Cash For Ques­tions

Work­ing with corpses, nip­ple ring mal­func­tions... the synth-pop ti­tans are no pushovers. But were you brave enough to ask if any of them ac­tu­ally did work as a wait­ress in a cock­tail bar?

Q (UK) - - Cash For Questions -

Even for a city that gave the world Warp Records and now hosts mu­sic expo Syn­thFest, few rooms in Sh­effield could chal­lenge The Hu­man League’s HQ for its trea­sure trove of elec­tronic arte­facts. Wall-to-ceil­ing with syn­the­siz­ers, “patch” boards, Moogs and more, the band’s studio is full of ana­logue relics, tes­ta­ment to their unique place in Bri­tish mu­sic. Formed as an avant-garde out­fit in the late ’ 70s by Mar­tyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, af­ter they left to start Heaven 17, re­main­ing front­man Philip (which he prefers to the “Phil” ’ 80s pop fans know him as) Oakey re­cruited singers Joanne Cather­all and Su­san Ann Sul­ley straight from school and set off to con­quer charts and minds in the ’ 80s and beyond. It means there are synths in this room that have taken elec­tronic mu­sic to the cut­ting edge; and ones that have mas­tered global pop mu­sic, not least with Num­ber 1 smash Don’t You Want Me. That song still looms large, yet as Oakey, Cather­all and Sul­ley ar­rive at their base tucked away be­hind var­i­ous bars and pubs in Sh­effield’s city cen­tre, it is drink­ing, not key­boards, that is fore­most in the trio’s minds… well, serv­ing drinks. “I sin­cerely hope you’re not plan­ning on ask­ing me if I ever worked as a wait­ress in a cock­tail bar?” Sul­ley asks, fix­ing Q with an icy stare that in­di­cates, de­spite the lyrics, bar work is not on her CV. “I’m al­ways asked that! Ev­ery in­ter­view I do. Peo­ple think they’re so orig­i­nal but they’re so pre­dictable…” Fear not, The Hu­man League, with Q read­ers guid­ing this in­qui­si­tion, pre­dictabil­ity is the least of your wor­ries…

Where’s the strangest place you’ve heard Don’t You Want Me played? Louise Neil, via Q Mail Joanne Cather­all: They play it ev­ery­where! At my friend’s 50th the DJ stuck it on. I al­ways do the Brid­get Jones thing and go to the toi­let at that point and only come back once it’s fin­ished. Su­san Ann Sul­ley: Once I was go­ing up the es­ca­la­tor in the Mead­owhall shop­ping cen­tre in Sh­effield and the cou­ple be­hind us started singing it. My boyfriend was go­ing, “What are you sup­posed to do?” I just ig­nore them. Philip Oakey: Peo­ple still sing it when they walk past my house. Have I got dou­ble-glaz­ing? Triple!

Phil, ever won­dered how your life would have turned out if you’d stuck with the more arty elec­tronic stuff and not gone pop in 1980? Brian Fletcher, Manch­ester PO: I have won­dered that, yeah! Things would be very dif­fer­ent; I’d be off in a dif­fer­ent area. I don’t know ex­actly which, but I do be­lieve in al­ter­nate uni­verses, so there is one some­where where that’s hap­pen­ing now. JC: The one where you drive a cab? PO: Yep!

What’s the most ex­trav­a­gant piece of art you own? Kate Jones, via Q Mail JC: I own one piece, which is me and Su­san done by Pete McKee, who has just done the art­work for our DVD The Hu­man League At The BBC]. I got it be­fore he did that and it’s called Fitza­lan Street Taxi axi Rank: The Night Phil Met The Girls – but Phil isn’t in it. He does lots of Sh­effield bands. PO: I com­mis­sioned him to do a por­trait five years ago, so I’ve got that.

How vi­cious was the worst fight you had with Mar­tyn Ware?

James Mil­ton, via Q Mail PO: Not very vi­cious. SAS: Hand­bags at dawn, I’d have said… PO: Ab­so­lutely. We did get silly sometimes, but it was more sneak­ing round and nick­ing things from each other’s houses re­ally. I don’t think ei­ther of us were par­tic­u­larly phys­i­cal. Is the story about me throw­ing milk bot­tles at him on Wikipedia true? Oh, that hap­pened, yeah.

Phil, ap­par­ently it was your dis­tinc­tive dress sense that first got you the gig in The Hu­man League. What were you wear­ing? Les­lie Parks, Lon­don PO: I can’t re­mem­ber. I do re­mem­ber sit­ting one day with Mar­tyn Ware in a Wimpy and he said: “One thing I will al­ways give you Philip is you al­ways look messy!” I was wear­ing things with rib­bons on them. I was pretty uni­sex. One of the first plans for The Hu­man League was I would be on­stage naked in body paint on a large branch like Ger­man artist] Ver­uschka. Did it ever hap­pen? No, and then I got fat.

Arc­tic Mon­keys, Pulp, Richard Haw­ley, Def Lep­pard, ABC, Tony Christie… who are the best mu­si­cians in Sh­effield other than your­selves? Ryan Cross, Rother­ham SAS: You’d have to knock half of them off the list be­cause they don’t live in Sh­effield any more. Only us and Richard Haw­ley are still here… JC: …and strangely, we all live within two miles of each other. Richard’s lovely and he’s an amazing song­writer. PO: He gave my dog half his dog’s stick. Arc­tic Mon­keys are amazing mu­si­cians. If you see them live, it makes a lot of sense!

Su­san, ap­par­ently you in­spired Vic­to­ria Beck­ham to get into pop mu­sic. Is this a source of pride or shame? June McCall, Leeds SAS: I like Vic­to­ria Beck­ham, I like the Spice Girls – I’ve got all their al­bums – and I like the clothes that she makes. It’s great, if it’s true. But I’m not that cool; she’s more like Joanne than me. Joanne is the one, as she says her­self, who looks like a schoolmistress who is about to tell you off. I’m the “Hello!” smi­ley, smi­ley one. So if she took any in­flu­ence from us, it’s more from Joanne than me.

Phil, what was the worst thing you saw while work­ing as a hos­pi­tal porter? Rob Bean, Bris­tol PO: I’ve seen a lot of very bad things. I shouldn’t re­ally go into de­tail be­cause they were peo­ple – they made me swear the Hip­po­cratic Oath ev­ery morn­ing laughs]. I got used to see­ing dead peo­ple quite a lot. I was a hos­pi­tal porter out of ab­so­lute des­per­a­tion. I’d worked at a book­shop for two years where the wages were £ 9.50 a week; at least with por­ter­ing I was earn­ing £ 50 a week. That was the only rea­son I did it – I was fin­ished oth­er­wise. Is it true you “bor­rowed” the con­cept for the Dare sleeve art­work from a fashion magazine? Paul Wat­son, via Q Mail PO: Yeah, Ger­man Vogue. That con­cept they’d done 18 months be­fore and I used to col­lect old fashion mag­a­zines. I thought we’d prob­a­bly get away with it and we did. They never came af­ter us. They were prob­a­bly con­temp­tu­ous of a crummy pop band.

Joanne and Su­san, what did Phil first say to you when he ap­proached you at the Crazy Daisy night­club in 1980? Kerry Baird, Sh­effield SAS: He came over – he was very se­ri­ous – and said, “I don’t know if you know but I’m Philip Oakey from The Hu­man League. Our group has just split up but we’re con­tracted to do a tour of Europe in three weeks and we’re look­ing for a fe­male singer. I saw you and your friend to­gether and won­dered if you wanted to au­di­tion.” Joanne didn’t speak to him that night, did you? shakes her head] You were still danc­ing, I’d just come off the dancefloor. That’s how it hap­pened. He’s not a chat-up mer­chant. It was a busi­ness deal. PO: We wanted some­one with a high voice to join the group. So we went fe­male, and two is bet­ter than one. We went to that club oc­ca­sion­ally, but I wasn’t a great club­ber, so I think we were out to re­cruit. JC: A lot of fights used to hap­pen there, so if you were like us and not into fight­ing you’d

hide un­der the pic­nic tables they had down the side of the room. PO: The trou­ble was town­ies. Peo­ple who had their own iden­ti­ties didn’t start trou­ble. SAS: They couldn’t un­der­stand that a bloke would have eye­liner on. It threat­ened their mas­culin­ity or what­ever…

Joanne, you’ve been tweet­ing about Brexit. What is your take on Sh­effield’s vote in the ref­er­en­dum? Pete Mahoney, Clac­ton JC: I was ap­palled. I stayed up all night and when the Sh­effield vote came in I couldn’t be­lieve it. We’re part of what they call “The So­cial­ist Repub­lic Of South York­shire”, and for Sh­effield to sud­denly vote so far the other way… I was gob­s­macked. PO: I think there will be an­other vote. That vote went the way it did be­cause a lot of peo­ple thought “Leave” wouldn’t win. It was a protest vote. JC: Peo­ple weren’t used to their “X” on the page being counted for some­thing.

Is it true that Philip has a Sin­clair C5 in his garage? What other ’ 80s gad­gets have you got? Deb­bie Walsh, Lon­don PO: It is true. Joanne bought it for me at the time. I drove it into a door first time out and that was it. I’ve got all the gad­gets: a Sin­clair TV, a Sony flat-screen. Ev­ery gad­get that’s ever been, I’ve got. I’m go­ing to open a shop.

Have any of you ever played the “sci-fi board game” Star­force: Al­pha Cen­tauri, which in­spired The Hu­man League name? If so, what are the rules? Scott Moon, via Q Mail PO: I bought one re­cently off eBay. It was an Ian Marsh thing, he came up with it. I never liked the name The Hu­man League. I in­sisted they change the name from The Future be­cause that was just too pompous, but when they came up with The Hu­man League… The game is a fairly crude Mo­nop­oly-ish space game. I’ve not played it but it seems to be overly elab­o­rate. It would take you a week to com­plete it.

Joanne, when you played Ip­swich Gau­mont in 1981 I grabbed your shoe off your foot dur­ing the gig. You snatched it back and told me to “fuck off, you lit­tle shit” with­out miss­ing a beat. You were quite punk rock back then, weren’t you? Todd Cook, Ham­mer­smith JC: I would just say that you were lucky I didn’t have a mi­cro­phone in my hand, be­cause I once smacked some­one in the mouth for do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar! Peo­ple – a cer­tain contingent of blokes – feel if they get near a stage it’s OK to start touch­ing you or your leg, so I don’t feel it’s un­ac­cept­able to stamp back. We played Bat­tersea Power Sta­tion on a small stage a few years back and some guy ac­tu­ally put his hand up my skirt! So I kicked him and I ut­tered the same phrase from 1981! chain at­tached be­tween them? Didn’t that cause havoc in the shower? Danny Parks, Hor­sham PO: They’re still pierced in three places, although one fell out the other day. I think I did have a chain at some stage. JC: I can’t re­mem­ber you ever hav­ing a chain. PO: I can’t re­mem­ber, but a bit of havoc doesn’t mat­ter. I was a hos­pi­tal porter for four years, so I’m not both­ered about a bit of blood or things get­ting pulled.

Phil, what was the think­ing be­hind your asym­met­ri­cal hair­cut? Ge­orge Hobbs, Brighton PO: I was look­ing for some­thing to do with my hair when I saw this girl on a bus who was a hair model and I asked her where she got hers cut. This was be­fore I was in a group, but all the peo­ple I liked had dis­tinc­tive hair­cuts: David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Rod Ste­wart… Did my hair cause me to walk into things? Yeah, but hurting for fashion is how it should be! I miss hair. It’s hard to do things with­out hair if you’re in­ter­ested in fashion. I wear a bit of make-up now, but make-up with­out hair is weird. Maybe I should fi­nally do that Ver­uschka body paint idea…

To take part in Cash For Ques­tions, go to Qthe­mu­, fol­low @Qmagazine on Twit­ter or visit Face­book (face­ qmagazine). £ 25 for each ques­tion printed! If yours is printed, email to claim your money.

Joanne Cather­all “A guy ac­tu­ally put his hand up my skirt at a gig. So I kicked him.”


League of their own: the band’s line-up at their peak in 1981. Milk: Philip Oakey’s weapon of choice.

Girl power: The Hu­man League in­spired Posh Spice, far right, to do pop mu­sic. The ques­tion about Philip’s pierced nip­ples went down par­tic­u­larly well.

Ac­cept­able in the ’ 80s: Philip Oakey still owns a Sin­clair C5 ( left); The Hu­man League on Top Of The Pops in 1981.

Space od­di­ties: they got their name from this board game.

Phil, is it true that you once had nip­ple ring pierc­ings with a

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