HEAVEN 17 in "Smash Hits" September 1983 by Johnny Black

Why was Glenn Gregory smashing windows ? What's this about platform boots with five inch heels ? Who or what are The Underpants ? We dare you to read THE TERRIBLE TRUTH about HEAVEN 17

lt seemed like a good idea at the time.

"Let's do the interview at a quiet spot down by the river," said Ian Craig Marsh, meek and mild electronic dabbler with Heaven 17. The sun was bright, the water sparkled and the ducks quacked as we settled on a riverside bench almost in the shadow of Putney Bridge.

I was half way through my first question, "How did you three....... when, suddenly, ffzzzzvvvvvARoommmmmmmmm, Concorde roared overhead. Eventually songwriter Martyn Ware's voice broke through the sonic assault. "Nice quiet spot this, Ian," he said. Ian lapsed into a pensive silence which he maintained for most of the afternoon.

The next vital question was drowned by the unlikely combination of a passing speedboat, a train trundling noisily over the bridge, singer Glenn Gregory crunching a packet of crisps and, just audible in the distance, an ambulance siren. After five minutes or so, we became accustomed to this new kind of peace and quiet and, between the planes and boats and trains, I uncovered a few intriguing facts.

Title page
Title page of "Smash Hits" September 1983

According to Glenn, the road to Heaven 17 was paved with broken glass. "I used to go to this arty drama project called Meatwhistle in Sheffield. I remember going upstairs and smashing windows." "What for?" demanded Martyn in disbelief. "Didn't know any bester then," said Glenn defensively. "That was where I met Ian. He was weird, even then. He had a long, very odd fringe that sort of curled at the front, and he was totally unreliable, but he did have a synthesizer that he built from a kit. lt was useless." A flicker of a smile seemed to flit across Ian's silent lips, but it was Martyn who took up the story. "I'd been working as trainee manager at Sheffield and Eckershalt Co-op, when a friend took me down to Meatwhistle. I walked in wearing white flares, white t-shirt, silver platform boots with five inch heels and a diamante cat collar. We're talking heavy Kiss now, that was the image. Gary Glitter, T-Rex." Glenn stifled a snigger. "Ah yes," he said, "I remember it vividly. I knew immediately we'd get along well. I was wearing jeans with 24 inch bottoms and gold baseball shoes....... lt seems almost logical, now, that he and Ian should have soon formed a group, Musical Vomit, who found themselves onstage at the Bath Arts Festival, performing such ditties as "Denim Mind" and "Whip King Of Mars" in front of an audience of distraught hippies. History students will, no doubt, already know that Poly Styrene of early punk band X-Ray Spex once declared Musical Vomit to have been the first punk band ever. "Remember, this was 1972," Martyn pointed out. "So anyway, we lasted all of two minutes before the hippies started showering us with bottles and cans," recalled Glenn before nostalgically running through a list of other early variations on Heaven 17. "There was The Underpants, Dick Velcro And The Space Kidettes, VDK And The Studs, Dead Daughters, The Hari Willey Krishna Band, Arthur Craven's Tent Band. There was even one which included members of Cabaret Voltaire and Clock DVA. All of these played at least once, usually on Sundays, round in a little room called Simon Scott's Kit Kat Club."

Photo September 1983
From "Smash Hits" 9/83
photo by Eric Watson

This outfit eventually became The Future and, joined by a lad called Phil Oakey, they launched on an avantgarde electronic career as The Human League. No group with so many diverse talents could expect to last long and in late 1980 they parted company amid bitter words. Martyn insists, however, that there's no rivalry between the two factions. "It was like the end of a love affair. The magic that brought us together just wore off after a while. But there's room for all of us, we can all be successful." Out of the ashes of their split from the League, Ian and Martyn formed a creative organisation they called British Electric Foundation, while simultaneously putting together Heaven17 with Glenn as front man. So, what's the difference? In Martyn's words, "Heaven 17 is a 100% serious attempt to be incredibly popular, whereas BEF is no more serious but it tends to be involved with more experimental projects." And on the Heaven 17 front, once the new single "Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry" has peaked, the group will fade discreetly from view until after the New Year, busily writing new songs. "There's no point getting tied up in the Christmas rush," explained Martyn. "We're also considering acquiring a bigger computer to enable us to keep track instantly of our sales figures all over the world, so we can see which territories need most work." Martyn, once a computer operator, now owns his own BBC Micro B home computer. "I play with that more than I watch TV these days," he laughed, "which drives my wife Karen up the wall."

At this point, I began to become concerned at Ian's lengthy silence. "How do I get him to talk?" I asked the others. "When you meet quiet people like Ian," said Glenn, "when they finally say something, it's usually really worth hearing. With Ian, it's generally a load of old rubbish I'm afraid." I changed the subject, as tactfully as I could, back to television. "I love Jack Charlton's fishing programme, Rod And Line, especially at the end when the fish are all wriggling about, trying to get out of the net. lt's so relaxing," said Glenn. Martyn's taste, when not playing computer games, is equally pastoral. "I like the sheep dog trials, One Man And His Dog, but I can't bear it when they find the dog guilty. They have such sad eyes, collies." I thought I heard a groan escape from len, but by the time I looked, he was as straight-faced as ever. His moment came, however, a minute later, when a stockily built character, not the sort I'd like to meet in a dark alley, emerged from the elegant block of flats behind us. lt seemed that the bench on which we were quaffing our cans of lager was on private property. "Do you lot live here?" he demanded gruffly. Without batting an eyelid, Ian lerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Number 54," he lied. The gorilla mumbled an apology and ambled off. "You don't live here, do you?" I asked, impressed. "No. I've bought a house in Twickenham, but I don't live in that either because it's a total wreck," he replied enigmatieally. "I live in a rented flat just along the road, where I can keep an eye on it." "Told you it would be a load of rubbish," commented Glenn who, like Martyn, resides in Notting Hill Gate, several miles from Ian. "We rarety see each other these days, except for work." Martyn is quick to point out that this doesn't mean they dislike each other. "Bear in mind that to promote our last album we spent three months travelling round the world, in each other's company all day, every day. You just get sick of the sight of each other." Ian broke his silence just once more. "I think your cassette tape is about to run out," he predicted. And it did.