Originally the best girlfriend ever suggested to head for Arlesford (Essex village of the year) for the traditional weekend trip north, but the weather turned nasty just minutes after we were on our way, so we ended up much closer to home in a small Essex coastal town famous for its salt. Maldon has everything she craves for on a Saturday afternoon: a bit of shopping in the organic shop, a cutesy flower shop, an unbelievable venue that sells everything apart from pinking shears and for communal elation one of the best pubs in Essex, the Blue Boar. So while her highness was busy exploring the floral improvements that our house could incorporate, I spotted a basket full of vinyl in one of the charity shop. 5 minute later I walked out, elated. Not only did I get two of the best electronica albums of the eighties, I also purchased two excellently preserved ‘Deutsche Grammophon’ LPs with recordings by Karajan and Boehm. Price? 2 pounds for the four of them. As soon as I got home I gave them a spin on my Ortofon studded Pro-Ject and wasn’t disappointed: these bargains sounded magnificent, with the 2 classical recordings specifically giving the Klipsch Horns loads of dynamic to work with. 2 Hours of music for 2 pounds. I have to accompany the best girlfriend ever more to her little shopping trips.
Last night the best girlfriend and I went to see ABC, Heaven 17 and The Human League for their inaugural Steel City Tour at the Hammersmith Apollo, that lovely hall next to a motorway in London’s sunny West. I din’t expect the place to be packed, but it certainly was: 5000 happy middle aged punters in a more or less exciteable state made the shabby old place vibrate with joy.
The gig started with ‘Heaven 17’: the kernel of the British Electric Foundation were in good spirit with Glenn Gregory in fine vocal form and Martyn Ware happily plonking away at the keyboards. They were accompanied by a teenager behind a toy drum kit (well, one of those electronic drum pad thingies), an incredibly bored guitarist with two Macbooks and two female background singers who could probably be their daughters.Let me go, Come live with me, crushed by the wheels of industry where all delivered in fine form, but unfortunately both ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ and ‘Temptation’ suffered from early nineties dancefloor treatment, making the original songs not quite unrecognisable but barely palatable. Unfortunately the mix was disastrous, with Ware’s keyboard chords completely vanishing behind the (admittedly excellent) vocal performances. So far so good.
ABC (or Martin Fry with a bunch of session musicians, to be exact) was in usual fine form: it seem that the bloke playing lead guitar for him and the percussionist/female lead vocalist have now been the same for the last 3 gigs I have seen them, so at least he doesn’t always have to get to get used to new twentysomethings in his band. As usual he had to get 3 tracks of his new album ‘Traffic in, but apart from that, it was the usual assortment of splendid hits from ‘Lexicon of Love’ and Alphabet City
. Well deserved applause, even though there was no Gold Lame Suit in site.
After a brief reorganising of stages the headliners of the evening: The Human League in it’s third decade presents itself quite chipper, with a stage right out of a Kraftwerk gig, although what the weird little man in the pirate costume and the guitar was doing on stage I will never find out, but he certainly ruined the carefully crafted picture of understated elegance. There was plenty of things to shout about: the sound, the beautiful white instruments, the costumes and Phil Oakeys voice were all top notch. A good mix between crowd pleasures (Mirror Man, Electric Dreams, Don’t you want me, Being boiled) and some obscure fare delighted everybody. The only person not having any fun was poor Joanne Catherall, who obviously had a bad night: she looked unhappy in her corner of the stage, and I could have sworn she wasn’t well.
So, a bunch of middle aged people were entertained by a bunch of middleaged people on a stage. 3 hours of fun and sing a long. What else could you want?
I have just acquired two tickets for one of the most exciting events this year (if you’re over forty): three of my perennial favourites of electronic music are doing a short tour of the UK, celebrating not only their timeless music, but also their hometown, Sheffield. ABC, Heaven 17 and the Human League are certainly not the purveryors of groundbreaking electronica that they once used to be (although THL has had more successful comebacks than you can shake a stick at and ABC just released a new album -“Traffic” – which isn’t half bad), but for me these three still have enormous pulling power.
Penthouse and Pavement was the first song that confronted me with the concept of Electrofunk, and I was fascinated. Just as danceable as the embarassing disco that was around at that time but with much better lyrics (and the coolest album cover ever, mocking the new neo-capitalist thatcherite city drones populating London at that time. Nothing has changed much. These days they’re just getting more drunk) and with a political statement, Heaven 17 was the ultracool dancefloor choice for every discerning DJ, and I played it incessantly on my first Sony Walkman (borrowed from a close associate, as I couldn’t afford one for myself).
My love for ABC has been thoroughly documented over the years. No other album has ever fascinated me as much as The Lexicon of Love, and no other album has been played that ofen on the various incarnations of music players I owned. Trevor Horns production (using his revolutionary fairlight sampler) Anne Dudley’s strings, Fry’s lyrics and the excellent music were such a revelation that for some time I toyed with the idea to buy a gold lamee suit. Having seen them numerous times live (in varying outfits) Martin Fry continues to be an excellent show man, and the strength of the songs hasn’t diminished over the decades (26 years. bloody hell).
Last, but not least another chameleon of electronic music. Just like ABC, the Human League have reinvented their sound again and again. From sparse electronica to stadium rock (with ‘The Lebanon’ on Hysteria), Minneapolis soul to house they probably ahad the longest and most successful run of those three sheffieldian bands. I still have an impressive collection of THL 12″ vinyl lying around, with the latest probably being ‘Heart like a wheel’. I always heard they were rubbish live (mainly due to the fact that none of the vocalists can hold a tune), but when I saw them in Glasgow some years ago, they were absolutely riveting.
So, the big unknown will be Heaven 17. Will Glen Gregory and his mates be able to live up to the same standards as the other Sheffieldians?
Actually, I don’t care. They could play the singles of these acts back to back on abig ghettoblaster and I’d be jumping up and own the isles.
It’s going to be a good night.