Well, to be honest with you, it was a bit overwhelming. We did a show – a kind of pilot show, if you like – in our hometown at a place called Magna, which is a science museum which used to be a steel works. We just thought it was appropriate that after all these years that we kind of launched the whole thing in Sheffield. So we did that and it was a big success, you know. Then, directly after we did that pilot show, we did a tour in Germany because we had never toured in Germany before plus we wanted to do the German part before we did Britain just in case anything happened… we thought we could maybe just refine the show. But it just went down a storm to be honest.
It was quite a challenge to reproduce live. We put a lot of effort into it and we spent three months programming it, basically. We had to deconstruct every track because the original multi-tracks, whilst they still exist, we didn’t want to just slam them onto Pro Tools. We also spent a lot of time finding the right people to do it, and find the right places. It went down incredibly well and, more to the point, the tickets for the November shows are selling very, very well.
I think we’ve already kind of sold half of the tickets for the Forum which is 3000 people; we’re very chuffed with it. We’re fairly confident that several of the gigs will sell out.
Exactly the same as the ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ show we’ve already done plus we’re doing some BEF tunes to break it up a bit, because actually the original ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ album was only 36 minutes long but the remastered version has lots of extra tracks on so we’ll do a few of those. Also around about that time we released ‘Music of Quality & Distinction (Vol 1)’. So it gives us an excuse to bring in some guest singers for those tracks and Claudia Brücken from Propaganda guested for us in Magna.
We didn’t do any guests in Germany though. We will be doing different guests in the UK and already, Elly from La Roux said if she’s available she’d love to guest and there are various other people we’ve got in mind. It’s a chance to have a bit of fun, and that human, kind of playful connection with the audience is something that we seek because it’s always been part of our philosophy… we’re very much against the idea that electronic music is cold and impersonal. It’s always been a bit of a mission to prove that electronic music has soul to be honest.
Yes, the thing is that with my company Illustrious – A 3D sound company that I’ve got with Vince Clarke from Erasure – over the last ten years, we’ve done so many different kinds of immersive sound installations with visual artists, so we’ve met an awful lot of people. There’s also a tour that I do called The Future of Sound and I’ve met an awful lot of artists that way and a lot them are young and exciting and cutting edge and I thought what an opportunity we have here… I was literally just sat in a pub one day and I thought instead of thinking up some visual content, I’ve got all these mates. Why don’t we push the boat out, get a really impressive LED wall thing on a relatively small scale. Not giant like U2 or something… a sensible size so we’re not bankrupting ourselves, but major on the content because we’ve got all these people I know whose work I respect tremendously.
Historically I have also been very much of the opinion that if you give people a free reign to be creative and don’t interfere you come up with much, much better stuff. So the brief that we gave people was that there was no brief, and we wanted them to be inspired by the music and tracks that they heard. We didn’t go, ‘Ooh, there has to be a house style’ you know? There was a concern about this at one point… in the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘This might just be an absolute dog’s dinner’!
But the great thing about the screens that we used, is that they’re quite a lot like art installations, the distance between the kind of pixels is quite a long way so it kind of looks very abstracted anyway so that’s a unifying kind of look, if you like. Anyway, we were just bowled over by the quality of the stuff and the effort people had made because there was no money in it. Purely for exposure really, because we couldn’t afford to pay them!
We wanted it to have the feeling of being a hybrid between an art installation and a gig. And we achieved it to the extent that we are currently submitting the gig as an installation piece for the OneDotZero awards – OneDotZero are a huge company that works in that world of multi-media art – and also the documentary and the gig have been submitted for various documentary awards. It’s because I’ve spent the last ten years in the art world, really, the interactive art world and, you know, Glenn was a bit dubious about it at first…
He’s a typical lead singer, he doesn’t like the attention taken away from him! But, actually I could see his point at one stage. I wasn’t just bulldozing it through. I couldn’t have done if I’d have wanted to, to be honest, because Glenn’s quite as stubborn as me. But we took a plunge and it worked and we’re thrilled about it because I don’t think anybody else has done anything like this.
Normally what happens with all these big multi-media shows is firstly, you’ve got to be a giant band to afford it. Secondly, it’s usually down to the lighting designer and our lighting designer, Pip Rhodes, is also a multi-media creator. He’s actually on a few of the tracks as well. So he’s integrated the lighting with the … he was responsible, if you like, for curating the whole thing and pulling it all together. Although we said there was no brief we had to, with the approval of the artists, modify some of the pieces to make them work for that format. Some of them were a bit too subtle because of the big pixels. You just couldn’t see the details through and you had to accentuate the colours more. Anything that’s too subtle or too film-like, it didn’t seem to really work as well. Anyway, a few creative arguments later and it all turned out well in the end and we’re all really chilled with it.
We absolutely resisted touring. We decided not to tour at all, or perform. Because Ian and I were members of The Human League, as you know, we spent two and a half years touring everywhere in Europe and Britain. And in those days – can you imagine this now? – the record company were paying quite a lot for tour support to get on big tours. So we toured twice with Siouxsie & The Banshees and with Pere Ubu, Iggy Pop, Stranglers, blah, blah, blah. And whilst it got us loads of coverage in NME and various style magazines, we weren’t actually selling that many albums.
There were some sales but I still think ‘Travelogue’ and ‘Reproduction’ are tremendous albums. A little bit too far ahead of the time possibly, but I know that since then they’ve been an inspiration for people who work in the electronics field so it did its job! At the time though, the record company were freaking out and we were under a lot of financial pressure purely because of the amount of money that they had spent on tour support. We were looking as though we were never going to recoup it at one point and that’s why they manipulated the situation for us to split up, really, without telling me which was nice. That’s featured in the documentary…
I always suspected that would be the big revelation of the documentary. Anyway, so yes, we were in a financial bind and we thought, ‘Let’s start with a clean slate’. By coincidence it was just the start of MTV when we started BEF, and we thought that was an ideal mechanism for us to service a lot of markets simultaneously, spending the same amount of money we would have spent on tour support but instead spending it on videos, which is what we did.
We weren’t averse to performing, we actually did quite a lot of PAs but we just didn’t want the whole, you know, tour/album 18-month cycle thing for the rest of our lives. We didn’t want to become that thing. We didn’t want to spend our life on the road, we didn’t want to be a ‘rock band’, we wanted to approach it in a slightly more innovative way and it appealed to us at the time. So it became a dogma to the extent that when Heaven 17 took off we were offered all sorts of things… for instance, we were offered half a million pounds to tour California, sponsored by Coors the beer company. We turned it down on a matter of principle! Things like that, but as we developed through ‘The Luxury Gap’ and ‘How Men Are’, it was clear that we were moving more towards a kind of live band scenario. In fact, when we got to ‘Pleasure One’, it was actually a band in the studio recording a lot of other backing tracks with us.
So it would have been entirely possible for us to perform live you know? And by that time we were having a great time, to be honest. We loved our time in London, why rock the boat? If it’s not broke don’t fix it. Everything was going great, the video stuff was working fine and that was why we didn’t perform live until 1998, I think it was. I’d done an album, in ’95 I think it was, with Erasure called ‘I Say! I Say! I Say!’ and I’d become very good friends with Vince. They were about to do a tour and we just asked if they would consider having us as support on their big arena tour? and they said yes. It was as simple as that, so then I had to persuade Glenn, who was kind of a bit scared!
So we did a few warm-up gigs, we had no idea who was going to turn up, no idea. We did a gig at a place called The Waterfront in Norwich and it was rammed. We literally turned up… we didn’t want to know how many tickets had been sold because we’d been frightened in case there was a hundred people but they had travelled from all over the world to see this and we couldn’t believe it, we were really shocked! And then, of course, like two or three weeks later or maybe less than that, we did our first proper live gig with Erasure in front of 15,000 people at the NEC!
Initially it was terrifying because we’d never done it. Glenn didn’t know if his voice would hold up for a start because a lot of the songs he’d sung with Heaven 17 he’d literally never sung since the day he was in the studio. And also there’s that fear that you regarded as past it you know? Clearly the response was otherwise so we ended up doing quite a few of those arena tours. We did one with Boy George. We did a lot of kind of Here and Now tours and kept kind of getting better and better, and more and more confident…
We’d always had in our hearts an idea that I had seven or eight years ago that if we got back in touch with Phil Oakey we thought it would be fantastic if we could do ‘Travelogue’ and ‘Reproduction’ in one night as a kind of one-off show…
Well, for various political reasons – mainly to do with Phil and the girls I think – I just don’t think it’s ever going to happen, but I still think it’s a great idea and that was kind of bubbling along in the back of my mind. And then, it was because it was our 30th anniversary, we thought, well, what better thing to do than to do ‘Penthouse and Pavement’, which we’d never performed live. In a kind of conceptual way, it’s perfect really because Heaven 17’s always been associated with time travel in a strange sort of way because the original name comes from the book ‘A Clockwork Orange’ which was written in 1960 about a time 20 years in the future, so we were fulfilling the prophecy of Anthony Burgess by forming at that point. And there’s always been a kind of futurology kind of thing associated with what we’re doing. So I quite like the idea that after 30 years we just decided to do it. And the irony is that a lot of the response to that has been, you know, that the music still sounds as fresh as ever.
We deliberately tried to… we deliberately made an effort to make it future proof, yes. I must admit it was never thought that 30 years would be in the frame at all. It was more like 10 years, that was as far as I could think at that time. We wanted to make the album so that people would still want to listen to it in 10 years and I remember that both myself and Glenn talked about that, at the time, when we were being interviewed. And, to that extent, we didn’t want it too closely associated with the clichés of the time, you know. And that proved to be a wise thing.
Absolutely, we were doing shifts in a very Sheffield like manner. It’s only as I’ve got older that I’ve realised that that was so much part of the DNA of everything we ever did. It was like, ‘Must work harder, must think harder’ and really the whole thing about creating stuff is 90% perspiration 10% inspiration. It’s quite unbelievable because the means of production are so ubiquitous and so easy to manipulate now. You can knock up a track in a couple of hours easily on Logic that sounds, you know, good. Not great, just good. So unfortunately that’s become part of the zeitgeist of the time. If anything takes too long, it’s like it’s not cool whereas it was the opposite for us… although we worked at a furious pace for ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ later on we became very fastidious about making sure that we were not following anybody else.
Well it was a deliberate move away to set ourselves apart from what Human League were doing although, ironically, the second side of the album is purely electronic. If you like, it’s like waving goodbye to the past, even though it sounds more futuristic, if you know what I’m saying? It’s all kind of time travel … that was goodbye to the pure electronic thing, that was our tribute to that. Some of those tracks we were working on were actual Human League tracks anyway. So the real departure for us was the first side with the bass… suddenly this liberation that we could use anything we wanted. It changed for us, you know, and I must admit that at the time I was really, really driven by a sense of injustice and revenge!
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