www.bbc.co.uk December 2006
Mick Conmy

The Human League at the New Theatre
Read the review of a fun night of 80's nostalgia…
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. The Human League were in town on Tuesday night, playing to a boisterous and boozy over 35’s crowd at The New Theatre, serving up a surprisingly theatrical show comprising of frequent costume changes, an impressive light show and a backdrop of action packed videos. The stage resembled the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, with plentiful assorted gadgetry and banks of synthesisers; the 1980’s version of modernity looks sort of quaint now.

It is 25 years since the 25th best selling single in UK chart history “Don’t You Want Me”, and the follow up seminal album “Dare” topped the charts both sides of the Atlantic. Those long years have manifested themselves in different ways on the band members. Long gone is the oddball, angular asymmetric haircut of Phil Oakey, 51, now we have a shaven pate perched above a spivvy suit and a luminescent tie akin to a used car salesman. He has a clunky but unique way of striding around the stage, more Worzel Gummidge than Mick Jagger. But the hallmark baritone voice remains as powerful as in its heyday. Eye candy for the boys, the formerly svelte gyrating singers still dress the same as in the old days, but Joanne Catherall in particular appeared ill at ease. Her co-singer Susan Sulley, 43 in contrast still acts and looks the part, particularly in that tight fitting low slung yellow glitter dress, with white stilettos the size of a Norweigan ski jump.

But does it sound dated? Sure it does, but that misses the point as this was an exercise in reminiscence. The hits had a distinct cheesiness about them, from the opening track “Love Action” to the corny “Mirror Man”, the audience were transported back to those angst ridden school discos of the 1980’s. A curious track is the lyrically challenged “Lebanon” - not sure what Hezbollah would make of a night out like this. No one can deny these are fundamentally tuneful pop melodies which have embedded themselves in the psyche of a generation. Interspersed were the more robust Kraftwerk inspired electropop numbers “Seconds” and “Being Boiled” which have clearly passed the test of time.

Given the salubrious venue this evening’s performance was more of a show than a gig. It was a full house bar at the top balcony, and the whole place was rocking by the end as the well honed showmanship of the band and swirling synthy sound ratcheted up the excitement. The finale was “Forever in Electric Dreams” which went down a storm, and it was all smiles as the crowd poured into George Street and back to the present century.


www.oxfordcitylife.co.uk December 2006

Nione Meakin
Smoke and mirrors only mask so much
If you voluntarily go to see a reformed 1980s pop band that weren't that cool the first time round, you only have yourself to blame.

While my intentions were good — a treat for my Dare-obsessed dad — I did feel I had gone above and beyond the call of duty.


A peculiar Irish act called Neosupervital opened the show with a series of soulless, electro tracks that perfectly mimicked the soulless, electro music the 80s did so well. They appeared to have made an executive decision that, in lieu of any genuine talent, they would pile on the irony and pray they got away with it.


It did the trick, but they were young enough to have known better and aimed higher.
At least they had youth on their side though. The Human League, like so many bands that reform, clearly do not know when to call it a day.


OK, so in their time they wrote synthesiser pop that summed up an era, OK, they can still sing and dance.
But rock and roll is a young person's business and, even for the die-hard fans, seeing your idols prancing around trying to recapture their youth can only serve to remind you that your own glory days are also past.


Vocalist and songwriter Phil Oakey was the visual representation of a midlife crisis, wearing tight leather trousers and a Craig David beard more manicured than the most house-proud suburban lawn. While he belted out the songs and leapt about the stage with gusto, there was the undeniable whiff of embarassing-uncle-at-a wedding-disco.


It was telling that one audience member's proclamation of love for him met with gusts of laughter.
Meanwhile, Susanne Sulley, a schoolgirl when she joined the band, sang with the dogged determination of someone clinging desperately to their long-extended five minutes of fame.


Appearing in increasingly scanty glittery outfits, she made cruise ship crooner Jane McDonald look hip.
Fellow backing singer Joanne Catherall, on the other hand, looked mortified by the whole thing and performed with all the enthusiasm of someone thinking solely of their pay cheque.


To their credit, the band had some stonking lights and visuals, but smoke and mirrors can only mask so much.
This isn't to say the gig wasn't a success — the New Theatre staff spent much of their evening trying to stop people dancing in the aisles — but I think this was more a sign of our seemingly limitless love of nostalgia than a reflection of the event itself.