You’ve often said Gary Numan and Spandau Ballet stole
the Phil Oakey “look” – were you annoyed when Gary Oldman appeared in The
Fifth Element with your old geometric haircut?
No – it cheers me up. It was
all styled by Gaultier, who’s always sort of referred back to our era. I
like that there’s a little bit of it still alive. I looked in the mirror
recently and realised my hair was thinning and falling out a bit. So I went
to my hairdresser and he said, “Phil, cut it all off.” It gave me a whole
new lease of life. I changed all my clothes and my hair was short. The only
problem is that I can’t be effeminate anymore. My girlfriend still insists
I’m gay. Every couple of days she’ll tell me I’m gay.
When you first met League
co-founder Ian Craig Marsh, he was wearing women’s tights, a 13-amp plug
around his neck and a baked bean tin on his head. What was all that about?
other co-founder) and Ian were in a theatre group called Meat Whistle, set
council for people who’d cause trouble otherwise. Ian was a thoughtful man,
but pretty da-da. At one stage he wanted to get himself a huge suit with a
waistcoat, but have a tiny battery cooling system – so he could walk around
in the summer. And it was Ian who built the plexiglass cage thing to house
himself and the synths on tour. He said it was because people were throwing
things – but I think it was just because he was a stylish man.
What kind of things did
people throw at you?
Just name it. We toured
with Iggy Pop when there was a lot of anti-English feeling. The programme
said we were “England’s Leading Gay Group” and I thought, “Great, that’s
really going to help us.” British flags were burnt in front of us, and in
Hanover the crowd were running to the toilet, ripping out the chrome toilet
roll holders and lobbing them at us. Iggy’s drummer Klaus – who was German –
was knocked out by a flying lager can. But it was worse with Siouxsie And
The Banshees. In Aylesbury, people were flicking lit matches into my
turn-ups, then chewing the inside of their mouths and spitting blood. I used
to wear this black suit – one that I got married in – and it had to be
dry-cleaned every day. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, though.
Were there any countries
that just didn’t get The Human League?
definitely. In 1979, we opened a club there called the Van Douche. So there
we were, doing our Judas Priest covers – and within three feet of the stage,
people were playing pool. They just ignored us. But it was great to be
somewhere you can be as rude to them as they are to you.
You’d have to admit, though
– synth bands don’t have wild rock reputations...
No – although around 1975, we
really got into Apocalypse Now. I remember arriving at a
Midlands hotel in ex-military fatigues, with our odd
haircuts and make-up, and deciding to scale the outside of the building. So
we climbed up the trellises and jumped over the balcony – and found
ourselves in the dining room, scaring the hell out of the diners. But I’ve
never been a big drinker. In fact, I’ve only become a drunk over the past
five years. Just after I became single. It might become a problem, actually.
If your electronics went
down on stage, what would you do?
Manchester we did carols. Last tour everything went
down in the Ardwick Apollo, and as it was near Christmas, so our guitarist
Russ wandered to the front and began singing carols. Everyone joined in.
He’s also a stand-up comedian – his dad’s one of the few professional
ventriloquists left in Britain. But I’d be lost. I’m not a natural on stage
– I should never have been put there. I’m a shy person.
What was it like working as
a hospital porter for five years beforehand?
Brilliant, but where do you
go? They don’t pay you much, and it’s not like you’ll get promoted and be a
doctor. I was partly the boilerman, and partly the theatre porter. So I’d
get in at
shovel a ton of coal into these massive hoppers
that heated the hospital. Then I’d have a shower,
change into whites
dead people about. It
was a children’s hospital, too – so when they called me, they’d say, “We’ve
got one for Rose Cottage,” so as not to cause a panic. If it was a little
child, you’d take it in your arms and your job was to get it away without
causing distress. Then I’d prepare the body for when the
parents turn up. That
was the worst bit – saying, “Hi,” knowing their lives were about to be
How did you feel about the
Actually dealing with them –
burning parts they’d cut off and so on – was alright. It was slightly
fascinating. I used to toss a part into the incinerator, and you’d have to
have a look. Crispy – you couldn’t tear yourself away. But doctors do some
things that you just don’t want to think about. In order to do a post-mortem
on a baby, for instance, you have to fix it up on something called a
lollipop. It’s stuck in the air with its head up, and they open it from
behind. That is slightly sinister. You only want to think of kids playing
football and being happy – that’s disturbing.
understated. So what freaked you out?
Working in the
plastic surgery hospital. I was walking past the theatre, and they were
doing something called dermabrasion. When people have bad skins, they can
take off the surface with this sandpapering device. I walked past, and there
was an 18-inch mist of blood drifting away from this patient. Pretty freaky.
Most of the time, though, we used to hide in the hospital library and look
at medical photos. Just seeing what they do to people is horribly
fascinating. Like that book you gave away with FHM – cool.
bodily mutilation, you’re the proud owner of two nipple rings. Do you have
problems with airport security?
really sensitive in
about bombs and guns. I used to set them off every time in Texas. I’ve got a
Prince Albert as well, you see.
No! It’s the one I’m proudest
of. I sometimes stand next to people in pubs covered in piercings and think,
“Yeah, you’ve got hundreds, but I’ve got the good one.” I did it about six
metal in your own meat whistle didn’t hurt?
No. If you’ve
seen a kid go through open-heart surgery – and have their middle ripped
open, with clamps to keep their ribs apart – and they don’t complain, you
shouldn’t be bothered. It was embarrassing though, because most piercers are
butch skinheads. I got rejected by one lot. I went to this shop in
Chesterfield, and made the mistake of wearing my frilly shirt, perfume and
so on. The guy just looked at me and said, “Nope.”
Finally, we hear you have a
I’m way too much of a
collector. I’m spending far too much money on old synthesizers at the moment
– I’ve got an attic full of the stuff. I start buying something, then can’t
stop. I had every Star Wars toy. Every issue of the Radio Times. Every Smash
Hits – including the regional specials. Even every issue of Playboy since
1978 – and that’s a bloody awful magazine. It’s this weird little tick in my
mind. During the recording of the new album, I had a thing going with
Cadbury’s Yowies. Inside every Yowie, there’s a hand-painted model of an
endangered species. We stuck them everywhere: we even took the knobs off the
mixing desk and replaced them with Fennec Foxes. But there are 50 of the
bloody things – and I’ve got 49. So if any reader of FHM has a spare Fiddler
Crab, I’d be very grateful.
So if your
house caught fire, what would you grab?
Apart from the
girlfriend, maybe not anything. I’d quite like to see everything in my life
that’s not a sentient creature go up in flames. I think it’d be a fresh
start. Metaphorically speaking, my life is too packed with Fennec Foxes.
It’d be good to begin again… with a few Fiddler Crabs. FHM
Wasn’t The Human League named after a board game?
We were desperate – you don’t
want to end up with Hear’Say, do you?