LONDON 2008 REVIEWS
www.telegraph.co.uk December 2008
It's as if the Human League were running the world's biggest mobile disco. Big bold blocks of red, green and blue lights flashed on the vast rig behind singer Phil Oakey and his "two dancing girls", blonde Susan Ann Sully and brunette Joanne Catherall.
Pop legend has it that Oakey spotted the pair back in 1981 when they were schoolgirls, bopping about on the dancefloor of Sheffield's Crazy Daisy nightclub. Wanting to take his arty synth band into the pop charts, Oakey thought that a couple of pretty backing singers would glam things up, although the often deadpan delivery of the ladies' lines underpinned their "lovely assistant" status with a slightly surly attitude. And tonight, instead of gazing adoringly at Oakey while he sang, they still stared ahead into the crowd, often camping up the sulky stares of teenagers between high kicks and shimmies.
It's been a good year for the hardworking Eighties act. They headlined at Bestival and have been part of a surge of recognition for Sheffield-grown talent. Crooner Tony Christie covered their poignant ballad, Louise, on his Made in Sheffield album. And now they're touring with the two other big Sheffield bands of their era, ABC and Heaven 17, on a nostalgia-fuelled "Steel City" tour.The Apollo was packed with fortysomething couples and at least one office party group in beer-stained suits and tissue-paper hats. They whooped and jiggled as Oakey strode confidently about the stage in high-collared jacket and shades between Catherall and Sulley in their skimpy party frocks. His voice veered from dry, man-on-the-street to sudden yearning.
Like fellow synth-poppers the Pet Shop Boys, the Human League were never about the grand vocal, but about the vernacular, everyday voice elevated by synth-fuelled emotion: the big feelings of ordinary people.
But where the Pet Shop Boys' songs are subtly hued, the Human League painted in primary colours – big bold chord sequences and conversational, narrative lyrics with lots of poppy "Oooos" and "Aaaas" for the dancing girls.
And the crowd chanted along with all the hits: Mirror Man, Fascination, Louise, Love Action and of course Don't You Want Me. The bass synths rattled our ribcages. The screen behind the band showed retro-images of fruit machines and love hearts.
The band closed with Together in Electric Dreams, the anthem to friendship that Oakey wrote with Giorgio Moroder. Catherall and Sully waved their hands over their heads. Oakey threw his out to the crowd. The punters threw their own arms across a friend's shoulder or around a partner's waist. It was a big group hug of a finale.
www.guardian.co.uk December 2008
There are queues around the building for the Sheffield groups who brought electro-funk (Heaven 17), orchestral disco (ABC) and synth pop (the Human League) to the masses. But at a guess, most of the swinging mums and dads are here for the hits, not to see three acts reclaim their reputation as electronica pioneers.
Two of Heaven 17's original trio, Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory, remain. If they look corporate in their suits, the musician-as-subversive-businessman was their idea back in 1981. With their dual identity as band and backroom boys (producing acts such as Tina Turner under the name BEF), they were the N*E*R*D/Neptunes of their day, but the computer rhythms are appreciated less than the powerful voices of the girls hired to sing along with Gregory on their biggest single, Temptation.
ABC, too, once dominated the charts with their deconstructed disco. The sole survivor of that lineup is Martin Fry, a superb post-Bowie/Ferry crooner who brings an arch intelligence to every line of Poison Arrow and The Look of Love, which is tonight given a Las Vegas sheen.
It is left to the Human League to reaffirm Sheffield's futurist past. Phil Oakey, in leather trench coat and shades, is cyber-cool, while the fabulous Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall dance like surreal dolly birds. The sound is immaculate, the visuals magnificent - all sci-fi lights and flickering images on a giant screen, from A Clockwork Orange to Barack Obama.
Propelled by black-clad programmers prodding Macbooks and Syndrums, Love Action and Don't You Want Me are the missing link between Abba and Kraftwerk. It's a very early-1980s notion - the marriage of pop and the avant garde - but really, all concerts should be this arty, ambitious and entertaining
www.mirror.co.uk December 2008
Tuesday and we here at Mirror.co.uk’s Showbiz Towers are still smiling and humming Don't You Want Me, Baby to ourselves after seeing one of the best gigs we've seen all year last night.
We were at the Steel City tour featuring Heaven17, ABC and The Human League and if you have even a smidgin of an interest in music, you should get yourself along to any of the remaining gigs post haste.
London’s Hammersmith Apollo was packed with people still enthralled to the synths of new wave, and some to that idea that legwarmers have never gone out of fashion.
Heaven17 opened and proved frontman Glenn Gregory still has a fine set of pipes, pushed to the limit on the truly fantastic Temptation. And ABC’s Martin Fry may have ditched the gold lame suit, but he was still at his dapper, deep-voiced best on the likes of the irresistible pop of When Smokey Sings, The Look Of Love and Shoot That Poison Arrow.
But it was The Human League that reigned surpreme on this night of unashamed Eighties nostalgia and superb pop music that surprisingly hasn’t dated one bit.
Phil Oakey’s asymmetric haircut may have gone – in fact, his whole head of hair has gone – but his outfit still remain a genuinely thrilling and oddly futuristic proposition than the myriad lumpen guitar bands flailing around in the last days of landfill indie at the moment.
As one person in the crowd commented as the League kicked off their set with the fantastic Seconds in front of a vast space-age-looking LED-lit backdrop: "It's Krafwerk meets Topshop."
Frankly, there's no higher praise than that in our opinion and you've still got chance to catch them at Manchester, Wolverhampton and their hometown of Sheffield, which could possibly blow the South Yorkshire city right off the map.
http://thelondonpaper.typepad.com December 2008
From Pulp to The Arctic Monkeys, Sheffield has given birth to a lot of wonderful bands and tonight was a tribute to three of the greatest.
But the triple header from the Steel City was no mere 80's revival night; it recalled a time when the city was at the epicentre of popular music.
Heaven 17's politicized synth/soul mash felt relevant once again, especially the likes of 'Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry', and while time hadn't been entirely kind to ABC's sleek Motown pastiches; the likes of 'Look Of Love' still shone brightly across the years.
It was left to the Human League to proved tonight's heart and soul and they did so with aplomb. With a stellar live band, Phil and the girls ran through their vast catalogue of songs with a knowing wink and a contemporary edge.
The hits were all clear and present but surprisingly it was their earliest songs ('Empire State Human', 'Sound Of The Crowd' ) that sounded as fresh as any electro pop which came out in 2008.