Earlier in 2012, Martyn Ware - acclaimed producer and founding member of The Human League, Heaven 17, British Electric Foundation and The Future - kindly took an hour out of his busy schedule to chat to Blind Youth. In the interview that follows, he discusses how it all began, the ups and downs of life in The Human League, and what lies ahead in the future.
Sean Turner: When did you first become interested in electronic music? Was there a particular band or artist?
Martyn Ware: Hmm, good question. I don't think it was even as simple as electronic music, really. I think it was the notion of something that didn't sound like a traditional instrument. I think it goes back as far as my sisters, who had a single called "Sparky's Magic Piano"...
MW: ...and that was the early '60s, when I would've been about six. I just remember being completely entranced with this thing. I thought, "I've never heard anything like that." And, this is with the benefit of hindsight; I didn't really think of it like this at the time... things like "Good Vibrations" by The Beach Boys, you know, the theremin...
MW: I really started buying records when I was about 13 or 14. My sisters were a lot older than me - they were like 10 and 20 years older - so I listened to all their Motown collection. That's where all that influence came from, and pop, obviously... soundtracks.
But the electronic thing really started with... it's a really weird thing, it just always appealed to me, and I don't really understand why to this day. I just used to be naturally attracted to anything that was kind of out there, you know. And some of them weren't pure electronic - the German bands, for instance. The Krautrock thing wasn't all to do with electronics, it was just weirdness, a lot of it.
And so the combination of weirdness and electronics... anything that sounded kind of futuristic and different was definitely on my agenda from a very early age. It appealed to me as well because I didn't really have any ambitions to become a 'traditional' musician. Although I've got a good musical ear, and I could pick up a tune and play it on just about anything, I didn't really have any ambitions to learn a musical instrument properly.
Ian Marsh built a synthesizer from a kit in 1973/74 when I first met him. We were all obsessed with electronic music; it was like finding kindred spirits, you know? And we were obsessed with the future, I think. Looking back on it now, it was a way of envisaging a brighter future for us all, because Sheffield was a fairly limited place at that time.
ST: I guess there was kind of a recession going on there, then.
MW: Oh yeah, it was massive. And, to be honest, even if Thatcher had never come along, it would still have been a problem because, you know, what were the options in Sheffield at that time? Going into the steel works? There was a bit of admin stuff. My first job was a trainee manager at the Co-op; retail just seemed to be totally glamorous compared to the idea of standing in a factory for 50 years, which is what my Dad did.
We knew there was something bigger out there, more exciting, but we weren't sure what, so it was like, "let's make our own future," you know.
ST: So do you think the Meatwhistle theatre group was a good place for you to be, with a lot of people with similar interests?
MW: Yeah, that really lit the blue touch paper, because I suddenly realised there were other people out there who felt like I did. I have to thank Paul Bower, who's still one of my best friends and was in a band called 2.3 on Fast Product Records. I'd known him for four or five years before Meatwhistle, and he was the one who recognised that what we were doing had some potential. And he was the one who encouraged me to send off (The Human League's) demo tape of "Being Boiled" to Bob Last at Fast Product, so I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.
ST: So, around that time, I think you were in Musical Vomit for a while - is that right?
MW: Ha ha ha, do you know, the funny thing is this is really weird because I've just done a similar interview this morning with the BBC, and they asked the same question! And I'll give you the same answer. I actually was never in Musical Vomit, but Ian Marsh was, and Glenn (Gregory) was, and all my friends. I just missed Musical Vomit by about three or four months - I joined Meatwhistle just after that.
But we had lots of other bands like The Dead Daughters, The Underpants, Dick Velcro & The Astronets, VD K & The Studs, and all sorts of daft things that only occurred for, like, a day. But they've entered into mythology now.
ST: Heh, I think I helped propagate that (via the website), actually - that's possibly where the BBC got their bad information!
I think it was around 1977 that you spent about £800 for your first synth, which seems incredible back then...
MW: No, actually, it was cheaper than that, it was £375 for my Korg 700S, and it was literally a choice between buying that and a secondhand car. And, I still won't drive now.
ST: Before that, you had a Stylophone?
MW: Oh yeah, I did - the deluxe one. And I tell you what, if you ever hear about one available on eBay, I need to get one, because they must be rarer than hen's teeth. The double-stylus Stylophone absolutely changed my life. It had a light-sensitive wah-wah, a tremolo, and everything. It was amazing!
ST: I only had the basic one.
MW: Yeah, I had the basic one before that, but I thought I was Eno when I bought this. How wrong was I? But I honestly thought I was.
ST: Was it around the time you got your first synthesizer that you formed The Future?
MW: Yes, by the time we'd formed The Future, I'd bought the Korg 700S and Ian Marsh had bought a System 100.
ST: So, when Adi Newton joined The Future, did he have a synthesizer, or was he just providing vocals at that point?
MW: Oh yes, he had a suitcase synth, so he brought that to the party, and he was doing vocals as well.
ST: From the recordings I've heard, it sounds like you were all doing vocals?
MW: Yeah, we all shared the vocal responsibilities, but he was, I suppose, the main vocalist.
ST: Did you ever play live as The Future?
MW: No, all we did was go down to London to present what we thought was our magnificent work to about twelve different record companies. I think out of fourteen appointments that we requested, twelve of them accepted. And we'd never been to London at this point, bear in mind. I think we sold it in quite well, and all but two of them said, "Stop wasting my time," basically. And, "Go away and write some music."
Interestingly, the two that were most open-minded and spent some time with us were Virgin and Island, who were the two most forward-looking record companies. And, of course, we ended up signing to Virgin eventually with The Human League. You know, it's quite interesting that they were the two that were really looking for new stuff, and of course if we'd signed to Island, we'd have been over the moon because it was Roxy Music's label,
And they were both very kind and genuinely interested in what we were doing. They couldn't see any commercial potential in it at that point, and the message even from the friendly people was, "Go away, write some songs." And, you know, some people would just go, "Well, fuck you." We took it on the chin and took the advice, because we saw some potential in it.
It was one of those turning points, really. You could have gone away and gone, "No, fuck them, we're gonna do what we want to do" or you'd be a bit more pragmatic, and go, "You know what? I think they might be right," which is what we did and for the first time, we started taking all of this seriously, and going, "You never know, perhaps somebody might be interested in putting a record out one day."
And, so, unfortunately, because Adi couldn't sing at all, we thought, "Well, if we're going to take this a bit more seriously, and we're gonna start writing more melodic songs, we need someone who can actually sing them." At which point, we had to say goodbye to Adi, which was quite traumatic. We were worried he might go insane, to be honest, and try to kill us, because he was a bit on the edge... but he didn't. (Adi went on to form Clock DVA)