This Is Lancashire 1st August 2008

Interview: Phil Oakey of The Human League

John Anson

In the early 1980s the city of Sheffield shaped the music scene. The recently-announced Steel City tour aims to show modern audiences why. We spoke to one of those taking part, the Human League’s Phil Oakey.

WHENEVER lists are compiled of the most influential records, the chances are that two albums forged in Sheffield will invariably feature.

The Human League’s Dare and Lexicon of Love by ABC are regarded as classic examples of the ’80s and are still impressive today.

Later this year — for the very first time — the Human League, ABC and Heaven 17 will tour the UK, bringing to life the Sheffield legacy.

For Phil Oakey, frontman of the Human League, it’s a prospect he’s relishing.

“It’s certainly a tour which interests me,” he said. “I think if I wasn’t actually involved it’s a show I would go and see.”

The Human League have featured in a number of Here and Now tours in recent years, featuring the likes of Culture Club, Altered Images and Visage. But Phil sees this winter’s tour as being different.

“This tour makes more sense, if you like,” he said. “Looking back I think we are all quite proud of what we did and how we were able to send music in the direction it went.

"When you have something as personal as music at the time it can look like fashion.

"But now, looking back, you can see that we did have an effect on so many things.”

The tour — which comes to Manchester Apollo on Wednesday, December 10 — will be the first time the three bands have played together.

Heaven 17 have a long association with the Human League — both Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh have been in both bands.

“I didn’t really know Martin Fry of ABC very well,” said Phil. “We knew of each other, of course, and I think he’s a great songwriter but we operated at this strange arm’s length.

“The funny thing, is ABC’s drummer resigned from the band twice while he was at my house.”

Last year the Human League — Phil, Susan Ann Sully and Joanne Catherall — played the whole of the Dare album live.

“We won’t have time for that with this tour,” he said. “They will have to be relatively short sets as there are three bands.”

In recent years the Human League have toured more than ever before.

“You used to lose money touring,” said Phil. “Now it seems people are much more prepared to go out and see people they know. I think that there has been a genuine dearth of stars and that’s what people want.

“For me I’d always prefer to see a live performance. If someone has got up there and done it, I’d always applaud them.”

As well as the winter tour, Phil is continuing to write.

“I’m getting new tracks together and I‘m assessing what’s going on in music.,“ he said. “I’ve got six or seven songs with lyrics and vocal lines so we’ll have to see where that leads. I’m really doing everything including working with computers and I’m enjoying it much more than I expected, although it is very time-consuming. It takes me hours.”

Phil is very conscious that the era of downloading and the internet has changed music.

“If you want to look for it then you’ll find whatever type of music you want to,” he said.

“Music is now more at the centre of things than it has ever been and everyone is doing their own thing, which is exciting.”