Loaded Magazine January 1995


Ten years ago Phil Oakey's Human League were Britain's biggest pop group. Now they're back and Phil Oakey comes face to face with longtime fan Vic Reeves to discuss the vital issues of '95 like haircuts, cheese and toilet training

Seated at a large circular table in the private upstairs room of Blaggard's bolt hole in Soho, The Human League's Phil Oakey scans the room for a mirror. He's having trouble inserting his earring, but alas the faux opium den décor does not cater for the needs of vanity. At his side sits a well heeled gentlemen in a distinctly recherché and somewhat cow-shit despoiled frock-coat.

"It's surprising there's no mirror for a narcissistic 19th century room, isn't it?" says Vic Reeves. Oakey puts down his earring. "Maybe it's not." He observes. "They weren't very pretty in those days were they? Their teeth were all dropping out." Reeves nods sagely. "
Elizabeth I had wooden teeth didn't she?" Bald with wooden teeth and permanently white as a sheet."
"And she walked backwards and spat a lot," says Oakey. "But apart from that, she was a lovely woman."
"We should have opium pipes," says Vic getting supine on the chaise longue. "There's no way that I can persuade my young fans to smoke opium," says Phil, also getting horizontal. With the Human League about to release Octopus, their first album in five years, there's much to discuss.

The Human League's history is an epic saga full of hot tunes, blank spaces and lingering questions. As a long-standing witness to the League's progress, Reeves is well equipped to writing some truths from Oakey. Within seconds Reeves has established that Oakey cut off his famous raven locks because they were getting stringy. Revelations could be just around the corner, if Reeves can just keep his mind off Cheese.
We enter the discussion with Phil batting on about the return of the League, Reeves doctoring the ball and Loaded acting as empire.

Phil: I think with the band, it just looked like it was a lark for a long time and I suppose you get to a certain age where you think, "I'm not going to be able to change and do anything else."

Vic: Do you think it's growing up? Do you suddenly wake up and think, this is how old I am, what am I going to do now?

Phil: It's funny that growing up thing isn't it, because you know a load of people who are really proud of the fact that they haven't grown up. And I feel that about 10 per cent of the time but 90 per cent of the time I feel ashamed.

V: I know what you mean. I thank God I'm 35. It's half-time. That's why I was thinking I should grow a beard. On me deathbed, I don't want to think that I've never grown a beard.

P: I'm amazed that you've never grown a beard.

V: I had a goatee, yeah, but I've always wanted a full one. It's been women who have stopped me. It's that intermediate period where if you kiss them you scratch them. They don't like that, do they?

P: I don't know really. I've never had full beards and things, but maybe I've just never had a quite normal relationship with a woman. I've never noticed those aspects of it.

V: I think I've probably got my hair for life though. My dad's still got a full head of hair.


P: That's what I said until I had this haircut, which was going to be shaved, number one all over. I've got a bald patch in the back so I couldn't do it. This is a Jackie Charlton.


V: Do you worry about it?

P: I would have preferred to keep my hair… I loved having loads of hair.

V: Have you tried using one of those pens? Bob does.

P: I was advised to by my hairdresser. He genuinely said, "You can darken it out with this."

V: There was a man that used to run a cobblers in New Cross and he used to put boot polish on and draw a little tash as well, which was quite common in the '40s and '50s.

P: Little Richard's been doing it for a long time. That reminds me of my favourite ever use of make-up, which is Annabella Lwin out of Bow Wow Wow, who had this thick gold line along the top of her lips.

V: Will you ever wear make-up again?


P: I don't know if I can, really. I think you can get away with it on stage. So that the people at the back can see you've got eyes and that. I just always wanted to be lovely.


V: Did you get into trouble, especially in the north, for wearing make-up in the street?


P: Amazingly not. I don't know how we didn't get into trouble. At one stage it did get a bit weird in Sheffield but we never had bodyguards or anything. You see, we did it all for Roxy Music. That was it. The night my mind was changed was seeing Roxy Music for free, the night before they were on the Old Grey Whistle Test. We turned up at Sheffield University because the band had a synthesiser and a Melotron. We didn't know anything else about the band except that they had those two fantastic items. We stood there and these guys came on in high heels, with tons of make-up and lurex collars, and sang in a rich baritone swathed in echo.

V: I've got some questions here. They really are crap questions. The first one is absolutely appalling. Where do you go for your holidays?


P: Lanzarote.


V: Do you? I went there this year. The landscape's unbelievable. And it's really nice food. I had goat's head and testicles. You told me once you'd eat anything. Does that still stand?


P: Yeah. I would. Just on principle. It really gets me down when people come out with things like 'I couldn't eat meat," or something like that. It just seems like such an odd thing to say.


Loaded: What about monkey's brains when you have to dip the spoon in?

P: I couldn't do that. I'm against suffering. But if you've killed it I think you ought to eat the lot.

V: My granddad used to have mashed potato with sheep's eyes in it. I'd find it hard to puncture one of those. Now, have you ever had a shit outdoors?

P: Yes. I should think when I was a kid. Well you had to where I lived 'cos we used to go into the woods a lot.


V: Did you use foliage or documents?


P: I can't really remember the details. It's like when I was seven. I suppose it must have been ferns. Quite a good question that.


V: At school, were you a bully or a poof?


P: Somehow, I went to schools that didn't have bullying. It was really odd. I should have been a poof, but it just didn't happen at the schools that I was at. I always made friends with the funniest kid in school. No, my school friends were all so soft you could have a reign of terror with a balloon on a stick. That's my favourite ever Ronnie Corbett joke.


V: When did you last have a fight? Physical or metaphysical.

P: Metaphysicals all the time. It's just part of being in a group. But I've never had a physical fight. This is going to get me into trouble. Now everyone in
Sheffield will know I'm a poof and all the people that I've thought I can face them out, they're going to take me on, aren't they? I've always got by looking tough and being tall, and wearing a leather jacket. Everyone thought I was tough. The few times we got picked on, in punk days and that, we'd be stood at bus stops and kids'd jump out of cars and start hitting us, but we were so baffled they just give up. We'd stand there being hit. After a while they'd just give wander off. They wanted you to fight back, and it did actually work. I know I'm a coward.


V: Have you ever written any graffiti on a toilet door?

P: No, but I defaced the shed on top of the highest sound stage in
Hollywood once. I don't know what sort of mood I was in, but they took me up to this sound stage, I think it was MGM.

V: There is an urge to inscribe things on walls. I think anybody would have done it.

P: No, Americans wouldn't. They're not like that. We're different to Americans. They're a funny lot. They all have flags in their gardens. They actually are nationalistic. It's really odd.


V: Do you have any back hair?


P: No. I'm beginning to get chest hair, finally, at 39. It's frightening. I don't want it. And I can't get round to plucking it at the moment.


V: Do you have any weapons in your house? Cudgels, bows and arrows?

P: Loads and loads. Left over from the paranoid stage. But they are all put somewhere where I can't get at them now. I got quite tooled up at one stage. When we were getting loads of trouble off everyone, I just had this vision one day I'd be walking down an alley with Joanne or Susan or both, And suddenly there'd be a gang of skinheads at the other end. And just before they killed me I'd be able to remove this tiny knife from my boot and go 'Go away' and it'd work. I've sort of got a collection. It began because I think people were picking on me because people were picking on me. Me and Joanne moved into a house at one stage. We just hired a house and we had to clean the oven out. We were on the floor cleaning away and we looked up and there were all these faces at the window of kids from the local estate staring at us.


V: So it was all knives?






P: I've got a fake revolver. And I just got a really nice mountaineering axe, which goes to a very sharp point at one end and you could obviously split a boulder with it just by tapping it. I was very impressed with it.


V: What do you think about pre-packed vinegar, salt, sauces, UHT milks, creamers, that sort of thing?


P: I bet I hate them as much as you do. It's just economics though because those packages can last for a 100 years and you don't have to pay for someone to pour them out.


V: It's not the way forward. I'm going to make the march to Brussels when they ban milk. Which they will eventually. And cheeses with veins, when that goes I'm going to be at the head with the largest banner.


P: You've got a vested interest, you've got three cows.


V: I love cheese. That's me interest. Especially Stilton. Do you like cheese?


P: I like Red Leicester.


V: That's an unusual one. People tend to forget that. Double Gloucester's easily forgotten as well. And some of the more crumbly cheeses.


P: I think it's for cheese for people who don't like cheese really. It's harmless. Nice on toast.


V: It's nice creamy cheese. Don't forget about it! Mozarella's the worst cheese in the world.


P: It can be great with a bit of tomato.


V: Well it's the tomato that gives it a flavour because it tastes of nothing. It's useless. The greatest cheese ever is probably Munster which is quite foul smelling sort of Camembert, but the French have got it down absolutely magnificently (delivers long diatribe against American cheeses). Have you still got four televisions?


P: At least, but I only watch one at a time now. I still can't tear myself from the TV even now. I'm still up till three in the morning. In Yorkshire on Sundays we have Asian films. I don't like 'em, but I watch 'em every week.


V: There is a fascination with Asian films. They always have someone going round a tree in every film. Are you still going to have slide projections when you play live?


P: I might do.


V: Are you still going to look round behind you all the time? You used to do that.


P: That was fear. We just never knew what to do. We never worked out how got there and none of us ever wanted to be in a group, so it was like - anything apart from looking at the camera.


V: So what are you going to be wearing?


P: I haven't a clue. Got any ideas? I was thinking sub-military but you've cornered the market in a certain amount of stuff. If I went for tailored they'd all say: 'He knows that Vic Reeves."


V: But you can't go wearing boob tubes any more can you?


P: If I get thin enough.


V: Even if you get thin your face betrays you. What about a very working class approach with the high pants, braces and rolled-up sleeves. And perhaps hold a spade. Or have a microphone in the shape of a spade.


P: I'd wear a skirt if I had good legs. I'm really jealous of these guys that wear skirts. Sometimes I think you've got to fight in some way.

V: But it's a very fine line. You could end up looking like a fool.


P: It's great looking like a fool on stage, if they give you a million quid at the end of it. If you dress up as like a fool and then at the end of it no one buys your records, that must be so bad. Like Drum Theatre or something.


V: What happened to them? They followed T'Pau into the mire I suppose. What do you like listening to?


P: Conventionally it's sort of The Cranberries, but everything else is sort of compilations now, isn't it. It's back to 1962 where you don't follow a band, it's odd singles. I'm fighting to stay on top of it and go out and see what's happening in the clubs. We got scared away from it for a long time because it was just too dangerous. It was just a drag. You get dressed, you go out, someone throws a pint of beer over you. You go home. It's boring. But now the club goers are a nicer set of people. I think it's brilliant going to a club where people aren't on the pull.


V: Do they still drink pints of beer in the north? All these very strong lagers in bottles are all wrong. You're safest with bitter because you know it's not going to creep up into the 12 per cents.


P: I think it's creeping up. Boddingtons was 3.8 per cent a year ago and now it's four per cent. I've been watching it. Will I get sued for saying that? We wanted to get sponsored by Boddingtons if possible.


V: Well that's your working class image isn't it. Have the spade, the braces and a pint of Boddingtons, and say 'Cheers' after every song.


P: That's something Freddie Mercury missed, wasn't it. He went straight for the champagne.


V: On our first tour we had pickled eggs on the rider which was a stupid thing to do because nobody really ate them.


P: And you got them? I always thought that was a myth. I'm really shocked that you actually got your rider. It just shows your immense popularity and the ascendancy of comedy over music. Especially doing a tour supporting Pere Ubu, then you really don't get anything.


Loaded: Are you not worried about harming the legend with a comeback?


P: No. I really don't like that legend, apart from the fact I get to sit here and do things like this. That nostalgia thing can be a drag. It's like the problem of doing a really good song once. If we'd done two really good songs…


Loaded: Are there lots of love songs on the new album?


P: Not really. We did all that on the last album, which no one bought. I still like that album. That was all love this and love that. But it's all rubbish. It's all fiction anyway. I shouldn't say rubbish should I? But it's nothing to do with the life that I lead. The bit I like is making noises in the beginning. Getting synths out and making terrible noises and seeing if you can find a producer who can turn it into a record. That's a bit of a laugh. But then they say you've got to write the lyrics by tomorrow. I did write one for an old girlfriend right near the start. 'Love Action' was sort of for an old girlfriend, and I don't think she ever noticed.


V: Were you married at the time?


P: No. I think I was just splitting up with her and going out with Joanne. And I sort of wrote that for her. The rest have all been songs.


V: What was that song, A Crow And A Baby, all about then?


P: That was more or less autobiographical actually. Well I was the crow, sort of.


V: Well who was the baby?


P: I think that was the baby.


V: Right. What about the mushrooms?


P: It hasn't got mushrooms in it.


V: The mushrooms growing from your back!


P: It was like a short story and I was trying to be nasty. But I suppose that was a bit autobiographical. I deliberately try and not do that anymore because you end up in real trouble like Chris De Burgh.


V: That's an error. If you were asked to join Jethro Tull as the lead singer, would you?


P: No.

V: What if you had to. If you were forced by some bizarre governmental law to be the singer in Jethro Tull for a year.


P: The thing that'd stop me would be that the Human League's my thing and I would fight until the ends of the earth to keep doing that. And that'll never end until we go bankrupt.