Manchester Evening News 23rd November 2005

In a League of their own

Ian Jones

 

 

WE'RE the Human League and we're much cleverer than you," announced frontman Phil Oakey on one of the electro-pop act's earliest releases.

They were formed against a backdrop of Sheffield steel and heavy industry and the group went on to become one of the sharpest pop acts of the eighties with hit singles including Don't You Want Me and a multi-million selling album, Dare.

 

Back in 1977, as a punk-influenced electronic art group, the Human League gained success on the UK's underground music scene.

 

Then, in 1980, the group split, with two members breaking off to form Heaven 17 while Phil famously recruited two young girls, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall, to handle additional vocal duties.

 

This line-up saw the group become international superstars, with Phil's knife-edge hairstyle becoming the envy of countless trendsetting teenagers.

 

But following the success of 1985 single, Human, the group disappeared from the charts, resurfacing occasionally with a series of under-achieving but critically acclaimed albums.

 

Legendary

 

Now Phil is in his fifties and the legendary hair has gone, having fronted the Human League for over two decades. "The reason I've not had to go out to work for 25 years is because the fans did what I wanted them to.

 

"They bought our records, they went to our concerts, and I'm going to do whatever I can to be good for them.

 

"The other reason I like playing live is that we all get on, we tend to like the same things. We've all just been on tour in Ireland on the bus, and the band just sat and watched (TV comedy) The Mighty Boosh for three days.

 

"I'm not even sure if I'll make any money from it. We do get paid to go on tour but I tend to spend quite a bit of it while we're out there."

 

Most people recognise the Human League from their chart-topping singles from

 

the early eighties. Phil wishes this wasn't the case.

 

"I think it would have been easier to make money in the long term with the early version of the Human League. The trick is not to be so popular that it puts people off you.

 

"It's the difference between New Order and Culture Club. New Order did get a number one single but mainly they were getting number twos and number threes, and they're still special because of that.

 

"They have a great career that goes on forever. And people will persist when they make more difficult records. People will still listen to them."

 

The Lebanon

 

Human League's 1984 single The Lebanon is generally dismissed by fans as the group's worst, but Phil thinks differently.

 

"The single I'm most proud of would be The Lebanon because it was such a change of direction. So many people advised us not to do it at that stage because it would ruin our careers, but we released it anyway and it ruined our careers," laughs Phil.

 

"The problem was it confused everyone, the Human League fans didn't like it because it was guitars, and Dire Straits fans already knew we were a puffy synth band so they weren't going to buy it!"

 

Recently, Phil has turned his hand to DJ'ing, playing alongside celebrated names such as Arthur Baker and Erol Alkan. "I've been doing a little bit of DJ'ing, which I'm not very good at, but what I bring to the party is the fact that I've been there all the way through.

 

"So I can bring some obscure German stuff and tracks that aren't current now, and fit that into the modern synth stuff."

 

Now, after all these years, Phil's still the Human League but he no longer claims to be cleverer than everyone else. "I never was and it's so embarrassing hearing that back again! Anything to be provocative in those days{hellip}"