NOTTINGHAM 2008 REVIEWS
Nottingham Evening Post December 2008
A TIDAL wave of Eighties nostalgia swept through the Royal Concert Hall last night, as three of Sheffield's most celebrated pop acts came together for the Steel City Tour.
In happy contrast to the cost-conscious Here And Now packages, stylish stage sets had been constructed for all three acts, properly reflecting their art school roots.
Glenn Gregory's broad, beaming smile never left him for a second, as Heaven 17 whipped through a well chosen selection of chart hits (Come Live With Me), cult hits (Fascist Groove Thing) and even a new song. Many of the tracks were subtly beefed up with contemporary dance rhythms, including an epic, show-stopping Temptation.
Bravely, ABC opted to include three songs from Traffic, their most recent album. These blended in well with their Eighties back catalogue, which included six selections from the classic Lexicon Of Love. Performing in front of a red velvet backdrop, a sharp-suited Martin Fry looked happy and relaxed, and sounded in as fine a voice as ever.
The Human League might be a nostalgia act these days, but their futurist tendencies still shine through. Their stage set was all clean white surfaces, retro-modern gadgetry (were those the remains of a vintage IBM mainframe?) and dazzling computer-animated visuals.
Like Glenn and Martin before him, Phil Oakey's sturdy baritone placed him firmly in the "bellowing foghorn" school of Eighties pop performers. As ever, his commanding vocal presence was balanced by the endearingly unschooled voices of Susan and Joanne, whose occasional off-key wobbles merely added to their charm. Seemingly impervious to the normal aging process, 45-year old Susan vamped it up something rotten, flirting with the front rows and revelling in our attention.
The League's hour-long set climaxed with the evergreen Don't You Want Me
The Independent December 2008
There are all kinds of theories as to why it was Sheffield in particular that gave rise to a wave of forward- looking electronic popin the late 1970s and early ’80s. London’s Blitz club may have provided the cocktails, but the industrial cities of the Midlands and North provided the soundtrack.
One fact that emerges from Eve Wood’s excellent DVD documentary Made in Sheffield is that the leading players in the Sheffield scene didn’t consider themselves reactionaries against punk. Jabbing away at communal synthesisers in the Meatwhistle youth arts centre, too skint to buy a guitar and too impatient to learn how to play one, they thought they were punk.
What the Sheffield bands were subverting varied. For Heaven 17 it was capitalism, the symbolism of stockbroker affluence juxtaposed with the harsh realities of casino economics.
They’re the opening act on the Steel City Tour,which unites the three main Sheffield bands on one stage for the first time. Glenn Gregory, in a waistcoat and rakish fedora, looks like a Prohibition gambler.
It’s “Temptation” that everyone wants to hear (and gets an epic eight-minute treatment), but “Let Me Go”, a flop single but a piece of sublime electro-funk, remains their pinnacle. ABC were subversives too.
In their case, the target of Martin Fry’s poison arrow was romance. For a band whose imagery was dripping in the opulent trappings of chocolate-box romanticism, they continually whipped away the curtain to reveal the glamourless workings. ABC were always known for elegance, class and style with no expense spared, and I’m not just talking about the famous gold lamé suit: this is a band who sank a significant wedge of theirbudget into flying to eastern Europe and filming a Cold War spy thriller (1983’s hugely enjoyable Mantrap), and at 50, Fry still cuts a suave figure, like a Bond actor reaching the end of his run. But it’s when he sings the cynical couplet “Skip the hearts and flowers, skip the ivory towers/ You’ll be disappointed, and I’ll lose a friend?” that you realise what ABC were really trying to tell us.
What were the Human League subverting? Nothing less than pop itself. They were already autodidact amateurs in their first primitive incarnation, and when Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh departed to form Heaven 17, Phil Oakey had even that rug whipped from under him. And, in gleeful defiance of paying-your-dues muso morality, he recruited a pair of schoolgirls, and promptly went on to become one of the biggest bands of the 1980s.
They make the Steel City Tour into one of the shows of the year. Oakey, left, flanked as ever by Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall, ventures way back into the prefame League with the childish penis metaphor of “Empire State Human” and the radical-vegan seriousness of “Being Boiled”. The Human League – the stubborn, awkward, undefeated, brilliant Human League – are still such an immaculate blueprint for a pop group of the future, a gauntlet thrown in the face of younger, more cowardly bands, that it actually makes you giggle.