THE WAY IT WAS IN THE 70’s
Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh were two computer operators in Sheffield
who both shared an intense passion for German electronica pioneers
Kraftwerk. Armed with a few months' savings, Ware was able to buy a modest
monophonic synth (a Korg 770S) that had just become available on the
commercial market at an affordable price. Despite having never played a
single note, Marsh and Craig set themselves the task of understanding the
art of sound synthesis and it wasn't long before their combined enthusiasm
began to exceed the limits of the cheap synth.
The Dead Daughters were formed for a gig at a friends 21st birthday party
in 1977 and the Korg was put to the test by Ware with a rendition of the
groundbreaking theme from the long running BBC sci-fi series Dr Who. Marsh
and Craig together with Adi Newton had all enjoyed the experience of
playing live and they decided to form a new band called The Future where
they would concentrate purely on electronic music, something that was
quite unheard of at the time in the UK. There had been some
experimentation with synths during the 70's, but it was mostly the domain
of prog rock groups like Sky. Ware was keen to distance himself from this
style of music believing the melodic capabilities of the synth had not
been properly exploited.
The Future set about recording some demos that were all mainly
instrumentals including the hypnotic track Pulse Lovers that was a hint of
things to come. Even at this early stage, the demo tape sounded quite
unlike anything that was being produced at the time, and the band proudly
travelled down to London in the hope of getting signed but the record
companies were predictably bemused by the lack of guitars. Despite the
pioneering sound of The Future, Newton decided to move on favouring a more
traditional approach to music and formed Clock DNA. Convinced that they
were on the right path musically, both Ware and Marsh felt they needed a
vocalist rather than another musician to replace Newton.
Martyn decided that old school friend Philip Oakey would be ideal to front
the band because they felt that Oakey already looked 'like a pop star'
with his long fringe haircut and left of centre fashion sense. The
invitation came in the form of a note stuck on Philip's front door who was
surprised and delighted by the offer. Oakey was working as a hospital
porter at the time and had never considered performing in front of an
audience but he had admired The Future from a distance and was impressed
that they had visited record companies in London. Initially, Ware and
Marsh were unsure as to how Oakey would fit in. They couldn't afford
another synth at the time and the only instrument the new band member
owned was a saxophone that he couldn't play. Things would soon click into
place however when Phil heard a new instrumental that would later become
Being Boiled and it inspired him to write lyrics for the track though he
was very nervous at presenting them the next day. After hearing Phil sing
to Being Boiled, Ian & Martyn were both amazed by the lyrics and Oakey's
distinctive vocal delivery.
With a new musical blueprint in place, the trio set about finding a new
band name briefly considering ABCD (bizarre as fellow Sheffield musician
Martin Fry would find worldwide success with ABC just 3 years later).
Finally, they decided to take a memorable quote 'The Human League' from a
sci-fi board game called Star Force and set about recording three new
tracks on a two-track tape recorder they had just purchased. The very
first Human League demo contained Being Boiled, Circus of Death & Toyota
City all recorded in mono and it soon caught the attention of Bob Last who
ran a small record label in Scotland called Fast Records.
Being Boiled was released in June 1978 after the League and Bob Last had
agreed a deal over the phone. Although the single had a limited amount of
copies pressed, the song succeeded in attracting the admiration of NME
whilst guest reviewer Johnny Rotten described the group as 'trendy
hippies'! Being Boiled was completely at odds with the prevailing punk
movement of the time. The track was a stark slab of electronica that would
influence many artists in years to come, memorable also for its lyrics
that linked silk worms with Buddhism.
Encouraged by the critical praise that followed the release of the debut
single, the group were convinced to play live and the first gig took place
on June 12th 1978 at Bar 2 in Sheffield's Psalter Lane art college with
the help of backing tapes. Although common practice nowadays, the use of
backing tapes proved to be controversial at this time but they were
essential considering the complexity of the bass lines and the hours spent
creating the sounds on temperamental equipment in the studio.
With all three band members being somewhat reluctant to play live, there
were worries that they had appeared static on stage and Adrian Wright who
was in the audience for that concert agreed to become the League's
Director of Visuals. Sharing the group's love of sci-fi and pop culture,
Adrian eventually introduced four large screens where he would project
slides from cult TV shows such as Dr Who & Captain Scarlet as well as
famous images from recent history that seemed to fit perfectly with the
Adrian's visual talents were called into action almost immediately as the
group played their first London gig in Music Machine on August 17th 1978
supporting The Rezillos (who included future League collaborator Jo Callis).
The venue had something of a rough reputation and fearing a hostile crowd
who would scorn at the use of backing tapes & synths, the League
considered appearing on stage wearing motorbike helmets. Music critics
responded favourable, as did members of Siouxsie and The Banshees who then
invited the League to support them on a small UK tour during December. The
band were happy to accept the Banshees offer but fearing an aggressive
reaction from punk fans, the group set about protecting their synths from
expected showers of beer bottles by constructing fibreglass shields. Some
critics mistook the shields as a statement in modern art but previous
fears about crowd trouble proved unfounded as the League set was a
resounding success. Some of the instrumentals were replaced with crowd
pleasers like the cover of glam rock track Rock 'n' Roll and word of mouth
was quickly spreading. After watching the League perform, David Bowie
commented that he had just seen the 'future of pop music, whilst The
Undertones featured an affectionate dig at the 'arty' League in their
memorable top ten hit My Perfect Cousin.
Fast records released the second Human League single in April 1979 in the
form of a 4 track EP of instrumentals collectively called The Dignity of
Labour. Extremely experimental in places yet ground breaking, the single
unsurprisingly failed to dent the top 75. Despite the poor chart
performance, the League began to get approached by major record companies
including Polydor but it was the promise of creative freedom from Virgin's
Simon Draper that finally tempted the League away from Fast Records.
Pleased with the support that Fast Records supremo Bob Last had provided,
the band offered him the job of Manager and signed a recording contract
with Richard Branson's innovating label Virgin whose artists included The
Shortly after supporting an artist they admired a great deal namely Iggy
Pop, for a European tour, the band set about recording their debut single
for Virgin. The track I Don't Depend on You ended up being an uneasy
compromise between the League and Virgin when bosses began to worry that
the record buying public would not accept a song void of guitars. Despite
initial assurances promising artist freedom, the League were forced to add
conventional instruments to the track that included bass guitars and drums
but demanded that the track be issued under the pseudonym of The Men. It
was an artistic confrontation that confirmed how radical the League's
music had become, the thought that record companies bosses panicked at a
pure electronic sound would surely bemuse today's younger generation of
After seeking assurances that similar conflicts would not arise further
down the line, The League began recording their eagerly anticipated debut
album at the Workshop in Sheffield and was completed within 3 weeks during
July before being handed over to Colin Thurston for mixing and overdubs in
Reproduction with its unique electronic sound was finally released in
October followed shortly afterwards by a taster single in the form of the
quirky and irresistible Empire State Human. Experimental yet highly
engaging, the album received lukewarm reviews and failed to make any
impact on the album charts (though it did finally chart a few years later
in 1982). Disappointed by the lack of sales, Virgin reacted swiftly by
cancelling the League's proposed UK tour in November asking the band to
support the Talking Heads instead. Reluctantly, the group agreed releasing
a press statement that revealed their plans for the upcoming performance.
With tongue firmly in cheek, the League suggested that they wouldn't
actually be on stage for the performances and that their place would be
taken by backing tapes and a slide show hinting that they would
occasionally view the show as members of the audience. David Byrne and co
failed to see the funny side and the League were dropped from the support
THE HIGHS & LOWS OF THE 80'S
The League forged forward in this new decade despite the disappointments
of the previous year with the release of the Holiday 80 EP that included
covers of Rock 'n' Roll and the Bowie penned Night Clubbing as well as a
new composition called Marianne. A superior version of Marianne was
recorded featuring different vocals and treated drum effects but Virgin
refused to release it much to the surprise of Phil and the band. This
improved version did however appear on a rare Australian vinyl pressing of
Travelogue making it a collector's item. With only 10,000 copies pressed,
the single failed to make any impact and Virgin were quick to release a
single 7 inch of Holiday 80 dropping Marianne altogether and it reached 56
in the UK charts. The re-release also provided the League with their first
ever appearance on Top of The Pops despite the fact that the single had
failed to break the Top 40.
On May 15th, the League began a 12-date UK tour kicking off at the Mayfair
in Newcastle and ending on the 29th at the Unity Hall in Wakefield W.Yorks.
Adrian Wright now appeared on stage as a full time band member playing
occasional keyboards as well as orchestrating the background projections.
The tour was also notable for the fact that it would be the final time
that this talented group of innovators would perform together. May also
saw the release of the second studio album entitled Travelogue debuting at
16 on the UK album charts. Still retaining a distinctive experimental feel
to some of the tracks, Travelogue sounded more like a complete album than
its predecessor with a hint of early synth pop, making it more accessible.
Reviews however were mixed with some being disappointed by the inclusion
of cover versions and reworked mixes of older tracks such as Toyota City
and Being Boiled.
Overall, the album was a creative success featuring adventurous drum
patterns and memorable melodies. The technology used was simplistic and
hard to manipulate by today's digital standards (sounds had to be created
from scratch as pre-set manufactured samples were non existent), but the
analogue systems were pushed beyond the known limits and the League would
be dubbed either as 'boffins' or 'electronic pioneers'. The album would
also point the way forward for future UK artists who viewed Travelogue as
a new form of music.
As the mini UK tour finished, Empire State Human was re-released and the
first 15,000 copies contained a free single of the Travelogue track Only
After Dark. Whilst it was a distinctive cover version, the band would have
preferred a self- penned track to promote the new album and there were
plenty of catchy tracks to choose from such as Untouchables, Life Kills
and the haunting WXJL Tonight. Virgin secretly went against the bands
wishes and had already pressed the single; it was a move that angered the
Empire State Human reached 62 in the singles chart and the League were
awarded with the second Top of The Pops appearance of their career but it
didn't stop the single vanishing the following week. Surprisingly, Only
After Dark would be the only single released from Travelogue on the back
of an established track, and the perceived lack of faith from Virgin began
to lead the band into a period of self-doubt and inner tensions.
By this time Martyn Ware had become increasingly disillusioned by the lack
of chart success particularly where singles were concerned and was unhappy
with the impression that they were considered too 'arty'. It was always
the desire of the early Human League to emulate the success of Donna
Summer's I Feel Loved that featured the production skills of Giorgio
Moroder whom they admired greatly.
The League were being hailed as 'innovators' by NME and the rest of the
music press but the band was never earning more than £30.00 a week each.
Tensions also began to run high between Martyn and Phil whilst Ian was
unhappy with Adrian being invited to share song-writing credits.
Disagreements over the creative future and the fact that Gary Numan scored
the first major electronic hit single having disowned his recent rock past,
proved to be too much and November saw the departure of Ian and Martyn.
The two instantly formed their own production label BEF (British Electric
Foundation) under contract to Virgin before laying the foundations for
Heaven 17 who would also be managed by Bob Last.
Whilst the NME announced that the creative talent had left the band, Phil
decided that he would continue with the Human League despite the turmoil
and together with Bob Last he signed a legal agreement with Martyn. It was
decided that Phil would retain the title of the Human League but in return
he would have to pay Martyn and Ian one pence from future royalties of the
next album and the singles taken from it. Phil would also be responsible
in honouring the current financial responsibility to Virgin (and the debts).
One of these commitments included an imminent European tour and the
promoters were threatening to sue the League if it wasn't completed. With
the music press instantly writing off Phil's remnants of the Human League,
and opting instead to follow the career path of Ian & Martyn, Phil hastily
set about finding replacements in time for the up and coming tour.
The next event in League history would be destined to go down in pop
folklore, forever referred back to and sometimes doubted. With time
running out, Phil spotted two teenage girls dancing at the Crazy Daisy
disco in Sheffield. With intriguing dance routines and eye- catching
make-up, Phil felt they would be ideal as dancers and both were invited to
join the band. Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley accepted the offer but
braced themselves from the expected concerns of their parents but fears
were laid to rest when Phil visited the girl's parents. Both girls were
still studying for their final year at school, but eventually it was
agreed that the chance of seeing Europe would be a good opportunity for
Joanne & Susan.
The arrival of the 'dancing girls' was met with typical scepticism by the
music press who were now convinced that the League were finished, but the
girls ongoing contribution to the future success of the band would
ultimately prove invaluable. The European tour commenced, but the
audiences were largely hostile to Susan & Joanne (who had both bought
tickets for the UK leg of the tour prior to Phil's offer). Audiences had
purchased tickets expecting the original line-up and Germany proved to be
a real test for the girls who had objects thrown at them.
Using backing tapes that Martyn had prepared for an earlier tour, the set
list contained tracks from Reproduction and Travelogue though Phil had
spent some time adding overdubs to mark this new incarnation of the Human
The tour itself was less than successful but long time supporter and fan
Simon Draper saw enough in these performances to feel relatively
optimistic for the future. Once the tour had ended, Phil set about
recording some rough demos at Monumental Studios in Sheffield where the
newly formed Heaven 17 were busy working on their debut album Penthouse &
One demo called Letting it Show (an early version of Open Your Heart)
confirmed Draper's belief that there was potential and he sought the
production expertise of Martin Rushent who was himself experimenting with
complex sound recording techniques and analogue keyboards.
The first single of the new look League under the guidance of Rushent was
rush released in February entitled Boys and Girls featuring a B-side
dedicated to 4th Dr Who Tom Baker (the actor had just quit the role after
7 years). Reaching a respectable number 47, the highest chart position at
that time for a League single, it stands as a bit of an oddity. Although a
likeable enough tune, the track contained no hint of what was to come
belonging more to the Travelogue period (it was added to the CD of that
album in 1989).
The real defining Human League single however, came just a few months
later. Perhaps with the shortcomings of Boys & Girls in mind, two
musicians were asked to join the band. Ian Burden was a conventional bass
player whom Phil had met during an earlier tour, whilst Jo Callas was an
experienced songwriter and guitarist with former Scottish punk band The
Rezillos. Upon joining, both were ordered to discard their guitars and
learn synthesizers. Concerned about the unhealthy atmosphere that could
arise from two separate groups recording at Monumental Studios, Simon
Draper advised the band to continue recording demos at Martin Rushent's
Genetic Sound studio in Reading.
May saw the first release that featured Ian Burden's song writing
partnership with Phil. Sound of The Crowd was a sharp blend of melody,
machinery and pop sensibility that awarded the band with their first top
20 hit. It was also the first single to feature Joanne & Susan on backing
vocals, a stunning mix of female interaction and sequenced synths that
would become one of the League's most enduring trademarks.
Feeling somewhat vindicated after what had been a few torturous months
following the departure of Ian & Martin, Phil began writing tracks with
Adrian, Ian & Jo that would take the appeal of Sound of The Crowd and
expand on it.
The first fruit of this recording session was released in August entitled
Love Action (I Believe in Love) peaking at number 3. The music press began
to take notice in the light of this infectious track. A new style of pop
had been created, critics began referring to the conventional guitar as an
antique and the Musician's Union regarded the new technology as a major
threat to their inclusive monopoly.
In October, Virgin released another single Open Your Heart confirming that
previous singles were no fluke. This track came complete with a catchy
sequenced bass line that had not been attempted before whilst the sleeve
provided an image for nightclub goers at the trendy Blitz club in London.
The forthcoming album was now complete and highly anticipated.
Dare premiered in late October together with its pastiche of a Vogue
magazine cover to enthusiastic reviews, but few could have foreseen the
effect that this collection of songs would have on modern pop music.
Inventive Linn drum patterns that varied greatly from track to track would
form the foundations of some unforgettable pop moments. Dare presented
cleverly crafted pop with multi-layers of melodic lead synths. Computer
driven bass lines using a technique pioneered by Martin Rushent gave the
album a sense of power and urgency that electronic music had lacked prior
to the release of Dare.
The rock establishment were horrified at the lack of conventional
instruments and a bitter debate developed over fears that the new
technology would banish guitars forever. In a move against synths, the
Musician's Union even began a campaign in the light of Dare called 'Keep
it Live'. They believed that the keyboards could compose melodies 'at the
touch of a button' thus making session musicians redundant. Unfounded
fears were also beginning to surface regarding the use of this technology
during live concerts, but it was just the typical wave of hysteria that
greets any advancement in technology.
The UK singles chart prior to Dare had previously been dominated by tired
old guitar heroes and dreary ballads that belonged back in the 70's, when
Dare hit the airwaves it provided a sound that was years ahead of its
time. The album was to change people's perception of pop music forever.
Within a few short weeks, the album had hit the number one spot and not
only would it herald an era of electronic dominance, Dare would also open
the door for a rare and unexpected UK pop invasion of the rock dominated
US charts in the months to come.
Delighted but not completely surprised by the success of Dare, Simon
Draper told Phil that he wanted to lift a fourth single from Dare
believing that the track Don't You Want Me would be a sure fire Christmas
Number 1. Phil and the girls were less than impressed by the suggestion
feeling it would 'end their career' and the prospect of releasing a fourth
single from the same album was previously something never done by the
League. During the recording of Dare, the track had not been a favourite
with Phil believing that it wasn't as strong as the rest of the album
hence the reason why it ended up as the final track. Simon Draper however,
was adamant that the single would be released and Phil demanded that the
single should be sold with a free poster, as the band believed the track
wouldn't sell on its own.
Simon gave into the request and by the end of December; Don't You Want Me
complete with free fold-out poster was enjoying a five-week stint at
Number One. The Christmas single was aided by another League innovation
that no doubt boosted sales even further namely the 3 minute pop promo.
Directed by Steve Barron in the outskirts of Slough during one freezing
cold night, this stylistic film within a film captured the mood and feel
of this period perfectly. Shot entirely on film as opposed to cheap
looking videotape, it would dictate how future pop videos would be made
and generated a whole wave of male appreciation for Joanne and Susan. The
video was a perfect marriage between glossy visuals and perfect pop whilst
the song itself featured the classic vocal interaction between Phil and
the girls that would help set the League apart from future electronic acts.
Don't You Want Me would become a perennial favourite and would also come
to be regarded as one of the 80's most defining pop moments together with
Soft Cell's Tainted Love by critics and pop historians. 20 years on, the
worlds most successful female artist Madonna would fondly recall the first
time she heard Don't You Want Me played at a New York nightclub, no doubt
embracing this determined young dancer to the endless possibilities of
electronic music. By the closing week of 1981, the Human League had the
number one album and single with Don't You Want Me approaching sales of
one million copies.
The New Year began well for the League with Don't You Want Me still at
number 1. Virgin boss Richard Branson bought Phil a BMW motorbike in
appreciation for the League's effort in securing Virgin's first UK Number
1 hit single, but Phil had to return the gift as he couldn't ride it. On
the back of Dare's success, Reproduction finally entered the UK charts
almost three years after its initial release reaching number 34, giving
the original line-up the belated success they so desperately wished for.
Virgin was also quick to re-release Being Boiled in January and despite
the difference in musical style to current material, the single reached
In February another reissue of the Holiday 80 EP reached number 46 whilst
the press reported Phil's engagement to Joanne. At the annual Brit Awards,
the League were voted the Best British Newcomer with judges forgetting
that the band had formed in 1978.
During the summer, the band embarked on their most ambitious international
tour to date visiting countries as far as Australia whilst Don't You Want
Me secured the number 1 slot in the US selling another million copies. The
success of the single also heralded a UK invasion of British music acts
not seen since Beatle mania in the early 60's.
Meanwhile in the UK, Martin Rushent presented Virgin with a collection of
dance remixes featuring tracks from Dare. Mostly instrumental, the mixing
techniques used were highly innovative and Virgin decided to release them
in July retailing at a special budget price of £3.99. Entitled Love and
Dancing and credited to The League Unlimited Orchestra, it became the
first remix album of its kind narrowly beating a similar project by Soft
Cell called Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. Love and Dancing would lay down the
blueprint for future 12-inch dance remixes and it proved to be the perfect
companion to Dare whilst fans waited for new material. Within a few months,
the remix album had gone platinum.
As soon as the tour had ended, the group returned to Rushent's studio to
record new material and November 27th saw the release of the single Mirror
Man. Inspired by Ian and Phil's love of Motown, the single was another
melodic classic peaking at number 2 over the Christmas period, and the
productive partnership between the League and Rushent sounded as vital as
the Dare sessions.
On April 17th another single that many assumed would be included on the
follow-up to Dare was released. (Keep Feeling) Fascination matched Mirror
Man's chart success reaching number 2 with another distinctive pop promo
directed by Steve Barron. The League seemed to be at the height of their
creative powers, but sadly it would become the final recording released in
1983. As the single peaked at number 8 in the States, the band retreated
to Air Studios to begin work on the long awaited new album. The studio
sessions however became problematic and stressful with Martin Rushent
finally quitting after creative rows and indecision. In the light of
Rushent's departure, the band decided to dump the material recorded opting
to start again.
With an autumn release date now looking unlikely, Virgin salvaged one of
the tracks I Love You Too Much and added it to the Fascination EP together
with Mirror Man and Fascination remixes. Released for the North American
market only, the EP became a huge selling import in the UK. Chris Thomas
was brought in to replace Rushent for the ongoing sessions at Air Studios
but within a few months the combination of intense recording amidst a lack
of direction and a family illness, forced Thomas to quit throwing the
sessions into further disarray.
During this period, the band had spent two months labouring over a Linn
drum sound for the track Life on Your Own. The pressure of trying to
duplicate the success of Dare was clearly causing problems with the band
questioning every aspect of every sound. The League were spending endless
days and nights within Air Studios that was one of the most expensive
studios to rent in the country, and Virgin accountants were having
Former Haircut 100 singer Nick Heywood famously revealed that he had
recorded his debut solo album in the time it took the League to program
one drum machine. Worried by events, Simon Draper brought onboard another
producer in a bid to bring some sense of discipline to the sessions. In
demand producer Hugh Pagham was free after completing work on The Police
album Synchronicity that had spawned the huge international hit Every
Breath You Take and had a reputation for producing quality work under
Within months, Pagham was able to move the sessions forward though Virgin
abandoned the expected October release date with no new date specified.
Things would remain quiet until May 5th with the release of the
uncharacteristically guitar-led single The Lebanon. The track was also
notable for its politically charged lyrics rather than the themes of love
that had dominated Dare. The Lebanon was something of a harsh shock to
regular fans despite its finely crafted melody and the single failed to
reach the Top 10. The Lebanon was probably the wrong single to release as
a taster to a highly anticipated album, and Phil would later regard it as
a mistake. Despite the relatively poor chart showing, the band was
confident that the next single would perform better.
Hysteria was finally released two weeks later (named after it's torturous
recording sessions) to much media excitement. Complete with a confusing,
multicoloured gatefold sleeve dubbed 'MANGUE' by critics, the album
received decisively mixed reviews. The band had clearly avoided a Dare 2
clone opting for stark melodies that had been stripped down to their
barest essentials. It was a bold move away from other acts of that time
who were releasing lavishly produced records that had little to say.
Hysteria entered the charts at number 3 and the band believed that they
were popular enough not to do any promotion after the initial release.
Within a few weeks, Hysteria had dropped out of the top ten. The second
single to be lifted from Hysteria was a more welcome return to the
familiar Human League sound. Life on Your Own had a downbeat, haunting
quality to it but record buyers opted for summer sounding records instead
and the single only managed to reach number 16 during the month of June.
The 12 inch is notable not only for the impressive remix of the title
track that included samples of Norman Wisdom and additional arrangements,
but also for a track called The World Tonight that was surprisingly
dropped from the final Hysteria track listing.
In July, the band were finally persuaded to do more promotion and they
performed a remixed version of I'm Coming Back (a track that was sadly
never released as a single) and Rock Me Again on the BBC's Oxford Road
Show pushing Hysteria back up the charts.
A possible third Hysteria single was put on hold when Virgin decided to
release a track Phil had recorded with a producer he had admired greatly;
Giorgio Moroder. Lifted from an obscure soundtrack to a relatively obscure
film, Together in Electric Dreams was a catchy and likeable slice of euro
pop and it became a huge international hit reaching number 3 in the UK.
The unexpected success of the single after a lukewarm reaction to Hysteria
convinced Virgin to release one final track from the album in November.
The ballad Louise was released complete with an expensive promo and
performed slightly better than the previous Hysteria singles enjoying a
ten-week chart run peaking at 13. The B-side contained a remixed version
of choice track The Sign dashing hopes of a single release. By the end of
the year, Hysteria would eventually pass gold status in the UK but the
chosen singles hadn't really boosted sales needed to recoup the costly
recording debts from Air Studios and the League turned their attention to
recording a follow-up.
In January, the band regrouped to record demos in Phil's 24 track home
studio together with Colin Thurston who had co-produced the debut album
Reproduction. Within weeks though, the band were dealt a huge blow when Jo
Callas, co-writer of some of the League's finest moments announced he was
leaving to work with former Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey. In the wake
of the unexpected departure, former Associate drummer Jim Russell was
brought into the fold as a session artist.
Impressed by the continued international success of Together in Electric
Dreams, Virgin offered Phil the chance to record further tracks with
Giorgio Moroder and sessions for the new League album were put on hold in
March when Phil flew out to Munich. Phil was very keen on the initial idea,
but when he arrived at Giorgio's studio, the legendary producer had
already recorded several backing tracks. Phil spent just three weeks
writing and recording the lyrics and although Giorgio was pleased with the
results praising Phil's vocals, the singer would have preferred
contributing more to the music and there was a feeling that the
collaboration had fallen short of expectations.
Upon returning to Sheffield, Phil was back to recording the new League
album but once again the sessions were proving problematic. Aided by a
lack of direction, Joanne announces on Radio 1 that the band would release
a remix album of Hysteria similar in style to Love & Dancing during the
summer but for reasons unknown, the project never materialized. In July,
the second Oakey & Moroder collaboration is released. Goodbye Bad Times
was an exciting taster from the forthcoming album recorded in Munich with
a melody equal to Electric Dreams. It received plenty of airplay but
record buyers seemed to prefer a return to 70's stadium rock and opted for
Dire Straits instead. Goodbye Bad Times remained stuck at number 44,
staying there for three weeks before slowly slipping out of view.
The album Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder (often wrongly credited as 'CHROME')
was released a few weeks later peaking at a disappointing 52 despite being
blessed with some instantly likeable tracks, but the failure of Goodbye
Bad Times had sealed its fate. The year became even less memorable when
the vastly underrated third single Be My Lover Now barely managed to
scrape the top 75. Recording for the Hysteria follow-up also took a turn
for the worst when Colin Thurston walked out of one session never to
return and the album that was to appear on an assigned release date in
September was delayed indefinitely.
The League's only publicity was reduced to whispers in the gossip columns
of the music press, and many began to believe that this elusive band had
gone their separate ways never to return.
With no one to oversee the recording sessions in Sheffield, Virgin became
concerned by the lack of new material. In January, Simon Draper met up
with the band and suggested that they should consider recording for the US
production team Jerry Jam & Terry Lewis who had worked with Prince and
produced memorable hits for the SOS band amongst others. Jam & Lewis had
just completed a new album for Janet Jackson on the Virgin label that was
yet to be released and it was felt that this style of electro production
could suite the League.
Being something of an admirer himself of this up and coming production
team, Phil agreed but Adrian was less than impressed. The following month,
the entire band was flown out to the arctic conditions of Minneapolis
armed with the sessions recorded with Colin Thurston in 1985. Jam & Lewis
were pleased at the prospect of recording with the League, citing
Fascination as a track they had always admired greatly. The Thurston
session tape was played but the producers rejected most of them feeling
that many of the tracks weren't strong enough.
Four solid months of stressful recording followed that were full of vocal
retakes and some days would end in creative disagreements. In the end,
session musicians and backing singers were brought in as Jam & Lewis
sought a level of pitch perfection that was simply alien to the appeal of
The League. The production team's trademark was that of polished soul with
plenty of treble, whilst the League always favoured an understated and
sometimes harsher sound of pop that would stray from obvious musical
styles. Adrian eventually gave up on trying to record soul styled keyboard
rifts that he was completely unfamiliar with and decided instead to spend
the rest of the sessions playing table tennis.
Meanwhile, the band was becoming increasingly homesick with yearnings for
a decent cup of English tea. Tired with green tea, Virgin eventually
shipped over a supply of tea bags, but the band were ultimately missing
friends and family in Sheffield.
The recording sessions reached breaking point when it became apparent that
only six of the League penned tracks would make it to the album with Jam &
Lewis adding a few tracks of their own. Song writing credits were
essential when it came to the bread and butter payments once an album was
released. Jam & Lewis were already receiving a huge production fee from
Virgin, and the League felt they would receive little in the way of
royalties that were so desperately needed. As a result, the sessions ended
in acrimony even though the personal relationship between the band and the
production team had been a good one.
The League left the sessions earlier than expected and returned back to
Sheffield, whilst Jam & Lewis were left in full creative control during
the final mixing sessions. Upon returning, Adrian left the band unhappy
with the direction the music had taken. He and Phil were no longer talking
to each other, and Adrian had decided it was time to fulfil an ambition of
his to work in films.
The first new League single since 1984's Louise was released in September.
The infidelity ballad Human was a huge departure from the typical League
sound and critics were sceptical of the soul influence and the fact that
it had not been written by the Human League. The single itself however was
particularly impressive and superbly produced. Other US artists had wanted
the track for themselves and The League were always honoured that Jam &
allowed them to even touch it. Human was perfectly suited for radio play
and the single debuted at number 8 in the UK.
After what seemed like an eternity for League fans, the follow-up to
Hysteria was finally released. Crash debuted at number 7 but ultimately it
proved to be something of a mixed bag creatively receiving equally mixed
reviews. Moments of League brilliance were evident in tracks such as Love
on The Run and The Real thing but the inclusion of questionable tracks
such as Swang and I Need Your Loving distanced the more traditional League
Later it would become apparent that the photo shoot for the album was just
as problematic as the actual recording. Opting for a glamour shot similar
to those seen on the Paris Vogue covers, Phil decided he wanted the
photographer responsible Guy Bourdin to provide the album cover. Virgin
agreed though the photographer's fee wasn't cheap and the band flew out to
During the shot, Bourdin spent most of the time photographing Susan &
Joanne and eventually asked Susan to perform headstands against a wall
wearing a mini-skirt, but Susan understandably refused and the
photographer lost his temper.
The band immediately quit the sessions losing thousands of pounds
resulting in a bizarre and blurred re-shoot from another photographer that
was equally regrettable.
In November however, the League achieved a unique feat when Human reached
number 1 in the States becoming one of the few UK bands that have had two
number 1 hits in the US Despite doubts over the musical direction of Crash
(many felt it lacked the depth of Hysteria), the album did succeed in
re-establishing the League in the international market.
The success of the Jam & Lewis produced Control album for Janet Jackson
however, pushed Virgin into making a mistake that could have brought the
League's career to a premature closure. Hoping to match the popularity of
Jackson's singles, I Need You Loving was chosen as the second single much
to the horror of both the band and the fans. It was widely considered as
one of weakest tracks on Crash and the band were expecting one of their
own songs to be released.
Unsurprisingly, the track stalled at number 72 (though it performed better
in the States), aided by what was possibly the worst Human League video
ever in which the band appeared to be going through the motions. Things
were made slightly more bearable when Crash began selling well in other
territories and the band began planning their first UK tour since 1982.
To promote the tour, the League decided to play live on the infamous but
innovative Channel 4 music show The Tube. Problems prior to going on stage
reached comical proportions though with Phil threatening to quit the show
that was being broadcast live, when the promise of being the closing act
was denied at the last minute. The producer was reportedly close to tears
as his pleas for the League to play fell on deaf ears, but Phil
reluctantly conceded not wanting to see a 'grown man cry' even though the
band were quite right to make a stance. After the back stage bust-up, the
appearance was a nightmare for the band and it would be another 9 years
before they would play live on TV again.
Thankfully, the problems encountered during the Tube appearance were not
repeated on the Crash tour with the band producing faultless performances
to a perfect set of hit singles.
The League toured into the early months of 1987 to packed venues and
received glowing reviews from the music press but Virgin failed to
capitalize on the success and no further singles from Crash were released
at all during this period.
After the tour was completed, the band once again retreated to Sheffield
signalling another long period of inactivity in the minds of the fans. It
was during this time that Ian Burden announced he was leaving and the band
never saw him again. It was rumoured that Ian had fled to Romania to join
a circus where he would play jazz synthesizer in a clown's outfit.
Almost two years on from the last single release, Virgin unexpectedly
announced the belated release of Love is All That Matters which was one of
the better Jam & Lewis compositions from the Crash album remixed down to a
3 minute version. Reaching number 41, it was the first Human League single
to be released on the new CD format (CD singles were very rare during this
period), and would pave the way for a Greatest Hits album two months later.
The TV advertised compilation contained most of the hit singles but
ignored the equally innovative pre -Dare tracks (though the VHS video did
include Circus of Death). The Hits album entered the charts at number 3
and would eventually sell more than 300,000 copies. Critics wrote
enthusiastic reviews acknowledging the League as pop innovators, but many
saw the token hits compilation as a sign that the band had reached the end
of their career.
Fearful of the frightening recording costs incurred during the making of
Hysteria and Crash, Phil approached Sheffield City Council about the
possibility of securing a European loan in order to build a recording
studio. The Labour run council was extremely enthusiastic about the idea
and the loan application was successful. Construction began almost
immediately with Phil investing his own money to ensure the project was
completed. With their very own studio, the band believed that they would
now be able to release albums on a yearly basis.
In the absence of new material, Virgin finally get round to releasing
Reproduction & Travelogue on CD with an impressive selection of bonus
tracks including various non-album singles, EP's and a engaging flexi disc
interview. The two albums continue to be steady sellers to this day though
promises of digitally remastered versions are yet to materialize.
THE 90's: Virgin Blues & East West Delights
Work commenced on the new album and Jo Callas made a welcome and
unexpected return to help out on some of the song writing duties together
with Dare producer Martin Rushent hinting that the album would bring a
welcome departure in sound from that of Crash. Neil Sutton and Russell
Dennett who had helped out during the Crash tour were also invited to
become full-time members and both contributed to several of the tracks
amidst the workmen and bricks in the new studio.
Four years on from Crash and the last official Human League single, August
saw the release of 'Heart Like a Wheel', the first track Jo Callis had
contributed to since 1984's Louise. Produced by Martin Rushent and
supported by two CD singles featuring various mixes from William Orbit,
the track signalled a welcome return to the sound of the Dare period. The
music press were also pleased to see the League return to familiar ground
after the mistakes of Crash, and a promo sampler entitled Dare To Be
Romantic? led to generous and enthusiastic media coverage.
Prior to the release of 'Heart Like a Wheel', the band appeared on chat
show Wogan to perform the track together with Russell Dennett and Neil
Sutton on keyboards. Phil had now reverted back to the lopsided haircut of
1981 perhaps in a bid to escape the 'fashion model' look of the Crash
period, whilst the girls were dressed to thrill.
The group's new image however, seemed slightly odd as though they had just
come back from a biker's convention at a time when people seemed to be
hooked by the sound and look of 'Mad'chester.
Faceless DJ music had began to usher in the era of dance music in the wake
of Acid & House, and feelings that this comeback had been miss-timed were
re-enforced when Heart Like a Wheel entered the charts at a disappointing
The initial press excitement of the League's return was replaced with
muted silence when Romantic was released a few weeks later with little
fanfare from Virgin. The music press reviews were harsh and unforgiving
with Melody Maker reviewing Romantic under the headline 'Beazer Homes
League!' (the lowest football league in the UK).
The album itself did have conflicting styles. Attempts to cross over into
dance territory sounded half hearted with some of the tracks being pulled
in all directions by various producers. What Romantic seemed to suffer
from was a clear sense of identity and the material featured would
certainly have benefited from the guidance of just one producer.
Ironically, the tracks that did work superbly, succeeded because they were
free from overdubs of whatever the current fad was. Rebound and The 'Stars
Are Going Out' were real gems hinting that Phil had stumbled across a rare
song writing talent in the form of Neil Sutton. Today, the album retains
an odd charm to it and the general feeling is that the album remains
vastly underrated with many preferring Romantic to Crash.
Cult comedian Vic Reeves who was enjoying star status during 1990 on the
back of his critically acclaimed Big Night Out TV series, revealed himself
as a long time fan citing Rebound as one of the League's finest tracks.
Phil would later return the compliment by appearing in a TV pilot for
Reeves called 'The Weekenders'.
Romantic peaked at number 24 in the closing week of September before
disappearing from the Top 100 UK album charts after just two weeks falling
way short of the commercial success that Crash had generated. Hopes of a
US reprieve were raised briefly when 'Heart Like a Wheel' peaked at number
32 on the Billboard chart (impressive as many UK acts fail to hit the Top
70 in today's climate), but Romantic suffered a similar fate in America.
Virgin decided to release one more single from Romantic in November opting
for the William Orbit produced 'Soundtrack To A Generation' with a myriad
of mixes over two CD singles including a dub version of album highlight 'A
Doorway'. With it's poignant lyrics ('Years have gone on in between. But
all I knew at seventeen. Is all I know now'), coupled with a killer base
line, the single received very little in the way of promotion or radio
support and failed to enter the Top 75. The failure of 'Soundtrack' would
finally sound the death knell of the band's long and fruitful association
with Virgin and the lyrics to Romantic's finest track 'The Stars Are Going
Out' seemed to sum up the League's apocalyptic future.
Another single featuring Phil on vocals for a local Sheffield band called
Respect was also released around Christmas on the Chrysalis label.
Entitled 'What Comes After Goodbye', the single suffered a similarly
depressing fate as 'Soundtrack To A Generation'. Few believed that they
would ever have another hit single and 1990 ended on a depressing note
whilst The Farm enjoyed a Top 20 hit with their cover version of 'Don't
You Want Me'.
With the band's confidence severely affected by the commercial failure and
critical mauling of Romantic (though some critics would later describe the
album as 'underrated'), the band retreated back to their recording studio
where Phil finally began to lay down some new demos. Convinced that a
radical departure such as the one Crash had produced was not they way
forward, Phil stuck resolutely to the belief that the League should remain
100% electronic. Demos that were undeniably stamped with the League
identity were presented to an indifferent Virgin who were perhaps hoping
for a radical new sounding Human League. Virgin at this time were
undergoing huge managerial changes as Richard Branson looked to expand the
Virgin Empire into new business ventures. Personnel who were once
supportive of the League were either moved on to other departments or had
left to pursue other careers whilst the supportive and loyal fan Simon
Draper was moved to Europe to oversee Virgin interests in those
There were also worrying trade rumours that Virgin were considering a huge
rethink with regards to their music operations in the light of a declining
market share in CD sales.
Japan's influential band of musicians that included Ryuichi Sakamoto (who
co-wrote the haunting classic 'Forbidden Colours' single with David
Sylvian in 1983), approached the League through a producer to collaborate
on some tracks. Phil & the girls recorded some vocals and sent them back
to Japan where they were released on a single called 'YMO vs The Human
League' on the 21st of April.
Come the summer of 1992, the industry whispers of drastic artist cutbacks
had sadly became true as Virgin finally confirmed that they were 'letting
go' of almost half of their recording acts with contracts being declared
as void. For the first time since 1978, the Human League were without a
label despite completing promising demos. Heaven 17 were also another of
Virgin's once revered acts who were dropped by the company's new bosses.
When the news reached Simon Draper in Europe, he was very saddened by the
loss of two innovative recording acts. It was the end of a glorious era
and few doubted that either band would survive and recover from Virgin's
loss of faith.
Understandably, both Phil and Susan took the news very badly whilst Joanne
remained positively strong. They had been extremely loyal to the label,
and despite the love - hate relationship, it had been an amazingly
successful era for both parties. As the news sunk in, Phil and Susan would
later admit in 1995 that the psychological blow of being dropped would
lead them to seek professional counselling in order to claw back some
In a situation similar to the period following Hysteria, the Human League
were once again perceived as a forgotten band whilst they continued to
work on the demos originally offered to Virgin. Royalties from older
singles being played across the world were enabling the band to keep
afloat but they were virtually broke having not had a major hit since
'Human' in 1986.
An unexpected confidence booster arrived from an unlikely source however
when the innovative UK dance act The Utah Saints released a single called
'Believe in Me' in early spring. Reaching number 8 in the UK charts, the
single was a clever blend of sampled tracks mixed with The Utah Saints own
unique style; it's main focus being Phil's vocals taken from 'Love
Action'. 'Believe In Me' also contained samples of Gwen Gutherie's 'Ain't
Nothin' Goin' On But The Rent', a track that was in the UK single charts
during the time of 'Human'. Phil's vocals though, were the most prominent
and it would be a single that he would remember just a few years down the
Towards the latter half of the year, the band began to feel confident
enough to send the new demo tapes to major record labels.
Unknown to most fans and the public at large, one record company did come
forward after hearing the demo tapes, though there was an element of
caution as former A&R man at East West - Matt Hole revealed some years
later, "Their was a lot of baggage to come with The Human League, and a
lot of that feeling well you know the young man's business, the business
has changed maybe we should actually be investing our time in a brand new
act rather than something that was a bit of a dinosaur. But it was the
songs really; the songs on the tape were impressive."
East West was a relatively new label owned by the Time Warner Company
whose recording artists included Simply Red and the groundbreaking dance
act The Beloved. Former Tears For Fears keyboard player Ian Stanley was
also an A&R man at East West at the time of the League signing. Something
of a synth expert himself (Ian had co-written two of Tears For Fears
biggest and most memorable hits: 'Shout' and 'Everybody Wants To Rule The
World'), East West gave him the job of producing the League's new material
and bosses were pleased with the initial results. The tracks were so
encouraging that East West would guarantee a committed promotional
campaign for the new material.
By December, the impressive promotional campaign was launched and many
fans were surprised to learn that the League were due to release a brand
new single called 'Tell Me When' on the 31st of that month. Full page
spreads began appearing in the music press and glossy style magazines
showing the cover of the forthcoming single designed by Mark Farrow who
had been responsible for the Pet Shop Boys distinctive covers for both the
singles and albums since 1986.
After the traumatic experience of Romantic four years earlier, how would
the League fare in a vastly different pop arena? The emphasis was now very
much on manufactured bands aimed at young teens and faceless dance music,
though Brit Pop was trying it's best to challenge this worrying trend in
ballad-led chart music.
The UK's leading radio station Radio One had ignored Romantic's singles
and the new single 'Tell Me When' was about to face a tense make-or-break
test for both the League and East West who had taken considerable
financial risks in signing the band.
Midway through December, Radio One took the encouraging step of adding 'Tell
Me When' to their C-list ensuring enough plays throughout the week and the
DJ's took to it with great enthusiasm. The single sounded perfect with its
catchy chorus, classic vocal interaction and punchy bass-line but more
importantly, 'Tell Me When' had instant appeal. All it took was one listen
and despite it's retro sound, the song sounded incredibly fresh. Aided by
Ian Stanley's superb, crystal clear production, 'Tell Me When' could match
anything on the timeless Dare. It was an inspired return to form and
within a week, the single was added to the A-list resulting in maximum
plays. A chart entry would now be guaranteed for a single that seemed
tailor made for radio play.
When 'Tell Me When' did finally appear in record stores (credited to Paul
Beckett & Phil Oakey), the CD single included a remix by Utah Saints (as a
thanks to their impressive single 'Believe In Me' back in 1993). Other
tracks included the likable YMO collaboration 'Kimi ni Mune Kyun' that was
born out of the Japanese artist's admiration for the League, and a warm
sounding instrumental by Dennett & Oakey called 'The Bus To Crookes',
neither of which would appear on the forthcoming album. 1995
The following week, 'Tell Me When' exceeded expectations by entering the
UK charts at number 12 beating the previous three singles from Romantic
and Crash that had all failed to enter the Top 20.
It was the time of the volatile UK chart. Singles were beginning to have
high chart entries before sales would drop off alarmingly the following
week (this trend would get even worse in the years that followed), and it
was becoming rare for singles to increase their sales in the following
After an impressive appearance on 'Top Of The Pops' (the League's first
since September 1990), the single bucked trends by rising to Number 7 in
the second week of release. Looking even happier than they did during
their first TOTP's appearance, the League were called back to perform the
song again for the second of three studio performances (unprecedented
unless a single actually reaches Number 1). Virgin must have looked on
regretting the day they turned down the demo of 'Tell Me When in 1992
shortly before dropping them from the label. The promo video for the
single was also particularly stylish, shot entirely on location in Prague,
the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic.
With the single reaching Number 6 the following week (where it would
remain for another 14 days), the League were suddenly invited on just
about every music show that was on UK TV at that time. Memorable
interviews and performances included the BBC's 'Live And Kicking' and 'O-Zone'
(where Phil would promise that there would now be a Human League album
once every two years). The band also appeared on the popular daytime show
'This Morning' with Richard & Judy as well as various MTV slots.
The same old grainy clip of the 'Don't You Want Me' video accompanied all
appearances and the tired old references to the word 'comeback' would
prompt Joanne to remind the interviewer that 'we have actually never been
away', but busy working in their studio. In some interviews, the
researchers had to be reminded that there had been significant hit singles
since Dare from both Hysteria and Crash, including a second US Number 1
It had seemed like an eternity since the release of Romantic and on
January 23rd the oddly named Octopus was unveiled complete with it's
striking profile shot of Phil, the girls and futuristic logo (a cover that
Phil now say's he doesn't like). Containing nine tracks of perfect
analogue pop, Octopus was welcomed and praised by both the NME and Melody
Maker. Finally, the League had produced an album that could truly be held
up to Dare.
Ian Stanley was instrumental in giving the album a cohesive sound that
Romantic had lacked and the whole thing was unashamedly electronic
compared to the rest of 1995's album releases. Octopus contained many
highlights with Phil having rediscovered his unique talent for memorable
lyrics. 'These Are The Days' was a classic return to the Dare era though
the message it enforced was that the time for looking back had passed, it
was time to move on. In terms of melody and pop sensibility, Octopus was
untouchable and impressive. The album was also fairly emotional in places
perhaps in reference to Phil's break-up with Joanne some years earlier on
tracks such as the haunting 'Never Again', a tortured love song where Phil
seems to reveal his soul.
Once again, the League had refused to follow any musical trends with
Octopus containing some wonderfully unfashionable analogue sounds. Octopus
also saw the League return to their left-wing political roots as a
response to damaging Tory policies especially in the North of England with
the decay of industry and a lack of social policies. 'Remember society?
Bring it back…' sang Phil to an irresistible sonic melody in 'House Full
Of Nothing', a reply to Mrs. Thatcher's infamous announcement that there
was 'no such thing as society'. The girls also sang the memorable line 'after
16 years of legalized class hate' on 'These Are The Days' hinting at the
bitterness they all felt at the time.
Media interest for the League was at an all-time high, and full-paged
press adverts helped to guarantee Octopus a UK album chart entry of Number
6 (beating Crash's personal best by one place). East West then created the
League's first ever official website despite the fact that Internet access
in the UK was not that common. It was a modest affair (like most official
sites during the early days of the Internet) with some nice pictures and
brief biog based on the group's East West output.
The second single to be lifted from Octopus was the radio-friendly ballad
'One Man In My Heart' with Susan singing lead vocals and was released on
March 12th as a two CD set. It seemed a surprising choice at first and
wasn't quite as instant as 'Tell Me When', but the track was a real grower
and received plenty of radio play and even led to some of the older 80's
League hits being played on Radio One.
Phil had approached legendary Swedish DJ/producer Denniz Pop (who had
produced an impressive mix of Don't You Want Me called the SweMix version
in 1988), to provide versions of 'One Man In My Heart' but Denniz was
sadly unavailable. Pop was instrumental in setting up the production team
that would later have great international success with Dr Alban, Britney
Spears and Five to name just a few before sadly passing away with cancer
in 1998. The remix duties were instead offered to Ace Of Base another
Swedish act enjoying huge international success at the time and they
provided all of the 'TOEC' mixes.
The single peaked at 13 after another memorable 'Top Of The Pops'
performance with Phil trying hard to maintain a straight face as he mimed
to some bizarre electronic sounds behind a strange box-like instrument. On
June 11th, 'Filling Up With Heaven' became the third and final single to
be released from Octopus that included a mix of 'These Are The Days', a
track that really should have been the second single. 'Filling Up With
Heaven' probably lacked that instant appeal needed to generate radio play
though it became positively irresistible after a few listens and was
joyously upbeat. It was a feeling that was mirrored in the rarely seen
promo video - another stylishly shot affair with impressive photography.
Due to lack of radio play, the single only managed to enter the charts at
number 36 despite being a song that still sounds fantastic today. No 'Top
Of The Pops' appearance for this single though the band gave an impressive
performance of the track on the 'ITV Movie Awards' hosted by Bob Monkhouse
in New York during mid June.
With no more activity planned from East West for the rest of '95, old
label Virgin suddenly decided to capitalize on their former stars by
releasing a Greatest Hits package to replace the old 1988 compilation.
Released for the Christmas market on the 23rd November, the new hits
package came with a revised track listing to include 'Tell Me When', a
Snap remix of 'Don't You Want Me' and a brand new track that was recorded
specifically for Virgin's new compilation 'Stay With Me Tonight' licensed
from East West. On the wave of continuing media attention, the hits
package entered the UK album charts at Number 9 whilst the fairly average
Snap & Red Jerry 'Don't You Want Me' mixes were released as a single
peaking at Number 16. A digitally remastered video of the hits was also
issued with superb sound and included the rarely seen 'Heart Like A Wheel'
and 'Soundtrack To A Generation' videos though the track listing on the
sleeve was incorrect.
At the end of November, the League made their first UK TV live appearance
since the wobbly Tube set in 1986 on 'Later With Jools Holland' for BBC-2.
It was a stunning and memorable performance that featured all the band
including the rarely seen Neil Sutton and Russell Dennett. For those
watching on stereo TV sets, the quality of the live keyboards, vocals and
percussion was nothing short of impressive. Opening with 'These Are The
Days', the band then returned to play the much-underrated Romantic classic
'The Stars Are Going Out' before closing the show with the old Dare
favourite 'Sound Of The Crowd'.
1995 ended on a triumphant note with two sold-out concerts at the Royal
Albert Hall venue in London, the League's first live dates since 1987. The
entire year had been a remarkable success story with Octopus reaching gold
status in the UK with sales of over 100.000.
Twelve months after the release of 'Tell Me When', East West decided to
try their luck with the new track 'Stay With Me Tonight' that was recorded
for Virgin's Greatest Hits compilation. Released on 14th January as a
single CD, the track was accompanied with the excellent Space Kittens
remix. Produced and co-written by Ian Stanley together with Phil, the
single was another perfect slice of melodic pop with finely crafted layers
of synth effects. However, the track lacked instant attraction for the
casual listener and Radio One give it little in the way of airtime.
Stay With Me Tonight' only managed to reach Number 40 on the UK chart, but
it's chances would surely have been improved had it been released before
the Greatest Hits. Despite it's poor chart showing, the League appeared on
GMTV and the late night music show 'Hotel Babylon' for ITV where the band
gave a brief interview.
Future Music magazine would be the last we would hear from Phil for quite
some time. When asked what the future would hold for the Human League,
Phil replied, "We've got to do the album that Octopus should have been.
It's got to have more tracks. I think Ian [Stanley] wants to get more
involved in the writing so he'll be a big component. We've all got the
songs, the subjects and the titles, which is how we start. "It took four
years to write the nine songs on Octopus. We gave them to Virgin and they
said, 'Do you want to leave the label?'! That's alright though. They did
us a favour, although we were a bit miffed at the time. They had a tape
with Tell Me When on... It did so well, I still can't believe it. It was
up there for weeks. Just brilliant." After completing all remaining
promotion duties, the League returned to Sheffield to begin work on new
demos for the follow-up to Octopus, an album East West were expecting in
1997. With co-writing credits on the most recent single, Ian Stanley was
also expected to produce the new album, but he unexpectedly left to pursue
other musical projects. Recording began well in the latter part of the
year with the completion of three tracks called 'New Start', 'Nervous' and
'S-H5' with new producers Robin Hancock, Ross Cullum, Jamie Cullum and
Peter Davis. During the sessions, Russell Dennett had also decided to
leave the band. Tired of the cold climate in Sheffield, he headed
immediately to Spain where he joined a reportedly 'sinister' electro
The anxiously awaited follow-up to Octopus failed to appear. With no
revised release date offered, the band continued to work in Sheffield. The
Internet saw massive expansion throughout the year and although call
charges were extortionate especially in the UK, Human League fan sites
began to appear most notably with the Australian site 'Dare!' attracting
It was the year that lightning would strike the League twice. Their
current label East West began to undergo extensive management changes
(just like Virgin did in '92) and those who had supported the League were
either pushed out or jumped labels. With no hint of what was to come, the
League continued to work on a cover of Gary Clail's classic electro track
'Human Nature' (originally a hit in 1991) a track the League had played
live during the Albert Hall dates.
In the summer of 1998, the League received an unexpected offer from old
80's sparring partner Boy George to join a lucrative tour of America
together with Howard Jones called The Rewind Tour aimed primarily at the
80's nostalgia market. With strict instructions that would only allow the
big hits to be added to the set list, Phil and the band decided that it
was too good an opportunity to turn down. Despite the success of Octopus,
the band still had large overheads to pay as well as the maintenance of
their studio and hired staff. It was one of the first tours of its kind
and the success of the 80's revival touring circuit has spawned many
different lineups since and is still going strong selling out venues such
as Wembley Arena that has a 20,000 plus capacity.
Almost every act that had a hit record in the 80's have taken part (except
for Flock of Seagulls who are still waiting by the phone).
When the band returned after a few months, they discovered that the new
management at East West had decided to drop them from the label together
with The Beloved. For the second time in six years, the League were dumped
facing an uncertain future. Former A&R man for East West would later
reveal on BBC-2's 'Young Guns' documentary, "Octopus was a very successful
album, it was top ten for quite a long time. It was a gold record in the
UK it did pretty well in America so we brought them back so by the end of
95 The Human League were high in the public's consciousness and the
media's. Then it was a problem that they were taking a very long time to
think about the next record. After I left East West records a new regime
came into the company and they were actually let go." Meanwhile, another
new website appeared called Hysteria again from Australia with stylish web
design and extensive content. It would go on to become an invaluable in
keeping League fans informed for the next two years. In the winter, the
League were coaxed back into appearing on the bill of the UK leg of the
Rewind Tour again with Culture Club headlining and a welcome return to the
big stage for fellow Sheffield innovators ABC. The huge success of the
tour led to much media interest and although the League were without a
record label, they appeared on GMTV to be interviewed by Lorraine Kelly
who had last flirted with Phil in 1990 on the same show (then called TV-AM).
They also performed two hits 'Human' and the more recent 'Tell Me When'
for the programme.
The year ended with another TV appearance this time on BBC-1 for the peak
time special 'Winter's Wonderland' where Phil, Jo and Sue performed the
original version of 'Don't You Want Me' with two unknown keyboard players
though Neil Sutton was still thankfully with the band.
Media fascination with the League continued in January with the screening
of a documentary called 'Young Guns' that focused on the leading artists
of the early 80's. Brilliantly researched for the most part, the programme
documented the early beginnings of the band and featured Phil Oakey with
Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh being interviewed together for the first
time since 1980. Filmed around Sheffield, 'Young Guns' also featured
contributions from Joanne, Susan, Jo Callas, Simon Draper and the much
missed Adrian Wright. Running for 30 minutes, a glorious backdrop of
analogue keyboards was also shown whilst Phil & the girls were interviewed
in their rarely seen studio. Narrated by long time fan and singer of the
original synth pop duo Soft Cell - Marc Almond, this particular episode
was pure heaven for Human League fans.
Another TV appearance followed in March this time playing themselves in
the made- for- TV comedy film 'Hunting Venus' that starred British
comedians Martin Clunes and Neil Morrisey. The film featured the
fictitious reunion of an old 80's band in the 90's and ended with the
League performing 'Don't You Want Me' - 'Hunting Venus' was never released
on video and is locked away in a film vault where it will never be seen
Things remained quiet until August when it was revealed that Phil had
recorded some guest vocals on the forthcoming All Seeing I single. Also
from Sheffield, All Seeing I had scored two impressive Top 20 hits with
the infectious 'And The Beat Goes On' followed by 'Walk Like A Panther'
with 60's crooner Tony Christie (a track written by Pulp's Jarvis Cocker).
Before its release, the League played two gigs firstly at London's Astoria
followed by a PA in Ibiza.
''The First Man In Space' (again written by Jarvis) became Radio One's
'Single Of The Week' during the week of the total eclipse in the UK
('total' only for those in a boat moored 20 miles south of the Isle of
Wright). It was a wonderful track with lyrics that wouldn't have seemed
out of place on either Reproduction or Travelogue and the song also
featured cameo vocals from Joanne and Susan.
To promote the single, Phil unexpectedly joined the All Seeing I live in
the dance tent at Reading festival to perform the track to a wildly
enthusiastic audience whilst Blur played on the main stage. All Seeing I
also performed 'And The Beat Goes On' with a delightful, but shy female
vocalist and Jarvis Cocker came on to sing 'Walk Like A Panther'. It was a
memorable evening with Stuart Pearce's superb Las Rhythm Digital
performing in the same tent just a few hours earlier. The song entered the
UK charts at Number 27 in early September and appearances on 'Top Of The
Pops' (where Phil sang live) and 'The Pepsi Chart Show' for Channel 5
followed. Phil was also interviewed by Jamie Theakson for the 'O-Zone'
(BBC) on the same tram line in Sheffield that featured on the 'Young Guns'
documentary. When asked what the meaning was behind the bizarre video,
Phil replied that he had no idea, "the director wouldn't talk to me" he
Phil's association with All Seeing I continued when he recorded two stints
as a DJ entitled 'The History Of The Synthesizer' that were streamed from
the official All Seeing I website. Phil played a selection of his
favourite electronic records that included Alice Deejay's 'Better Off
Alone' before retreating back to the studio in Sheffield for another
2000 and beyond
After much time spent mulling over their various options the band again
defied their critics and the overwhelming sense of lethargy that can
overcome ‘older’ acts by signing to new label ‘Papillion’ and, in 2001,
released the widely critically acclaimed ‘Toy’ produced album ‘Secrets’,
the first single from which ‘All I ever Wanted’ was the bands first Top 40
hit since 1995.
This was followed by a successful December tour of the UK and, since
Papillion was closed by it’s parent company in early 2002, live work has
continued to be the main focus of the band’s activities with live shows in
Europe and, this coming November, Japan and Australia. This has been
accompanied by widespread sampling of the bands extensive back catalogue
by other Artists, most notably by Richard X on the Top 5 single ‘Be Nobody’
with Liberty X and on his next release ‘Finest Dreams’ featuring Kellis
which is currently on the Radio One ‘B’ list.
September 2003 sees the release of a new Virgin compilation ‘The Very Best
Of’, bringing fans right up to date with all the bands singles and
followed two weeks later by the ‘Best Of’ DVD, the first time any the
bands promo videos have been available on this format.