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Heaven 17 @ HMV Institute, 26th November 2010

Tonight it’s off to the new HMV Institute to see, what appears from the promotions, something different from your average gig – part concert and part art installation – courtesy of Heaven 17.

As part of  H17’s ‘Penthouse & Pavement 30th Anniversary UK Tour’ there will be a “live digital visual show, featuring some of the biggest names and most talented up-and-coming artists from the worlds of digital and graphic design, fine art and film.”

We are promised something different - a world-first multimedia show – right from when we walk into the venue – this should be interesting….

So first the venue – the first time I’ve been to the Institute since it morphed into it’s current HMV Institute incarnation. What a delight! Finally a glorious, small, intimate venue that Birmingham deserved and sorely missed. With great sound. And hopefully this time with the backing of the Mean Fiddler group it will survive. No more need to traipse down to London for such a venue – all we need now is a great line up of acts playing there!

Bit of background is needed, as like so many early eighties bands, original band line-ups split, morphed and did something different.  And these guys were another group inspired by the godfathers of electronic Kraftwerk. Right 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 became Heaven 17 (taking their name from the fictional pop group ‘The Heaven Seventeen’ from the classic film ‘A Clockwork Orange’).

So as I arrive, and set up camp on the balcony, in good view of the stage I am meet with a DJ with decks and 12″ vinyl records (remember them?) with three graphic LED panels. I’m not convinced this is a full art installation, but he’s playing classic 80s – Soft Cell’s ‘Memorabilia’, Blancmange’s ‘Living on the Ceiling’, and Devo’s ‘Whip It.’ The audience sing along. Then it’s off with the DJ and some B.E.F. Music with retro graphics on the displays. Still not convinced about the ‘world first multimedia show’ – OMD managed 3D lazer graphics at the start of their recent gig…

So then here we go – on stage come Heaven 17 –  featuring original founding members, a smart looking Glenn Gregory (lead vocals) and Martyn Ware (synthesizers, vocals and bizarrely wearing purple winkle pickers!)  supported by Billie Godfrey (backing vocals), Asa Bennett (guitar), Joel Farland (electronic percussion) and Randy Hope-Taylor (bass). The other founding member, Ian Craig Marsh, left the band during their years of hiatus in the mid noughties.

‘Penthouse and Pavement’ was released in 1981. And Heaven 17 play it tonight in track order. In ’81, while the Human League began to have commercial success, Heaven 17 found life more difficult with the first single (and first track of the evening) ‘(We don’t need this) Fascist Grove Thang’ getting limited radio play due to  Radio 1 DJ Mike Read effectively banning it due to its left wing lyrics. At a time when the Top 40  was key to success, none of the singles from this album broke into the charts.  It would be a further two years before they really made commercial success….

“The first time in 30 years in it’s entirety – why didn’t we do this before?” Gregory stated after the first song, only to regret it later in the set. After ‘Civil Warefare’ – “Too many words in the song – we never intended to play it live – I’ve a memory of a goldfish!”

After the first side of the album, an interlude of a couple of  BEF tracks: ‘Ball of Confusion’ originally sung by Tina Turner, now with the stunning vocals of Billie Godfrey, and then Gregory singing a cover of Glenn Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’.

Then there was an acoustic treat, an cheeky rendition of a sister band’s classic 80’s hit,  the whole audience sang along – “Martyn won’t like this,” said Gregory, “Don’t mention it to Phil (Oakey) – our newfound friendship will be over!”

Then they ‘turned the album over, wiped it with their sleeve’ and onto side two of ‘Penthouse & Pavement’. Slight hiccup when the boys, nearly forgot ’A Song with No Name’, they completed the album with ‘We’re gonna live for a very long time’ – to a rapturous applause from the audience.

But the gig didn’t finish there, Heaven 17 switch to the hits and crank up the audience. ‘Crushed by the Wheels of Industry’, ‘Come Live with Me’ and the band’s favourite song ‘Let Me Go’ followed by a stunning dance 12 ” remix of ‘Temptation’ which was just jaw dropping.

Off and then back on for an encore – with the good question of how do you follow that? Well they did and then some – first track ( a newer song) ‘I’m Gonna Make You Fall in Love with Me’ was okay, then followed by a stunning version of The Associates ‘Party Fears Two’, a track Heaven 17 first played to honour Associate Billie McKenzie who committed suicide. A sad loss and hear-rending rendition.

Then – a treat-  a classic Human League song written by Ware, Craig Marsh and Phil Oakey. ‘Being Boiled.’ An awesome and stunning finale.

H17 were truly stunned by the audience reaction, you could tell they thoroughly enjoyed the gig, as much as the audience did. ‘We will return next year’ said Ware. If you get a chance to see Heaven 17, forget the art installation, reminisce about classic 12″ collector vinyl, cough up  £20 (which is what tonight’s prices were) and be prepared to be blown away!

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Setlist:

Side A: Penthouse and Pavement.

  1. (We Don’t Need This) Facist Grove hTang
  2. Penthouse and Pavement
  3. Play to Win
  4. Soul Warfare

Interlude:

  1. Ball of Confusion (BEF)
  2. Wichita Lineman (BEF)
  3. Don’t You Want Me (Human League Cover)

 

Side B: Penthouse and Pavement

  1. Geisha Boys and Temple Girls
  2. Let’s All Make a Bomb
  3. The Height of Fighting (He-La-Hu)
  4. Song with No Name
  5. We’re Going to Live for a Very Long Time

 

Hits:

  1. I’m Your Money
  2. Crushed by the Wheels of Industry
  3. Come with Me
  4. Let Me Go
  5. Temptation

 

Encore:

  1. I’m Gonna Make You Fall in Love with Me
  2. Party Fears Too (The Associates Cover)
  3. Being Boiled (Human League)

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Listening:

Heaven 17 – Penthouse and Pavement (1981) digitally remastered (2010)

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

The Associates – Singles (2007)