Heaven 17

May

25

Saturday

Heaven 17, please remember, were not even intended to be a group. In the beginning was the British Electric Foundation, or B.E.F., for short. Born out of the collapse of the original Human League, and the brainchild of Martyn Ware, that bands leader, B.E.F. was less a record label, as a portfolio of future musical projects of which Heaven 17 would be just one. Ian Craig Marsh, co-founder of the Human League, would join Ware along with Glenn Gregory as lead vocalist the man who would have been the original Human League singer had he not been unavailable.

Their first album, Penthouse And Pavement, is, and remains, a modern classic.

Within a week, they had written and demoed a new song, (We Dont Need That) Fascist Groove Thang. Listening back to a song written in late 1980, its astonishingly prescient. The purely electronic template, the driving musical philosophy of the Human League, had been modified with the addition of funky slap-bass guitar, and treated dance-floor piano.

Their next album, The Luxury Gap, was their pop masterpiece, the moment when everything just clicked into place to devastating effect. The bands favourite-ever song, Let Me Go so nearly broke them into the UK Top 40. There would be no such disappoint with its follow up. The band convinced their sceptical record company that Temptation had to be the next single. A duet between Glenn Gregory and Carol Kenyon, this song of lust, brilliantly framed by a musical structure which just kept building and building, Escher-like to an electric orgasm that seems never to come, it reached Number 2 in the UK charts in May 1983.

By the late 2000s, Heaven 17 were down to two of their original members, Ian Craig Marsh having left the band to take a degree course in Psychology. Yet demand for Heaven 17 live which had run dry a decade earlier had now picked up dramatically. A whole new generation of artists began to sight Heaven 17 as prime influences, not least La Roux who would join Heaven 17 for a storming session for Six Music in 2010.

Heaven 17 then toured their classic album Penthouse and Pavement, with a power and fidelity, yet a contemporaneity which made the music as alive today as it was in 1981 with soul singer Billie Godfrey now an essential part of the live dynamic. Heaven 17, who had largely refused to play live during the Eighties had re-invented themselves as a powerful live act. Glenn had never sung better in his life.
The Luxury Gap has never been more relevant. Written during the height of Thatcherism by three Left-leaning young men against a backdrop of over 3 million unemployed the parallels with the Austerity Britain of today are obvious. 35 years on, with a Millionaire cabinet, bankers bonuses and doom and depression everywhere, Heaven 17s sly, post-modern critique of modern society has never sounded so resonant, nor been so necessary.

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