MP3 and RealAudio files
A - Z of songs
Press cuttings
Links to other sites
Site information and credits
Search this site
Ian: "Our intention was to become the first popular synthesizer band that was doing songs with vocals, as opposed to experimental stuff, and we'd been doing a couple of albums and thought that we'd released things that could do that, and nothing ever quite became a hit.
Martyn, Ian, Philip and Adrian
"And then, out of nowhere, Gary Numan came along and stole our glory. He used to be a rock act, really, then he seemed to take on our clothing and suddenly became incredibly successful... and we were, I think, quite miffed about that."
Martyn: "That was kind of like a cusp for the group, because until that point, it had been a laugh, and art and everything. From that point, that's what really broke the morale, looking back on it now... all right, so we were mentioned as being influential and everything, but in reality, we were poor. We weren't earning any money out of what we were doing.
"We must be the only group in the world whose fourth member was a slide projectionist... who then went on to get writing credits! Excuse me? That was the point where I left the group, thank you very much! We were completely 'on a mission'..."
The situation was further complicated by the friction between Martyn and Philip (always a problem, but one which had now become unbearable) and with Philip making attempts to kick Martyn out of The Human League, there was no chance of the group continuing in this format.
At first, Bob suggested that perhaps the way forward was for the group to split into two new bands, neither of them named The Human League, but both of them releasing material on a new imprint of Virgin which would be called Human League Records, thereby preserving the 'brand name' they had established. Bob: "It felt like a pressure cooker, and I felt the smart thing to do was to pre-empt this, and split into two bands. Martyn was losing interest in this very strict set of rules about absolutely no organic authentic instrumentation, whereas Phil was very keen on sustaining those rules, and that was a kind of battleground."
While it was clear that Philip and Adrian no longer wished to work with Martyn, Ian remained keen to continue working with both Martyn and with Philip and Adrian. Martyn was happy with this arrangement, but Philip was apparently concerned that Ian might inadvertently pass on all their best ideas to Martyn, and he tried to persuade Ian to work exclusively with him and Adrian, though without success.
In November 1980, Martyn and Ian announced the formation of their British Electric Foundation production company, which would be "a cross between what PiL (Public Image Limited) should have been before they became just another group, and the business suss of Chic." This left Philip and Adrian to deal with the group's forthcoming European tour, which was due to begin about two weeks later. Martyn: "We made our decisions in as civilised a manner as possible, since if me and Ian had gone out as The Human League, the promoters could quite possibly have sued us - rock economics being what they are - because we wouldn't have been the act 'as seen'."
Philip, by now warming to the possibility of becoming a star, certainly wasn't about to let go of his chance of fame. "I think they were finding it a bit embarrassing, what we were doing. They thought it was too poppy or something, and they were happy to go and look like backroom boys somewhere else. Whereas, you know, all I ever wanted to do was be Donna Summer."
Manager Bob Last's statement to the press gave the impression of an amicable split: "The League didn't split up for the usual corny 'musical and personal differences' reasons. They simply no longer had an adequate working relationship. Neither party was happy and no-one was fulfilled, but this way, both sides will produce far more satisfactory and commercial work."
Meanwhile, Philip and Adrian agreed with Martyn and Ian that they would continue to use the Human League name, on the condition that Martyn and Ian would receive 1% of the League's future royalties, though the group's financial debt to Virgin would remain the responsibility of the new League line-up.
The two began seeking new members for the impending live shows. Philip famously recruited two teenage girls (Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall) his girlfriend spotted dancing at Sheffield's Crazy Daisy disco. Graph bassist Ian Burden was persuaded to take on keyboard duties (despite the fact that he didn't actually care much for the League's music!).
The tour was completed, but was not well-received; with so little time to prepare, the group lacked confidence and the critics were unimpressed. To add insult to injury, the group had to face a number of hostile audiences, particularly in Germany, where the crowds seemed to resent the fact that girls had joined The Human League (!).
The Human League (1981 line-up)
Even Bob had some concerns about the new format of the group, but staunchly defended Philip's decision in the face of negative reaction from Virgin Records. Bob: "I understood that Phil had very interesting instincts which should be backed, but the fights I had with Virgin! They loved the idea of where Phil wanted to take The Human League, but they were completely baffled by the girls and why they were suddenly presented as a core part of it. But Phil's instincts were right there. The girls' role was to bring a kind of accessibility to this quite difficult and cold perception people had of the band."
The League decided to avoid live shows for a while and began work on new material, with ex-Rezillo Jo Callis joining soon afterwards. (Pictured above in 1981, left to right: Ian Burden, Joanne Catherall, Philip Oakey, Jo Callis, Susanne Sulley, Philip Adrian Wright.)
Heaven 17
Meanwhile, Martyn and Ian's new production company was taking shape, with Ian even handling the company's financial accounts. They signed a production deal with Virgin, under which they would steadily accumulate a roster of 'commercial' acts, one per year, delivering an album by each act every year, along with up to twelve 'arty' albums of their own each year.
Initially, they formed a new group (or 'business subsidiary', as they called it) named Heaven 17 after a fictional band from Stanley Kubrick's cinematic adaption of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange.
Their old friend Glenn Gregory from the Meatwhistle days joined them to handle lead vocals (pictured above) and Martyn and Ian began seeking a full band to back Glenn in live performance (they had no plans to be full-time members of Heaven 17 at this point).
As Martyn explained, "Heaven 17 is a 100% serious attempt to be incredibly popular, whereas B.E.F. is no less serious but tends to be involved with more experimental projects."
By March 1981, the first Heaven 17 single [We Don't Need This] Fascist Groove Thang was in the shops (though not on the radio very often - the BBC banned it for its anti-Reagan lyrics), along with an instrumental B.E.F cassette entitled Music For Stowaways...
Spirits Wilting
A Brand New Sound