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Heaven 17 @ O2 Academy 2, Birmingham, 29th November 2012

Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Ken Harrison,

A Monday autumnal night and later start time for the gig (8.30pm on stage) Heaven 17 are here to show us just how great they are and I have so say I’m looking forward to it!

As we arrive tonight we find the gig has been relocated, from the main Academy 1 to Academy 2, a room which holds about a sixth of the capacity of the main room. Given that when Heaven 17 toured a couple of years ago with ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ the played the main room at the HMV Institute, while then they may not have sold out the venue it was pretty full – this change in location is quite a surprise.

As with so many early eighties bands, Heaven 17 have a story; original band line-up split, morphed and did something entirely different. Inspired by the godfathers of electronica Kraftwerk, at the turn of the 80s, two members of the Human League, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh walked away and formed a band / production company B.E.F. (British Electronic Foundation). Initially recording music under the guise of BEF, they subsequently recruited photographer Glenn Gregory on vocals, and eventually became Heaven 17.

Tonight’s venue is already pretty cosy in the crowd as we enter; at 8.10, blue neon LED lights beam messages from the tiny stage, and the music blares out, 12″ classics from the 80s – Blancmange’s ‘Living on the Ceiling’, Japan’s ‘Quiet Life’. Just to get us in the mood.

Dry ice permeates from the stage and seeps across the room and we begin to feel like sardines crammed in this tiny room. 8.30 on come Heaven 17 – a smart looking Glenn Gregory (lead vocals) and Martyn Ware (synthesizers, vocals) supported by female vocalist Billie Godfrey, Asa Bennett (guitar), Joel Farland (electronic percussion) and Randy Hope-Taylor (bass).

‘The Luxury Gap’ peaked at number 4 in the UK charts and gave us some of Heaven 17’s iconic hits. And tonight they’re playing it in its entirety and start off with the crashing ‘Crushed by the Wheels of Industry.’ Sometimes in this venue the sound can be ear-shatteringly loud – but tonight it’s just right, great balance and sound. Gregory: “Hello Birmingham!” as he goes on to relate how they would journey down to Birmingham for the clubs years ago “… far better than Leeds or Manchester…” And then into their favourite track ‘Let Me Go.’ Heaven 17 are a class act – vocals from Gregory and Godfrey are great – especially on the powerhouse track that is ‘Temptation’ (album version) – equally as powerful today as it was twenty years ago. And as they go through the various tracks – we thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

Post ‘Luxury Gap’ we’re treated to a rendition of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ Martyn joining in on vocals, he’s out from behind his keyboards. Gregory: ” The last time he did that was 22 years ago with Phil Oakey…. he’s a new boyfriend – I’m his bitch now….” Crowd laugh. ” Love it…. we get him out from behind his keyboard- only ever the second time ever he’s done this….”

And then we boogie on down to ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Grove Thang’. This track originally got limited radio play due to Radio 1 DJ Mike Read effectively banning it due to its left wing lyrics, leaving debut album ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ outside the Charts, at a time when the Top 40  was key to success. It was ‘The Luxury Gap’ that really gave them commercial success.…

‘I’m Your Money’ is dedicated to local club night Only After Dark, followed by the aptly named final track from first album ‘ We’re Gonna Live For A Very Long Time’ which indeed  lasts for a very long time. And to top off the set, we have a Human League classic: ‘Being Boiled.’

Encore gives us a stunning version of The Associates ‘Party Fears Two’, a track Heaven 17 play to honour Associate Billie McKenzie who committed suicide. A sad loss and hear-rending rendition. And then in this packed, hot (and now smelly) venue, drenched with dry ice, the stage flooded in red light, the 12″ House driven remix of ‘Temptation’ complete with morph into ‘Love To Love You Baby.’

Heaven 17 are very possibly one of the best nostalgia electronica bands out on the touring scene. They’re a tight act, Gregory’s vocals accompanied by Godfrey are truly awesome. My only downside on tonight’s gig was the venue – it was rammed to distraction. Next time Heaven 17, there are better venues in Birmingham – don’t let them downgrade the venue, I want to dance, enjoy and love your gig.

If you get a chance to catch them on this tour – go for it. You will truly have a blast!

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Setlist:

  1. Crushed by the Wheels of Industry
  2. Who’ll Stop The Rain
  3. Let Me Go
  4. Key to the World
  5. Temptation (short)
  6. Come Live With Me
  7. Lady Ice and Mr Hex
  8. We Live So Fast
  9. The Best Kept Secret
  10. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
  11. (We Don’t Need That) Fascist Groove Thang
  12. Geisha Boys and Temple Girls
  13. I’m Your Money
  14. We’re Going To Live For A Very Long Time
  15. A Crow and a Baby
  16. Penthouse and Pavement
  17. Being Boiled

 

Encore:

18. Party Fears Two

19. Temptation (Long)

 

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Listening:

Heaven 17 – The Luxury Gap (1983)

BEF  – ‘Music For Stowaways’ and ‘Music Of Quality And Distinction Vol.1’

The Associates – Singles (2007)