"Music of Quality and Distinction"

May 2010

Have you heard it on the news? Heaven 17 are back!

In 1981 when Heaven 17's first album "Penthouse and Pavement" was released I was still largely of the mind that the only good music was music created without guitars. Sheffield band Cabaret Voltaire were the first to educate my ears to the less-obvious creative potential of that otherwise much exploited instrument. But it was another Sheffield band, Heaven 17, born out of a splintering Human League, who really messed with my mind with their schizophrenic combination of pure electronics and guitars. And not just 'rock' guitar either… but funk for goodness sakes! What the hell was that all about? I didn't quite understand, but it felt like a natural response to cast aside any previous prejudices when hearing "Fascist Groove Thang". Not since Georgio Moroder/Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" had the boundaries of electronic music been so radically redrawn.

Subsequent albums and even bigger chart success followed (the 1983 single "Temptation" reached No. 2 in the UK charts and was a worldwide hit from Norfolk to New York) but, like all things that happen at key moments in time, nothing had the creative impact of that first, breakthrough album. Almost 30 years later, at the start of this year, reflecting on thier past endeavours, original members Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware recognised the legacy their earlier musical experiments created and realised the time was right to explore that. A session between Heaven 17 and La Roux, recorded for BBC Radio 6 (and filmed for TV), during which they combined forces by playing each others songs, proved the magic was still present and their influence tangible.

The subsequent announcement that the band would tour and play, in full for the first time, that landmark debut album, "Penthouse and Pavement", was indeed music to the ears of thousands of fans across the globe. There could be no better moment then for dsoaudio to chat with founder member and lead singer Glenn Gregory. Ladies and gentlemen, for your pleasure, and without further ado, we present music of quality and distinction: Heaven 17…

Heaven 17 promoDSO: First off, thanks Glenn for making the time to chat with dsoaudio.com we are grateful and honoured. OK, let's jump in at the deep end… how would you sum up your career so far?

Glenn: I'm not sure I would have ever called it a career. It's more of a calling... Maybe as if I had bought a scratch card in 1979 and the prize was to never have to have a proper job again… Whoopee! I love doing what I do, I consider myself lucky to be able to something I love so much every day and actually get paid (sometimes) for it.

What have been the low points and highlights in your journey?

I suppose if I had to try and find highs and low's I could but as a whole it's all been a blast. Loved travelling the world being in a band, love playing the old songs (finally) live. So many high points that sometimes you can forget just what brilliant fun we've had. I can't really pick out any individual low points… I suppose I maybe I always see the sunny side.

How do you think "Penthouse and Pavement" stands as a Heaven 17 album? Is it the 'definitive' one?

I think for me yes, Penthouse and Pavement is the definitive Heaven 17 album. At the time we were writing the songs for this album I had moved back to Sheffield from London and it just felt so creative… almost explosivsly so… we were sharing the studio with the Human League, (they were writing Dare) we would work days them nights… then we'd change shifts and we'd work night and so it went on for two or three months. Working hard going out having fun… working hard having more fun! It was such an amazing time and as we created a great album, I think its really stands up today and is one of the only Heaven 17 albums I can still listen to in it's entirety.

And which Heaven 17 song(s) are you most proud of?

That's pretty easy for me Let Me Go is all of Heaven 17's favourite song and you just can't help but love Temptation. Every time we perform that song no matter if its in front of fans or people that don't really know Heaven 17 it just explodes… in front of OAP's or teenagers… it explodes… it just always without fail works… you gotta love that.

How easy a decision was it to tour "Penthouse and Pavement" live?

It started out as conversation in a pub (The Albert) it seemed like a reasonable idea. I started to worry that maybe people would not be interested in seeing the show but Martyn and others kept the faith and talked me round. As we started to build I realised it was going to work and as we started finding the musicians that were going to play with us my fears melted away. Then it was just the actual amount of work involved that gave me the fear… but it was worth it.

And once that decision was made. How challenging was it to actually make it a reality?

It took quite some time to put together, first of all we pretty much had to recreate the entire album because we didn't want to use any original samples but did want it to sound as close as we could get it to the original… this was quite a task and took a good six months, once we had rebuilt we could then start deconstructing and deciding who would play what and how many people we would need on stage. It was only a week or so before the first gig that we were ready to start rehearsing the full band.

What was the band's experience of the opening night in your home town of Sheffield?

We were a little under rehearsed and I was still cramming lyrics into my head 10 minutes before going on… we were filming the gig and had lots of family and friends turning up… the dressing room had hundreds of people in it, at one point I was the only person in there that I knew… but it was bloody amazing, I loved it.

Heaven 17 promo How are you enjoying being back in the spotlight?

I'm enjoying all of it.

What are your plans for touring outside of the UK?

After the gig in Sheffield we went on a three week tour of Germany including a bit of Holland and Belgium. It was a great success, in fact I was blown away by the level of support we had over there, some nights we had almost run out of songs to do as encores the crowd just wanted more. The show is much sharper now and were all looking forward to performing it here [in the UK] in November.

What do you make of the recent resurgence of mainstream interest in your work?

I never really think of looking back and the recent interest in Heaven 17's past has forced me to take a close look and re-evaluate what we did… I'm proud.

Have you watched back the documentary about the making of "Penthouse and Pavement" and the Sheffield concert both shown on the BBC this month? What did you make of them if you did?

I can't watch the concert… I find it impossible to watch myself on stage, I might not like it then I won't do it any more! The documentary though I have watched and find it true, funny, accurate and full of love. I think it's a great piece of work by James Strong the director.

Several key electronic bands and contemporaries of yours from the 1980s have reformed and played live again in recent times with some astonishing results (I'm thinking of OMD performing "Architecture and Morality" in 2007, Yazoo touring in 2008 and Ultravox playing "Rage In Eden" last year). Did you catch any of those (did they even interest you)? If so what did you think of them?

I went to see Ultravox at the Roundhouse and loved it… it was like seeing a new band… I could have been watching The Killers… it went a long way towards convincing me that we could do Penthouse and Pavement and make it work.

Heaven 17 promo What sense of affinity with your peers from those formative years in your career do you have (if any)?

I have some close friends from then, I suppose Midge Ure would be the one I would pick out as closest and also one that I still admire for sticking to what he does and doing it well whilst still being the same old Midge.

Are there any band(s) from the Sheffield scene in those early years that you were disappointed never made it big?

No not really… Cabaret Voltaire are fantastic but 'big' would have never suited them… Clock DVA would also be in that camp. Amazing bands!

Do you ever feel a sense of 'responsibility' to your fans, and if so do you ever feel constrained by that, or do you simply focus on what feels the right thing to do at any given time?

We do, I think, always consider our fans when we do anything… we always 'put on a show' we take it seriously and try and make what we do different and as entertaining we can… we also have a ball doing it… so it's not hard.

Do you know if Martyn has any interest in gigging as The Human League with Phil? Or is there still too much tension between them for that to be a viable proposition? Do you think there's any chance fans will get to hear "Travelogue" or "Reproduction" played in their entirety with original members back together again?

I would love, love, love to see the first two Human League albums performed live… I would be first in the queue for tickets. I have spoken to Martyn and Phil about this idea and will continue to work tirelessly to make it a reality. Martyn I'm sure would be up for it, I need to work harder on Phil. I like the idea of a Weekender… The first two Human League albums on Saturday then Penthouse and Pavement and Dare on Sunday… come on it's a winner!

Of all your releases across your entire career which one(s) are you still most fond of and why?

For me for reasons already stated, Penthouse and Pavement (album) but as a single release Let Me Go with it's fantastic video is hard to beat.

Heaven 17 promo There's an element of the music boffin about Martyn (if I may say so!). How much of music to him do you think is intellectual and how much emotional?

I'd say Martyn probably is 15% boffin and rest is all heart.

Are you still readily motivated to write, record and perform and how has your inspiration changed over time?

I love writing music… there is nothing else I love more. Heaven 17 has not been writing as Heaven 17 for ages, maybe it is time we did again. I don't think it would be the same as it was though… we would have to find a new way of working.

What future plans do you have both in terms of Heaven 17 and otherwise?

There is a chance that we may release some new material… but at the moment it seems live is where we are at… the question is really… will we be doing The Luxury Gap live in it's entirety… now the jury is out on that one.

Which question didn't I ask would you like to have been asked? - and what would your answer have been?

Q: What's your favourite sock colour? A: Black!

Before I go, I just wanted to say your performance as BEF at the Billy McKenzie tribute night at Shepherd's Bush Empire in 2007 was fantastic - inspirational.

Glenn: Thanks we enjoyed it very much… it made me cry.

Interview by Rob Dyer

See also:

Official Heaven 17 website: http://www.heaven17.com
Official Heaven 17/BEF MySpace Page: