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Gay Times May 11 - Issue 392

The Human League

The Human League are pioneers of both music and fashion, so it’s little surprise that Darren Scott is obsessed with both their new album AND what they’re wearing.

Joanne’s got amazing silver fingernails while Susan is wearing a full length leopard print coat. Phil’s looking very dapper all in dark colours with a rather cool piercing inside his ear.
They’re also quite fragrant. The second thing I notice – after their look – is how pleasantly perfumed they are as they lean in to look at the 10 Human League album sleeves I’ve printed out to jog their memories.
“I always look so moody in pictures,” Joanne frowns.
Susan leans back. “You ARE moody!”
Yet despite that surly exterior they’re actually all quite lovely. And very talkative.
Established in 1977 as a somewhat sombre men-only keyboard outfit, The Human League you see today have essentially been a trio – comprising the only original member, Phil Oakey, and singers Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall – since the early 90s, at least from a public point of view. They’re still a full band when performing live, something they’ve never really stopped doing. Now a mainstay of the festive season, their own gigs eclipse the sporadic ‘nostalgia’ tours you sometimes see them perform at.
“We can be that 80’s band for a certain amount of money, if you want us to be,” Susan states, matter of factly.
I note that whenever they do appear at such a gig they’re always the headline act.
“We won’t do it if we’re not!” she howls. And fair enough. They’ve sold more than 20 million records worldwide. Yet despite this, Radio One won’t play them because, they tell me, they’re “too old”.
“Officially, that’s what they say. But they’ll play Elton John,” Susan shrugs.
They’re anything but old. Their first album in 10 years, the magnificent Credo, plays like a greatest hits collection that sounds as modern as anything out there. If anything, I suggest, they’ve always been ahead of the curve. Phil disagrees.
“We got lost along the way in some places,” he humbly admits.
“In the early 90’s we weren’t current at all,” Susan agrees.
Phil continues. “We were desperate to have hits. After you’ve had a few hits and you start having a mortgage, when you’re first doing your stuff, nothing matters because you’re sort of right next to being on the dole. I mean I was actually living in the studio.”
The wonderfully outspoken Susan interjects. “Squallor! Squallor, I would call it to be truthful.”
Phil nods. “While we were doing our biggest album. But you’ve got a car that you’ve got to pay off and you’ve got a mortgage and you think ‘oh dear what’s everyone else doing?’ It happened with our synths for instance, and later when samplers came on. We chased the trend. We started hearing music by other people that we thought was great and tried to be like them. I tried to be like The Bee Gees when I heard the Barbara Streisand album that they did. I thought ‘ooh, I’ll get a bit more smoochy and that’ and we should never have done that, leave that to the Bee Gees, they do it better. So the desperation DOES set in.”
Susan adds: “We thought that music had gone a bit backwards. We thought that the synthesizer had started to become part of the musical landscape, and instead, everyone’s four or five guys in a group, wearing denim, looking miserable, playing guitars and we genuinely didn’t really understand it and we couldn’t get ARRESTED then. No-one was interested, it was a quite crap time for us.”
Joanne and Phil’s faces light up. Someone casually asks when Susan got arrested.
“Don’t!” she laughs. “I didn’t get properly arrested I just got locked up for the night.”
Oh go on then, I’ll bite. For what?

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