First a little background. How did you become involved in the music
By accident, I had dropped out of studying architecture and set up Fast
Product as a "brand" and a logo in 1976 with no particular intention of
What was the thinking/ambitions behind setting up Fast
All hell broke out on the music scene in the UK. My
partner of the time Hilary Morrison gave me a copy of Spiral Scratch and
this more than anything else was the moment I realised that Fast Product
would make music.
Can you remember your initial thoughts the first time you heard the
demo tape The Human League send you? Like if this kind of electronic music
was something special you hadn't heard before from any other band?
Yes. I immediately knew I wanted to release it, I didn't really know a lot
about Kraftwerk etc but I liked it:
- because the big fat base line felt like a great industrial
interpretation of Parliament/Funkadelic/George Clinton which I had
listened to loads before punk,
- because it so obviously wasn't punk,
- because the lyrics to Being Boiled on the one hand made no sense but on
the other seemed to contain some elusive truth,
- because it sounded to me like a hit record
- because I like the idea of releasing something that just arrived out of
the blue in the post, what a great world that would be!
- because to me the electronic soundscape had a kind of grain or texture
to it I responded to, like a lot of people I loved Polaroid film at that
time and it seemed to me to have the audio equivalent of the magic of
Fast Product then released Electronically Yours. In hindsight one of
the most important releases of electronic music as Being Boiled is cited
by bands, producers and DJ's around the world as inspiration. It went to
No 6 in the UK Singles charts when Virgin re-released it in 1982, which
showed you that you did something right almost 4 years earlier?
It always felt like a hit to me. I and my team really did believe that
what we were doing mattered, we were totally committed to it and liked and
disliked things with a passion so in a way it is not totally surprising
that it still resonates.
Looking back what is surprising is that there is a history at all, I'm
surprised the world is still here but as it is I'm not surprised people
still listen to it.
The next release on your label was The Dignity Of Labour 12" which was
very experimental. Oakey has later in their career described that as a
mistake, since people regarded them as a pop band after the Electronically
Yours single and then they put something that leftfield out. How do you
view that scenario?
This as far as I was concerned was on purpose, two almost contradictory
things at least at once (as was usual with everything at Fast Product).
It was to stop people getting comfortable with the idea the Human League
might just be a pop band but it was also to clear the ground so that the
next thing could really concentrate on being a hit, which as it turned out
took longer than we all thought.
And of course I just loved the material and it still sounds good and fresh
to this day. And then finally I liked the fact that even though it was
unlikely to reach a wider audience we all spent even more time and effort
on the packaging, as was recorded in part on the flexi disc we included
My strategy was always to keep people guessing a bit, and in part this way
the bands themselves had more freedom of manoeuvre as well as me and Fast
Product having fun.
It turned out to be the last Human League release on
your label. The major companies had started sniffing round and the band
signed to Virgin Records. Not long after Fast Product put out its last
release with Dead Kennedys "California Uber Alles". What was the reason behind
closing down the label?
Well as you can tell from the answer above I had a strategy and was
already thinking about getting hold of the bigger resources another label
could bring to move the Human League onto a bigger audience. I like
After California Uber Alles I think it seemed we had this run of singles
that worked really well and already had this kind of status in the
underground media. I really wanted to do more but everything would have
been judged against it and the general zeitgeist was moving on so rather
than torture ourselves with the question what would Fast Product release
next I created new identities.
It is still my plan some day to maybe release something else altogether
under the Fast Product brand, maybe some furniture or a mountain bike
components, erm I don't know what.
Was it a natural progression of your relationship with the band that
you kept managing them even after they moved to Virgin Records?
Yes it was a natural progression.
it easy to manage them since both Oakey and Ware were famous for being
strongwilled and opiniated?
Yes it was easy to manage them
BECAUSE they were strong willed and opinionated. If they weren't I would
have got bored much sooner!
Your relationship with Virgin was off to a fair start as the
Reproduction album went into the Top 30 in 1979 and Travelogue went Top 20
in 1980, but neither spawned any hit singles. How do you look back on
those 2 albums that are critically acclaimed by todays music press?
It did work well, and for me much of this had to do with the working
relationship with Simon Draper, Richard Branson's MD of the time.
the musical links that is often over looked is that Simon had been
involved in what was previously known as the Canterbury scene which was an avant garde rock scene. Caravan and also Henry Cow, Hatfield and the North
and Egg, Soft Machine also being in this area and Mike Oldfield on the
Apart from stoned US funk I had also explored some of this music in the
early seventies, particularly Matching Mole (a pun on Soft Machine in
French). Although I had struggled with it because much of it seemed too
dry however it may have been part of how I understood The Human League and
I think it certainly helped Simon understand them and some of our
You can also see this interest of Simon's reflected in XTC also signed to
Virgin. As is so often the case in retrospect you can find threads that
were not obvious at the time.
The band split in two after the second album as Ware/Marsh left and
founded Heaven 17, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise with two
great electronic bands lighting up the charts. But how did you look at the
break up? Did you sense that Oakey/Wright could carry on with a more pop oriented style?
OK easy. I encouraged and to a large extent planned the detail of this
split up because the tensions in the band were becoming destructive and I
was confident enough to see a better way forward for both the fractions if
I brokered a settlement between the two halves which included the right
and Adrian to use the name (even though they did not at first want this)
because I believed then that they needed it as a platform for the pop
break- through I was sure was just around the corner for Phil.
At the same time I was confident that Martin and Ian could have more fun
new identity- which they duly did. Because I was intimately involved in
the split I
was able to set things up with Virgin for both bands on a kind of double
your money basis even though they were at first very worried.
The Sound Of The
Crowd was the bands first major hit as it went to No 12
in the UK Singles Charts. Key elements was the inclusion of Ian Burden in
the band and Martin Rushent as producer. Could you hear from this single
that the band were on the verge of striking gold?
No! I wasn't always right, it is a well known fact that I had real doubts
about releasing this as the first post split single and Phil and I had
quite a stooshie (Scots for a strenuously argued discussion) about it. It
did though signpost the way.
Trivia; Ian Burden had previously been in a band called Graph. I released
a track from them on the Fast Product audio magazine "Earcom". What I was
sure of was from the very beginning of the Dare sessions was that Don't
You Want Me's opening bars were the beginning of a pop classic.
It was your idea that Jo Callis joined, which
in hindsight was a masterstroke as he co-wrote some of the biggest
hits in the 80s and has been cited by Oakey as the most talented member of
the band. What gave you the idea to get a well known guitar-player to join
a group taking pride in being all synth?
This is true. I had worked with Jo as part of the Rezillos and come to
revere his sure sense of killer chords and hooks (not to mention some bad
ass guitar noise he could rustle up when called upon).
I was pretty sure he could reinforce the pop writing ambitions of the new
Human League and that it could be interesting for him to have to rewire
his process by laying his guitar down.
Then Dare was released and the bands popularity went sky high. It must have been exciting and rewarding
following closely how this classic album took form and the band you had
managed since the early beginning all of a sudden became superstars?
Not much to say here. Yes it was extraordinary to go all the way from the
cassette tape in the post to a global number 1. Thing I remember most is a
chaotic and very cool 72 hours in Reykjavik at the end of the tour at that
They had a hard time making the follow up to Dare and the fruitful
relationship with Martin Rushent ended with the Fascination EP in 1983.
which still contained some of their best ever work. What was going wrong?
My recollection was that it was a combination of many many factors. The
first and most obvious being the pressure of scrutiny coming off such huge
I also recall tension over the electronic purism that Phil always insisted
remain at the core of The Human League. I think he understood that rigid
adherence to this helped preserve their unique position whereas Martin
Rushent felt that the songwriting could just as well form a base for a
more varied palette including "real" sounds.
Also as ever in such small but complex groupings of people it is very
difficult to manage the tension between different people as they become
more and more confident or sometimes more and more confident and more and
more insecure at the same time.
Which is quite a common process in bands. Not naming names here because I
think all involved were caught up in these emotional difficulties.
In 1984 Hysteria was finally released. That
has gone down in League history as the most difficult, time
consuming and expensive to create, changing producers twice and Callis
leaving soon after its release. How did you experience the
making of that album and the loss of Jo Callis?
Not very happily.
The band then dumped the work they did with Colin Thurston making the
follow up to Hysteria, and then turned to Jam & Lewis for producing Crash.
This was around the time you ended your management of the band. Were you
gone when they started working with Colin Thurston or can you shed some
light on the material that was dumped?
I don't really recall. I think I was around for some of the work with
Colin and shared their view that it wasn't really working. Didn't have the
Have you kept in touch with the bands career since you left? Since then
they have put out 4 albums (Crash, Romantic?, Octopus and Secrets). Any
thoughts on these albums?
No I haven't although it has been interesting to see their work resonate
so strongly and taking a place in pop history. I am often forced to listen
to them in Tesco's.
They are currently locked away in their Sheffield studio working on a
new album. How do you view their position in todays market, since things
have changed drastically in the whole music business since you started out
back in 1978?
How do you look back on your time with The Human League, it must have
been a rollercoaster ride? You were pioneering electronic music in the
early days, which must have been fun? And could you ever imagine the band
still being active 30 years on?
Don't regret it if that answers the question?
Favourite Human League album, single and song?
As I put their first record out and managed them to a no 1 I think I'm
allowed more than one!
So: Empire State Human would be one, epitomized the kind of elliptical,
perverse optimism the early band reflected.
A second would be their cover of Lost That Loving Feeling live at The
Electric Ballroom in London in I think 1979.
And probably Human. Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam were crucial talents and it
was just cool to see this gang from Sheffield pull it off. There is a soul
in those machines.
You've made a career change and are currently into the world of
animation with Ink Digital. Even if the music industry has changed since
you started out, do you ever get the itch to get back to working with
Well actually I moved in to supervising music for movies then moved into
feature film production as well as having the animation studio. I have a
new feature development fund with UK/Polish producer called Fudakowski
Last llp (Peter Fudakowski produced Oscar winner Tsostsi) , I am
completing production of Sylvain Chomet's £12.5 million feature this year
financed by Pathe.
are the future plans for Bob Last?
Next build the animation studio, its next big project is working on Ruby
Tuesday an animated film based on a suite of Rolling Stones songs. So I
guess that is closer to music again. Make some live action features, I am
developing a war movie.
Don't know about music. I listen to a lot of Steve Earle and currently as
well as black music these days and I'm specializing in covers of Stuck in
the Middle With You. I like Sparklehorse's version and a great one by
Eagles Of Death Metal.
Sometimes I think I might get involved in music
again, especially when someone like Franz Ferdinand come along and
reference other bands I discovered like the FireEngines (if I can use that
term in a modest sense).
You've can follow Bob's future projects at: