Liverpool Daily Post 26th November 2004

In a League of their own

Mike Chapple

IF YOU'RE talking to the Human League there's one word that's strictly taboo. Fiat.


The Italian car company performed the ultimate insult by taking the League's classic number one single Don't You Want Me - one of the definitive and enduring three minutes of classic British pop music - and turned it into a joke.


Who could forget its 2002 British TV advertising campaign for the Punto featuring the spurned boyfriend pleading in a very broad Brummie spoken accent: "Down't yow want me bybay, Downt yow want me wo! wo! wo! wo!" ((as in wo! horsey! wo!) while his girlfriend understandably attempts to drive off leaving him behind.


To add injury to the insult, the band never received any of the potentially lucrative performing rights giving artists royalties for every time a song is broadcast.


"They took the song and then completely re-recorded it behind our backs which meant we didn't get a penny," fumes Susan Ann Sulley the blonde one as opposed to the "dark" one Joanne Catherall, the League's other distinctive female singer.


"Now even if we wanted we can't ever use the song again for advertising purposes because it is identified with one particular brand."


The touchy subject of the Punto comes up when it's suggested that she and Jo must be "rolling in it" given the world wide success of Don't You Want Me and other singles such as Human - a US number one in 1990 - and the multi-million selling album Dare!


"Rich? I'm not in the slightest!" says a laughing Susan Ann in her rich Yorkshire vowels. "I've still got a mortgage to pay on my little flat in Sheffield."


The other myth that's quickly exploded is that Don't You Want Me is semi autobiographical in that the first line "You were working a waitress in a cocktail bar when I met you" relates to where and how the girls were chosen by Human League uberlieutenant Phil Oakey to join the group.


The truth had an even more impressive fairy tale twist to it.


It was 1980 and Oakey, then of the long, lop-sided fringe and pierced nipples had split from his fellow original League players Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, who on went to form Heaven 17. The original League had produced a synthetically cold sound, but Oakey had a vision of pure pop in his head.


And that's why he was in the Craisy Daisy disco in his own home town of Sheffield to make Susan Ann and Jo, the two teenage school friends, who had never sung professionally or played an instrument an offer they could not refuse.


"Jo and I walked off the dance floor and he asked if we wanted to join the band," recalls the now 41--year-old Susan Ann. "We didn't think it was a wind-up because we knew who he was as we were big fans of the band. We had already bought tickets for one of their two UK warm-up gigs in Doncaster - the other one,, funnily enough, I think was for Liverpool."


She believes that Oakey chose them not because they looked outlandish or

unduly sophisticated but because they looked like normal lasses out for a good night out.


Susan Ann, who was studying for four A levels at the time - History,, English Literature, General Studies and Politics - says:: "We were only 17 and a very a young 17 at that - I think the girls nowadays grow up a lot faster. But things were very different then and when we went to tell our parents they were very distressed.


"We were both doing our A levels and there was a lot of consultation to be done. But Phil was able to convince them that we would be properly looked after."


Consequently in the following year of 1981 when the group really took off chart-wise everything was geared so that the girls education was not too badly affected.


In fact after making her first appearance on Top of the Pops, Susan Ann remembers taking her General Studies A level.


She passed. In the coming months The League's Love Action, together with Ghost Town by The Specials, became the two great songs of a memorable pop summer, while Christmas saw them at the top of the charts with Don't You Want Me.


It didn't go to their heads, however, as Susan Ann explains.


"This massive success didn't come really quickly as some people seem to think. We had a way of working with the rest of the group where there was a slow progression so we got used to things. And we were so cosseted that we didn't really notice all the fuss that was going on around us."


Twenty-three years on and Susan Ann, though a little more worldly-wise, is still up there on stage sashaying her hips with Jo as Oakey croons away. It's as though nothing has changed - which in many way it hasn't in terms of the relationship between the three.


"We've never had any big fall-outs," explains Susan Ann.. "There's been lots of screaming and slanging matches but nothing serious. We have always got along really well together and all three of us still live really close together in Sheffield. We've stayed together as a group I think because no-one has ever wanted more than anyone else. It's always been about the music."


The League play the Liverpool Philharmonic - "we always have to play Liverpool" she says - on December 10.


Susan Ann says: "We'll be playing all the songs that people expect, plus we always do at least one from the old Human League. But nothing of their austere stuff - you can't do austere when you've got two girls in the group!"


It should prove to be a pre-Christmas Friday party night out to remember with Don't You Want Me the crowning glory.


"People say to us it's still one of the best singles ever," she says before adding finally and with justifiable pride "and we know it will always put us right up there with the big boys."