Interview by Niels Kolling
This month brings another personal scoop as The Black Hit Of Space proudly present an interview with Bob Last, the man who made it all possibly for the Human league back in 1978 when signing them to his newly formed Fast Product. A man with a vision and a great influence on the bands career as he continued as their manager when they signed to Virgin Records. So I caught up with him to learn more about those exciting early years.
First a little background. How did you become involved in the music
business in the first place?
What was the thinking/ambitions behind setting up Fast Product?
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?
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?
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 with it.
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 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?
Was 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!
One of 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 fringes.
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 strategies.
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?
I brokered a settlement between the two halves which included the right for Phil 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 with a 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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
Favourite Human League album, single and song?
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
What are the future plans for Bob Last?
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: