www.icberkshire.icnetwork.co.uk 24th November 2004

 

Copies in a carbon mount, anyone?

 

The Human League may have sung utter nonsense - but what glorious nonsense it was. As the band return to Reading, Paul Kirkley celebrates the longevity of a British pop legend.

 

In a recent Weekender poll (okay, so we were just chatting in the office, but it'll do), The Human League were declared winners of the most ludicrous pop lyric of all time, for this uniquely puzzling stanza from their '81 classic, The Sound Of The Crowd:

 

Put your hand in a party wave Pass around Make a shroud pulling combs through a backwash frame

 

Find the copies in a carbon mount Pass around Stroke a pocket with a print of a laughing sound

 

Well, quite. But then what else would you expect from a band originally called The Dead Daughters, whose first EP had been titled The Dignity of Labour?

 

Formed in Sheffield in 1977 by computer operators and "arch conceptualists" Martyn Ware and Ian Craig, The Human League mixed the electronic experimentalism of contemporaries like Kraftwerk and Brian Eno with an ear for a canny hook to create a new sound called electropop (a genre, lest we forget, that's as strong today as it ever was).

 

Ware and Craig quit in 1980 to form Heaven 17, but not before they'd hooked up with hospital porter Phil Oakey, whose moody baritone and famously

asymmetrical haircut marked him out as a star from the start. Instead of simply going it alone, the rump of band - Oakey, Philip Adrian Wright and Ian Burden - recruited two teenage schoolgirls, Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley, who Oakey had spotted dancing in a nightclub.

 

From that point, The Human league never looked back. As well as The Sound Of The Crowd, the band scored chart hits in 1981 with Love Action and Open Your Heart, before really hitting paydirt with the massive success of joint UK/US number one Don't You Want Me - an epoch-making mix of electro beats, ice-cool harmonies and kitchen-sink drama that remains in heavy rotation on radio playlists to this day.

 

The band's LP from that year, Dare, also topped the charts, and still regularly ties with ABC's The Lexicon of Love for the title of finest British pop album of the 80s.

 

While the League never reached the heights of their early 80s success again, they are a band that refuses to be written off. Their 1986 hit, Human, gave them their second US number one, and they were back in the UK top 10 as late as 1995 with the infectious Tell Me When.

 

Emboldened by the success of 21st century electronica, the pioneers of the movement continue to write and record, as well as playing live shows to enthusiastic audiences all over the world. Their current UK tour arrives at The Hexagon in Reading on Sunday (November 28) at 7.30pm.