Boys and Girls Come Out To Play
Another epic posting from our U.K. corespondent, Mr. Nick…had to take out all the “U’s”, though…
Personal Memories of The Human League European Tour 1980.
Bored I wander down to the newsagents where I buy 10 cigarettes and a copy of the NME.
I trudge home and sit down to read what all the real musicians were up to.
I played guitar and had been in bands, played a lot of gigs and had even had a couple of records out, but nothing even remotely noteworthy.
After reading the album and live reviews, I found myself perusing the ‘musicians wanted’ section.
An Edinburgh based ‘pop’ band needed a second guitarist.
That pop band transpired to be the little heard of Flowers. The Flowers were signed to Pop Aural,
an offshoot of Fast Product (a label any hip kid knew about.) Fast had been responsible for many of the most credible releases of recent times, the Earcom series, Gang of 4, Mekons..oh yeah, and the Human League. I joined The Flowers and became part of the set up on an ad hoc basis.
The man behind all this this was a guy called Bob Last, a hard-line Stalinist businessman cum art student. Being boss of one of the country’s most credible labels was cool enough, but he also happened to be manager of The Human League, a band poised to be flipping huge.
If only the silly Sheffield buggers hadn’t gone all temperamental, artistic and split. It was especially inconvenient for Bob since he had signed a contract for a major European tour by the band.
(It was denied for years that Phil had sacked Martin from the band, but it seems to have been the case.)The tour contract contract was apparently signed in blood or some such fluid, suffice it to say, there was no getting out of it.
Martin Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh branched off to form the British Electric Foundation, an endeavour that appealed to Bob’s artistic ethos far more than Philip’s world-view, which was often tangential…and confrontational. Bob’s interest artistically was with BEF, latterly Heaven 17 but
he was obliged to fulfill a Human League tour obligation at almost zero notice with a band now consisting of a singer and a tape/slide operative with no musical ability (Adrian obviously.)
Bob spent a considerable time on the phone lengthy periods down in Sheffield from where he would return grim faced.
To some consternation, Phil had decided that what the band really needed were dancers/backing singers. To everyone else this seemed a low priority considering other more pressing requirements, but in the end Phil got his way as he so often did, and The Human League had four members,
Phil, Adrian, Susanne and Joanne.
In truth the loss of Ian and Martin wasn’t as devastating as it might have been. Much of The League’s live show was on backing tape, so musician wise all they really needed was a competent keyboard player and guitarist. (I did kinda hold out hopes Bob would ask me to be that guitarist but Ian Burden……….fulfilled both roles…admirably I might add.)
So there was a band of sorts, they got things together in Sheffield while Bob was left with the task of trying to get a road crew together.
There is a Scottish phrase, “Fur coat, no knickers” which sums up Fast and its modus operandi.
Flash sleeves, great concepts, high ideals and bugger all money!
To cut a long story short, Bob managed to recruit some roadies whose past included working for Judas Priest (I never found out if there was a connection between that and the fact that The League included 2(? or was it just 1?) Priest songs in the set. Extra bodies were still needed, but couldn’t be paid anything like the going rate, so 3 of us Flowers were asked to go along and help out.
Bob never fully explained my role until the rehearsals at Hammersmith where an articulated lorry showed up containing not only amps and speakers but also a large pile of metal work.
Bob told me roughly what the band had in mind for the scaffolding, a walkway and a tower on which the girls would dance and sing.
After several attempts I put together a construction that was more or less stable.
Rehearsals were interesting.
The sound was fantastic, those electro drum beats hit you in the chest and Ian’s keyboard overdubs and guitar were fine. It all sounded surprisingly good, apart from the fact that the girls sounded like cats being stood upon. They danced like who they were, a couple of Sheffield lasses out for a good time. The dancing was kinda charming but something had to be done about the singing.
Discretely the sound engineer on the mixer turned them down to ‘barely audible’ and after another day or so it was time to ‘hit the road.’
The tour was to take in Netherlands, Germany and Austria (did we go to Belgium? I really can’t remember!) and a homecoming gig in London at The Odeon Hammersmith.
First stop Rotterdam, first thing bought, the world’s most gaudy jumper.
Rock & Roll…can’t beat it!
The gigs can be divided into the big ones and the small ones. I can’t give an exact itinerary because after a while one Dutch venue seems very like a slightly larger/smaller German venue which in turn…well you get my point hopefully/
It has been written that the band faced a great deal of hostility on the tour, particularly in Germany as punters felt ripped off at this ‘new incarnation’ when they had been expecting the original line up.
It was said that the girls were especially in the firing line. I can honestly say that there was little or no anger/animosity shown to the band in any country, some audiences were a little restrained and the reception a bit muted, but nothing nasty.
Europeans, and maybe in particular Germans are more ordered in their behavior than Brits, leading to an amusing incident at the start of one gig where a rather stern German girl came up to me and said; “You will ask the people at the front to sit down, dancing is not permitted.”
It’s hard to capture the highs and lows of a tour 30 years later.
Is it at all interesting to recall Philip on Roller blades skating up and down one venue during sound check?
Can I recapture the romance of Vienna at 2am with snow 3′ deep and frozen fog in the air as we walked around the city after a gig?
Maybe there are two outstanding memories,
(3 if I include Hamburg where I was approached by an absolutely stunning 16 year old called Claudia….which I won’t).
Don’t You Want Me Baby?
Oh Phil Oakey!
You really really should have known better. Two young, impressionable Sheffield girls totally reliant on you in strange locations. One of the girls’ dad had threatened to kill you if anything happened to them so why Philip, WHY did you have to bed Susanne?
And if you were going to bed her, then at least bed Joanne too. (He did but much later)
For all other uncertainties surrounding the tour, this was the biggy.
It was the one event that nearly brought everything crashing down, tour, Human League possibly Bob Last and for the girls it would have been a betrayal of their friendship.
Joanne and Susanne were girly mates and both fancied Phil, that was obvious enough but common sense dictated that nothing could/should happen between Phil & them on the tour.
One morning we were all having breakfast in the hotel, all that is apart from Joanne who was conspicuous by her absence.
There was an atmosphere, whispering was going on about ‘some thing’s happened.’
The girls sat apart on the bus and there were tears.
Everyone knew that Phil had f****d up, had crossed the line and it seemed like we would all be going home.I don’t know how it was all resolved but thankfully it was.
It could have been one of the more disastrous bonks of modern times.
Berlin is a place I’d always wanted to go to, and now I was actually going.
The night before we played a low key gig in the middle of nowhere and the roadies had scored a huge branch of marijuana…I mean it was HUGE.
We were packing up the bus ready to head off for Berlin that morning when one of the roadies asked innocently, where’s the puff? We looked a him, we looked at each other. He’d left it hidden in the bottom of the floor, so we had to unpack all the gear to find it. (We were to pass through East German border guards after all, and they are not known for tolerance of such matters.)
With all the equipment out, there was still no cannabis branch. Crew and management collectively freaked out as we tried to keep the possibility of a lengthy jail term courtesy of East Germany a secret from the band.
To explain, this was a time when the Berlin Wall still stood and tensions between the USA and the Communist bloc were at a new low. Things were definitely frosty politically.
To reach Berlin from the West, you had to pass through East Germany. Your passport was stamped and you had (2 hours?) to make it to Berlin. Detours were ‘verboten’, breaking down not an option and only one permitted stopping point.
It was really spooky and more than a little worrying as we went through the checkpoint, after all there was a large quantity of cannabis that may or may not be in our possession. The tanks, machine guns and barbed wire didn’t lighten the mood and I really should have known better than to try and joke with an iron faced guard. I can’t speak for all Germans but this guy had NO sense of humour and delayed us even longer than he would have ordinarily. I wasn’t thanked for my efforts by my fellow travellers!
The journey to Berlin was uneventful. A drab corridor of autobahn flanked on either side by mile after mile of barbed wire. There was one service station, Rasthoff where we were permitted to stop, not that there was much point. It had absolutely bugger all..really. We could have easily bought the entire stock of the shop for about a tenner!
The Berlin gig at the Kante Kino (a famous cinema I was reliably informed) went very well and we were having a few beers when the rumor started.
According to this rumor, Russia had come to East Germany’s ‘aid’ in the face of American aggression and the border with the west was closed.
Had we been in Britain we would have been slightly concerned at a possible WW3 scenario..as it was we were slap bang in the middle of the bloody incident and trapped!
We spent several very nervous hours waiting for more news until eventually word came that everything was fine. It might sound silly now but at the time it was genuinely scary, and something that Berliners had to live with daily.
It was time to leave Berlin, so we headed out of the city using what we thought was the same route we had come in by. It was after about half an hour’s travel that we became slightly concerned. What had been autobahn was now a normal road. There were East German soldiers with machine guns and jackets on the roadside as they dug a ditch. They stopped digging and watched in disbelief as we passed by. We drew into a small rickety medieval looking village adorned by bright red communist stars everywhere. People gawped and pointed at us.
Our overriding thoughts were twofold; “Shit!” and “Let’s get outta here NOW!”
Somehow we made it out of the village, back onto the autobahn and back to the west.
My other memories are random…..holding onto the scaffolding as it threatened to collapse when Phil climbed on to join the girls..it wasn’t meant to carry his weight too!
Musical stand outs….a killer version of Marianne, Priest & Glitter covers and Crow & Baby all stay with me.
The girls and Ian were all approachable and fun, Phil and Adrian were more reserved, Adrian by temperament, Phil more by inclination.
The League were always Philip’s band it seemed, which is why he and H17 and Bob Last went their separate ways and why after all these years they’re still going.
I know the above doesn’t tell you much about The League tour, but maybe it gives a flavour of the times.
One footnote, more praise for Jo Callis who was responsible for the shiny pop League that became so mega. A true gent, and a lovely guy.