Music Of Distinct Quality
To celebrate the upcoming 30th anniversary of the recording of ‘Penthouse And Pavement’, HEAVEN 17 returned home to play at the local renovated symbol of the Industrial Revolution which is the Magna Science Park and perform this seminal album in its entirety.
Doing away with the standard support act, the audience were instead presented an audio/visual art installation using LED screens featuring the companion instrumental BEF album ‘Music For Stowaways’. Produced by HEAVEN 17 founders Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh after they left THE HUMAN LEAGUE in 1980, it predicted iPod culture (‘Stowaway’ was the original name of the Sony Walkman) by illustrating the concept of mobile headphone music as a rolling film soundtrack to one’s day-to-day life.
Not only that but some of the titles like ‘Uptown Apocalypse’, ‘Rise Of The East’ and ‘Decline Of The West’ couldn’t be more relevant 30 years on. With echoes of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s aborted support slot for the 1979 TALKING HEADS tour which was intending to feature “specially taped songs and rhythms with synchronised moving pictures and snapshots instead of The League”, this esoteric start to proceedings was lost on some of the crowd who sadly got a bit impatient and rudely started slow hand clapping et al!
But arriving to the sinister percussive tones of ‘Music To Kill Your Parents By’, the backing band of guitarist Asa Bennett, Joel Farland on electronic percussion and funk bassist Julian Crampton took to the stage before being followed by HEAVEN 17’s live nucleus of Martyn Ware, Glenn Gregory and their forever gorgeous backing vocalist Billie Godfrey to launch into a rousing ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’.
Playing the ‘Pavement’ A-side of the original vinyl release in order, this electro-funk hybrid sounded magnificent, particularly with Julian Crampton’s slap bass runs coming to the fore. Billie Godfrey gave the title track barrels of sumptuous passion as she would throughout many of the numbers tonight, also adding a touch of soulful warmth to many of the predominantly synthetic backing tracks on the ‘Penthouse’ flipside.
But before tackling this, four tracks from BEF’s ambitious if slightly flawed ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume 1’ covers album formed the musical interlude. Originally billed by some observers as a Hi-Tech K-Tel album, although it sold poorly, it kick started Martyn Ware’s association with the legendary Tina Turner and ultimately relaunched her career in the process.
Tonight though, it’s Billie Godfrey who understudies for the former Miss Anna Mae Bullock on ‘Ball Of Confusion’ while special guest Claudia Brücken of PROPAGANDA and ONETWO joins proceedings to replace the late Paula Yates’ catty whine with a more assured teutonic tone for ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’.
Big Glenn of course adds his two contributions from the album ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘Perfect Day’ which are great to hear live for the first time but not before he straps on an acoustic guitar to give an impromptu solo version of ‘Geisha Boys & Temple Girls’ which also gets a strum during the ‘Wichita Lineman’ coda. “Don’t tell Phil Oakey, he’ll kick me out of the electronic club” he laughed! Returning to the ‘Penthouse And Pavement’, the crowd finally gets ‘Geisha Boys…’ proper while the remaining four electronically driven pieces do not disappoint.
Songs such as ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’, ‘Height Of The Fighting’ and that ode to the dangers of religious fundamentalism ‘We’re Going To Live For A Very Long Time’ sound even more poignant than ever despite their Cold War origins. Indeed, some of these numbers even become powerful singalongs, quite incongruous for what are basically a set of avant-pop compositions with not a hit single among them! At times, it sounds like the roots of modern electronic dance music.
For the encore, the crowd are treated to something special in both sides of HEAVEN 17’s second (and non-album) single. BUZZCOCKS’ ‘Are Everything’ possesses a snarly cyber-punk edge, enhanced by Glenn staring at the ground to glance at a lyric sheet while the vastly underrated ‘I’m Your Money’ is delivered in its full brilliance with its sub ‘Trans-Europe Express’ mechanical rhythm structure and rousing refrain. The various ‘Linguaphone’ business phrases recall an age when traveling to Europe was still a major logistical undertaking and the internet only had military applications!
Closing with ‘Let Me Go’, ‘Temptation’ and THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Being Boiled’, the whole presentation is an outstanding statement of musical and social values. Although ‘Come Live With Me’ and ‘Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry’ are missing tonight, for the same reasons that THE HUMAN LEAGUE dropped ‘Human’ from the ‘Steel City’ tour, it is appropriate every now and then to follow one’s artistic motivations rather than commercial ones to restore artistic integrity. The evening really did prove to be music of distinct quality.
‘Penthouse & Pavement’ is available on CD and download via Virgin Records
Text and Photos by Chi Ming Lai
15th March 2010