Tag: Martyn Ware (Page 1 of 6)

Vintage Synth Trumps with CIRCUIT3

With every new album comes an adventure and for Dublin-based CIRCUIT3, his next one is in outer space.

The rocket-propelled vehicle of Peter Fitzpatrick, the Irishman delighted electronic music fans with a series of intimate live streamed shows from his home studio of cover versions and original works during lockdown. The performances were also an opportunity to road test new material and those songs now formally appear on the new CIRCUIT3 opus ‘Technology For The Youth’.

An ambitious work that presents a chronology of the space race and pirate radio in relation to the socio-political environment of today, the album has been launched with a single ‘Future Radio’ co-produced by Sean Barron, best known for his Wolfgang Flür collaboration ‘The Activity Of Sound’ as iEUROPEAN.

Heavily influenced by the classic era of synth before digital as well as its modern analogue variant, as on KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’ and OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’, ‘Technology For The Youth’ features conceptual instrumentals alongside more precise pop structures. That progression of movement toward the stars continues on the new single ‘Overview Effect’ featuring the vocals of Italian singer Alessia Turcato. It was inspired by the life imitating art scenario of William Shatner who played James T Kirk on ‘Star Trek’ to became oldest person in space at 90 onboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard sub-orbital space rocket.

With that in mind, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK challenged CIRCUIT3 to a game of Vintage Synth Trumps while chatting about his latest musical journey into the galactic frontier…

Alright, the first card is a Korg Mono/Poly. Are you an owner of a Mono/Poly?

No. I’m curious about the Mono/Poly because it’s really a paraphonic synth rather than polyphonic, but that trick where you can cycle through each of the VCOs with the arpeggiator on is interesting. Each VCO can be set to a different waveform. My friend Brian O’Malley. better known to you as POLYDROID. has one and likes it. So yes I’m curious but not enough to get one and I’m unsure about the quality of the Behringer clone

Are you a fan of Korg gear anyway?

Yeah, I think they’re interesting but I just haven’t had the same relationship with them like I have with Roland and Sequential. I tried an MS10 in 1979 and it was absolutely bewildering to me. I couldn’t get a sound out of it. It was only the second synth I touched – the first was that Tandy RadioShack synth that Moog made for them. I have an MS20 on loan (from POLYDROID) which has these interesting harmonics coming off the filter and not the raw sound that I was expecting. I associate the MS20 with a more synthpunk filter. Maybe I need lessons.

I have a Poly 61M which is the factory MIDI version of the Poly 61 but have no room for it so that’s in storage until someone offers me a trade for it. It was released about the time of the Roland Junos coming out and I just found it difficult to get wild sounds out of it. I think that the filtering on it is just too polite and it needs a lot of treatment when you’re recording it, it didn’t really have any character and I was hoping for more. No wait… I had a Poly 800… yeah it’s coming back to me now! I had a Poly 800 which was rubbish. Just not good at all. Sounds like a plastic bag with bees in it.

I remember KID KASIO aka Nathan Cooper told me he found a Poly 800 in a skip, which he retrieved and put in his Fiction Studios…

He really should have left it there. I remember that at the time, I had a decision to make between the Poly 800 and the Juno 106.

The Juno 106 had a much larger 61 note key bed but the Poly 800 had a little sequencer in and that mattered at the time because I was thinking value for money. They were polysynths, of course I could only buy one of them. I’m so glad I went with the 106 in the end.

OK, here’s the next card and it is the Korg 700s which of course, your friend Martyn Ware had as his first synth and Daniel Miller…

There was a recent reissue of that, you turn it on and it’s instant Daniel Ware or Martyn Miller whichever way you want to describe it! It’s impossible not to sound like “THE HUMAN NORMAL”! *laughs*

I am tempted by it, but I really have to think carefully because there’s just it’s a space consideration now. And it has those funny buttons on it. I don’t know if I could get used to that. They look weird.

What you mean underneath the keyboard?

Yeah, that’s just to me having played lots of gigs that screams “they’re going to get broken!”. They’d get in the way where they are. Just like the old ARPs where the keys would protrude over the edge of the chassis and you’re thinking, no, something’s going to smack against that. So yeah, I have to try one. I’ve seen lots of really cool demos.

It looks really interesting. And I know Martyn got a copy of the reissue and he loves it. Martyn was using it at the ‘Reproduction / Travelogue’ shows, so look, if it’s still good enough for him, then it’s good enough for the rest of us.

Daniel Miller showed me his Korg 700s recently at the Robert Rental & Thomas Leer exhibition and he told me it still works… OK, the next card is a Roland Jupiter 6. But you have a Jupiter 4?

I do, I can’t afford a Jupiter 8 and I missed a Jupiter 6 two years ago. One came up for sale locally at a really low price and I missed it by 30 seconds. The seller said, “oh, there’s a small fault with it, but I can’t be bothered fixing it”. I’m like “you idiot, you absolute idiot!” and the person who bought it then sold it on for a nice profit.

It’s a good pad machine. I think there’s a lot of confusion about the concept of the Jupiter name on Roland synths and what it actually means. They are only related in the fact that the name Jupiter was used. In Roland’s world, Jupiter meant their then current flagship synth. It’s completely different beast to the Jupiter 4 and 8.

There is a there’s a module version of it, which apparently isn’t exactly like the keyboard version. The filter is different I think. I don’t think I would pay the current asking price for a Jupiter 6 because I don’t think it has enough character not in the same way that the 4 has, or just the majesty of the 8. I’ve got the likes of a Prophet 10, OB6 and a Juno 106 which covers a lot of that Jupiter 6 space in my opinion. I think it’s an interesting synth. I would have paid the asking price though… €1200 was a bit of a bargain.

So your Jupiter 4, how long have you had that now?

Hmm… it feels it feels like Martyn had it longer than I did because of the pandemic.

I think I got about 4 years ago, drove to the West of Ireland to a small little place called Athenry that people will know from a very famous folk song, ‘The Fields Of Athenry’. And quite appropriately, I drove in my electric car to pick up a Jupiter 4. How more Numan can you get?

When we arrived, the seller had cold feet at the last minute. And he was thinking of keeping it. I’m like “No ! Please don’t do this to me. I really want this instrument”. Later I tracked it down online. It had history. It had appeared on the Matrixsynth site.

When it had made its way from Japan to the UK, it said in an eBay listing that had a little bit of work done to it. It’s not entirely clear what had been done to it, because when I had it checked out here by our local synth tech, everything was original, nothing inside had been replaced and no servicing was required except replacing the memory back-up battery.

But it came with the original case, which is cool. It came with the music stand. And it came with the metal legs. Picture yourself around ‘78-‘79 and what Roland were trying to do with these instruments, they were targeting jobbing musicians playing cabaret clubs. So it would be used with say a CR78 which has a similar sort of fake wood finish on it, it would fit just nicely to one the side of the top panel of the Jupiter 4.

You could lock the arpeggiator synced to a CR78 so you’ll get both going together. Of course you could see it being used for the occasional solo, but the selling point is as a programmable polysynth with patch memory, because there’s an awful lot of monosynth type sounds possible with this. I was the first thing Martyn tried when he powered on my Jupiter: no chords!

Anyway what seems to have happened is that a bunch of people realised “oh we can do other things with these”, so that seemed to be that the origin of it being used in more interesting ways just like what happened with the Roland TB303 and TR808. Of course first thing I did when I got at home was open it up. I had to have a look inside. Had to date it. Had to see what was going on. There were hairs inside! This was very clearly a Roland technician’s hair, sitting still on the board! You know, half a century later. It’s brilliant. And I fell in love with it.

I have done a very simple MIDI enablement on it where I haven’t drilled into the chassis, there’s no way I’m drilling holes in this thing and I’ve managed to do it in such a way that the MIDI interface doesn’t interrupt anything and it just arpeggios for hours. It’s just gorgeous.

On your new album ‘Technology For The Youth’, there’s a track called ‘Jupiter City’?

The Jupiter features on a few tracks and is the only synth on ‘Jupiter City’. So Martyn Ware borrowed the Jupiter 4… for those who don’t know even though, I keep bragging about this cause it’s the coolest thing that could possibly have happened.

It was following an interview he did with you where you asked him about using the old synths for the ‘Travelogue’ and ‘Reproduction’ shows that they were planning pre-pandemic.

The question you put to Martyn was, well, aren’t you going to use the all since the original synths? And he answered something like “If we can find them and the challenge being they’re pretty expensive, we might have to hire something”. Martyn doesn’t have the original, even the System 100 he has was a gift from Vince Clarke in the 90s. I emailed him and said ”I’ve just read the interview with Chi, do you want to borrow my Jupiter 4?” And his first response was, well, absolutely. Thank you. Are you sure? And I said, yeah, I want to see these shows happen too. So I brought it over to London and we had lunch.

Then the bloody pandemic hit and it was sitting in his studio for a couple of years until they could reschedule the shows. Not that I minded because he’s been very kind with mentioning my music in interviews. He programmed the preset sounds for the shows and I heard it being used in some of the little instrumental pieces he was doing in his Electronically Yours podcast. The sound of it is instantly recognisable as soon as you hear it, you know when he’s using a System 100, and you know when he’s using a Jupiter 4.

At soundcheck for the Roundhouse gig when I was chatting with him and Glenn, they said one of the voices went out of tune. I reckon it was just the journey from Sheffield to London after the previous gig and you know the Roundhouse being a bit colder. Typical analogue synths right? But once I got it home, it was simply just a calibration that was needed.

Of course, he used it live and he saved a bunch of presets for the shows. Some of them are obvious. You’ll know, like ‘Dreams Of Leaving’. I said to them jokingly in the after show at the Roundhouse “I’m going to use those presets and do a track and call it ‘Jupiter City’”. So the sounds are Martyn’s with a few effects and my playing. All coming from the Jupiter 4.

The new CIRCUIT3 album is quite different from the previous two and it’s very ambitious in a conceptual kind of way. And I was just wondering why you headed that down this road? Were you influenced by similarly conceptual albums like ‘Radio-Activity’ by KRAFTWERK or ‘Dazzle Ships’ by OMD?

No, actually it was Hannah Peel, somebody I just admire so much. I’ve had a couple of chats with her and met her after gigs. I really admire Hannah Peel as an artist, and it was basically one of her albums ‘Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia’ that got me thinking. I thought wow, that’s really interesting. And then you know the story where she referenced her grandmother’s dementia, and so on. All of the references in the album under this overarching concept really struck me.

Around about the time when I was just writing these songs I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I knew that on my next album, I wanted to stretch myself a little bit and thought to myself “I could try to do what Hannah has done” because I’ve never done anything like that before. All the Apollo anniversaries were happening and I had been fascinated as a kid about space travel. I started using working titles of different satellites and things like that just for a name on a recording session and the next thing I know, I realised oh wow, this is actually beginning to feel space-like and a concept was forming simply because of the subject matter

I was listening to TANGERINE DREAM type stuff which some people would call space rock, a lazy term, but all of that was just really influencing me at the time. I hadn’t thought about the OMD or KRAFTWERK thing, but yeah, I’ll happily sit alongside those.

There is one particular track ‘Valentina Fly’ about Valentina Tereshkova track that sort of evokes OMD?

Lots of people have said that. It’s hard to deny your influences; they come out, don’t they? And so I took that as a huge compliment when during the live stream shows I was doing during the pandemic a couple of people said “that’s real OMD”. Like I said, I didn’t hear it myself at first. I had to step back a bit to listen and now I can see what they’re saying.

It’s because of the string machine thing I suppose. I tried to strip it down, strip all of the arrangements on the album down as much as possible. I thought I was being clever with the song title. I originally called the song ‘Maiden Russia’ as in “maiden… made in” and then I realised, no, you’re going to have to explain that ridiculous wordplay to everybody. So I just retitled it ‘Valentina Fly’. Yes it’s about Valentina Tereshkova, who was the first woman in space. Rather unfortunate about her politics these days, but I’ll have to separate that from what she did.

When I wrote that song, it got me thinking about, well, what are you going to do with this collection of songs and what direction are you going with them? You can’t just write about the first man on the moon. Everybody’s done that. So I thought about these untold or lesser told stories. Everything from, Valentina Tereshkova, who some people will know about, but she’s not a celebrated as Yuri Gagarin and in some respects, what she achieved was much greater.

Even today, for a woman to do something that is taken for granted for a man, the bullsh*t they have to go through to get there is completely and conveniently forgotten, the barriers that are put in their way. And of course, the story of the first black African American in space… Ed Dwight who was supposed to be first but was screwed over by the government and NASA. While reading about this, I thought, “that’s what I’ll write about”.

That joint US Soviet Apollo Soyuz mission in 1975 which was particularly interesting because the astronauts and cosmonauts learnt to speak each other’s language for the mission…

Yeah, you look back and see when that happened and you think, “wow” because there was still that Cold War politic going on. But remember the scientists were working on this for a long time through the 1960s until that mission in 1975. All of the scientists who are working on it, all of the engineers are working on it while the politicians flipped and flopped on whatever arguments they were having. It showed so much promise for us all.

As a child looking at it, I was fascinated by the idea of a Soviet and American joint mission, I thought “Oh cool, they’re finally realising it’s so much better when you when you collaborate together and you’ve got joint ambition rather than it being a competition”. They just stopped which was hugely puzzling and as such a shame. You think about what we could be doing…

The Ed Dwight story covered on ‘Spacewalking’ is interesting because I only actually first heard of him during the 60th anniversary Apollo 11 celebrations. I was quite keen on following the space race when I was younger, but he’s literally been wiped from the history books. It’s was enlightening to see the context of how he was marginalised within NASA. And then other people that saw him as just symbolism and not a genuine candidate. It’s the kind of racist nonsense that we’re still having to deal with, in light of Black Lives Matter and everything else around that…

Yeah, I wrote the song around about the start of the Black Lives Matter movement becoming front and centre in our news. It was in our daily experience and news feed but it didn’t just happen then of course. This situation has been going on for forever and it just was brought to wider attention. During that time, I was reading a little bit more around Ed Dwight and I saw a clip of an interview that he did and it was incredibly moving because you realised the guy got screwed over. It was for such nonsense reasons, and it’s just heart-breaking. And then you think, well, hang on, you know, you’re seeing this and then you ask yourself “what other hidden history do you not know about?”

And that’s where representation matters, because those stories should be uncovered. I started seeing more and more around Black African Americans scientists who became involved in the shuttle missions etc, and the Black African American women who went to space and then the good things they did with their lives after that in the foundations they started and so on. I thought, well, these are much more interesting stories. Not to put down anything that Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin or any of the crews did. It doesn’t take away from what they did when you shine a light on what other people did.

I think it would be helpful for people like me, the middle age white guys, to understand what others had to overcome to do what they did, because it was not a level playing field and still isn’t a level playing field.

OK, I’m going to pull out another card, a Roland SH 101…

Ooh, I have one. I have an SH101 right over there behind me and it’s glorious in grey. I was so pleased when I got it because of a buddy of mine had one back in the 80s and we used it with a Juno 106, it has a little sequencer in it and I couldn’t figure out “why can’t I sequence the Juno 106?”… I was such an idiot because obviously the SH101 had a CV Gate and no MIDI.

Behringer have done a clone of it and Roland have done their own boutique version of it. I’ve tried both, sold both! What they are missing? Well, the Roland comes close, the Behringer is almost, but not quite. What really annoyed me about both of them was the interface. And there is a huge difference in the physical interface. On the SH101, the slider travel distance from top to bottom is much larger. It gives you a much more detailed level of control, especially when you do stuff with the filter and a millimetre can make all the difference and that was the big learning I got when I got my hands on the SH101 and realised “ah, OK I was right size does matter”.

This is why the other two, the Behringer clone and the Roland boutique didn’t satisfy me either because it didn’t quite sound right in case of the Behringer while the Roland boutique just felt too restricted those tiny little sliders. I sequence the 101 with CV and gate, I have a little MIDI interface for it. But to be honest, CV and gate is just so much more easy and straightforward to use. I’ve found it an absolute beast for just doing simple basslines and it’s great for that. And it’s also fun where if you’re running something like an ostinato step sequence going over and over, you can do little things to make it interesting for you like applying external modulation to the filter.

There’s a little modification I did to it where suddenly you just pull out the sub-oscillator or something and you can make the sound interesting without doing anything too radical. And it’s fun also for live work with an echo effect unit. I’ve used it on a couple of live stream shows while patching the sounds in real time and flying, it’s on the by the seat of my pants. Look Ma, no presets!!

OK, here’s another card and it’s a Yamaha CS-80, I don’t suppose you have had one of those?

No, I don’t nor anyone who I know. Someone in Dublin was several, apparently. It’s a mythical synth, isn’t it? It really is and the obvious point of reference is Vangelis. I don’t know enough about it because I’ve never ever touched one, much less seen one in the flesh. Obviously I’ve got some of the software versions. If I found one in a skip and I pulled it out, I would probably put my back out.

I think you would need your family to help you get that one out! *laughs*

Behringer said they’re going to try and do a reissue of it. And then of course, there’s the Deckard’s Dream clone which is a modern day interpretation of it which sounds quite glorious, but it’s pricey enough at $4000-5000. I’d want to be certain I really want it because you can achieve that ‘Blade Runner’ stuff with other synths. You’ll get pretty close.

You’ve launched this album with a single called ‘Future Radio’. So is there a future for radio?

It depends who’s running it, I think…

Let’s rephrase the question. You’re an independent artist who is selling enough to be able to fund another album and buy more synths, which is ultimately an achievement…

Yeah, that would be fair, CIRCUIT3 is self-funding…

So does radio play in a wider sense, matter for an artist like you anymore? Or is there other ways of selling your product now?

Yeah, I think for I think for any artist it my position or even an artist who maybe is having a little bit more success than me, by success, I mean just reaching a bigger audience, you have to use multiple tools. There’s no one answer. So that’s where radio still absolutely has a part to play. And when I talk about radio, I mean actual traditional radio as in FM radio as much as online because the internet is just another means of transmission.

I have found that where I’ve been able to get radio play, it has definitely benefited me because the better shows focus on the music they’re playing and it’s not about the presenter, it’s not about the station, it’s about the music they’re playing and they properly announce tracks to let people know this is who the artist is. They might even read out a link that will enable the listeners to go find out more info. That brings more fans into the relationship.

I found have stuff through traditional radio like BBC 6 Music that was being released by an Italo disco label. It played in the middle of the morning and I was like, “oh you don’t expect to hear this on 6 Music in the middle of the day” and I went straight to Bandcamp and snagged a couple of LPs.

Radio definitely has a part to play. But I think if an artist thinks that by just guaranteeing radio play on an online station that it’s going to somehow help them, I’ve got news for them, IT’S NOT! You really have to do ALL the PR and networking stuff, you have to play live whether that’s live stream or in physical venues or both. You also have to do things like go online, make little videos. You’ve got to create a much broader presence than you probably realise and that’s some of the stuff I’ve learned over the last few years.

So specifically the ‘Future Radio’ song, what’s it about?

The song… it’s a boy’s adventure tale.

Ah, like A-HA?

Yeah, it’s a little bit like that. It’s about me aged 9 or 10 years and my fascination with my space travel, I mean ‘Space 1999’ and science-fiction “this is going to be my future”. Plus, I was obsessed with pirate radio. If you think about the late 70s, all that great stuff that was in broadcast that you would only hear on pirate radio.

The first time I heard say, NEW MUSIK, it was a pirate radio station. The first time I heard any of the Giorgio Moroder material with Donna Summer was on a pirate radio station. You just didn’t hear it on the boring old grown up radio. And so that was key for me and stations kept popping up everywhere in Dublin. I fascinated by all of that.

So all of those memories went into a chat I was having with Brian McCloskey. On every album, Brian and I have co-written a song. Brian does really clever lyrics. So he sent them over and it was irresistible. I thought “oh, this is going to be a BUGGLES song”. And then, of course, I made the mistake of trying to record it like THE BUGGLES. And you can’t! I’m not Geoff Downes.

And you’ve not got a Yamaha CS80! *laughs*

No, no! But it was a starting point. I tell you one thing that did assist with what I was trying to do: create as many Trevor Horn whizzbang moments as possible. He talks about the ear candy that you have to have on a single. So there’s little bits and pieces popping in and out. I sent the track over to Sean Barron who people will know as iEUROPEAN who’s done stuff with Wolfgang Flür and was in EMPIRE STATE HUMAN. He’s a really clever producer and I explained to him what I’m trying to do with the track. So he did a bit of production and added a lot of these random little sounds. One off sounds that were a little bit of ear candy.

‘Future Radio’ is the most upbeat thing on the album and I put it out first because when people hear the album, they’ll see I’ve gone in a bit of a different direction. I didn’t want to lead with a radically different track from everything I’ve ever done. So this track is like a bridge between the last couple of albums and this one. It’s a fun song and I had great fun making the video for it going for a retro Space TV vibe in it.

You mentioned you heard NEW MUSIK on pirate radio, and their leader Tony Mansfield is a bit of an underrated guy, despite producing A-HA, NAKED EYES and obviously NEW MUSIK themselves. Isn’t it quite interesting that his aesthetic has ended up in the mainstream again under the guise of THE WEEKND?

I’ve heard some good stuff by THE WEEKND and I think it’s great. I’m not gonna complain if anybody is bringing that gorgeous sound to the mainstream. I do have to resist the temptation to not to be a grumpy old man and say “look kids you didn’t invent this”. It’s fine. I have reconciled myself with the fact that many people think they’ve discovered something that’s brand new and that’s part of the joy of being young and getting into music. I just hope that they’ll go back and rediscover the origins of all of this.

Imagine, hearing NEW MUSIK for the first time? I’m envious of anybody who gets to do that for the first time. I would love to see what they what they else they find when they discover who Tony Mansfield and all the stuff he’s done without the prejudice of the music press snobbery at the time. Just look at the stuff he did for CAPTAIN SENSIBLE like ‘Glad It’s All Over’, what a track. You listen to and just think, wow. I’m really hoping people rediscover this stuff, that would make me happy.

OK, another card Sir. And it is a Sequential Pro-One…

Oh I have a Pro-one and I’m so happy with it. It is of course the Vince Clarke sound. The Pro-One is hard to make a bad sound on. I defy anybody to get a Pro-One and just make it sound, you know, like a dying toothbrush. Not possible.

It’s great for bass…

It’s also great for atmospheric stuff, so there is one track that’s actually the digital B side to the ‘Future Radio’ single called ‘Kosmos 954’. It’s named after a satellite and that track features the Pro-One. I was doing the Vince Clarke trick when each note plays on the sequence, he will change the filter on various notes by using 2 sequences running in parallel so the second sequence is opening and closing the filter to different degrees changing the sound.

So I did it on a very slow track and I was doing some pretty extreme things with the filter where it was almost feeding back then pushing the Pro-One through a Strymon Big Sky reverb, which of course, then brings out all those gorgeous harmonics. It meant that on the track, I really only needed two synths because you’re getting such a rich soundscape. People overlook the Pro-One for ambient. The envelopes are so snappy and fast for bass. It’s the perfect instrument.

This album is 17 tracks of instrumentals and some pop songs, but also more obscure art pop. What are your hopes and fears for ‘Technology For The Youth’?

The biggest fear is that nobody will listen to it. My biggest hope is that when people have listened to it and it gets them to check out some of these stories, then I think I’ve really achieved something. I really hope though that people look into some of the back stories, whether it’s about the lost cosmonauts, whether it’s about Ed Dwight, whether it’s about Valentina Tereshkova, whether it’s about the Apollo Soyuz joint mission. I’m hoping people go and read about these things and enjoy it.

Go look up some of the names on the titles of the instrumental tracks, whether its animals that went to space or satellites that crashed into Canada or whatever – You will start finding out about all of the hidden history. Yeah, I’d love to sell lots of copies of it, I really hope it breaks even but I mostly hope lots of people hear it.

Talking about the animals that went into space, Laika the space dog was the first animal in space. I first heard about her at school but when you got older, you realise she didn’t come back, they didn’t tell us that at school did they?

No, they didn’t! They didn’t tell us a lot of things about what happened to the animals. In some places I know the French have a statue to one of their dogs. See, this is what happens, you start reading these stories and there’s a little bit of sadness, but now they have their own statue somewhere which is cool.

We were really cruel to these creatures and there’s always an argument to be made with any form of scientific research, do you think an animal is expendable? That’s an argument for another day. But it was a different time and we probably would not take that approach now.

OK, the final card is an EMS VCS3, introduced in 1969, the same year as Apollo 11…

Looking at it, without ever having had the opportunity to try one, you think that’s impenetrable. I’m curious to see if somebody’s going to clone or reissue it, isn’t the story of EMS really interesting as well?

Yeah, there’s several documentaries on EMS and they are absolutely fascinating. My first memory of seeing the VCS3 for the first time was Brian Eno, they showed a clip on a on a BBC2 synth special. I’d imagined him pulling this giant lever, but it wasn’t. It was a tiny little joystick sort of thing, him operating it looked amazing.

With ROXY MUSIC?

Yeah, I didn’t know what on earth he’s doing, it was sounding weird but you look back now, on the Old Grey Whistle Test clip of ‘Ladytron’ and there’s that spacey treatment at the end…

Yeah, it’s a very British synthesizer. It has that bakelite vibe off that doesn’t it?

It’s a Doctor Who type of synthesizer, isn’t it?

It definitely wouldn’t be out of place on the TARDIS. And you know, you can play battleships with it!

Yeah. Actually talking of music technology ending up on spaceships, you know the controls of an Oberheim DX ended up on the Starship Enterprise?

And an Eventide Harmonizer was on ‘Alien’…

‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’, it was an ARP 2500 that spoke to the aliens…

And the sound of R2-D2 was an ARP 2600… shall we stop there?


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Peter Fitzpatrick

‘Technology For The Youth’ is released by AnalogueTrash on 15th July 2022 on CD, digital and various coloured vinyl LP formats, pre-order from https://circuit3.bandcamp.com/

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Vintage Synth Trumps is a card game by GForce that features 52 classic synthesizers

https://www.juno.co.uk/products/gforce-software-vintage-synth-trumps-2-playing/637937-01/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
18th June 2022

HEAVEN 17 Reproduction + Travelogue Live at The Roundhouse

Photo by Simon Helm

Having been mooted for several years and postponed twice, HEAVEN 17 finally delivered their 40th anniversary celebration of THE HUMAN LEAGUE albums ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’.

“We’re not pretending we were reforming THE HUMAN LEAGUE, all the publicity states this is HEAVEN 17’s interpretation of those two albums” said Martyn Ware, “As you well know, I was the major writer on most of those tracks. I always felt they deserved a wider audience, hence why we’ve played a lot of those songs live with HEAVEN 17 anyway.” Although it was Fast Product that released the first version of ‘Being Boiled’ in June 1978,  Virgin Records, under the A&R directorship of Simon Draper, had the foresight to see the wider potential of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s sound containing synthesizers and vocals only.

But how important are these two records in the development of pop music using synthesizers? Using the Roland System 100, Korg 700s, Roland Jupiter 4 and Korg 770, ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’ are certainly up there with landmark British albums such as ‘Replicas’, ‘The Pleasure Principle’, ‘Metamatic’ and ‘Vienna’, while a case can definitely be made that they are on a par with international works such as ‘No1 In Heaven’ and ‘Die Mensch-Maschine’.

Former member of both THE HUMAN LEAGUE and HEAVEN 17 Ian Craig Marsh once imitated the deep voice of Seiko watches on an early demo and declared “THE HUMAN LEAGUE, one day all music will be made like this…” and it all turned out to be rather prophetic. Deputising tonight at The Roundhouse for the long absent Marsh, alongside Ware and HEAVEN 17 front man Glenn Gregory, was keyboardist Flo Sabeva, while acting as Director Of Visuals in place of Adrian Wright was Assorted iMaGes design director Malcolm Garrett.

Using a four screen ‘Reproduction’ of the album’s inner bag as the stage set, synths-wise, Ware had his Roland trusty V-Synth GT at his disposal alongside a vintage Roland System 100, mini-Korg 700s and a Jupiter 4 on loan from Irish synth artist CIRCUIT3. Meanwhile, Sabeva kept the tech up-to-date with her Fantom 6 and System 8 arsenal from Roland.

The aggressive synth-punk of ‘Almost Medieval’, naturally opened proceedings while the harrowing ‘Circus Of Death’ following, both displaying a thoughtful ‘Reproduction’ of the percussive System 100 dynamics. A rallying call to rebel against conformity, ‘The Path Of Least Resistance’ was as relevant as ever while fun came on ‘Blind Youth’, summing up another sad observation that could be applied today, especially with its known anti-Covid vaccine elements.

The Schaffel nursery rhyme of ‘Empire State Human still came over as the mighty hit it never was, illustrated by world monuments and the achievements of the US and Soviet space programmes. Using the System 100 for its lonely sequence, ‘Morale’ segued seamlessly into the ring modulated tick-tock of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ with Gregory and Ware doing their familiar Righton Brothers duet, to convey the eerie soundtrack’s desolate emptiness.

As the fierce acceleration of ‘Zero As A Limit’ climaxed the ‘Reproduction’ section of the show, the ‘Travelogue’ part was introduced by the harsh screeching frequencies of ‘The Black Hit Of Space’ as it all went up another gear with this still entertainingly humorous Sci-Fi story about an infinite chart topper. Meanwhile, the minimal synth rendition of Mick Ronson’s ‘Only After Dark’ prompted an audience chantalong while the under-rated ‘Life Kills’ proved to be something of an electronic pop evergreen

But it was all hush for the poignant prog synth of ‘Dreams Of Leaving’; with a narrative about the traumatic escape of refugees who then try to settle into a new home, the alignment of sad, happy, fast, slow with its uplifting pipe-pitched climax was proof that 40 years on, emotional responses can still come from the machines of Roland and her sisters.

For the instrumentals ‘Toyota City’ and Jeff Wayne’s ‘Gordon’s Gin’, Gregory took his place on a Sequential Prophet 6 but as backing singers Rachel Meadows Hayley and Hayley Williams joined in and danced to the vicious backbone of ‘Crow & A Baby’, it wasn’t difficult to imagine this number as a prototype of ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’; squinting from the balcony, it could even have looked like “Phil, Joanne and Susan” were on stage!

An epic synth reimagination of PARLIAMENT and FUNKADELIC, the reworked ‘Being Boiled 2.0’ with Phil Oakey’s surreal lyrics about the extermination of silk worms never sounded so glorious and further memories of the mature audience were triggered by the incongruous but effective use of slides featuring characters from Gerry Anderson’s iconic Supermarionation shows ‘Fireball XL5’, ‘Stingray’, ‘Thunderbirds’, ‘Joe 90’ and ‘Captain Scarlet’.

A dystopian song about the mechanisation of radio stations which inadvertently predicted the Spotify playlist, ‘WXJL Tonight’ closed the ‘Travelogue’ section with Gregory adding the tones of Neil Diamond to his delivery.

But the evening was not over yet as tracks from the companion ‘Holiday 80’ EP were aired. The stupendous ‘Marianne’ with its three part vocal counterpoint and multiple harmonies over its crashing rhythmic barrage was worth the ticket price along while Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s ‘Nightclubbing’ somehow got an even more sinister funereal treatment.

But then things went disco as ‘I Don’t Depend On You’, the 1979 that was released prior to ‘Reproduction’ under the alias of THE MEN took its place in the set but importantly, highlighting how THE HUMAN LEAGUE might have mutated into how HEAVEN 17 eventually sounded even if there hadn’t been a split.

Ever the raconteur, Gregory jokingly threatened a performance of ‘Dare’ but settled on stories about the formation of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and HEAVEN 17.

But an unexpected HEAVEN 17 encore reminded the sold-out crowd that we don’t need Fascists, especially that nasty little race traitor Ugly Patel and her scruffy bumbling posh boy mate! But ultimately, all anyone in life really desires is ‘Temptation’ with dimes in that hot slot!

Prior to these shows, THE HUMAN LEAGUE faithful inevitably questioned the validating of HEAVEN 17 performing these albums without Phil Oakey, but is ‘Fade To Grey’ any less valid sung by its co-writer Midge Ure than it is by the late VISAGE front man Steve Strange? By using many of the original synth sounds, this celebration of these two seminal albums was both authentic and appealing.

Sometimes celebrations can actually be more entertaining than modern day incarnations of an original act, as proven with DEPECHE MODE and their various tribute bands showing more spirit to respect for their legacy. At the end of the day, the stars of this evening were the songs themselves, a collection of pioneering electronic adventures that have been forgotten by the mainstream who largely think THE HUMAN LEAGUE appeared by magic with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’.

Those who want to see THE HUMAN LEAGUE performing the ‘Dare’ album can do so at the end of 2021.

But for those who preferred to recall the excitement prevalent at the start of the Synth Britannia era, tonight at The Roundhouse was the place to be… the way it was in the past, a long long time ago!


‘Reproduction’ + ‘Travelogue’ were released by Virgin Records and are still available in the usual formats

https://www.heaven17.com/

https://www.facebook.com/heaven17official/

https://twitter.com/heaven17bef

https://www.instagram.com/heaven17official/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price except where credited
6th September 2020

HEAVEN 17 Clouds Or Mountains?

So what did HEAVEN 17 do on their first day of isolation?

Inspired by real life events happening right now, Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware have presented a video for a new song ‘Clouds Or Mountains?’. However, keen HEAVEN 17 fans may have noticed that it sounds familiar.

‘Clouds Or Mountains?’ was previewed alongside ‘Pray’, ‘Illumination’, ‘Unseen’ and ‘Captured’ as part of a work-in-progress sampler for the long awaited new HEAVEN 17 album ‘Not For Public Broadcast’, available only to subscribers of the now-discontinued Bowers & Wilkins ‘Society Of Sound’ in 2017.

Martyn Ware told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK recently: “The origins of this song started about three years ago as an instrumental I’d done – I sent it to Glenn sometime later, and he felt inspired to put a ‘scratch’ vocal to it – we both loved the result, so Glenn created a video for it last week for fun – and this is the result”.

Clocking in at nearly six and a half minutes, Ware’s sparse electronic soundscape provides an eerie backdrop for Glenn Gregory’s impassioned baritone with a delivery that Martyn Ware says is “Very Scott Walker / David Bowie”, concurring with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s assessment. And as the pace heightens, there are haunting echoes of ‘Boy Child’ by the man born Scott Engel and ‘Sunday’ from the former David Jones’ ‘Heathen’ album.

No stranger to the art of the crooner, Glenn Gregory had said previously in 2014: “The way I sing anyway, people always used to say I sounded a bit like a crooner, that baritone type thing… it’s good to have that sensibility. It’s pop, not rock. I was never into The Stones, I don’t really get them. I’d much rather listen to Scott Walker or Anthony Newley.”

In the meantime, a new boxed ‘Another Big Idea: 1996-2015’ has just been released with the lavish CD edition compiling HEAVEN 17’s two reunion albums to date ‘Bigger Than America’ and Before/After’ with an unreleased instrumental album ‘Space Age Space Music’ plus assorted remixes, re-recordings and live material.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to HEAVEN 17

‘Another Big Idea: 1996-2015’ is released as a 9CD or 4LP boxed set by Edsel/Demon Records

Martyn Ware will be discussing ‘Reproduction’ + ‘Travelogue’ on Monday 6th April 2020 during a digital interview presentation with ditto.​tv at 1800 UK time, information on how to register to view this event online at https://ditto.tv/big-boost-mondays-martyn-ware-presents-reproduction-travelogue/

https://www.heaven17.com/

https://www.facebook.com/heaven17official/

https://twitter.com/heaven17bef

https://www.instagram.com/heaven17official/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
28th March 2020, updated 16th February 2021

10 Years of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK – STILL PUSHING THE ENVELOPE

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrates its tenth birthday and it really has been synthly the best.

At the HEAVEN 17 aftershow party for their triumphant gig at The Magna Science Park on 6th March 2010, following chats with Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware, Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken, interview opportunities opened up. It was obvious there was gap waiting to be filled for a quality web publication that featured the best in new and classic electronic pop without having to lower itself to using the dreaded “80s” label.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was it and became reality on 15th March 2010. Electronic pop music didn’t start in that Thatcher decade and certainly didn’t end there either. So there was even an editorial diktat which banned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s writers from using the lazy”80s” term as a reference. Tellingly, several PR representatives said that one of the site’s main appeals was that it avoided the whole nostalgia bent that had been presented by both virtual and physical media.

At the time, kooky female fronted keyboard based pop like LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE, LADY GAGA and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS were among those touted as being the future at the time. But it proved to be something of a red herring, as those acts evolved back into what they actually were, conventional pop acts.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK preferred the sort of innovative synthpop as outlined in BBC4’s Synth Britannia documentary.

Wth the next generation of artists like MARSHEAUX, VILE ELECTRODES, VILLA NAH and MIRRORS more than fitting the bill, that ethos of featuring pop music using synthesizers stuck too.

Meanwhile, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s portfolio expanded swiftly with key personalities such as Rusty Egan, Sarah Blackwood, Richard James Burgess, Warren Cann, Chris Payne, Thomas Dolby, John Foxx, Andy McCluskey, Neil Arthur, Alan Wilder, Mark Reeder, Gary Langan, Jori Hulkkonen, Howard Jones, Mira Aroyo, Sarah Nixey and Hannah Peel among those giving interviews to the site during its first two years.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has always prided itself in asking the questions that have never usually been asked, but which fans want to know the answers to. And it was with this reputation for intelligent and well researched interviewing that in March 2011, the site was granted its biggest coup yet.

Speaking to Stephen Morris of the then-on hiatus NEW ORDER, the drummer cryptically hinted during the ensuing chat that Manchester’s finest would return by saying “I never say never really”.

And that is exactly what happened in Autumn of that year and the band have been there since, as popular as ever and still making great music with the release of ‘Music Complete’ in 2015.

Monday 21st March 2011 was an interesting day that partied like it was 1981 when it saw the release of albums by DURAN DURAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS. Also in 2011, Mute Records celebrated their influential legacy with a weekender also at London’s Roundhouse which culminated in ERASURE, YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY performing in the same set.

Despite the ‘Brilliant’ return of ULTRAVOX, 2012 paled in comparison after such a fruitful year and several acts who were featured probably would not have gained as much coverage in more competitive periods. With pressure from outsiders as to what was hot and what was not, this was the only time ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK felt it was obliged to support a domestic scene.

But realising acts like HURTS and STRANGERS were actually just jumping on an apparent synth bandwagon and possessing more style than substance, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK decided to change tact and only featured acts it felt truly passionate about, even if it meant upsetting the wider synth community. The reasoning being that just because a band uses a synthesizer doesn’t mean it is good.

During this time, MIRRORS sadly disbanded while VILLA NAH mutated into SIN COS TAN. But the year did see the launch of CHVRCHES who stood out from the crowd with their opening gambit ‘Lies’.

With their Taylor Swift gone electro template, Lauren Mayberry and Co managed to engage an audience who didn’t know or care what a Moog Voyager was, to listen to synthpop!

2013 turned out to be one of the best years for electronic pop since its Synth Britannia heyday. What ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK achieved during this year would take up a whole article in itself… there were high profile interviews with Alison Moyet, Gary Numan and Karl Bartos while OMD released the album of the decade in ‘English Electric’. PET SHOP BOYS made up for their ‘Elysium’ misstep with ‘Electric’ while there was finally a third volume in BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ covers series.

Although 2014 started tremendously with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK being invited to meet Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür in Cologne, the year suffered next to quality of 2013.

The interviews continued, particularly with key figures from the Synth Britannia era including Midge Ure and the often forgotten man of the period Jo Callis who was a key member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial phase.

But the year saw grandeurs of delusion at their highest. There was the clueless Alt-Fest debacle which saw the organisers play Fantasy Festival with no cash to underwrite the infrastructure to enable it to actually happen!

Sadly today, there are still egotistic chancers organising events with zero budget and the money from ticket sales being fleeced to fund their holidays. But these artificial factors are rarely considered and so long as there are lower league artists desperate to play for nowt and a misguided enhancement in profile that is often on a platform that provides minimal exposure anyway, then the confidence tricks will continue.

2015 saw the local emergence of Rodney Cromwell and Gwenno, while the majestic Swedish duo KITE proved that they were the best synth act in Europe with the ‘VI’ EP and their impressive live show.

It was also the year when ERASURE front man Andy Bell gave his first interview to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to offer some revealing insights.

Making something of a comeback after a recorded absence of nearly eight years, Jean-Michel Jarre presented his ambitious two volume ‘Electronica’ project which saw collaborations with a varied pool of musicians including Pete Townsend, Lang Lang, John Carpenter, Vince Clarke, Hans Zimmer, Cyndi Lauper, Sebastien Tellier and Gary Numan.

VILLA NAH returned in 2016, as did YELLO with Fifi Rong as one of their guest vocalists while APOPTYGMA BERZERK went instrumental and entered the ‘Exit Popularity Contest’. Riding on the profile generated from their ‘A Broken Frame’ covers album, MARSHEAUX released their biggest-selling long player to date, a two city concept in ‘Ath.Lon’. This was also the year that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK first became acquainted with the analogue synthesizer heaven of Johan Baeckström, a modern day Vince Clarke if ever there was one.

2017 saw a bumper crop of great albums from the likes of I SPEAK MACHINE, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, SOULWAX, IAMX, GOLDFRAPP and DAILY PLANET, while veterans such as Alison Moyet and Gary Numan produced their best work of the 21st Century.

However DEPECHE MODE unleashed their most dire record yet in ‘Spirit’, a dreary exercise in faux activism bereft of tunes. Salt was rubbed into the wound when they merely plonked an underwhelming arena show into a stadium for their summer London show.

The trend was to continue later in 2019 as DEPECHE MODE just plonked 14 albums into a boxed set, while OMD offered an album of quality unreleased material in their ‘Souvenir’ package.

And with DEPECHE MODE’s sad descent into a third rate pseudo-rock combo during the last 15 years to appease that ghastly mainstream American institution called The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame with guitars and drums, Dave Gahan in particular with his ungrateful dismissal of the pioneering synth-based material with which he made his fortune with, now has what he has always coveted.

And don’t get ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK started on the 2019 Moog Innovation Award being given to Martin Gore, a real insult to true synth pioneers if ever there was one, including Daniel Miller, Vince Clarke and Alan Wilder, the three men who actually did the electronic donkey work on those imperial phase DEPECHE MODE albums! Gore may have been a very good songwriter during that time, but a synth innovator? Oh come on!?!

With regards Synth Britannia veterans, new albums in 2017 from Richard Barbieri and Steve Jansen saw a revived interest in JAPAN, the band with which they made their name.

Despite releasing their final album ‘Tin Drum’ in 1981, as a later conversation with one-time guitarist Rob Dean proved, cumulatively from related article views, JAPAN became the most popular act on ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.

The return of SOFT CELL dominated 2018 with a lavish boxed set that was not just comprised of previously released long players, new songs, new books, a BBC documentary and a spectacular farewell show at London’s O2 Arena.

Meanwhile, adopting a much lower profile were LADYTRON with their comeback and an eventual eponymous sixth album. A Non Stop Electronic Cabaret saw Canadian veterans RATIONAL YOUTH play their first ever UK gig alongside PAGE and PSYCHE, but coming out of Brooklyn to tour with ERASURE was REED & CAROLINE.

EMIKA was ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ and Swedish songstress IONNALEE showcased one of the best value-for-money live presentations in town, with a show that surreal imagined Kate Bush at a rave!

But from China came STOLEN, one of the most exciting bands in years who were then later rewarded for their graft with a European tour opening for NEW ORDER.

2019 was the year when synthwave graduates Dana Jean Phoenix and Ollie Wride were coming into their own as live performers, while electronic disco maestro Giorgio Moroder embarked on a concert tour for the first time with his songs being the true stars of the show.

Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS gave his first interview to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to tie in with his solo album ‘Gone From Here’, while a pub lunch with Mark White and Stephen Singleton mutated into an extensive chat about their days in ABC. Lloyd Cole adopted a more synthesized template on ‘Guessworks’ and Britpop went synth as GENEVA’s Andrew Montgomery formed US with Leo Josefsson of Swedish trio LOWE.

If ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK does have a proudest achievement in its first ten years, then it is giving extensive early coverage to VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and SOFTWAVE, six acts who were later invited to open on tour for OMD. Partly because of this success, some of those who were less talented felt aggrieved despite feeling an entitlement to be featured. If an act is good enough, the fact that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK hasn’t featured them should not matter, especially as other electronic and synth blogs are available. After taking its eye of the ball once before in 2012, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK maintained a trust of its own gut instinct.

Meanwhile, its stance has been tested by those shouting loudest who instantly champion what they perceive as the next big thing like sheep, without really looking ahead at a wider picture. However, TRAVIS on VSTs is just not ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s thing frankly…

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s participation in the annual ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf for on-stage interviews with Rusty Egan, Chris Payne, Mark Reeder and Zeus B Held was another high profile engagement to be proud of. Then there were six live events and five rounds of hosting ‘An Audience with Rusty Egan’ in one of the most unenviable but highly entertaining refereeing assignments in music ?

Other highlights over the last ten years have included ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s 2015 career retrospective on German trio CAMOUFLAGE being edited and used as booklet notes for the Universal Music sanctioned compilation CD ‘The Singles’.

As 2020 settles in, highly regarded artists within the electronic community continue to engage with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK. Neil Arthur recently gave his seventh interview as BLANCMANGE and his tenth interview overall, taking into account his side projects FADER and NEAR FUTURE. Not far behind, Martyn Ware has also been a regular interviewee having spoken to the site on six occasions while Paul Humphreys has been interviewed no less than five times.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK is still pushing the envelope, continuing to reflect the interests of people who love the Synth Britannia era and have a desire to hear new music seeded from that ilk.

With artists like ANI GLASS, IMI, KNIGHT$, NINA, MECHA MAIKO, GEISTE and PLASMIC among those on the cusp of a wider breakthrough, there is still more excellent music still to be created, discovered and savoured.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to everyone who has taken the time read any article on the site over the last ten years, it is greatly appreciated.


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Image Design by Volker Maass
16th March 2020, updated 29th Janaury 2021

MARTYN WARE: The Reproduction + Travelogue Interview

Photo by Michael Clark

Celebrating the first two albums by THE HUMAN LEAGUE of which he was a founding member, electronic pop pioneer Martyn Ware will be joining HEAVEN 17 vocalist Glenn Gregory to perform ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’ at two special shows in September 2020. These will take place at Sheffield City Hall and The Roundhouse in London.

The way it was in the past, a long long time ago, Martyn Ware, Ian Craig Marsh and Philip Oakey released their first single ‘Being Boiled’ on Fast Product in June 1978. The independent label’s impresario Bob Last subsequently became their manager.

A deal was signed with Virgin Records under the A&R directorship of Simon Draper, who had the vision and foresight to realise that THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s synthesizers only sound was the future of pop music; among the band’s early champions were David Bowie and Iggy Pop.

With Adrian Wright on board as a non-playing band member in the role of Director of Visuals, the live concert presentations of THE HUMAN LEAGUE were stark and dark, with Wright’s slides of ‘Star Trek’, ‘Captain Scarlet’ and ‘Hawaii Five-O’ amongst those accompanying the musical trio’s largely static on-stage persona.

The serious music press loved it and highlighted how Marsh performed inside a cage of clear Perspex as a symbol of his detachment and disaffection… it was in fact a gob shield to protect himself and his rig of synthesizers from spittle, a consequence of supporting punk bands like SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES!

However, a lack of commercial success at the time led to an engineered split by Bob Last and Virgin Records in 1980. Oakey and Wright, who kept THE HUMAN LEAGUE name, recruited two girls Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley to record the massive selling ‘Dare’ with Ian Burden and Jo Callis under the production supervision of Martin Rushent, while Ware and Marsh formed BRITISH ELECTRIC FOUNDATION and its pop subsidiary HEAVEN 17 featuring Glenn Gregory, who also found success with the gold certified ‘Penthouse & Pavement’.

Martyn Ware talked about his time in THE HUMAN LEAGUE and the making of those two seminal electronic pop albums…

This ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’ showcase has been mooted for some time now, so what has enabled it to finally become reality?

It’s been quite a long time in the planning. We tested the waters with our agent via various promoters and it took a while to convince them, which I found amazing.

They were bit nervous that it might be too confusing for the public, I just said “Put it on, it will sell out!”

It’s about how it’s sold to the public, we’re not pretending we were reforming THE HUMAN LEAGUE, all the publicity states this is HEAVEN 17’s interpretation of those two albums, we’re not trying to be a tribute act. As you well know, I was the major writer on most of those tracks. I always felt they deserved a wider audience, hence why we’ve played a lot of those songs live with HEAVEN 17 anyway.

The Virgin40 thing in 2013 was a stealth testing of the waters to see what the reaction would be, everybody seemed to love it so we decided to start the ball rolling. Eventually the HEAVEN 17 tour of last year tipped the balance that we knew what we were talking about.

It is an interesting concept. We’re spending quite a bit of money on the production, I wanted to make sure that was right and the venues were right. Who knows? We might even do a few more of them, if it is deemed to be successful.

Will there be slides to illustrate the songs like at THE HUMAN LEAGUE shows back in the day?

I love the notion of the using original equipment, but the problem of using Kodak 5 projectors is you can get hold of them, but they’re not very bright. That would mean things would have to be quite dark like it was in the first place, plus they’re quite unreliable. So what we’re doing is paying homage to the slides by predominantly keeping the same format and simulating the way the slides use to look and the way they used to change, like with timings and stuff.

So we have Malcolm Garrett in who is kind of taking the place of Adrian Wright. Like him, he’s bonkers and a collector and has a unique take on the visual world. He’s going to be on stage, controlling the slide show, triggering it live, it won’t all be pre-programmed. Because we are doing it via digital means, we have the option to do some other stuff, we’d like to leave a few things as surprises. There are some other visual artists who are involved; there may well be some moving image thing as part of the show.

But there won’t be any need for gob shields?

No! I think all the punks have grown up…

…they’re all lecturers now!

Yeah! A lot of people from my age group were proper punks back in the day! But we will be considering how the synth rigs will look, again we’d like to pay homage to way that it all worked. As well as playing both vinyl albums in order in their entirety, with the CD versions, there were various bonus tracks so some of those will be included in the extended encore.

When ‘Reproduction’ was released in Autumn 1979, THE HUMAN LEAGUE had something of a strange back catalogue comprising of ‘Being Boiled’, ‘The Dignity Of Labour’ and ‘I Don’t Depend On You’ as THE MEN?

Conceptually after we signed to Virgin Records, we wanted to stamp our authority because we were concerned about losing our independent status. So the first thing we did after ‘Being Boiled’ on Fast Product was ‘The Dignity Of Labour’, a completely instrumental 12 inch EP, to show our fans that we had not abandoned our principles.

The other side of the coin was that we were obsessed with disco music and we wanted to prove that with the right resources, we could create a disco song under a different name, so that it didn’t alter people’s perception of the band. I mean, we liked these side project things like Arnold Corns with Bowie. Also, our favourite bands like ROXY MUSIC did singles that were not part of an album, like ‘Pyjamarama’, that kind of artistic f**k you. That was the rationale behind ‘I Don’t Depend On You’, but ironically, looking back on it now, it’s pretty much the template for how HEAVEN 17 went.

As has been indicated by ‘The Golden Hour Of the Future’, there was a lot of material already written, but ‘Reproduction’ had completely new material apart from ‘Circus Of Death’?

We were performing live before we were signed, so ‘Reproduction’ was basically our live set. Virgin insisted we came down to London to record at The Townhouse which I wasn’t entirely sure was a good idea and it proved to be the case. I like the album but the production knocked the stuffing out of it.

Despite having a number of great songs, ‘Reproduction’ does sound a bit cloudy, what was your working relationship like with its producer Colin Thurston?

Colin Thurston was a lovely guy, we were just inexperienced. We were in awe of this amazing studio and the technology, he’d just done Bowie and Iggy Pop so he was a hot rising producer who went on to do DURAN DURAN… we just found him to be a bit white bread. Our live shows were quite punky… it sounds weird but we saw ourselves as synth-punk, we liked the raucousness and distortion of our sound.

But he rinsed that all out and made us sound like a f**king chamber orchestra! When the album was properly mastered in 2003, it sounded much much better. The opening track ‘Almost Medieval’ was meant to be a shock to the system, it was meant to sound punky, angular and aggressive but on the album, it was nicely produced but sounded a bit polite.

‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ benefitted from that approach to production but what we lost on ‘Reproduction’ was that hard edge, that dichotomy of the angry man punk thing and the softness, it sounded like defeat.

But ‘Almost Medieval’ does still sound quite blistering…

You should have heard it in the studio, it was unbelievable! We’d never worked on giant speakers before like they had in The Townhouse, so they were blasting all this stuff at us and we didn’t know how it would sound in the final mastered version, it didn’t really punch through on any format, which was sad.

What was your synth armoury at this point?

Not very much actually, it was Roland System 100, Korg 700s, Roland Jupiter 4. Ian had a Korg 770.

Those metallic System 100 sounds for the rhythmic backbone were quite unique; but had you considered acquiring a drum machine like the Roland CR78 Compurhythm?

I was never really interested in that because we knew the uniqueness of the hardware sequencers that were attached to the System 100. We could drive everything off the CV / Gate and the timing was super perfect, we could have whatever sound we wanted on the end of those triggers. So it was more interesting to design your own sounds from scratch rather than use a drum machine. My attitude changed about that when the Linn Drum came out in 1981.

Were you sticking to the “synthesizers and vocals only” rule?

Probably, we were very careful to keep the ingredients pure in the dishes we were creating.

Had there been a bone of contention with Virgin about your choice of rhythm template?

No, we never allowed any interference, one of our conditions in signing to Virgin was they let us get on with stuff. They were definitely discouraged from being privy to the creative process. They had the right to pass comment once the tracks were complete and to make their suggestions for alternations, but we saw ourselves as pioneers and we didn’t want any blanding out of that. We learnt from doing ‘Reproduction’ that we had to do that throughout the delivery chain or it can easily go tits up! So for ‘Travelogue’, we insisted on mixing and mastering our own stuff.

Despite its steadier pace, ‘The Path Of Least Resistance’ was quite aggressive, what had it been inspired by?

It was a rallying call to rebel against conformity. Both Phil and myself went to grammar school, the top state school in Sheffield, so we were surrounded by a lot of people who wanted to be professionals, lawyers and all that stuff… my parents were poor. So Phil and I being rebellious types were calling for ‘The Path Of Least Resistance’.

So was ‘Blind Youth’ a follow on from that theme?

Kind of… although there was a thread that we wanted to give people hope and optimism, because that’s how we felt.

But in the punk scene at that time, it was getting quite trendy in Manchester in particular for the miserable end of things to be proliferated. And that carried on for quite a long time.

I always felt that Sheffield had more in common with somewhere like Liverpool than Manchester. We used to play at The Factory and they were all too cool for school, it was all 40s raincoats and dark glasses with nobody applauding at the end of numbers.

So we were a bit wound up by that kind of stuff because we were battle hardened live performers by this time, we’d toured with SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, PERE UBU and THE STRANGLERS! Our creds were up there! We knew what we were doing live. We wanted people to have a positive view on life, if there was a nascent anger in that, then that was to rattle people out of their comfort zones.

‘Empire State Human’ should have been a huge hit as songs like ‘Are Friends Electric?’ and ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ had charted quite high, any thoughts in hindsight as to why that might not have happened?

I just think everything we did at that time sounded alien and we wanted that, but we believed in our own ability to make that work and we liked it. We were encouraged by the record company and although it was still within our parameters, we honestly thought that we had made a hit.

So we basically wrote a nursery rhyme tune and made it quite fantastic in the literal sense of the word and Phil to his eternal credit, came up with words that were absolutely brilliant. The backing track is just great, but it was the classic right song at the wrong time!

‘Morale’ was very minimal and emotive, how did you come up with that icy arpeggio?

I’d literally just bought a Jupiter 4 and was obsessed with the arpeggiation feature, we were doing a lot of stuff with that. We’d had arpeggiation before with Jean-Michel Jarre and the more experimental set-ups with the Moog Modular in music, but there was something about the sounds on the Jupiter 4 that made all that work for me which were quite Japanese. It sounded more alien than the Moog stuff, which is kind of why we never got into American synthesizers. I always thought Roland and Korg stuff sounded more Science Fiction. It was also the first synth that I know of that had an arpeggiation feature that was really useful, plus it had memories so that you could store patches.

What inspired the stark arrangement for ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’?

In reality, we wanted to write film soundtracks but nobody wanted to employ us, so we decided to make them into songs instead. ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ has always been one of my favourite things with that atmospheric and moody production of Phil Spector. If you look at the lyrics, it’s more about the desolation you feel when someone who you love leaves your life. I was thinking, it could even stress it’s a bit like dying and is not necessarily about the break-up of a relationship, although that is what the lyrics are about.

It’s that empty feeling, so we thought let’s embody this in as minimalist a way we could whilst maintaining that beautiful ring modulated tick-tock rhythm that Ian Marsh designed, it was very inspiring to work with that. Of course, Phil sang it beautifully and I didn’t do too bad either.

In ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK’s opinion, ‘Reproduction’ perhaps loses momentum with the closing two tracks ‘Austerity / Girl One’ and ‘Zero As A Limit’, any thoughts on that?

I like ‘Austerity / Girl One’ and again, it’s more like that filmic thing. ‘Zero As A Limit’ was always the track we finished our live show with; we had this idea of doing a track that accelerated towards the end and that was the climax of our show. Again, going back to what we talked about earlier, the contrast between the edginess and the live feel with the glacial emptiness is missing because the mixing and mastered didn’t accommodate it. So the way we conceptualised it in the sequence, it felt a bit like a damp squib on the record.

Released in May 1980, ‘Travelogue’ made a big leap in dynamics, how had the sound expanded, was it down to acquiring more sophisticated equipment?

By this time, we got our own studio and eight track recording machine, so had a form of multitrack although there were only six tracks working to be honest.

We had our own mixing desk which was a live desk that was very good value compared to the very expensive Neves and such like. The trade-off was that the components they used weren’t so brilliant but we liked the grunginess of it.

So when you overloaded a channel, it would have a harmonic distortion which gave a certain grit to the synthesizers. We also had things like a harmonizer, spring reverb, tape delays and all that stuff, so we were on a fast track course in learning how to line up tape machines, master to the optimum level with the right compression in the mix, how to edit a track physically. It all came together on ‘Travelogue’ and enabled us to make a much more dynamic and complex sound. I was using the Jupiter 4 and still using the Korg.

‘The Black Hit Of Space’ was one hell of an opener, what with those out there Sci-Fi lyrics and harsh screeching frequencies from overdriving the desk…

…that’s exactly what it was. All that was a reaction to the cleanness of the previous album so we overcompensated. We were also experimenting with guitar pedals, there were no real pedals designed for keyboards at that time, so we were just breaking the rules really but nothing sounded as good as overloading the desk. So that thing that sounds like a fuzz guitar is actually a keyboard, you can’t get that through traditional or even digital methods nowadays, it wouldn’t sound like that.

We fell in love with the notion of distorted and overdriven stuff, which if you at the development of synth music through the 80s and 90s, ORBITAL and THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS must have heard what THE HUMAN LEAGUE were doing and loved that sound palette that we had on ‘The Black Hit Of Space’, but the tools were available to do it by then.

The lyrics to ‘Crow & A Baby’ were quite vicious, what were they actually referring to?

Phil just turned up with them one day and we loved them. Part of the thing we did with lyrics historically was not to explain everything and leave room for interpretation by the listeners. The way I read ‘Crow & A Baby’ although Phil never confirmed this to me, is I knew Phil had a difficult relationship with his father at the time, possibly always had, because he was always working… I don’t think I even met him and I was Phil’s best friend for four years! I think he felt a little bit angry about that and this song was a metaphorical journey through his anger, in a dark Burton-esque way, it’s quite gothic.

‘Life Kills’ was very observational; in those days, THE HUMAN LEAGUE did some quite out-of-the-box story telling…

It was fundamentally influenced by literature, films and TV as much as other people’s music. I’d go as far as to say we tried to avoid anything that sounded similar to us apart from KRAFTWERK. We wanted to tell stories and have a narrative, so you are what you eat, and what we were eating at that time was Science Fiction novels like JG Ballard, that sort of stuff was an influence.

‘Dreams Of Leaving’ was a magnificent example of prog synth…

We always loved prog rock, but it was a catch all term for a wide variety of imaginative songwriting. The one thing about punk was they tried to rip up everything, talk about the baby being thrown out with the bath water! I thought it was ridiculous, all these great musicians and narrative writers fell so far out of fashion. We were into disco and keeping the notion of musical conceptual art alive.

‘Dreams Of Leaving’ tells of the escape of activists from the Apartheid regime in South Africa, had it been based on a true story?

To be honest, you’d have to ask Phil about that.

My interpretation was that it was a powerful metaphor that was as much about leaving home and leaving the warmth of the family.

But I tell you why I love this song, the magic of the music is the alignment of sad, happy, fast, slow… it creates a sense of emotional response, there’s a blinding optimism at the end that is so uplifting.

Is that the sweeping polyphonic flute climax from the Jupiter 4?

Yes! One of the things influencing this was we were told right from the outset that you can’t make emotional music on a synthesizer, so we were determined to prove people wrong.

The ‘Holiday 80’ EP produced by John Leckie floats in as part of the ‘Travelogue’ story, had it been intended to record a bunch of material that was not on the album?

I wasn’t really aware of this at the time, but there was a tension emanating from the record company to Bob Last that we need a hit quick because they were in a hole on the project.

Bear in mind then that you would have to pay quite a lot of money to get on a support bill with a big act, so we were unrecouped.

While we were still darlings of the press and everybody thought we were influential, we weren’t actually having any hits in the singles chart even though the ‘Reproduction’ album had been doing alright.

So ‘Holiday 80’ was our “go for the jugular, we threw everything at it. We did an EP with some cover versions that people loved so they couldn’t argue there was nothing commercial on it even if they didn’t like our new songs… we wrote our best ever song in ‘Marianne’ etc.

We pushed the boat out on the packaging with a gatefold double single and Virgin even bribed somebody to get us on ‘Top Of the Pops’ with ‘Rock N Roll’, we were only like at No75 so it was unheard of! I think the plugger gave them exclusive rights to one of the bigger artists if they would give THE HUMAN LEAGUE a break, and fortunately ‘Top Of The Pops’ liked us so they put us on, but even that didn’t work!

Looking back on it, that’s when the record company and Bob Last started their scheming behind the scenes to split the group up…

THE HUMAN LEAGUE were on the same May 1980 episode that OMD were on with ‘Messages’; you did ‘Rock N Roll’ but ‘Holiday 80’ went down the charts while OMD got into the Top20…

I have to tell you, I LOATHED that song! I thought it was banal and the sounds were horrible, the synthesizers sounded cheap, the rhythm track sounded like it was preset and I honestly didn’t like the way Andy McCluskey sang, but what do I know? It was probably jealousy!

I can see why it was successful now because it was very catchy! But it was like a kick in the teeth for us, as was Gary Numan! Secretly, we knew they were both better at stooping low enough to appeal to the mass market, we were being a bit snobby to be honest! We wanted to be successful on our own terms, so we weren’t willing to do what was necessary in reality, looking back on it now.

In hindsight, do you think it would have been different if you’d had done ‘Being Boiled’ or ‘Marianne’?

It’s a very good question, I have no idea! I know that we wanted to do ‘Marianne’, but Virgin insisted we did ‘Rock N Roll’. It was probably the first time that we disagreed!

What had been the thinking behind re-recording ‘Being Boiled’?

That was my idea because the original concept was to do an epic PARLIAMENT / FUNKADELIC soundtrack and chuck the kitchen sink at it, and that’s what the ‘Holiday 80’ version was, and I still prefer this second version personally.

Was it pressure from Virgin to put it on ‘Travelogue’ as it’s the only track on ‘Travelogue’ not co-produced by Richard Manwaring?

Yes, but we were happy for it to be included.

You were having fun with other cover versions too like ‘Gordon’s Gin’ and these days, a lot of people think you wrote ‘Only After Dark’?

We were big fans of Mick Ronson solo. We liked the potential for vocal arrangements, and in a way, this was like a prototype model for future HEAVEN 17 stuff. By this point, we were getting to better vocal arrangements, ‘Marianne’ was like three part counterpoint and multiple harmonies, we were just learning stuff and using this new knowledge. ‘Only After Dark’ is a very simple song at its heart, and we wanted to pull focus on vocals over a minimal arrangement.

Had ‘Only After Dark’ been pencilled in as a single in its own right or was it always just a free bonus for the reissue of ‘Empire State Human’?

No, it wasn’t, the free bonus was another attempt to have a hit which kind of half worked but didn’t. We were proud of all these things by the way, I never equated sales to success, it was a record company thing.

‘WXJL Tonight’ is very Neil Diamond and the line “automatic stations came” all but predicted the Spotify playlist??

I don’t know about that but we were always avid readers of ‘New Scientist’, ‘Newsweek’ and ‘Time’, to find out what was happening in society. We read an article about automatic playlist capabilities and a bit like in ‘Black Mirror’ thought “What happens if together with Artificial Intelligence, that future radio stations become sentient?”, so a bit like Hal 9000 in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ begging the astronaut not to switch it off.

You’ve mentioned that you will remain faithful to the spirit of the originals with the show… how is the programming coming along to reproduce the sounds and sequence the backing tracks?

We haven’t started anything yet? Are you joking? It’s miles away! In reality, we won’t get into it until after Christmas. We’re dabbling with a few arrangements now but the point is, we’re starting from the idea that we’re going to us the original synths where possible.

So we will have to buy or rent or borrow a Jupiter 4. I’ll be using the System 100 together with the Korg 700s. But we will be making some changes, like some of the arrangements a little bit because the girls are going to be singing, although they won’t be on stage all of the time. You’ll know when it’s meant to sound authentic.

So this showcase will be Sheffield City Hall and London Roundhouse only?

It’s definitely not to be missed! Because I literally have no idea how many of these shows we are going to do. We’d like to do some more UK dates plus if anyone in Germany, Sweden, the US or anywhere who has the means would like to book us as there is a significant set design, please get in touch with me.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to Martyn Ware

HEAVEN 17 presents the ‘Reproduction’ + ‘Travelogue’: 40th Anniversary Celebration at Sheffield City Hall on Saturday 4th September + London Roundhouse on Sunday 5th September 2021

https://www.heaven17.com/

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https://www.instagram.com/heaven17official/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
29th July 2019, updated 6th August 2020

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