6th August 2021
Interviews by Niels Kolling
Ross Cullum (demo producer); Ian Stanley was a friend from Tears For Fears days and was The Human League's A.& R. at East West, he asked me to produce the record. I had always known their work as we were part of the same scene at the same time. I think we all revelled in their pop instincts and thought they were a unique mix of cool and naive. I don’t use the word "Fan" about myself, particularly in connection with pop music, but in general I like their work – it’s always interesting and sometimes great, more than you can say for most groups.
We decided to work from scratch but add in some of the components from Sheffield. I think a producers job is about responding to individual circumstances not providing a formulaic solution to the same situation time after time. I had something to do with a conception of the way things should sound, I provided a fresh look at the group and their material and some extra energy, I just wanted to do something great with them, I would trust the Human League' potential to chart over many bands, I thought they deserved to be as successful as ever and arrogantly I thought I could help.I recall that we asked Pete Davis to help as a programmer and we listened to the previous versions but rebuilt from scratch. I think I worked on about six or eight tracks or so, maybe more. Phil was very open to new possibilities, I think he has this freedom because he understands and can articulate his own position and rules very well. I also thought enough things were exciting around that particular time in electronica and that we could incorporate that into their record without compromising their integrity. I do remember taking inspiration for cross-pollination from the 'United State of America' first album.
I was in discussion with Phil a lot we would just hang out walk around town buy a few things and talk about the project, trying to build an approach, then Pete and my brother Jamie and I would kick tracks around until we got excited by them. I think a producers job is about responding to individual circumstances not providing a formulaic solution to the same situation time after time. We used a variety of approaches analogue and computer based, the most crucial thing for me was overall focus, the big picture, trying get something vibrant happening. I just tried to drive Pete hard in the detail, he got pretty exhausted but he had great energy. I wanted the thing to sound contemporary and fresh but still obey the strong Human League ethos. I think the Roland modular stuff was used I particularly loved the Arp 2600 which we used and the most fun for me was the VCS3 which is at once fantastically nostalgic for me and also capable still of surprise, we also used its filter input section to treat things. Everybody embraced both (hardware and software synths) realms and were equally excited by them. Phil and I both grew up during the period of pioneering analogue synths and we also endured the early years of computers in pop music.
Phil always had this fantastic ability to understand what was going on at any one time and either suggest an extra idea or methodology or come up this a new angle or just enjoy it. I think there was an element for Phil, Susan and Joanne, of having done all this already, now let Ross drive for a bit and see what happens. In a weird way the only other person I have seen in a studio that has a vibe like Phil's is Neil Young, very quick to totally get what’s going on in the room, both technically and vibe wise. I've never heard the finished record. I am deeply touched by any compliment from Phil as I hold him in high esteem, he is a lovely man. I thought we were on to something...
Kerry Hopwood (producer); 20 years ago! Wow! (Been) listening to Secrets for the first time in probably nearly 20 years and it isn't too bad sounding at all. I'm actually quite impressed by some of the stuff so I'm actually quite enjoying hearing something I've worked on. Papillion Records were looking for someone to work with their new signing, The Human League and as you can imagine we (Toy production team with David Clayton and Q) leapt at the opportunity to work with them. It was maybe unusual at the time and in hindsight it would probably work better when one person takes charge but we wanted to start a new way of working as a bit of a collective but one where our mutual respect would mean that any of us, could speak and lead, at any time. We each had our roles of course, all three had particular strengths and between us we felt we could do any projects be it for bands, for tours, for adverts, for films. We could try and outlet sonics into any medium. These days, it seems that this was the way to go but I remember at the time people just didn’t get it.
I think that many of (the tracks) still have a nod to the demo’s, especially with All I Ever Wanted. I would always worry about spoiling something good as I felt that whatever I did may change the spirit of a demo. I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes things gets changed for no other reason than you need to be seen to be doing something, which I don’t get. It’d been interesting to hear those (demos) again, as for me, as long as the spirit of the demo or whatever we have ended up with is still there, then I’d say it was a success.
The concept was to have little sections (instrumentals) inspired by the album, sometimes using some parts or sounds. A Short concentrated burst of something. I don’t think we made them as long versions and cut them down. In a kind of way, some aspects were like early albums of theirs where there were snippets or even soundbite type things and they always struck me as fun and cool. Those pieces were really done in isolation. Phillip came in with stuff, Neil did and then we did too so no partnership as such, no sitting round the piano waiting for inspiration to strike although I long harboured thoughts that we should all get behind a synth each in their big live room and make noises and see what we came up with. I don’t think there was anything left over as I have no recollection anything we felt we needed to do that we didn’t do in the end. I think the most fun thing to “twiddle” with was the singing – that was the thing that made the record for me. Synth wise, we really liked Phillips Korg 770, Phillip was kind enough to give one to us (Dave Clayton has it now) but I managed to track one down when I was on tour with Depeche Mode in the US.
The disappointment of Pallion Records collapse really signaled my loss of faith with record production, record companies, radio, etc. After Secrets, my feelings towards production took a huge blow. As a producer, you are judged on the records you make and although the press generally were favourable, in the real world when there is no product out, for whatever reason, that year of work is a failure. It was such a disappointing end to a great project. Phillip and the band are a thoroughly decent bunch of people, if I’m around I’d always like to go along and see Phillip, Beevers and the gang. I just hope that they get the support and energy that they deserve but it has become a tough business making and selling records in the old idiom. I loved my experience with the band and it is probably one of my favourite projects. Secrets was, at the time, our take on how they should sound and I have a feeling that it would still hold true today as much of it is still relevant. On reflection, as it came out, the record company went bust so I felt we’d all wasted our time and a really good opportunity for the band and us to make a bit of a mark so I can only really feel disappointment as it was the last time I made a record really! Bit sad to think about but hey ho, onwards and upwards.
Dave Clayton (producer); A special record made with Special People. Secrets was a fab album that gave me the chance to return to my home town to work with one of the city’s most famous and revered bands. As it happens I am from Sheffield and I knew of the League from rehearsal days at Martyn Wares place of work (Lucas Cav Lights). I went down as my pal knew Martyn well prior to their first ever shows. So I was fully aware of them. I always like HL from the first encounter with Martin Ware on the night shift at Lucas Cav (bulb and electrical goods company). Where we discussed synths and I saw his early Rolands.
But Secrets was different. It was with the International HL. Who had had world wide success by then. The scene was set in Ponds Street Sheffield where the HL had their Studio. An absolute synth lovers paradise. Phil is an avid collector and had stuff I had never seen. He also knew how to work the gear and was totally impressive. The SH5.......System100 complete.... Phil’s DOEPHER...was a monster....but I left it to him!! Korg 700s and 700 were ace too. I did take a large amount of mine (too). I remember he was just discovering Doepher modular equipment and had a wall full! And was impressive with this as well. He taught me a lot over the length of our recording time together. What I would not give to make a synth album with Phillip sometime somewhere. Maybe virtually would be good with visits for Synth Seminars occasionally
Prozac fuel tracks made the whole album feel edgy. This though was perfect as we (Toy) had just come from 2 years with Depeche Mode and a few other spikes sessions so we blended into this vibe admirably. Phillip thought that as the demos had been done over a long period of time, we should extract all the goodness from them and re-construct into the NEW sound. We used everything I think? Hence the short musical pieces too. Not being biased, but all of the tunes are FAB! I dont have a favourite track because I love them all! But Never Give Your Heart and Snake are my faves when I get the vinyl out!
Everyone was one the case and it was an absolute pleasure all the way through musically! Banana on Toast being the main source of nutrient for Phil and the Girls. Joanne, Susan and Neil were also lovely and full of enthusiasm The Mighty Dave Beevers I remember was a source of enthusiasm and help throughout. The League are renown for sound, not just great pop songs. The whole package is unique. It’s a tragedy that it never really turned its critical accolade into Prizes because the LEAGUE deserved it on this one!! I feel that the album was never given the chance due to financial company mishap. I would love to (work with them again)! In ANY capacity!! They are mega!! To Conclude; For Me Secrets was tough as I was away from my family all week every week for 6 months. But I LOVED making it. Twists and turns along the way. But the memories make me smile. And feel proud. One of the best moments of my "knob twiddling career thus far!!
Love to HL, Kerry, Q…..(genius people)
Barry Gilbey (producer); Its a really good album it combines the best elements of the Human League. Fantastic pop songs mixed with electronica. There's nothing more frustrating for an artist than to have your work undone by political or financial problems at a label (Papillion went bust). Because its out of your control it can make you feel particularly helpless.
Me and Phil met originally when I was working part time in a local music store selling musical equipment. Our love of electronic equipment kind of drew us together. I left after only a few months as my DJ-ing and production career had taken off but as our studios were in the same street it was easy to stay in touch. We'd been discussing the idea of working together for some time but could never get our diaries to sync, even though our studios were literally 500m away from each other. It’s a wonderful studio (The Human League’s) with some breathtaking pieces of equipment in there. I think I lost count of the amazing synths in there. It was a little too much for me! It’s like a beautiful collection from a museum crossed with the most modern of cutting edge equipment. It's simply stunning.
I loved working with the Human League. When the Human League first broke onto the scene I was a little young and then by the time I was into music I was heavily into rock music so I didn't really connect with them. Later on though as my love of electronica blossomed I really started to appreciate the quality of the song writing and the production. I'd always be interested in working with them again, I've got a huge amount of respect for them. I'd love to do some straight up Tech House! We did talk about doing another project and actually started looked at dates to do a 3 way collaboration as I was working with BT on some projects for his album. Diaries just never seemed to click into place though. Never say never though, I'd love to see Mara working with The Human League again.
Neil Sutton (band member); A period Philip disappeared to Ross (Cullum’s) Chelsea studio for what seemed like months. Ross and Pete (Davis) worked on some of the songs, that each ended up as 8 or 9 minute epics. Some of the song sections, including loops that they created themselves, were fantastic....but sadly didn't make it to the finished mixes. I remember listening to some of the stuff, when I travelled down to Chelsea, and thinking, this is mad, but absolutely brilliant!!
The music comes first, but Philip has potential song titles and lyric ideas floating about all of the time. It's usually a case of either working on the music together, or me presenting something to him and him thinking that he could do something with it?!?! Sometimes whilst I was playing him something for the first time, he would come up with a vocal melody there and then. Then it would mean scrambling around quickly to find a machine to record his vocal idea on, before it was forgotten!! The music would always then be arranged around the length of verse/chorus/bridge lyrics. The modular stuff is good fun! The Roland System 100M is great, but can't remember the last time that I myself had a 'twiddle and a patching'. The Doepfer system in the studio is pretty impressive, but I tend to favour synths like the Oberheim SEM, the Oberheim OB-Mx and the vintage Rolands such as the SH2. After the basic song has been structured, other parts, vocal or instrumental, might get added. Then even at the stage of vocal recording, backing vocals and additional vocal parts could well be added. Sometimes these late additions might completely change the songs for the better!! Sometimes some parts might not have made it to a final mix, that perhaps I might have thought should have been there..... but there is no point in being precious about those things!!
I think I have a copy of a complete remix project of some of the Secrets' songs that David (Beevers) named 'Crystal'!! It was really good, he worked really hard on it!! The results were fantastic!! But he won't be letting anyone hear them soon!!
David Beevers (engineer); ‘Secrets’ was kind of odd to record. A fun time if long in the making of and it all just works. Some of the tracks were done and presented to East/West in demo form, then we started working on them with a guy called Robin Hancock and for some reason it stopped with him. We carried on working on the tracks and had a few programmers come in at various stages, then Philip ended going to London to work with Ross Cullum for some months at which point the record company had a shake up and we were gone. We carried on recording and then the group was signed to Papillion. I can’t quite remember how it happened but we ended up working with ‘Toy’ who were a production outfit consisting of Kerry Hopwood, who’d worked with Bomb The Bass and Depeche Mode, Dave Clayton who they knew as he was from Sheffield and had been in ABC and finally, Q, who had also worked with Bomb The Bass and done remixes and engineered for Madonna. At this point they took over and apart from supplying some vocals & sounds from the Radar my (Technical) job was done.
Philip does have a nice collection of synths which I have the privilege of toying with. I love the ‘Pearl Syncussion’ which is an analogue drum module which sounds great, then Rob (Barton, drummer) started playing it and now its fantastic. Korg ‘Synthi Basse’ is good, very basic but huge sound. I will always have a soft spot for the Roland ‘System 100m’, so versatile and limitless possibilities.
As the mixes were coming back it occurred to me that they could sound fantastic as instrumentals and would work really well in films. Once the mixing had been completed, I took the master audio stems (minus the vocals) from Logic into Pro-tools and just re-eq’d the tracks and made some alterations to the fades and mix points. It wasn’t a huge difference and I think it was talked about doing some kind of special 2001 Secrets tour edition cd with the instrumental version included but I could be wrong.
Mike Marsh (mixer); It was and still is a fantastic album. When I was mastering the Secrets album I remember thinking “Wow, I grew up listening to these guys”, and being very excited at the prospect of actually working on their tracks. I was working only with Kerry Hopwood for that session. It’s a tragic shame that all the business crap got in the way of a great record. When it comes to record labels, I should guess that Phillip and the girls probably don’t have too many good words to say about them over the years. Anyhow, at least they can stick up the middle finger ‘cos they’re still doing it today – even with all the things that have happened in the past!
Paul Cox (cover photographer); I like The Human League, the Secret album and packaging (is my favourite artwork). The idea as far as I know came from Stuart Crouch at Peacock Design. It’s important to meet the artist to discuss ideas and to work out what the artist capable of during a photographic session and their attitude to it. We would have various meetings to discuss ideas on how to achieve the final product. On the day of the shoot everyone puts a word in, how they’d like to look and the overall image. These were individual shots put together, even this takes quite a bit to work out, I used to use a Nikon FM2 and Hasselblad - all film. Very easy and relaxed (to work with). Only three to deal with, odd numbers are always better to shoot.
Russell Dennett (song-writer); I don't have many memories of Secrets, I wasn't involved (in the recordings). I saw the band quite a lot when it was being made and met the production team Toy. One of them Dave Clayton is a Sheffield lad and a big Sheffield United fan so we get on great! I like some of Secrets, the work that went in to that album was incredible and they deserved something from it really.
ALL I EVER WANTED
Kerry Hopwood; We had a similar thing when making the Depeche Mode album (Ultra) when the record company wanted us to mix It’s No Good first so it could be the first single and we were adamanet that Barrel Of A Gun had to be the first single out as a statement of intent. Well we got our way with that and with All I Ever Wanted the track was all there, it was all about “The Human League are back and doing it better than ever”. A statement of intent. The disappointment of Pallion Records collapse really signaled my loss of faith with record production, record companies, radio, etc. as I thought, if nobody get’s All I Ever Wanted the nothing I would do ever again would either, I felt that strongly about it’s potential.
David Clayton; All I ever wanted ….ahem was for the album to be a landmark for HL…..sadly it was not quite as I had hoped. But ALL I Ever wanted was a damn fine single and still could go again….. Oberheim 4 voice gubba Bass….Beautiful sound
Barry Gilbey; For me the single was a great come back for the band and should have done much better. It just needed proper support.
Neil Sutton; I think All I Ever Wanted would have to be one that I think worked out well, and some of the remixes sounded immense on a big club system!!
David Beevers; There was a remix of ‘All I Ever Wanted’ started by myself and Neil and also I started a remix of ‘Love Me Madly’ for the second single but both were abandoned.
Mike Marsh; I remember the moment I ran the tape the first time for the track “All I Ever Wanted” and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I got that tingle down the spine feeling
Dave Bascombe (mixer); It's tough for bands like them (to get a hit), radio like new things and they'd already had one "comeback".
Michiel Van Borkhurst (remixer); It wasn’t the hit it should have been.
Russell Dennett (song writer); All I Ever Wanted is a good song.
Mark Saunders (former remixer); "All I Ever Wanted" sounds great. Good song and excellent production.
LOVE ME MADLY?
Michiel Van Borkhurst; All of these remixes are always dance oriented; that’s a given. It meant I had to bring the tempo down a bit (for the Voice Of Buddha Remix) as the original is one of the fastest tracks in the West and would not be used by any DJ in a set. I had been very disappointed with most Octopus remixes as they were completely new pieces of dance music with some Human League vocal snippets added, so I wanted to have all the vocals present. Lots of remixers don’t use the girls at all which is a crying shame; I even used them in some spots where they are isolated from Phil’s voice so you can hear them better. Also, I wanted to sneak in some Human League MK1 sounds. Put on a headphone and listen carefully, and you will hear rhythmical references to “Almost Medieval”, “Blind Youth” and “Word Before Last” as well as those typical analogue snare sounds. Of course I had to be subtle as to not infringe copyrights of those tracks, otherwise I would have sampled them and they would be a lot more obvious.
(Looking back) I would have snuck a lot more melody into it. Except for the second bridge it stays in the same chord, the same note even. Back then I was very much into that, stacking and filtering sounds and building upon that, I wanted to have a lot of analogue sounds in there. The bass is a Sequential Circuits Pro 1 and there’s a kind of helicopter sound that’s a Roland SH-101. I remember doing some small stuff with a Roland Jupiter-6. The filtered rhythm sound is a (digital) Nord Lead Rack, and back then I did nothing without my trusty Akai S1000 sampler, which I still miss dearly. All of this was recorded on Logic Audio on a Mac G4.
The Cuzco boys were in the studio almost daily working on their material and felt it was an honour as well as a great way to showcase their talents. Their mix fits perfectly into their own repertoire. There was another Cuzco mix for “Love Me Madly”, rather similar but it wasn’t nearly as good as the one released. The ZeNN mix came about differently. Wouter did some work for us once in awhile and when he heard I was setting up the single he begged me to let him do a version too as he was a fan of the band too. When Wouter presented his ZeNN mix in which he processed Philips voice into a robotic harmony I was awestruck. I had stripped the song into one chord, while he had turned it into something more melodic than the original. I was so delighted with the result I asked him to do an extended version of it for the vinyl release. Wouter is a genius and he would be famous by now if he was a little bit less cheesy. He will emerge eventually.
In hindsight I should have not released a 12 inch vinyl version and I definitely should have made sure to have a distributor. Instead I figured anybody would gladly distribute a Human League product. Needless to say, I was wrong. (the) lack of distribution tripped “Love Me Madly?” and it still frustrates me. Another regret is putting the album version on the single. Any fan has that already, the single just doesn’t have the fade-out of the previous track on the intro. Instead, I should have put the TOY mix on it, the original, but at the time I was not aware of the strong feelings the band had towards that version. It was only after the release I had an enlightening talk with Kerry from TOY and Dave (Beevers) and it turns out there was at one time a finished album full of TOY mixes, mastered and ready to go. Papillon demanded the changes, and neither band nor producers were very fond of Dave Bascombe’s mixes but they ended up on the album anyway.
Mark Saunders; Cool sounding bassline on "Love Me Madly".
David Clayton; Phil mad system 100 sounds on Shameless…..6 modules play together ..glorious sound.
David Beevers; I don’t think we got ‘Shameless’ right (for live performances), which was sad as it’s a great song
Michiel Van Borkhurst; I had (the) Love Me Madly? (remix) done and was working on “Shameless” when the news came that THL’s record company Papillon had folded. I was gutted that there would be no second single off this brilliant album “Secrets”, and I was very disappointed that I had finally done something with this band that I so admired and that it would never see the light of day. There is a “Shameless” work in progress version on Digital Audio Tape somewhere in my studio. The mix was closer to the original, kind of old-style if you will. It related to the original like the “Life On Your Own”-remix relates to that particular original.
Chris Smith (remixer); We always try and stay as faithful as possible to the original when doing remixes. In the case of Human League, we really wanted to make sure that we didn't lose any of the magic. Although being a new song, we could afford to be a little more experimental with the (Manhattan Clique) remix!
Philip Larsen (remixer): We really liked the new material, so it was a shame it (The Manhattan Clique Remix) didn't see the light of day. We weren't really involved in the release-side of things, so unfortunately didn't have any input in that.
NEVER GIVE YOUR HEART
David Clayton; Gated synths on Never Give Your Heart
Ross Cullum; I love the natural song invention.
David Clayton; Gated synths on The Snake.
Kerry Hopwood; I just loved hearing so many of the noises being generated and the general flow, I think it was one of those tunes that just looked after itself and had such a good atmosphere about it.
David Clayton; Reflections…even had a DX7 on it!! (Bass).
Neil Sutton; I love Reflections. The song was written by Philip and Steve Fellowes, who was the singer in a Sheffield band called The Comsat Angels, and an old friend of Philip's, and of the band. As I remember, although I could be wrong, Steve and Philip worked on the music and the lyrics together. Steve would come to the studio and the two of them would lock themselves away for a few hours at a time. I think Pete Davis, a programmer, did a fair bit of sound remodelling. I'm sure that some of his sound programming made it to the final arrangement of the recorded version. I also think the instrumental ending was maybe a section that was created during the 'Ross Cullum years'.
TRANQULITY (ALL I EVER WANTED B-SIDE)
Russell Dennett; The song Tranquillity was devised by me as a piece of music in 1995. I was walking round Nottingham and a drunken man was hitting a toy glockenspiel with a beater for beater and the tune he played stayed in my head all day. I went to the League studio where we were rehearsing the Octopus tour and recorded the tune with a beat and chords. Philip Oakey added a couple of bits and it never saw the light of day .
Barry Gilbey; The actual track came together really quickly though once we could get into the studio. There was instantly a vibe which is the hardest thing for any collaboration. I was working on the first Mara album at the same time as we did Tranquility so there was a lot of discussion about the track appearing on the Mara album or being a Human League track. I think Phil was drawn to beats I was working with for Mara so he just let me kinda do my thing and then work from the rhythm track. I believe Russell Dennett had done some work with Phil on Tranquility before I got involved. I'd been working with Russell Dennett on some guitar for tracks from the first Mara album. He played guitars on the title track "If You Only Knew" and also on the acoustic version of "One", which is included as a bonus track at the end of the album. In the studio it was just myself and Phil working on initial musical ideas and sounds. I spent a couple of weeks laying out the track and producing it before it went back to the Leagues studio for the vocals to be added and final production and mixdown. To be perfectly honest I don't know if any other members of the band were involved when it went back to their studio.
The track was shuttled between my studio and Phil's as we worked on different elements, with the main track being recorded in my studio and then vocals and final mixdown happening at the League studio. I was really happy with the track as I wanted to try something a little different. I wanted to try and create something more angular than the regular beats i'd been working with and thought Phil's vocals would sit well against that backdrop. There was a longer mix, I worked on a club mix of it to play live and had a little prototype mix going on for a while. Sadly though it never got finished as I was half way through recording Mara "If you only knew" and couldn't spend the time on the mix.
Papillon Records sadly went belly up as the album was released, but thankfully in 2018 Demon Records gave the album the attention it deserved and released it on both cd and vinyl, which can be bought here.
And while you're at it, why not celebrate the album by listening to Audacity's excellent remix of All I Ever Wanted, created exclusively for this website back in 2009.