Happy his­tory of Hu­man re­sources

The Hu­man League can’t be­lieve they’re still able to keep tour­ing the world, writes Cameron Adams

Herald Sun - - HIT TV -

Phil Oakey of pi­o­neer­ing elec­tronic band The Hu­man League is still wait­ing for the day the phone stops ring­ing.

This year marks the 40th an­niver­sary of the League form­ing, although their ca­reer en­durance is due to 1981’s clas­sic al­bum Dare, home to Don’t You Want Me, Love Ac­tion and The Sound Of the Crowd.

“I can’t be­lieve all the times we have man­aged to keep the band go­ing,” Oakey ad­mits.

“We don’t de­serve it. I know I should be driv­ing a taxi some­where.”

Those Dare hits, and fur­ther sin­gles Hu­man, Tell Me When, Fas­ci­na­tion, Mir­ror Man, Louise, Life On Your Own, Heart Like a

Wheel and The Le­banon, con­tinue to keep The Hu­man League on ra­dio sta­tions and con­cert stages glob­ally. Rob­bie Wil­liams has cov­ered

Louise, Ge­orge Michael sam­pled Love Ac­tion on Shoot

the Dog and Don’t You Want Me re­mains a retro com­pi­la­tion — and karaoke — sta­ple.

“Our man­ager says we’re very lucky to have what he calls ‘a good cat­a­logue’,” Oakey says.

“That’s al­most the dif­fer­ence be­tween a band that can last and one that doesn’t. It just hap­pens that your record­ings are ones that may not be great but they touched peo­ple. Mu­sic changed in the 1980s and we were right at the cor­ner of the change. Our songs are songs peo­ple fell in love to or got mar­ried to or di­vorced to and that’s man­aged to keep it go­ing.”

Oakey’s 1984 col­lab­o­ra­tion with Gior­gio Moroder, To­gether In ^ Elec­tric Dreams, has be­come an hon­orary Hu­man League song — up­graded to up­lift­ing en­core at their con­certs. “A lot of peo­ple don’t re­alise it’s not a Hu­man League song. It’s one of the songs that gets on ad­verts, it’s on the ra­dio all the time still. But Don’t You Want

Me is the one that makes the most money. I’m funny about that one be­ing used on ads, but I wrote it with two other peo­ple so I don’t like to pre­vent them earn­ing money from it. Things have to be pretty naff be­fore I say no.”

Oakey ad­mits he rushed the sim­ple cho­rus of Don’t You Want Me out of ne­ces­sity. “The pro­ducer locked me in a room and wouldn’t let me out un­til I’d writ­ten the cho­rus. I’m sur­prised how repet­i­tive it is if you an­a­lyse it. But it worked.”

Two years ago, the band re­leased a boxset ( A Very Bri­tish Syn­the­sizer Group) span­ning their en­tire ca­reer, mean­ing ear­lier, more ex­per­i­men­tal sin­gles Be­ing

Boiled and Em­pire State Hu­man have come back into the live set. How­ever, it is never at the ex­pense of play­ing their big hits.

“We are very happy peo­ple like us. Be­ing big David Bowie fans, we lived through the Tin Ma­chine era where he wouldn’t play his big­gest hits. That is a mis­take — you have to give the peo­ple what they want. Although I have to say I think the Tin Ma­chine al­bums are un­der­rated, I love them ...”

In 1986, the Hu­man League de­camped to Min­neapo­lis to work with Jam & Lewis on the R&B-driven al­bum Crash. It was there he met Prince.

“Prince was the most tal­ented guy of his gen­er­a­tion. We used to bump into him in Min­neapo­lis. Prince hugged me twice. Twice! The guy had so much tal­ent, so much in­sight. “I love

Hu­man. I’m very proud of that song; one of the joys of my life is I sang a record that got to No. 1 (in the US) with­out writ­ing it. I al­ways thought I was only an ad­e­quate singer, I only got by on singing — that proves I can’t have been re­ally ter­ri­ble.”

Oakey turned 62 last month, but says he doesn’t take any no­tice of age or birthdays.

“I just breeze through in a strangely mas­cu­line way, con­sid­er­ing the amount of makeup I used to wear. I’m more like a grumpy old man now. I just plod through life.”

Oakey was ro­man­ti­cally in­volved with both band mates Joanne Cather­all and Su­san Ann Sul­ley — at dif­fer­ent times — but now they’re all happy to be purely business part­ners.

“Be­tween the three of us, we can cope with any­thing the business side throws at you. The mu­sic side is easy, we just get the band to deal with that.

“Some­how we just be­came mu­si­cians. Which I can’t quite un­der­stand. We weren’t born to be mu­si­cians. We’re not nat­u­ral mu­si­cians. We were lucky enough to make records peo­ple liked and that en­abled us to slowly be­come pro­fes­sional. We weren’t very pro­fes­sional for decades. Now we take the job very se­ri­ously.”

Oakey is a huge fan of mam­mals, and still calls be­ing in a field with a cas­sowary as one of his high­lights of pre­vi­ous Aus­tralian tours.

“I’ve still yet to see a platy­pus or echidna,” he says. “A koala at­tacked Joanne when I wasn’t there, which I would have liked to have seen.”


SEE The Hu­man League, with Pseudo Echo, Palais Theatre, De­cem­ber 13. Tick­ets: Tick­et­mas­ter

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