Birmingham Evening Mail 18th December2004

They're in League of their own!

Diane Parkes



IT may be hard to believe but Human League front man Phil Oakey is afraid of speaking in front of huge crowds.


He can sing his heart out in front of a packed NEC but he says he would be afraid to return to his Solihull school and talk to pupils.


Phil was a local boy for about five years of his childhood when his family lived in Solihull. He attended Catherine de Barnes School before joining Solihull School - which he admits he found "intimidating".


"I was here from the ages of about ten to 15 - I love this part of the country," he says. "But I went to Solihull School on a scholarship and just felt a bit inadequate.


"I have been back and driven around there, visiting places I know like the park where I broke my leg. But I couldn't imagine ever going back there and talking to a huge group of pupils - it would terrify me."


For a man who felt inadequate, Phil did incredibly well for himself. In the 1980s Human League were one of the major players with best-selling albums Dare and Hysteria and a string of hits like Don't You Want Me Baby, Love Action and The Lebanon. But with the rise of guitar music, Human League's brand of synth-led pop fell out of favour.


The band, along with singers Joanne Catherall and Suzanne Sully, continued but Phil, now 49, admits it was a difficult time.


"We suddenly became poison," he says. "We couldn't get a show, no-one wanted to talk to us, people would openly laugh when Human League were mentioned."


Phil says he was able to keep paying the bills by writing songs for other artists



 - although he did hanker after becoming a novelist.


"I would love to write a book but I don't know if I ever could.


"Writing lyrics is one thing but a novel or poetry is something completely different. But if I did, it would be just about people and places I know - it would probably be set in a Sheffield squat."


Throughout the '90s the band stayed true to their roots and eventually the wheel turned again. A Here and Now tour along with other '80s bands including Culture Club saw them back in the limelight.


NEC and a revival of '80s music has seen them a live hit again. The Human League set at this year's V Festival at Weston Park in Staffordshire saw a packed arena filled with people of all ages singing along to Electric Dreams and The Things That Dreams Are Made Of.


Earlier this year the band won a Q award for Innovation in Sound. So is Phil surprised to be back in the limelight?


"Nothing surprises us any more," he says. "We have been in this game so long and you see how things come in and then go out and then come in again. But it is a big vindication of our music that it is still popular."


And Phil is grateful for the fans who stuck with them as well as the newcomers.


"I have always had respect for our fans. At the very top of my list of favourite people are those who buy tickets that say Human League on it and second are those who buy our records. They are putting you where you are and you have to give something back."