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HUMAN LEAGUE INTERVIEW [2008]

LOOKING BACK AT SHEFFIELD IN THE 80S IT SEEMS EXTRAORDINARY TO ME THAT SO MUCH INTERESTING MUSIC WAS COMING OUT OF THE CITY, NOT JUST THE THREE BANDS ON THE STEEL CITY TOUR BUT ALSO PEOPLE LIKE CABARET VOLTAIRE, CLOCK DVA, THAT SORT OF THING...

PHIL OAKEY - We didn't really notice that did we? I'm still surprised when people say that... it didn't feel like there was great success going on...

JOANNE CATHERALL - I think that everyone in Sheffield, that wasn't actually working in the steel industry, wanted to be quite artistic in one way or another and I think it's always been artistic, not just from the point of view of bands but artists as well. I think it's also been quite a popular University town to bring people in too...

PHIL OAKEY - There's two art colleges so that brings creative people into the city too.

HOW HAS SHEFFIELD REACTED TO THE WHOLE STEEL CITY TOUR IDEA? IS EVERYONE BEHIND YOU?

PHIL OAKEY - I don't know if they get excited in Sheffield!

JOANNE CATHERALL - I don't think they even know it's happening...

PHIL OAKEY - Actually I think ticket sales there are quite good so far. I think a few people must know about it...

JOANNE CATHERALL - I think it's quite odd because we always feel like we're left out of the whole Sheffield thing, even though we are virtually the only people who stayed in Sheffield, everyone else, as soon as they had some success, moved out...

PHIL OAKEY - Apart from Richard Kirk, he's still there.

JOANNE CATHERALL - ... but we get bypassed, like the 'Walk Of Fame' or whatever it was...

PHIL OAKEY - It's because we're not prodigal sons, we stayed and they went so they were trying to haul them back.

JOANNE CATHERALL - If they ever have a big article in our local paper about how Sheffield has done well, we will often be left out of it.

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - Actually not any more, not since I had a go at a journalist. I was really annoyed because one day they did a big piece, like Joanne said, about Sheffield music and we didn't even get one mention, so I phoned him up and said 'what about us?' and his answer actually, strangely, made sense, he said 'You know I just can't think of you lot as being so famous because I know that I'm always going to bump into Phil down at the Leadmill or something, and I'm going to see you in Tesco's'... he just said he was sorry and that he wouldn't do it again!

WHAT'S IT LIKE PLAYING SHEFFIELD?

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - It's horrible... we don't really like it. Part of the job when you're onstage is part popstar and part actor and that's quite hard to deal with with people you know; you're going to see everybody in the audience that know you but they see you in a different way to most audiences because they normally see you down the gym or in Tesco's or when you're out drinking or something like that and they don't see you as who you are when you're onstage so it's quite odd. Also, and this sounds really silly, but when you're working you're in a work environment so you get on a bus in the morning, you travel to the next city, you get into the hotel, you get everything lined up how you like it for getting ready, you go to the venue, you do the sound check and so on, but when you go home it's all different... Joanne's got a little boy so suddenly she's no longer in work mode because it's 'mummy, mummy, mummy' and I go home and my boyfriend's going 'have you washed me that shirt?' and there's a pile of mail you have to look at...

PHIL OAKEY - It's like we're doing interviews now, we're doing this and a TV and we're playing a festival tomorrow but last night I was sitting at home and my girlfriend said 'you know, the dog's got a tick on his eyelid again' and I'm trying to work out what I'm going to be wearing for that festival and now I'm going into vet mode! But when you're away there's such a routine it's great...

JOANNE CATHERALL - It is quite hard when you're at home and I think we find that almost harder than anything else.

YOU KIND OF NEED TO BE IN THAT BUBBLE?

JOANNE CATHERALL - That's it... and when you're playing Nottingham or Birmingham or Manchester there's no-one phoning you up going 'what do I have to do to get my tickets then?' and you're thinking 'hang on a minute, you've been coming to our concerts for twenty years, you really ought to know by now'! But the best one is when they go 'We're all in the pub! Are you coming down? Break a leg, we can't wait for you to come on...'. So no we don't like doing Sheffield, we don't really like doing the big things that everyone makes a fuss about; London, Sheffield... you can always guarantee that by the time the tour has finished we'll have enjoyed the show in Brighton or Wolverhampton better than anywhere else...

PHIL OAKEY - Wolverhampton, we always get a great reception there, we always really enjoy ourselves, Newcastle's the same...

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - Because we're not bothered about the big ones, it's like you go to New York and it's all 'oh the New York show is really, really important' and then you go to Boston and you have a far better show in Boston than you did in New York because the pressure's not there you know? You can enjoy yourself more, do your job better and not have to worry about all the cameras at the front taking photos. I hate that, I hate it because I know that I'm posing for the cameras and that means I'm not doing my job properly because I should be playing to the people who have paid the money you know?

THE LAST TIME YOU WERE OUT TOURING PROPERLY WAS LAST YEAR'S 'DARE' TOUR WASN'T IT? IT STRUCK ME THAT MAYBE THAT TOUR, WHERE YOU PLAYED THE ENTIRE 'DARE' ALBUM', WAS MORE INTERESTING FOR YOU THAN THE HITS TYPE SHOWS YOU GENERALLY DO...

JOANNE CATHERALL - Although we did do both!

WAS IT NICE TO BREAK INTO A DIFFERENT TYPE OF SHOW LIKE THAT? WILL IT IMPACT ON FUTURE TOURS DO YOU THINK?

JOANNE CATHERALL - Well we were a bit worried about it I think, at first, about whether it would actually work, certainly for me when I got the album out because I was going 'what's on it!?!' but I remember phoning Susan up and going 'I'm just looking at 'Dare' and there's only about three songs that aren't in our set anyway' so it was quite strange because I hadn't actually looked at that album for years! It had kind of gone over my head which songs were on there...

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - I actually ended up enjoying it because it split into two very distinct parts and we wanted to take it round Europe but we were told that we couldn't because there wasn't enough people who would come and see us...

PHIL OAKEY - A little bit of that and a little bit of withholding tax...

JOANNE CATHERALL - I think that set might have possibly gone down better in Europe, particularly in places like Germany and Belgium who like that sort of stuff.

PHIL OAKEY - What you do is all about your catalogue anyway, so doing the 'Dare' stuff meant that we could do an hour and a half set and we knew why every single song was there, the rest of the time if we do an hour and a half there's always a couple of songs where I'm thinking that I bet a lot of the audience don't actually know this... it's fine if it's new material because people don't expect to know your new album but when you're going back and there's this dead five minutes in the middle, that's hard...

DID THAT TOUR MAKE YOU REASSESS YOUR AUDIENCE AT ALL? WERE YOU CONCERNED THAT THE 'DARE' TOUR MIGHT NOT BE WHAT YOU'RE MORE POP AUDIENCE WOULD EXPECT FROM YOU?

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - I was worried about that, I know there's a certain element that comes to see us at Christmas every year that are coming for a bit of a Christmas night out, a bit of nostalgia, a bit of a party, and I thought the hardest thing was going to be having 'Don't You Want Me' in the middle of the set instead of at the end, where we always end on it... but that just didn't happen, the first night we went out the people who had just come out for a Christmas party seemed to enjoy it as much as they usually did...

WILL MORE 'DARE' SONGS MAKE IT INTO YOUR 'STEEL CITY' SET AS A RESULT?

JOANNE CATHERALL - I actually had a bit of a revelation doing 'Do Or Die' because I always loved that track but we only ever did it on one tour, on the original 'Dare' tour, and I never really listened to it. Then I listened to it again and I thought the middle was just too long and we were going to have to cut it down, but we wanted it to be the same as on the album... but when we started doing it I ended up really liking it again, the way it was, and the audience - instead of just losing interest during that big instrumental bit in the middle - were clapping along and getting really into it.

PHIL OAKEY - But we've got a great lighting man, who is also our slides and visuals guy, called Rob Sinclair... when we first me him we only paid him to do lights but he started developing all these computer visuals and things and some of them, without us ever really saying anything, were very similar to the slideshow we did before the girls even joined the band, I think some of the pictures were actually the same, but he really helps us and he gets us through songs like that and 'Being Boiled' for instance, it's a bit boring because Joanne and Susan go off and I'm still out there...

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - I really, really like some of the old stuff, the stuff the Joanne and I had nothing to do with, and Dave - the guy who works with us to kind of set everything up - would dearly love to do a tour of that material! But I like it because it's darker and a bit less poppy, but we'd not really be on stage and Phil would be on the stage all the time and I'm sure there's an element of the audience that wouldn't let us do that, and the old stuff doesn't really work with Joanne and I singing on it because it makes it too light and fluffy which is not what it's about...

PHIL OAKEY - It's not that it's too light and fluffy, that's wrong, but it's a different direction. As soon as you (Joanne and Susan) both joined, from then on you were The Human League, you were the single most distinguishing part of the hit material.

HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW ABC AND HEAVEN 17 THESE DAYS? DO YOU SOCIALISE WITH THEM AT ALL?

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - We don't see them simply because they're down in London and we're in Sheffield. We only really see them in a work scenario, we occasionally bump into Martin when we're doing things and we've bumped into Glenn and Martyn...

PHIL OAKEY - Ian used to come up to Sheffield quite a lot and he used to drop into the studio.

JOANNE CATHERALL - I think that, if we're all in the same hotels on the tour, then we'll end up sitting down with them and having a drink after the show...

PHIL OAKEY - I like them all, they're all nice geezers so I think it'll be fun.

JOANNE CATHERALL - Mind you Glenn Gregory did once call Susan and I dodgy boilers in the paper!

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - He did take us out for a meal afterwards to say sorry though!

PHIL OAKEY - There was a hot-headed year or I think when we were all pretty insecure, it was like the first three weeks in the Big Brother house when everyone's characters change because they can only keep the front up for so long... I think maybe we missed a chance this time round though and instead of having a photo-shoot we should have had a weigh-in, definitely, we should have all been in boxing gloves shouting 'I'm going to get you Gregory, you're going down!'

AFTER THAT I'M NOT SURE I SHOULD ASK BUT DO YOU ALL HAVE FAVOURITE ABC AND HEAVEN 17 SONGS?

PHIL OAKEY - I certainly do, I did some DJ-ing a few years ago, playing an electro set and I used to always play 'I'm Your Money' by Heaven 17 which is one of their more slightly obscure tracks... I think it is really one of their best and most interesting tracks. ABC, I think their best song was probably their first hit, 'Poison Arrow', which is a wonderfully constructed song with great lyrics...

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - I quite like some of the newer stuff that ABC have done, they've been hammering the new single on Radio 2 and it's great, you know straight away that it's them because Martin has such a distinctive voice but I really like that and I've heard a couple more tracks on the radio, I haven't bought it or downloaded it or anything... I don't actually know how to do that! But I really liked that new stuff and I think good on him for carrying on and doing it because that's what we want to do...

DO YOU KNOW WHAT SORT OF SET YOU'LL BE PLAYING ON THE 'STEEL CITY' DATES?

JOANNE CATHERALL - A short one!

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - We can only do just over an hour I think...

JOANNE CATHERALL - because there's the three bands and there's a limited amount of time I think that unless we start at teatime, which I don't think anyone would want, we'll probably be doing around an hour.

PHIL OAKEY - I like the hour set, I enjoy it, it makes it very focused.. it's our festival set which always seems to go down very well.

WILL YOU BE DUSTING OFF ANYTHING OLD, OR BRINGING IN ANYTHING NEW?

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - I don't think so, not for this tour...

JOANNE CATHERALL - I don't think it's called for this, it's three bands from the same city in the same era playing their best stuff, playing the hits.

PHIL OAKEY - I actually understand what this tour is about but some of them that we go on, I'm glad to go on, glad to play to different audiences and go out there but I don't quite know what the connection between the acts on the bill is sometimes... we go out with some people and it's... strange. We're only connected together by the time that we were all having hits and I don't really look at things in that way. Personally I would love to go out with Cabaret Voltaire and Richard Kirk at some stage...

IS THERE ANY CHANCE THAT ANY OF THE DATES ON THIS TOUR WILL BE FILMED FOR A DVD OR SOMETHING?

JOANNE CATHERALL - It's not been mentioned yet...

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - This comes up every year!

JOANNE CATHERALL - The last one we did was done in Brighton and then we were supposed to do another one last year on the 'Dare' tour but the company went bust or something...

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - It comes back to what we were saying earlier because one of the things they always want to do is to film the show in Sheffield and that's really the show we don't want to do it at, and if this is going to happen then are really going to want to do it in Sheffield!

PHIL OAKEY - I really, really wish we had filmed the 'Dare' thing.

JOANNE CATHERALL - Well we were supposed to, but we just had to be really careful because we got completely ripped off on the Brighton one, through a sort of loophole we ended up not making any money from it. The company not only put out the DVD but they put out a CD as well...

PHIL OAKEY - Which we had worked really hard to try and stop them doing, a CD, but it turned out that by putting a couple of video tracks on the release that counted... but we have never wanted to do a live CD have we?

JOANNE CATHERALL - Well we've not done one knowingly, but I bet there's a few out there!

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - But we record everything every time we go out on tour.

JOANNE CATHERALL - Our manager is always saying that if we record it then one day we'll be able to mix it... this mythical 'one day'!

PHIL OAKEY - I think it's all part of this bizarre contemporary world when it used to be really hard to record things and now it's the easiest thing on earth, the desks you take out on tour have a thing that comes out so you can just record it.

SO YOU RECORD EVERYTHING AND IT JUST GOES INTO A BIG HUMAN LEAGUE CUPBOARD SOMEWHERE AND NEVER SEES THE LIGHT OF DAY?

JOANNE CATHERALL - Something like that yeah!

I HAVE HEARD THAT THERE'S NEW HUMAN LEAGUE MATERIAL IN THE PIPELINE BUT NOT REALLY HOW LONG THE PIPE IS AND WHEN WE CAN EXPECT TO HEAR ANYTHING?

PHIL OAKEY - It's quite a big question, the question is really about where the money comes from in the first place, I have written a load of stuff with Rob, our new drummer, but I have got to say it is a battle to write because what we used to do, until about five years ago, is to go into a room with a man sat behind a desk and he'd say 'so what do you need' and we'd say 'give us a hundred grand and we'll make an album and give us another hundred grand to live on' and he'd just go 'OK' and give you a cheque. What we're doing now is Rob has several jobs and so he has to tear himself away from that to come in a couple of afternoons a week, I've got loads of things to do, we're paying for the studio and any new gear needs to be paid for and it's hard work...

JOANNE CATHERALL - And we have to do the live stuff as well because that's what keeps us going now so we have to do that and the rehearsals and everything.

PHIL OAKEY - I'm very confident of it but I can't work out if that's because I'm in a little cocoon with it...

JOANNE CATHERALL - No, it sounds great! But I think another thing is that because we have always had a record company we don't really know how to put something out any more... people keep saying well, put it on the internet but we don't really know how to do that...

I WAS GOING TO ASK IF YOU HAD CONSIDERED GOING DOWN THAT INDEPENDENT DIY ROUTE AT ALL?

PHIL OAKEY - If it were left to me and I was putting a picture together of exactly what I wanted to do then I would start off with 12" vinyl and go in exactly the opposite direction, put some stuff about and just see what the reaction is, which in a strange way does relate to what we did at first when we put 'Sound Of The Crowd' out, and 'Open Your Heart'. But we can't pretend that everything is exactly the same as it was fifteen years ago, we have to accept that we are living in a fantastically different world where we don't control people having high quality audio anymore and if it's about then they will just copy it... it's scary, but I am very confident about where the music is going.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU'RE DOING MUSICALLY?

PHIL OAKEY - The idea behind it is that there isn't a real dominating trend in music at the moment - apart from maybe female solo singers, which in itself I think is an economic thing - but there were some little avenues that went off and weren't ever quite completed... I love glam and I love disco and I love early electro and together with some sixties vocalising I wanted to go in those directions and there's some odd little things like The Association, Blood Sweat & Tears, and to have some of that sort of stuff on top of it as well. But it has got to be up to date too.

DO YOU MAKE AN EFFORT TO FOLLOW WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY AT ALL?

PHIL OAKEY - I don't know if it's followable... we pick up interesting facts, like there's really only one record label any more and it's odd to think of all the times when we used to go to Los Angeles and you'd drive past all these huge buildings with limos outside, and now all those people don't have jobs...

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - And it's not really about nurturing music any more, and probably hasn't been for the last fifteen years or so... you could just put the Marks & Spencer brand on it and it wouldn't make any difference, it's all just about making money.

PHIL OAKEY - The tragedy of it is that it is so much harder for people to be supported. In our day people like Grace Jones and Robert Palmer who would have to put out four or five albums before they started having any sort of hits, and at the end of that time they would have had a chance to really sort out what they wanted to do, but now people get thrown away after just a couple of singles.

IT'S QUITE A STORY ISN'T IT, THE HUMAN LEAGUE? HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED TELLING THE STORY IN SOME SORT OF BOOK OR SOMETHING?

JOANNE CATHERALL - There's lots of stories...

SUSAN ANN SULLEY - But we couldn't ever tell the truth!

JOANNE CATHERALL - I certainly wouldn't want everyone knowing my business.

MF PHIL OAKEY - You could fictionalise our story and it would almost be a good story, you wouldn't have to put a daft story around it so I have always hoped that someone would do a Human League musical!

AUGUST 2008

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