Gig preview: Heaven 17 at Warehouse 23, Wakefield and Let’s Rock Leeds

Heaven 17. Picture: Mike Prior
Heaven 17. Picture: Mike Prior
0
Have your say

On the first day of spring Glenn Gregory has been out on a three-hour walk around central London.

The Heaven 17 singer is preparing for a forthcoming tour with legendary David Bowie band mates Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey and is readying himself by listening to the songs they are going to be playing on an MP3 player while out on a long stroll.

“I put the whole set on then just walked,” he says. “I walked past Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament and up the Thames.

“In three hours walking I ran through the set one and a half times. I kept having to go back and learn the lyrics. The only way I feel I can do these songs justice is to know them inside out.”

The tour focuses on Bowie’s classic album The Man Who Sold The World, plus a few choice cuts from the period 1970 to 1974, and will be heading out across the UK in June.

Before that, Gregory has a string of dates with his long time Heaven 17 colleague Martyn Ware.

The pair have known each other since the 1970s and formed the pioneering electronic pop group – with Ian Craig Marsh – in Sheffield in 1980.

“It’s funny,” Gregory reflects on their longstanding working relationship, “I guess you never really think about what you are going to be doing in 30 years time. It’s strange that we are out there performing, though – we did 50 gigs last year.”

Gregory hooked up with 
Ware and Marsh in 1980 after they left the Human League. In 1981, as Heaven 17, they released the album Penthouse and Pavement, featuring the anti-Ronald Reagan anthem (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.

Greater commercial success came in 1983 with the single Temptation and the platinum-selling album The Luxury Gap.

“I remember vividly the writing of it,” Gregory, now 56, recalls of their signature song, which was twice been a top five hit in the UK. “We’d been writing demos in my flat in Ladbroke Grove and sometimes at Martyn’s flat round the corner, he lived on the top floor.

“He and I sat on the window ledge, the sun was coming in, and he said, ‘I’ve a brilliant idea for a song based on the Lord’s Prayer. The structure keeps building higher and higher to a frenzy, It’s going to be called Temptation.’ I said, ‘Blimey, have you been drinking already? It’s 10am.’”

They “buckled down” and wrote a chord sequence in a day but it took time to find the right female singer for the chorus. “We tried out two or three but they had not got the ballsy thing we wanted,” says Gregory. “We finally got that with Carol Kenyon.”

With the addition of a 50-piece orchestra, a moment of pop magic was made. “It was awesome, big and strong, we were sat in the studio control room saying, ‘This is amazing.’”

In the 80s the band turned down “a lot of money” to play live. “We thought that was old-fashioned at the time. We were a modern music band, MTV had just started, there were videos, we thought, ‘That’s the way to do it’.”

It was until 1997 that they finally did “almost on a whim” at the invitation of Erasure.

Gregory believes their stance paid off in the long run, with the band – now minus Ian Craig Marsh, who left eight years ago to study neuroscience – full of appetite for being on stage.

“I’m glad we did it now,” he says. “It’s good fun. I think we are getting quite good at it now.”

Heaven 17 play at Warehouse 23 in Wakefield on April 10 and Let’s Rock Leeds on June 20. Visit www.heaven17.com for details.

Jess Glynne is playing two open air concerts in Yorkshire.

Music interview: Jess Glynne