Tuesday, October 20, 2009

League Division One

While it didn't hold any great surprises (save for the truly shocking revelation that Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti don't live in a rubber-lined dungeon as I fondly imagined-- instead their kitchen looked rather like one I was admiring in B&Q a few weeks back), the BBC's Synth Britannia of last week was great entertainment, even if it fudged a few dates for the sake of the narrative. Andy McCluskey of OMD was particularly good value, though Richard H Kirk was dead wrong when he asserted that some people think that Cabaret Voltaire's Red Mecca, rather than Ghost Town, was the soundtrack to the Brixton and Toxteth riots. I've never met a single person that thinks this. Actually, one minor revelation, for me at least, was seeing Alison Moyet of Yazoo at the height of her (and their) success. At my school, and, I'll venture, thousands of others up and down the land, any woman slightly heavier or less attractive than, say, Clare Grogan was considered unworthy of our attentions (ah, if only they knew what they were missing, eh?). By this measure, Alison Moyet was regarded as slightly less attractive than Giant Haystacks. Yes, we really were that shallow. And sexist. And sizeist. The revelation, after twenty-five years, that she wasn't the swamp beast of popular memory, but was actually a fairly normal-looking, even attractive, woman was chastening.

The Human League, quite rightly, played a major part in the story, from Reproduction to Dare, and accordingly Phil Oakey, Martyn Ware, Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley were wheeled on to give their ten-penn'orth. I saw Ware a couple of times this summer, first sitting on a symposium as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival (where he shared a stage with Stelarc), and second acting as MC at a Future of Sound event at the Gateshead Sage Centre. The latter was great fun and terrific value: about £8 to see The Modified Toy Orchestra, Sarah Nicolls, Threep and the Sancho Plan. As well as hosting the event, Martyn treated the audience to a gratuitous and entirely unnecessary rendition of Being Boiled, performed to a souped-up and funky backing track. He was wearing a shiny-looking double-breasted suit, a shirt and a tie, and, having recently returned from sunnier climes, had a tan that made him look as if he'd been basted in tandoori paste. My companions found the sight of him singing faintly ridiculous, and later giggled conspiritorially. "What is he like?", "What a twonk", "He can't even sing!"

Now, hang on a sec, I said. Now you've gone too far. He might look like Bob Monkhouse's son. He might be pissing all over the legacy of his former group. But to accuse him of not being able to sing? No. I'm not 'avin it (as Liam Gallagher reportedly said when he learned that Spinal Tap were a comedy turn rather than, as he'd thought, an earnest metal band). Martyn Ware wasn't just in Heaven 17 and the Human League to push buttons and play keyboards. He's also an extremely good singer, especially as a backing vocalist and harmoniser. Just ask Tina Turner, for whom Ware performed backing vocal duties on many occasions. Or the many soul artists with whom he's worked, such as Tashan, Chaka Khan and Terence Trent D'Arby. I knew this; my companions at the Sage that night were blinded (or deafened) by the suit and the tan and the general cheesiness of the version of Being Boiled that we witnessed. And yes, it was cheesy. But, dammit, the guy can sing.

If you need convincing, just listen to the League Mark One's version of You've Lost That Loving Feeling, below. Those heavenly backing harmonies are courtesy of one M. Ware. I love this take on the song, as it eschews the misplaced triumphalism of the Righteous Brothers' original, replacing the swelling strings in the chorus with a diminuendo, plaintive synth which is entirely in keeping with the song's sentiment. There's a real sense of quiet longing here, one that's entirely missing from the original. One of the commenters on YouTube says "Best cover ever?" I'd be inclined to remove the question mark.


Jude Calvert-Toulmin said...

An excellent blog article Mr Irk, LOLed on several occasions, especially at your candid confession about Alison Moyet the "swamp beast" - PML :) She was, and is, indeed a very beautiful lady and an incredible singer.

Synth Brittania was OK - I was riveted until they got to Depeche Mode, at which point I lost interest, as I did in the movement at the time. Nice to see Richard Kirk being interviewed and I loved his blue shades. As to Phil Oakey choosing Susan and Joanne - well, me and Fiona Russell Powell were by far the best looking and best dressed burds down the Crazy Daisy but we did not look like malleable, naive girls next door. As we know, Fi went on to join ABC and be a brlliant music journalist, and I went on to be a busker down the London Underground and write mucky books. Such is life.

Jude Calvert-Toulmin said...

Oh and you're right, Andy McCluskey was good value and good call on highlighting the orginal Human League's You've Lost That Loving Feeling. My heart sank when Dare came out. I loved their early stuff.

Irk The Purists said...

Did Phil never try it on with the two of yous back in the day? It's always been a source of some excitement to me that he squired both Joanne Catherall and, briefly, Susanne Sulley (not at the same time in the same room, sadly, though I can't be the only person in Britain whose mind this image has crossed). I wouldn't be surprised if he'd had the occasional knee-trembler with Adrian Wright, either.

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