Interview with Heaven 17
Ahead of their UK tour in October, we spoke to Heaven 17 lead singer, Glenn Gregory
Heaven 17 has just been voted Sheffield’s Best Ever Band in an online poll, what does this mean to you?
I’m really disappointed because I voted for The Human League. But seriously, it’s a shock, because there are some great Sheffield bands, like Arctic Monkeys, The Human League, ABC and Def Leppard. The strength of love for us in Sheffield is amazing.
When you formed Heaven 17 in 1981 did you imagine you’d still be going 35 years later?
It doesn’t feel like 35 years, it’s still really fresh in my mind. When The Human League split in 1980, I went back up to Sheffield to join Martyn [Ware] and Ian [Craig Marsh], who had both left The Human League, and formed Heaven 17. Within a week we’d written and recorded ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’; there was so much excitement and energy.
How did you feel when Heaven 17 split in 1988?
We never really split, we just felt that the relevance of the band had disappeared. We were still friends, we just stopped writing together, and decided to give it a break. When we finally got back to doing things together it was new and exciting. The dynamic had changed, because we had done different things – I started writing for film and television, which I still do – but politically nothing changed, and unfortunately a song like ‘Fascist Groove Thang’ is still as relevant today as it was 35 years ago.
You sang a line in ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’ for Band Aid in 1984. What was that experience like?
It was a very serious thing we were doing but it was a lot of fun. Midge [Ure] called me and said we’re doing this thing in a studio with Bob [Geldof] and a few others, and asked me to come down. So I turned up with Martyn and there were paparazzi everywhere, and people like Bananarama and Bono getting out of cars. It was also great sitting in the control room and listening to all of these fantastic voices, like George Michael and Boy George. It was incredible thing to be involved in, and I thank Midge to this day. I just hope I held my own.
What songs are you going to play on the tour?
The tour is a celebration of our first album, ‘Penthouse and Pavement’, which is 35 years old. We’re playing it in its entirety, and we’ve been reworking the tracks to play them live, we wanted to do updated versions and they sound completely new, fantastically fresh.
‘Temptation’ was not on your first album – surely you’re going to play it?
Of course we are – we couldn’t take to the stage and not play it. ‘Temptation’ has evolved; it’s around nine-and-a-half minutes long when we play it live. I never get sick of playing it – when you stand on the stage and watch people loving it, and it just sounds awesome.
The show is a dual headline tour with British Electric Foundation, which you are also performing in. What will it be like supporting and headlining?
A bit weird I suppose, but it’s really going to be one long show. We’re working with Mari Wilson, Glen Matlock [Sex Pistols] and Peter Hooton [The Farm]; the songs are great, with some brilliant covers as well, and I can’t wait to hear them.
Your playing The Sage in Gateshead, have you ever been to the North East?
I’ve been to the Sage but I’ve never played it, so I’m really looking forward to it. I know the North East pretty well, we’ve always had good audiences there – it’s a bit of a Heaven 17 stronghold, we could be voted Best Ever Band in the North East!
You’re playing in your hometown of Sheffield – you must be looking forward to it?
Definitely, and it’s at the City Hall as well, which is like doing Top of the Pops for me. I’ve seen so many people there, like Bowie, Roxy Music the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, so to be performing on that stage myself is a very special thing.
Catch Heaven 17 and British Electric Foundation’s dual headline tour at the following tour dates:
- Monday 24 October Gateshead Sage.
- Tuesday 25 October, Sheffield City Hall.