www.aladdin-theater.com 2006

The Human League

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 League's lyrics.

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 Sex Pistols.

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 record buyers.

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 London.

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 slot.

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 band greatly.

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 League.

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 & Pavement.

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 number 6.

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 sleepless nights.

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 strict deadlines.

Within months, Pagham was able to move the sessions forward though Virgin abandoned the expected October release date with no new date specified.

 

1984

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 & Lewis had 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 fan.

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 Paris.

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 number 29.

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 territories.

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 confidence.

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 line.

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 week.

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 with 'Human'.

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 circus.

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 most hits.

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 again..

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 joked.

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 mini-hiatus..

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.