In stylish Sheffield synthpoppers Heaven 17’s heyday, they gave gigs the cold shoulder. But it’s not the 1980s anymore, and so you can catch Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware in Cardiff at the end of November. An occasion that called for a call to Glenn, from Carl Marsh.
Can you believe it’s been 40 years since Heaven 17’s debut album, Penthouse And Pavement?
It genuinely does not seem like 40 years now. I remember as if it was a year ago that we were writing the album. And I remember a conversation about how music has a kind of sell-by date – so we made a decision to use sounds that we hoped would last a long time, and wouldn’t sound old-fashioned. And I think we were successful. You listen back to those songs now – and I have been recently, for this tour – and they sound bloody great, honestly!
A song like your 1983 hit Temptation would be as successful today as it was nearly 40 years ago. Tracks that stand the test of time!
When we were writing these things, the idea we’d be going on stage 40 years later wasn’t considered – it just seemed impossible. But in the back of our minds, we thought about the future: let’s produce these as well as we can, to make them last as long as they can. Temptation is one of those songs where you know what it is from the first couple of notes, and it triggers – generally good – memories of being in a club and having a great time.
Heaven 17 debut single (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang got banned by the BBC – which might have been better for promotion than if it hadn’t been.
I think that probably was the case – although not in such a large way as with Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax, for instance. It wasn’t big – it didn’t get into the charts – but suddenly became really cool. Radio 1 were asking us to change the lyrics and all sorts – no, fuck off! It was saying exactly what we wanted to say: why would we change it?
Was there a certain musician who inspired you to become one yourself?
We were all into the same kind of music – a lot of glam. So Marc Bolan and T Rex, Bowie and Roxy Music, and we saw those bands when we were really young. When Bowie did his The Man Who Sold The World tour, I was maybe 14 – it was at Sheffield University and we had to forge union cards to get in. There’s also a lot of dance music – The Jacksons, Bootsy Collins – so that’s what we always were, a mix between electronic music and black dance music.
See Heaven 17 LIVE in Cardiff
Was it just the musical side of things you were inspired by, or the persona portrayed, a la Ziggy Stardust?
That’s a good question! But no, it was just the music really. I’ve been in bands since about 16… with Ian [Marsh, Heaven 17 founder member] in a band called Musical Vomit. We did a couple of concerts that were pretty glam – we had big hair and platform boots, slightly tongue in cheek, but Ian built his first synthesizer for that band. That was 1974 or ‘75.
After this, but before Heaven 17 formed, you went off to London to be a photographer while Martyn and Ian formed The Human League – with Phil Oakey on vocals rather than yourself. If you’d stayed put, maybe there’d never have been a Heaven 17.
I don’t know – it would have been different, wouldn’t it. Phil and I have a very similar range and voice, but I don’t write like him, or have his lyrical sway. So I’m really happy that I was that I moved, and Phil moved in, because he’s brilliant. I love those two [Human League] albums, and we were still friends – I photographed their first magazine cover shot for Sounds – and whenever they came to London, they’d all stay in my flat. It was like the South Yorkshire embassy.
We had, genuinely, for the whole of the 80s, a decade of unbridled fun and joy, and as I say, brought our friends along with us. And we still have that kind of joy when we play live. We have a real connection with our audience. Sometimes our shows run 40 minutes long because we’re just talking to people!
Heaven 17, Tramshed, Cardiff, Sat 27 Nov. Tickets: £27.40.
words CARL MARSH
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