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WHEN the BBC banned Heaven 17’s debut single Fascist Groove Thang for its left-wing lyrics in 1981, it took two more years before the band’s most well-known single – Temptation – almost hit the top spot.
This slow burn mirrored that of The Human League, who formed back in 1977 but only saw commercial success with Don’t You Want Me once founding members Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware had left the band to form Heaven 17.
The Human League’s first two albums, co-written by Ware, may have been innovative, but weren’t necessarily commercial with tracks like Circus of Death, Life Kills and Being Boiled.
Fast forward 40 years and London’s Roundhouse has finally reopened after lockdown, and the first live gig takes listeners back to the past while simultaneously signposting the future.
Heaven 17 – with Martyn Ware to the fore – are playing The Human League’s first two albums – Reproduction and Travelogue – in full.
“It’s been a long wait” says Heaven 17 singer Glenn Gregory as the band take the stage.
What follows is almost two hours of groundbreaking industrial synth rock that remains oddly futuristic.
Opening with Almost Medieval, highlights from first album Reproduction include Empire State Human and its ambitious refrain, The Word Before Last which evokes Kraftwerk and Austerity/Girl One which could fill a techno dance floor.
The stand out is Morale which segues into a cover of You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling which is not only sweet, harmonious and moving, but brings the room to a standstill. There’s a generous and well deserved round of applause.
The second album Travelogue opens with The Black Pit of Space –both Gregory and Ware stress how uncommercial some tracks are in enjoyable between song banter, but it is flagship single Being Boiled that gets the best reception, it’s a cracking track that’s both challenging and slightly crazy, and something that would probably never be produced today.
After having played both albums, a few extra are thrown in. There’s a slow take of Iggy Pop’s Nightclubbing, and an encore of Fascist Groove Thang with the lightshow highlighting Boris Johnson’s current cabinet, and then comes Temptation where all on stage throw everything into the performance. The audience respond in kind.
Nostalgia trips of old albums are often best left in the past, here the opposite is true. Futuristic, ahead of its time and still relevant today, this rare recreation has shown why Martyn Ware, The Human League and Heaven 17 still hold true to their musical innovation and principles and why the messages they have still matter in our current austere times.
For tour info visit heaven17.com/live-dates.
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