym five times a week… when we go away I always try and ask Simon, our manager, to put us in hotels that have either got gyms or swimming pools.
"When you're doing a concert and you're on stage for an hour and a half it's like a work-out because you're running around all the time.

"You don't stand still very often... yeah I do work hard at it and I think as you get older you have to look after yourself."

" I think we all love it [touring] more than we ever did because we know that we're quite good at it now.

"We've all perfected our crafts, we can all enjoy it and see it for what it is, and it's just the best job - we are so lucky.


The band are releasing a 'live' DVD that was recorded in Brighton with some extra's at around Christmas time - but you can catch them at the Doncaster Dome on 6 December, 2004


www.bbc.co.uk November 2004

Susan of the Human League: Love and Dancing

80s throwback and original pop tart, Yve Ngoo, caught up with Susan Sulley, singer with electronic pop legends, The Human League, ahead of their Christmas tour around England.

In 1981 Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall, two fashion conscious Sheffield schoolgirls, were spotted dancing at their local disco, the Crazy Daisy, by Philip Oakey, front man of the Human League.

At the time, the League were an innovative electronic pop outfit, whose formative members, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, went on to form BEF (British Electric Foundation) and later Heaven 17.

Philip asked 17-year old Susan and 18-year-old Joanne to join the band for a European tour; to dance and sing and to add some visual glamour.

The arrival of the 'dancing girls' was met by typical scepticism, mainly from the music press, after all, the Human League had created the seminal Being Boiled - a stark slab of electronica that would influence many artists to come, and the irresistible Empire State Human.

Despite the short lived hostility, the new look Human League went on to become one of the most respected and innovative electronic music acts in UK pop history.


Almost three decades later, the Human League is synonymous with electro-pop classics such as 'Don't You Want Me?' taken from the cult album Dare, which also spawned the hit 'Love Action' to 'Open Your Heart'.


Joanne and Susan's instant stardom has always held a certain fascination; if only I'd been there, dancing at the Crazy Daisy that fateful night. Maybe, just maybe?


Joanne and I weren't ambitious; we didn't want to be in a pop group. We were just two girls at school who wanted to go to university."


So, when I heard that the Human League were to be playing Newcastle in December, I immediately started planning my outfit - what would I wear? Would Phil notice me this time?

There was only one way to find out - call up an expert for advice, and who better to put me in the picture than the Human League's Susan Sulley.

Yve: What's been the most outrageous thing you've ever heard about you?


Susan: Actually, I honestly can't think of anything. Though a journalist did once imply that Joanne and I were groupies. That was quite upsetting and it upset my parents, and that's probably the most outrageous thing, because it was so untrue.


When you first joined the Human League, were you aware of any bad feeling from existing fans or school mates?


Everyone hated Joanne and me at school. We were in the Sixth Form when we joined the group. Everyone there were into, sort of, Motorhead, Saxon and Whitesnake.

In the common room it was always a fight to play on the tape deck what you wanted, and they couldn't understand how Joanne and I could like someone like Gary Numan. We used to get really dressed up for school. We didn't wear leather jackets and stuff, so no-one particularly liked us that much - so we didn't really care. They stuck our picture on the dart board the first time it was in a magazine.


In the 80s, you and Susan were the fashion icons - everything punk wasn't - slick, ladylike and polished. It was a great look on a Saturday girl's budget - as vintage clothing was original and inexpensive. Where did you shop?


We shopped anywhere that we could. We were on budget (£32 per week) at that stage. Everyone thinks we were really rich. I was still doing my Saturday job whilst being in the Human League, and getting pocket money from my parents, so everything we bought was really cheap. We shopped at Oxfam.

I raided my mums wardrobe. I used to wear her old shoes. The first time we appeared on Top of the Pops, the dress Joanne wore was actually ones of my mum's old ones. It was all second hand. We couldn't afford new clothes.


My mum really got into it. She used to go out and buy our clothes. Whenever she went on holiday, in England, she used to visit second hand shops and come back with bags of stuff for us. It was great.


Talking of your look - it's all come full circle again. Girls want to be ladylike again and the look you had then would fit in now.


But I won't be wearing it again. It wouldn't suit me! I still buy second hand things. You can get some fantastic bargains. I bought some brilliant boots the other day, for about £20; lovely round toes, big platforms, really, really nice. But I tend to buy new things for work


Joining the band so young must have been a very exciting experience - but looking back - is there anything you regret missing out on?



No - because we had a ball. We had a whale of a time. What better job could a seventeen year old want, than to be in a pop group?


It was a fantastic time, I was incredibly lucky. I don't think I really missed out on anything.


What's your best Human League moment to date?


I think it's still happening. I think the fact we're still doing it now. After all these years - I'm 41 now, and really, I shouldn't be in a pop group any more, but I am and it's still my job. I wake up in the morning and I haven't got to go to a nine-to-five. I've got this life and I'm very, very lucky.


Why, after almost 25 years, is the Human League still as popular?


I really don't know. I do think Phil and the band wrote some really good songs. It was more about the music, and people liked the music. Also, we're obviously not in it for the celebrity, and I think people can tell that when they see us on stage. We all look like we're having a good time, and we are. It's not forced. We're not doing it for the money. We're not paid that much. All my friends earn a lot more than I do. We do it 'cause we love it.

Have you ever written any songs?



No - and that's one of the reasons we're still here, because the biggest arguments erupt over song writing, and Joanne and I decided to take a back seat, which has been bad for us in one way - because financially we're not as secure as Philip is. But it's been a good thing, 'cause the group is still together.


You're about to embark on a 20 date tour. How do you prepare for that?


We rehearse! Personally, I go to the gym everyday to try and get my body in some sort of shape, so it's able to be seen. We both go to the gym, and I'm very conscious of what I eat.


But have you always been that conscientious?


No. I enjoy the occasional drink - it's my only vice. I'd be lying to you, and everybody who knows me; but nothing else really. I don't eat crap food, and I stopped smoking.


When you're on tour, do you honestly take off your make-up every night?


Yeah, I do actually. You know what it is? When you're in a hotel room you lay everything out when you get there, and all your toiletries are neatly laid out; and you also know you have to put it all back on the next day - so you take it off! Mind you, I sometimes go to bed with my make-up on after a night out with my mates, and I'm really tired, and I just get into bed. In the morning your eyes are stuck together with mascara! But I tend not to do that on tour. I'm quiet good.


What can fans - old and new expect on this tour?


A bit of everything really. Some old stuff, some stuff from before Joanne and I joined the group, some newer stuff, we're even contemplating doing a cover version, but we don't know what - we've not decided yet.


A few costume changes. We have a proper stage set - but we're not kitsch. We don't do kitsch. It will be white - it will look nice and pretty.


And, 25 years on - who are your idols, who do you listen to?


If you ask who my idols are and who I'm listening to at the moment - they're very different things. My idol's probably Madonna and Roxy Music, and Gary Numan and David Bowie, though I tend not to listen to them as much anymore, because it's all a bit old. The last album I bought was A Grand Don't Come For Free by Mike Skinner and the Streets, and I listen to Radio 1 all the time, I'm really keen on Snow Patrol and Razorlite, and I like Jamelia. I like a bit of everything - I'm not a music fascist.

What's your plans for 2005?


We've been talking about writing some new music and going back into the studio. We've got a 2 day festival in Germany, which we're headlining. We're also playing Barcelona, so things are already trickling in. A bit of studio work and lots of live work.


And how long do you expect to be going on for?


I don't know. I think it's something that scares us all, that we might have to get proper jobs, and we're not qualified to do anything else. As long as we're still filling concert halls, and people still want to see us. Who knows?