THE FANZINE THAT FEATURES SMALL AND UNSIGNED BANDS
Friday, June 18, 2010
INTERVIEW WITH HEAVEN 17
Well, sometimes dream happen I guess. Out of a sudden I got the opportunity to interview a hero...Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17. Don't forget to scroll down to the end when you are dying to see Heaven 17 perform their legendary classic "Penthouse And Pavement". I saw this show myself in Gent and it's one of those things synthpopfans must see simply as this timeless classic is a legend on its own. The pics on this page are from Tracey Welch. Hello let me first thank you for wanting to do this. I am a long time fan so these questions will also sound as if they were asked by a fan…
When you started out, did you ever had in mind that your sound would once be seen as legendary and influential?
When we started out, we knew we wanted to make an album that would pass the test of time and I think we did manage to do that…
I suppose you can never really know how what you are doing is going to be judged by the passage of time but having just spent the last 8 or 9 months re working and re programming the tracks from penthouse and pavement I think they really do sound as good and fresh today as they did the day we first recorded them.
It’s always a fantastic compliment when other musicians or bands mention you as an influence and we have been lucky enough to have that honour quite a few times.
You were part of the so called Sheffield scene, was there really a scene as such or just the coincidence that there were different bands making industrial music at the same time?
I suppose there was a scene really, in so much as we knew most of the other bands that were working at the same time. Sheffield is a pretty small place when it comes to where we all used to hang out so you would always be bumping in the other bands and musicians.
Also as the steel industry fell apart there were lots of small factories and work places that were left empty and they were so cheap to rent that bands would take over them as rehearsal space or studio space, consequently you could walk through that area of Sheffield on a Sunday afternoon and hear ABC playing or The human league or Clock DVA or Deaf leppard or many other bands that were trying to make it at that time.
Exciting and fun… great times.
Why oh why does it take a band so long before they could play on stage?
A few reasons really…
Martyn and Ian had pretty much toured constantly with the Human League and were tired of it… also MTV had started the same year as Heaven 17 and we thought it was a much more modern and future facing route to take than the old rock’n’roll album tour scenario.
If we were right or not, who knows? But as a consequence, now we actually do play live. We are still really enthused by it, and not jaded by years of touring. In fact we bloody love it.
I also mean I can guess by the time “The Luxury Gap” was such a huge success, I guess the pressure must have been high then to get you on stage…
We did have a lot of pressure to play live at this stage but we were stubborn northern boys and we stood by our ideals and ideas… although we were offered a million pounds to tour the USA at that time and we said no…. now that might have been a bit silly…
You were one of the first bands who started their own record company, BEF, so in a way you were very punk. How logical was it to put out your own record label back then? In fact why did you start BEF…was it meant to create it to give Heaven 17 their change to conquer the world, I mean on BEF were artists that were almost like household names of the 80’s.
Again this came out of the fact that Martyn and Ian didn’t want to be a normal band so they decided to sign a deal as a production company. In essence your right BEF was pretty much a separate label attached to Virgin. It was another way of gaining more control over what were producing.
The reality was however that Heaven 17 became began taking up much more time and the running of BEF as a label took a backseat.
Your first single “(We Don’t Need) That Fascist Groove Thang” immediately got banned. I guess for a DIY band that was a sort of knife that hurts a lot, especially as it seems they didn’t even care to listen….
Yes it did hurt a lot and it was stupid as well. It was a really important record for us and when the critical and public acclaim came we were so pleased but then the bloody BBC took it upon themselves to ban it. I still don’t really understand the small mindedness of it. In fact the other day a journalist told me she had chosen it as a record of her youth on a BBC local radio show and they had refused to play it. It’s still a political hot potato 30 years later.
You were at the cradle of one of the greatest comebacks ever, Tina Turner. How did that make you feel?
It was amazing to work with Tina Turner. It came about as we had contacted her to sing a track on the BEF music of quality and distinction. We went to meet her at her house in LA… it was hilarious three young guys from Sheffield hanging out with Tina Turner in the Hollywood Hills.
After she got over the fact that the band was inside a computer, she really enjoyed the experience and asked us if we would write some new materiel for her. We were right in the middle of writing The Luxury Gap we said we didn’t have time but suggested doing a cover with her. “Let’s Stay Together” was that cover and the rest as they say is history! It is a real honour to have been involved in bringing back Tina Turner to her rightful place in the pop firmament.
You always were close with The Human League. How did you react when you saw that this underground band suddenly became a multi-selling band? Was that something you wanted yourself or was it more a frightening idea?
When the League split it was clear to see that both sides wanted to distance themselves somewhat from the first two Human League albums. We did it by finding a new sound. A new instrumentation helped us achieve this. The League did it by getting in new writers and producers and becoming more pop. I have always loved the Human League both pre and post split. We were all really happy to see the success they had.
I always thought your 1980 debut “Penthouse And Pavement” must be the most overlooked albums ever. The sound was revolutionary.
As I said we were trying to find our own sound and something away from THL we got really lucky. Fascist Groove Thang was the first track that we worked on. Martyn had the idea to add a bass guitar solo in the middle of the track (the Human League would never do that). It proved to be an inspirational idea as we found John Wilson and that in turn led us to the sound that would define the new album and Heaven 17.
I recently saw you on stage performing that album, does it still gives you the same vibe and do you explore anything new in it?
Both Martyn and I love playing the album live. We haven’t performed it for thirty years, but now we’ve done this. It’s joyus!!! Some of those songs I only ever got to sing once (or however many times it took me to get it right in the studio) then that was it… no more. Now I do get the chance to sing them again… and I love it!!
Just like everyone else I like “The Luxury Gap” but have you ever wished “Penthouse and Pavement” got that recognition instead?
The Luxury Gap had the hits. People are going to remember that one with a bit more love but for me Penthouse and Pavement is the heart and soul of Heaven 17. I do adore The Luxury Gap but there was something about the time and the feeling around at the writing and recording of P&P… it was electric.
I don’t mean it in a bad way, but “The Luxury Gap” wasn’t the usual 80’s album in the sense from three hits and seven fillers….and by that standard wasn’t it a curse as well? I mean it was almost impossible to top that album…
It has been hard to top its commercial success, but there are songs that are not on that album that are easily as good as anything on it. It’s not a curse to have produced such a great album. It’s a joy.
How did you feel as persons when you noticed that the following up “How Men Are” wasn’t going to be “The Luxury Gap” sales-wise?
That’s life. We wrote the album we wanted to write, we didn’t try and produce a second Luxury Gap. We always go the way we want to go. If it’s not as successful, so be it.
I had the honour to see you different times and you’re not just a jukebox like many of your 80’s collegues but a real vivid band….
We do always try to make our performance modern even if we are playing old songs. I think it helps that to be honest I don’t think our songs sound old anyway…
Talking about the 80’s, now they’re cool but anyone who said in 2000 that the 80’s were cool was shot down immediately.
It’s just one of those things… I think the 80’s wa a really good time for songwriting… maybe the last great decade… until the next anyway
Have you ever considered yourself as an 80’s icon?
I suppose I might have to believe it…
I don’t want to let this sound as a tricky question, but do you think there will ever comes a time that you’re having another “Penthouse” or “Luxury Gap”, both artistic and saleswise?
You are back on the road for quite some time and you will play at the Sinner’s Festival in Belgium too. How do you find the courage?
As I said we really enjoy playing live and were not tired of it… I’m really excited to be playing the Sinners Festival. I’ve done plenty of sinning in my life so it’s about time we celebrated the fact.
Thank you so much, I leave the last words to you….thanks!!!!!
I just wonder if we will be able to perform The Luxury Gap live, it’s a whole different ball game… still we always did like a challenge.
Don’t miss Heaven 17’s “30th Anniversary Penthouse And Pavement Tour.”
Ticket Hotline: 08700 603 777
Edinburgh HMV Picture House (Nov 22) Glasgow O2 ABC (Nov 23) Manchester Ritz (Nov 25) Birmingham HMV Institute (Nov 26) London HMV Forum (Nov 28) Oxford O2 Academy (Nov 29) Brighton Corn Exchange (Nov 30) Bristol O2 Academy (Dec 1)