Posts Tagged ‘The Human League’

No photo description available.

Journey through the music of a generation in one of the UK’s most vibrant and creative cities.

Sheffield in the 1970s…. a city in decline, its steel mills and factories closing and its vast housing estates beginning to crumble. Even the city’s two football teams were both experiencing the worst form in their long histories. An unlikely setting, then, for a musical revolution, but aren’t they always? As it transpired, in the aftermath of punk this industrial backdrop, alive with frustrated young talent and peppered with accessible and affordable rehearsal and performance spaces, became a hotbed of uniquely informed new bands that challenged both the constraints of genre and the dominance of music from London, Liverpool and Manchester.

Dreams To Fill The Vacuum charts the revival of Sheffield and its music in the latter half of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s, from The Human League to Pulp, via Aardvark, Pax and Native Records, and onto the chart successes of Heaven 17, ABC, Thompson Twins and many others. Featuring cornerstone contributions from the city’s brightest stars – Oakey, Cocker, Ware, Marsh, Hawley, Newton and co – alongside many more lesser-known legends, this is a tale of a city and its people rediscovering itself.

Packed with first-hand artist sleeve notes, insightful essays, revealing imagery and brilliant, essential music, Dreams To Fill The Vacuum offers a story in need of telling.

In the late 70s, the city’s bands set out to create the sound of the future – while trying to avoid getting beaten up. Jarvis Cocker and other leading lights recall a revolutionary scene Sheffield in 1977 had a slight feeling of being the city of the future,” recalls Jarvis Cocker. “I didn’t realise that it was all going to go to shit. It was Sheffield before the fall.”

That pre-fall year is the starting point for a new box set: Dreams to Fill the Vacuum: The Sound of Sheffield 1977-1988. Familiar names appear – Pulp, Heaven 17, the Human League, ABC – but they are joined by a wealth of other acts, such as I’m So Hollow, Stunt Kites, They Must Be Russians and Surface Mutants, spanning punk, post-punk, indie and electronic with that droll outsider energy particular to South Yorkshire.In 1977, Paul Bower was producing a local fanzine, Gun Rubber, and playing in the Buzzcocks-indebted 2.3. Like Cocker, he recalls the late-70s as being a time of optimism and flux. “There’s this myth of northern miserablism, that everything was shut down and shit,” he says. “But it wasn’t – that came later. It was a really interesting, bustling and creative time.”

Sheffield had plenty of dirt-cheap “little mester” workshops, once used by master craftsmen working in the city’s cutlery industry, and these provided room for bands to move in and experiment. Bower’s band 2.3 shared a space with the Future, an early incarnation of the Human League that featured Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh along with Adi Newton before he formed Clock DVA. “We were enamoured with the New York scene,” says Ware. “In our own little way we were imitating the Exploding Plastic Inevitable.” Bower describes it as: “Andy Warhol’s Factory in the land of Bobby Knutt.”

The pioneering industrial and electronic outfit Cabaret Voltaire had been active since 1973. “They were the godfathers of Sheffield’s new music,” says Simon Hinkler, who played in bands such as TV Product and Artery, as well as producing early Pulp. “You can’t overstate how important they were.” Ware echoes this. “They were our mentors,” he recalls. “Their methodology and lifestyle was something we aspired to. Not so much musically, but as a template for doing your own thing.”

I was working as a porter in hospital doesn’t have quite the same ring as “I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar…” but that’s exactly what Phil Oakey was doing when he was asked by ex-schoolmate Iain Craig Marsh to join him and Martyn Ware as singer with their band—The Human League.

Marsh was in his early twenties and beginning to make good money working when he decided to put his extra moolah towards buying one of the cheap commercial synthesizers that were coming onto the market. Inspired by Kraftwerk, science fiction (J. G. Ballard) and the industrial landscape of their hometown Sheffield, Ware and Marsh began creating an ambient soundtrack. It quickly became apparent to the pair they needed a lead singer to make the music work. That’s when Marsh remembered his classmate Oakey—as he looked like a pop star.

With the arrival of hospital porter Oakey, The Human League were now ready for phase one of their career—as an influential, semi-avant garde, electronic band. In 1977, they issued a group (slightly tongue-in-cheek) manifesto:

SCENARIO: In the summer of 1977 The Human League was formed due to the members finding no conventional channels for their immense talents.

BACKGROUND: None of The Human League have any orthodox musical training, but prefer to regard compositions as an extension of logic, inspiration and luck. Therefore, unlike conventional musicians their influences are not so obvious.

CONCLUSION/MANIFESTO: Interested in combining the best of all worlds, The League would like to positively affect the future by close attention to the present, allying technology with humanity and humour.

Gradually building up a young predominantly male fan base at college campuses and small venues, the band were signed to Virgin Records where they released two critically acclaimed albums Reproduction (1979) and Travelogue (1980). But the success the group hoped for did not follow. The band split with Marsh and Ware going off to form Heaven 17, leaving Oakey and Adrian Wright to carry on as The Human League.

With a European concert tour imminent, and the reality of Oakey and Wright being sued for failing to fulfil their tour commitments, Oakey decided to bring in two random girls he had seen one night dancing in a club—Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley. Both girls knew Oakey and The Human League, and had planned to see the band at their forthcoming gig in Doncaster. Oakey’s bright idea of bringing in Joanne and Susan changed The Human League from a nerdy boy’s favorite to everyone’s favorite.

With the arrival of ex-Rezillos guitarist Jo Callis in 1981 and the release of their generation defining album Dare the same year, the greatest phase of The Human League had begun.

01Ahumolea00.jpg

Young Guns Go For It was an godawful title for a rather good series about eighties pop bands—from Culture Club to The Smiths, Bananarama and Soft Cell. The 30 minutes on The Human League was arguably the best of the series as it brought together all the band members and took them on a literal journey through their hometown of Sheffield and their classic pop history.