www.thisissomerset.co.uk 16th December 2005

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

Human League's aim is to be the best live band in the world, Phil Oakey tells Charley Dunlap on the eve of the band's show at the Colston Hall, Bristol
The Human League, playing Colston Hall Monday night, began in 1977 and has traversed a very rocky road, notable for the massive success of their Dare album and great gaps of silence between several subsequent hits. From the beginning, singer Phil Oakey has been the central figure in a band known for its electronic instrumentation, not the only contradiction, but despite years of turmoil, bad advice and lineup changes, he is positive, perceptive and unassuming.


"The band now is myself with Joanne and Susanne, who have been in since 1980," he says. "We've got a programmer guy who also works in our studio, a keyboard player who we've had since 1986, a keyboardist-guitar player named Nick, then a couple of years ago Roger came in on drums.


"We had a change of attitude in about 95 and got a lot more businesslike. Before that, we were very punk - we hated the record label, we hated being popular, we hated rehearsing . . . we hadn't yet worked out that those people out there are the ones actually paying and you've got to do your best for them.
"We don't have a new record. We had a failed album in 2001 that was the first one we'd had that didn't have hits on it, so we just sat back and thought 'well, what are we gonna do?'

 

"Our aim is to be the best live band in the world. I doubt if we'll make it - I doubt if anyone would notice if we did because we've not got two guitars and a bass. People will go 'Oh, it's just that pop group.' But our aim is to be a great, great live group.

 

"It's not that we're just content just to play live gigs - I can't remember ever being artistically happy.


"I quite like what I've been able to do. I love being one of the steps. You can go Adam Ant to Human League to Pet Shop Boys and I love being part of that. Madonna said we inspired her music, which is a big compliment. It would have been great to be right up there and be a Prince or a Paul McCartney, which we never quite got to, but it's great if some people thought as much of us as I thought of David Bowie and Roxie Music.

"The big influence for the Human League was progressive - that was a big thing while we were growing up - but we loved Glam. The day that we saw The Sweet it made our life change. Mind you, it was Roxy Music that really changed everything.


"We liked disco as well, but we more or less go back to Motown. The best songwriter we ever had, Jo Callis, was devoted to Motown. People say we were given bad advice by the record labels, but it was just as hard for them to work out the right thing to do.


I think we tend to put our trust in these people and think they're always gonna get it right. But if it doesn't, they go out of business as well.


"We all just muddled our way along. Every band has its ups and downs, every worthwhile band has had at least one financial crisis . . . everyone's human aren't they?