Beavers, burgers and air guns! This is Heaven 17 as you've never seen them before.
STEFANIE BEAUMONT finds out how they plan to spend the Millennium...
LET'S ALL MAKE A BOMB!
|Martyn Ware's debut into the music industry came two decades ago as part of the Human League with "Being Boiled". This was just the first sighting we were to see of the prestigious producer for acts such as Alison Moyet, Erasure, Tina Turner and Terence Trent D'Arby. |
Behind the scenes at Manchester Evening News Arena, I am led to Heaven 17's dressing room. My escort knocks politely and we enter. Ware, 43, looks extremely well. He is taking the strains of fatherhood commendably. Two children, Elena who is four and Gabriel aged two mean that he has come on tour "to get some sleep"! lan Craig Marsh is hovering around the other side of the room but pleasantly comes to join us when we sit down the plastic chairs supplied. Singer Glenn Gregory looks exhausted but happy, lying on a kind of work top with a huge mirror behind it, presumably for preparing for their audience of thousands who will be arriving soon.
Heaven 17 are starting off the show tonight. The Club Sandwich tour also includes performances from Bananarama, Belinda Carlisle and the Culture Club who are the headline act. Their set though is less than half an hour long. Glenn explains: "It's because there are four bands on. It's like a really long show." Martyn adds: "It's only six numbers."
The band very kindly allow me to use a voice recorder so that I don't have to write everything down. A godsend for a journalists first assignment! After getting comfortable and introducing myself we begin.
Heaven 17 have just released a live album, "How Live Is" featuring live tracks from their Glasgow concert supporting Erasure in 1997. I asked Martyn whether the band plans to release any more material in the near future. "Yes. We're writing a new album at the moment which we've been writing for two years on and off and... it's like we can't let go of the dart you know!
So it will probably be finished in Spring - it'll be out in Autumn next year. And I've just done an album with Vince Clarke called "Pretentious". That's just come out. Heaven 17... we've got the live album of course. That's it at the moment."
Vince Clarke is half of the famous pop duo Erasure. Martyn produced Erasure's no.1 album "I Say, I Say, I Say" in 1996 and Heaven 17 supported them on their 1997 UK "Cowboy" tour, With contact between Heaven 17 and Erasure becoming increasingly closer, is there going to be a Heaven 17/Erasure collaboration at some point? Martyn told me: "I think it would be interesting! We were on tour with them and Vince came to our Glasgow show."
Glenn Gregory looks worn out. Last night the band played London Arena and it took them four hours to get back to Manchester. All the travelling appears to be taking it's toll. But Glenn insists he has really enjoyed the tour so far.
"Yeah, it's brilliant. It's been really good fun."
"Loads of parties?" I inquire.
"Yep! Everyone's really good fun- Culture Club are all brilliant, Bananarama are a really good giggle and Belinda Carlisle is great. So it's really like a big Christmas party tour really. Not too much late nights you know - it's not been too bad - a couple of really late ones; a couple of really bad hangovers. Generally it's not been too bad!"
"It wouldn't be the same without a hangover!" I say.
"No. Nothing show stopping, you know, I've never kind of thought "Oh God I can't do it tonight!" so yeah we're having a really good time. And the food's brilliant!"
Martyn chimes in : "They're cooking a Christmas dinner tonight!"
In 1998 Heaven 17 were supposed to be touring with the Human League and the Culture Club, but it never went ahead. Martyn explains what happened.
"That really would have been the ideal kind of thing, because the original idea for the tour was our idea. And the idea was to have the Human League, us and ABC as a threesome and make it a city tour you know - "Wheels of Steel" or whatever, which makes sense you know because we're all thematically linked anyway and we're all from the same period."
lan adds: "It would have been quite distinctive."
"Yeah," Martyn continues, "and I think it worked really well. And then word got out and Culture Club's management thought this was a good idea. They kind of appropriated the idea, and before we knew it we were actually off the tour. It was Culture Club, ABC and Human League. And we were pissed off, really pissed off. Any way we're on the tour now so it's payback. They've now realized what they've been missing!"
Both lan and Martyn were part of the early synthesizer group, the Human League but in 1980 the band split in half with Martyn and lan going one way and Phil Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright going another. Martyn and lan formed the British Electric Foundation which became a production "umbrella" for various projects that the duo were involved in. This is where the electronic dance group Heaven 17 first began. I asked whether Martyn and lan still had much contact with Phil Oakey [Human League front man] 'We did a documentary with them recently. And we had a really good chat. I hadn't seen him for 10 years. I mean lan sees him all the time-"
lan: "Well I haven't seen him for quite a few months."
"But we get on quite well."
Since leaving the Human League have lan or Martyn ever thought about rejoining them? Martyn replies, "That's a good one that. It's a good question yeah. Rejoining them? Why would we want to do that?" Glenn jokes, "lan thinks it all the time cos he fancies them two girls!" lan has been very quiet throughout most of the discussion until now. "One's got married now -broke my heart! And she's had a kid too!" he adds, dramatically. Martyn carries on.
"No, it's not really you know - we have more fun than they do... And we're better! I mean they've sold bucket - truckloads of records so you can't knock it can you? We're South Yorkshire premier light entertainers apart from Def Leppard."
"I didn't know they came from Yorkshire. I didn't even know they came from England!" I announce.
Martyn answered, "Def Leppard what? They come from Sheffield!
They did their first gig at the same - at that free concert hall, "The Limit". Do you remember, well you wouldn't remember-Well the 'Limit' club was on West Street anyway. No it wasn't - oh yeah it was yeah! It was West St. it's called something else now-"
"Losing your memory!" Glenn quips. Martyn laughs.
"Who am I?"
"He has got the worst memory in the world!" Glenn informs me.
"What's your name?"
"lan Craig Marsh! Hold on, I've got a credit card in my pocket!
"I've just lost a fiver to him in a bet," lan tells me, "But he'll have forgotten it by the end of tonight!"
"I won't forget that," Martyn assures him, "But I have forgotten what the question was!"
|Without warning Glenn asks, "Can I have a look at your beaver?" I giggle nervously and look at him, puzzled. He looks at Martyn. "I'm talking to you!" |
"Oh right!" Martyn laughs knowingly. I am very worried!
"He has. He's got a beaver!" Glenn insists earnestly. A hunt for the missing "beaver" takes place. Martyn asks lan if he has seen it. lan thinks "the girls", Angie Brown and Billie Godfrey (backing vocalists) have the "beaver". All is finally revealed when Glenn hands me a little teddy given to Martyn by his four year old daughter, Elena to take on tour.
"I thought I'd bring it on tour," Martyn explains, "It's always good for a laugh isn't it?" lan chimes in:
"I think it looks like a - ugghhh don't go there.." Don't worry we won't! After solving the mystery of the beaver I ask what the highlight of the trio's career has been so far?
|Martyn responds first. "From a Heaven 17 point of view "Temptation" probably."|
Glenn smirks "The Burger King ad!"
Apparently the band still can't get any free burgers! Glenn says, "We did perform it in a service station the other day though to try and get free burgers!"
"In Slough," Martyn continues, "But they wouldn't have it. They wouldn't give us a free one!" He laughs. " I mean as a producer it would be different, but for Heaven 17 that would be it yeah."
"What about as a producer?" I query.
"Well I mean doing a record that gets to no.1 in America with Terence Trent D'Arby was quite good you know. "Wishing Well" and "Sign My Name". Yeah it was a good album that."
Martyn tells me what happened to Terence Trent D'Arby. "Ohhh he took loads and loads and loads and loads of drugs, went to live in LA and made lots and lots of money and spent it all on surrounding himself with people who told him he was brilliant. That's the classic way to lose a lot of money and lose your career in pop music."
Heaven 17 have done six main albums and I ask each member which album he enjoys listening to the most.
lan: "Which is the one that I enjoy the most? Well enjoyed making the most actually is "How Men Are". That was the f***ing "blow a load of money in a studio album. Spending loads of cash and took you know 10 times as long as we should do because you know we were like setting up stage and shooting half of it with air guns and like, getting an hours work done in 12 hours, arsing round shooting lights out!"
Glenn disagrees. "For me I think, I still think "Penthouse and Pavement". That or "The Luxury Gap".
Martyn thinks that "The Luxury Gap" is more accomplished.
"Are you planning to rerelease any of the older albums like "Endless" and "Pleasure One"?" I query.
"No it's not up to us, but we keep saying from time to time that we should do like a box set of the more rare albums. They've repackaged the "Best of compilation, which we were against. They wanted new photos and everything but they didn't want to change the track listings. I said "What you're basically doing is conning the fans". It's like just getting people to buy the same record twice and it's just "Oooh you know but we can't do anything about it." But we're not having new photos so we're not gonna con people in that way. It just makes us look like idiots doesn't it?"
"We're not like that at all," says Glenn. Martyn carries on. "No. I mean they do box sets for all sorts of things. It'd be good to do it. A box set of all our albums would be good actually. And there are 5 what 6 main albums. 6 proper albums plus the "Endless" and the proper best of album "Higher and Higher". Glenn agrees. "That's a good box set."
"I know we could do like a CD of previously unreleased rubbish. Everybody else does!"
Prior to the live album the band released a compilation of older and modern hits remixed by different artists and dance acts. Martyn and Glenn both agree that the most creative track from the album is Adrian Sherwood's version of "Let's all Make a Bomb".
|'We were going to do that live on stage - not tonight, but we're doing Sheffield Millennium eve gig. They've already sold 10000 tickets it's good, it's only a fiver a time. Originally it was going to be free but then they started selling tickets, which we weren't entirely happy about, but a fiver you know, it's good for Millennium eve isn't it? We're doing "21st Century Boy too"! |
"What do you all plan to do for the Millennium?" I ask. "How are you going to spend it?"
lan retorts: "On stage!" Martyn says, "Oh you mean for the next 1000 years? All right then!"
"I'll perhaps spend most of it dead! But then I'm going to be reincarnated!" says lan.
Martyn plays with the beaver. I ask its name. "It's Beavis," says Martyn solemnly, "Beavis the beaver." Everybody finds this hilarious! We take some photos of the beaver, in it's "natural habitat" - Angie's fur coat!
|"Now what are we gonna do?" ponders Martyn. "Well next year probably, we're perhaps 75% certain that the new Heaven 17 album will be out, plus we're gonna do some proper headline dates; one in Sheffield City Hall and one at Shepherds Bush Empire and the other one we haven't decided on yet. We're hoping to do a tour of America at some point in the near future with... possibly with someone like ABC, cos they've just done a little tour of their own and they're trying to build it up over there. They're friends of ours. We've still not performed live in Europe ever and the Europeans actually have a bigger market for us." The band were supposed to be touring Germany this year with the Culture Club and ABC, but the promoters pulled out due to poor ticket sales. But they hope to do some German tours next year, and would also like to, although it is unlikely, join the Japanese Culture Club tour. "We spent a week in Japan doing a video fifteen years ago and we had a great time!"|
According to Glenn, the band are getting an excellent reception from their audiences.
"Ecstatic!" he says, 'Very good - really good!" I ask the singer whether he mimes.
"Do I mime! What, on there? It's not miming no. I don't mime,"
Heaven 17 are really quite remarkable. Their music has influenced several modern bands and will undoubtedly continue to do so. With a new album out before the year is up, and a few small UK shows the only way is up! Unquestionably there's life in the old dog, (or should we say beaver) yet!
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