Gig preview: The Human League at O2 Academy Leeds

The Human League
The Human League
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One of the true original synthpop and new wave groups, the Sheffield-based avant-garde band, fronted by Philip Oakey, Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall, scored a string of hit singles, including Fascination, Mirror Man and the number one smash, Don’t You Want Me.

Still going strong 37 years after they were formed, the Human League are on a UK tour this month, and will be calling at Leeds O2 Academy on Monday.

Speaking to Philip Oakey ahead of the tour, he gives his spin on why the band has survived for so long.

“We had no ambition to be musicians, it was accidental. We loved pop music, but we were surprised to find ourselves in it, and that made us really grateful.

“We didn’t want to be beaten, that was the big thing. At every stage, people would turn around and say, ‘These people are actually talentless, and they’re going to be gone in a year or two’. We never wanted anyone to beat us.”

Nobody ever did beat the Human League. Major stars like La Roux and Moby have cited their sound as an influence although Oakey was beaten to the mark when it came to naming the band.

“It was one of the teams in a space board game called Starforce. The band had been called The Future before I joined, and one of the guys left. I said this was just too pretentious – we can’t call ourselves The Future, we have to change the name. They changed the name while I wasn’t looking, one day.

“I never really liked it, but after you’ve had a few hits, the name doesn’t matter.”

Like most Eighties artists, Oakey is still very proud of the visual impact his band had.

“All that fashion stuff was quite good. I miss it, still. Sometimes people interview us and say, ‘I bet you feel awful when you see a video’, and I think ‘nah’. What I think is that, now, people are really dull. All you can see is denim as far as the eye will go, and we were very colourful.

“Part of the art was dressing up, and I’m glad that we were part of that movement; one of the last fashion movements associated with pop.”

The Human League are still packing audiences into large theatres, but Oakey says that they rely on their back catalogue to keep them going. To him, the idea of an album is as dead. “Unless you’re an upcoming artist, or already huge, there isn’t really such a thing as an album now. Even big bands really rely on each track being accepted. The album, I’d say, is a concept that’s over. As the physicality of records and CD’s has disappeared, there’s nothing to define it, any more.”

The Human League play at O2 Academy Leeds on December 8. For tickets, visit http://www.o2academyleeds.co.uk/event/61984/the-human-league-a-u-tour-2014-tickets