Human League, ABC, Heaven 17 – review

Last night with a thousand other midlifers to see three bands from my youth at Wolverhampton Civic Hall. I usually avoid this sort of musical necrophilia, but I thought it would be a nice pre-Christmas treat for Mrs D, who can still play an Ultravox album without irony.

One of the inevitables with this sort of “back from the dead” tour is seeing how well the performers have weathered over the the years.  Pretty good in most instances, although there was the odd middle aged spread being held in by the apparently compulsory grey suits.

Heaven 17 were fun.  Someone’s son on drums, I suspect (certainly not an original member).  Glenn Gregory (vocals, trilby, waistcoat) was obviously utterly delighted to be performing.  Great female vocals too. Temptation predictably brought the house down and I could have done with that being twice as long.

I have a soft spot for ABC, having seen them in a very intimate pre-tour warm up gig in the early 80s.  I was particularly looking forward to seeing the drummer, who had quite an individual style.  Disappointingly the sticksman they have now was much more conventional in his technique.

They did have quite a charistmatic female percussionist/vocalist though, which made up for it a bit.

It was all very professional, but in the old days Martin Fry really committed to those nonsense lyrics he writes.  After so long, and with a new album (they did a couple of tracks, which were fine, but didn’t get the crowd going) there’s a feeling that he’d rather be doing the new stuff.

Human League

And then the main attraction.  And no doubt about the stature of Human League in this package.  Ambitious staging (two level, giant LED screen across the full width of the stage).

Shock to see the once hair-curtained Phil Oakey now with a male pattern baldness No 1. Still looking good, though and with that insistent baritone voice in good shape.

Of the two female  singers, Susan Ann Sulley (the blonde one) is great value.  Looking magnificent, toned and blingy, and with great stagecraft (actually better than Oakey, who is a better singer than he is a frontman).

Joanne Catherall, unfortunately, is the Andrew Ridgely of the outfit.  Looking desperately uncomfortable in an ill-advised flapper dress, she looks every inch the girl that Phil snatched from a Sheffield disco nearly thirty years ago – if that disco was a gay bar frequented by transvestite plumbers.

But the set was one electropop classic after another.  There was much wearing of keyboards. Giant love hearts rolled around the stage to Love Action.  Fascination, Don’t You Want Me… you know the canon, and they (Catherall apart) delivered it with conviction.

Returning quickly for a remarkably fresh-sounding Being Boiled, they spoiled it for me by finishing with Electric Dreams. Hey guys, that’s not a Human League song, it’s pure fromage.

The audience didn’t care, though.  They went back home happy, aching slightly, not caring (until the cold morning) about work and wondering where the last 25 years have gone.

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