THE HUMAN LEAGUE are an English synthpop band formed in Sheffield
in 1977. After signing to
The band began as an avant-garde all-male synthesizer group. The only
constant band member since 1977 has been lead singer and songwriter
Since 1978, the Human League have released nine studio albums, four EPs , 30 singles and several compilation albums . They have had five albums and eight singles in the UK Top 10 and have sold more than 20 million records worldwide.
* 1 History
* 1.1 1970s: Early years * 1.2 1980s: Line up changes and rise in popularity * 1.3 1990s: Further recordings * 1.4 2000s: Touring * 1.5 2010s: 35th anniversary tour
* 2 Legacy and influence * 3 Discography
* 4 Band members
* 4.1 Current members * 4.2 Former members * 4.3 Additional musicians * 4.4 Timeline
* 5 Awards
* 5.1 Nominations
* 6 References * 7 Further reading * 8 External links
1970S: EARLY YEARS
Before adopting the name The Human League, the band briefly had two
previous incarnations. In early 1977,
Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh
, who had met at youth arts project Meatwhistle, were both working as
computer operators. Their musical collaboration combined pop music
(such as glam rock and
Tamla Motown ) with avant-garde electronic
music . With the price of electronic components dropping in the
mid-1970s, equipment became more affordable for the average consumer;
Ware and Marsh purchased a
After a few more low-key, private performances, Ware and Marsh
decided to officially form a band. Joined by their friend Adi Newton
and another synthesizer (a
Ware and Marsh searched for a vocalist, but their first choice, Glenn
Gregory , was unavailable (Gregory eventually became the lead singer
of their later band
Heaven 17 ). Ware then decided to invite an old
With a new line-up, sound, and vocalist, Ware decided that the band needed a new name. It would also allow them to approach record companies again from a different angle. Ware suggested a quote derived from Starforce: Alpha Centauri , a science-fiction wargame. In the game, "The Human League" arose in 2415 A.D, and were a frontier-oriented society that desired more independence from Earth. Ware suggested that the Future rename themselves after the game, and in early 1978 the Future became "The Human League". The 'original' Human League in July 1980. From left to right Oakey, Wright, Marsh, Ware.
Using Future material, the Human League released a demo tape to
record companies under their new name. The tape contained versions of
"Being Boiled", "Toyota City", and "Circus of Death". Ware's friend
Paul Bower of
The band released their first single, "Being Boiled", in June 1978
which became Fast Product's third release. Although a limited release
– because it was so unique and at odds with everything else on the
market – it was picked up on by
Boosted by critical praise, on 12 June 1978 the band played their
first live gig together at Bar 2 in Sheffield's Psalter Lane Art
With their reliance on technology and tape machines, the band had been nervous about playing live. After the Psalter Lane performance, they worried that they had appeared static and uninspiring. A friend of Oakey's who had been in the audience, Philip Adrian Wright , who also had an art and photography background was invited to become the band's Director of Visuals with a remit to "liven up" the stage performance with slides, film clips and lighting.
The band's live performances began to gain momentum and acclaim and
they were asked to support first
The Rezillos (featuring future band
Jo Callis ), then
Siouxsie and the Banshees
In April 1979 the Human League released their first EP under Fast
The Dignity of Labour , which contained four
experimental instrumentals. Although the EP barely charted, major
record labels began approaching the band in an attempt to lure them
away from Fast. Eventually in May 1979, the band accepted an offer by
In June 1979 the Human League supported
The band's first single under
Because the imposed style had not worked, Virgin permitted the band
to return to their original style and the band recorded and released
their first full studio album Reproduction in August 1979. The album
and the single "
Empire State Human " failed to make any impact on the
charts. After these flops, Virgin cancelled the band's December 1979
tour. By this time, the Human League's role as UK electronic pioneers
was usurped by
In March 1980, the band—which had not yet itself hit the singles
charts—was namechecked in a UK hit song by
In April 1980 the band was able to release an EP entitled Holiday
\'80 , containing the principal track "Marianne" and a cover of
"Nightclubbing" (written by Bowie and Iggy Pop). The seven-inch
version of "Holiday '80" did well enough to get the band their first
TV appearance on
In May 1980, the band toured the UK.
Philip Adrian Wright was now
playing incidental keyboards in addition to his visuals role. It was
the last time all four members performed together live. Also in May,
the band released their second studio album Travelogue . More
commercial sounding than Reproduction, it peaked at No. 16 in the UK,
giving the band their first real success. As a result, "Empire State
Human" was re-released and the band made their second appearance on
Top of the Pops
Because of their lack of commercial success, Virgin refused to
release further singles from Travelogue.
The Human League
Equipment used in this period were – Roland Jupiter 4,
1980S: LINE UP CHANGES AND RISE IN POPULARITY
The relationship between Oakey and Ware had always been turbulent,
and the pair often quarrelled over creative and personal matters. The
lack of success compared with the success of
Manager Bob Last tried to reconcile both parties, and when that proved impossible various options were suggested including two new bands under a Human League sub-label. Eventually it was agreed that Oakey would continue with the Human League name while Ware and Marsh would form a completely new band, which became Heaven 17 . Two weeks before the UK/Europe tour the band split.
Retaining the Human League name came at a heavy price for Oakey; he was responsible for all Human League debts and commitments. Also, the Human League would have to pay Ware and Marsh one percent of royalties of the next Human League album under the Virgin contract.
With the tour only ten days away and the music media reporting that
the Human League was finished now that "the talented people had left",
promoters started threatening to sue Oakey if the tour was not
completed as contracted. To complete the tour, Oakey had to recruit
new people in a matter of days. Oakey and his then girlfriend went
Oakey states that when he found out the age of the girls and that they were best friends, he revised his plan for a single female and decided that the two girls could look after each other on the tour. Originally just wanting a single female singer to replace the high backing vocals originally provided by Martyn Ware, he says that he thought having two female vocalists/dancers would also add potential glamour to the band. Because of the girls' ages, Oakey and Wright later had to visit Sulley and Catherall's respective parents to obtain permission for the girls to go on the tour.
In addition to Sulley and Catherall, Oakey employed professional
Ian Burden from
The tour was completed as advertised with the first date at Doncaster Top Rank but was less than successful. The music press was scornful of "Oakey and his dancing girls" and treated the new band line-up with derision. Many of the audiences who had paid to see the original all male line up, were not happy with the new band; Sulley and Catherall were often heckled and, on occasion, objects were thrown.
On completion of the tour, Burden went on to his next commitment
playing bass guitar in
In January 1981, although they had survived the tour, the band was still in trouble. Heavily in debt to Virgin Records, Oakey and Wright were under pressure to produce results quickly. By February 1981 the band recorded and rushed out "Boys and Girls ". Sulley and Catherall (who had returned to their sixth-form full-time) were not involved in the recording but were included on the single's front cover. The single reached No. 47 in the UK charts, the band's highest chart position to that point. Oakey acknowledged that he needed to bring in professional musicians and so Ian Burden was tracked down and invited to join the band as a trial member.
Virgin's faith had been restored by "Boys and Girls", but they
believed the band lacked professional production. In March, Oakey was
introduced to veteran producer
Bob Last believed that the band could be improved further by the addition of one more professional musician, so in April 1981 his associate Jo Callis (formerly of The Rezillos whom Last had previously managed) was invited to become the final permanent member of the band. The next single, " Love Action (I Believe in Love) ", reached No. 3 in the UK in August 1981. The band set about arranging their existing material and demos into a viable album, produced by Rushent. Sulley and Catherall who had just left school immediately postponed their plans to attend university to work on the album.
By this time, the band's commercial success and higher profile had caused their first two albums to start selling again. Reproduction charted for the first time in August 1981, eventually peaking at no.34, and Travelogue also recharted and returned to the Top 30 for several weeks. Both albums would eventually achieve Gold status. In October 1981, Virgin released a brand new single, "Open Your Heart ", which gave the band another Top 10 hit. The band's new album, Dare, was also released in October 1981 and reached No. 1 in the UK. It spent a total of four weeks at the top spot over the 1981/82 period, remaining in the chart for 77 weeks and eventually going triple platinum.
Because of Dare's success, Virgin executive Simon Draper instructed that a fourth single be released from the album before the end of 1981. His choice was to be "Don't You Want Me", a track Oakey considered to be a filler and the weakest track on the album. Oakey fought the decision believing it would damage the band, but was over-ruled by Draper and "Don't You Want Me" was released in November 1981. Aided by an expensive music video (a rarity at the time) directed by film maker Steve Barron , the single went to No. 1 for five weeks over the 1981 Christmas period.
"Don't You Want Me" became the band's biggest hit, selling almost 1.5
million copies in the UK. Dare has since been labelled as one of pop
music's most influential albums. In a retrospective review of the
Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Although the group has been retrospectively identified with the New
Romantic movement of this period, according to Dave Rimmer, author of
New Romantics: The Look, "at the time were no such thing." The band
themselves have also consistently and strenuously rejected the label.
Capitalising on the success of the album and their recent No. 1 hit
In November 1982, the
The Human League's work was now recognised on both sides of the
Atlantic. In February 1983, the band was nominated for the Best New
Artist award at the 25th annual Grammy Awards (though the award
eventually went to
Men at Work
The follow-up single, " (Keep Feeling) Fascination ", was released in April 1983, and peaked at No. 2 in the UK. The following months proved to be difficult ones for the band as they struggled to record a follow-up album to Dare under immense pressure from Virgin. A six-song EP called Fascination! composed of the singles "Mirror Man" and "Fascination" together with the new track "I Love You Too Much" was released from the original recording sessions for their new album, later to be named Hysteria . The EP was released in America as a stop-gap and also became a strong seller as an import in the UK.
In August 1983, the band released "the UK's first video single " to
capitalise on the growing market created by the increasing popularity
of domestic home video cassette recorders (VCRs), called The Human
League Video Single . Although "video albums" had been released by
bands such as Blondie and
The band spent many months agonising as they tried to make a
successor to Dare, and as things became ever more stressful, producer
Finally in May 1984, the band released the politically charged single "The Lebanon ". The single peaked at No. 11 in the UK. This was followed shortly thereafter by the album Hysteria, so called because of the difficult and tense recording process. It entered the UK album chart at No. 3, however it climbed no further and critics and fans were divided by the new direction the band had taken. The second single was " Life on Your Own " in mid-1984. The single peaked at No. 16.
Later that year, success outside of the Human League came for Oakey
in the shape of the huge hit single "
Together in Electric Dreams
After Hysteria, the group found themselves in creative stagnation,
struggling to record material to follow up on their previous
successes. Key songwriter
Jo Callis departed, replaced by drummer Jim
Russell. Bob Last quit as manager and was not replaced. In 1985, the
band spent several months working on a new album with producer Colin
Thurston (who had produced the first two
Worried by the lack of progress with their most profitable act, Virgin paired the Human League up with American R">
The final result of the sessions was the Crash album. The album
featured much material written by the Jam and Lewis team, and
In 1987, Ian Burden also left the band. In November 1988 a greatest hits compilation album was released that reached No. 3 in UK. This was preceded by the release of the single " Love Is All That Matters " from Crash.
In 1989, the band built their own studio in Sheffield, jointly funded
by Oakey and a business development loan from
1990S: FURTHER RECORDINGS
In 1990, the band released their last album for Virgin Records,
Romantic? . By now, longstanding members Adrian Wright and Ian Burden,
together with newer recruit Jim Russell, had all left the band,
Jo Callis did return to play on some of the sessions and
co-wrote two songs, including the minor hit single "Heart Like a Wheel
". New to the line-up were keyboardist
Neil Sutton who had worked with
the band on the Crash tour of 1986, and guitarist/keyboardist Russell
Dennett. At odds with the prevailing trend of US grunge and the
Manchester scene the
Romantic? album did not re-capture the group's
huge commercial success of the 1980s with its second single
Soundtrack to a Generation
In 1992, Virgin abruptly cancelled their recording contract. Damaged by the failure of the album, their rejection by Virgin, harsh criticism in the media and facing financial ruin, the emotional well-being of Oakey and Sulley deteriorated badly. Catherall remained positive and she is cited as the principal reason why the band did not fold at this, their lowest point.
After a couple of years the band had recovered enough confidence to put out demos to other record labels. Concurrently in 1993 they were invited to work with veteran Japanese electropop band Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) which resulted in the EP "YMO Versus The Human League ". Released principally in Japan and Asia in April 1993, the EP includes the songs "Behind the Mask " and "Kimi Ni Mune Kyun" ("I Love You") written by Oakey and Yukihiro Takahashi , featuring the vocals of Sulley and Catherall.
On the album cover artwork and in videos, the group was now presented simply as a trio of Oakey/Catherall/Sulley. In reality however, other musicians had input to the record, including producer Ian Stanley, with continued playing and songwriting contributions from Neil Sutton and Russell Dennett; and Oakey co-writing one track with Jo Callis.
The next single from the album was the ballad " One Man in My Heart ", which features Sulley on lead vocals. It reached No. 13 in the UK and was unique in that it was the only single by the Human League to feature a female only lead vocal until "Never Let Me Go" in 2011.
Their renewed success prompted the band to tour again for the first
time since 1987, and they conducted a tour of the US and UK in 1995.
Subsequent singles "
Filling up with Heaven
A change in management at EastWest in 1998 saw the cancellation of
the band's contract once again. Afterward, the band co-headlined with
The band released their next album, Secrets , in 2001. The band was
still presented as the Oakey, Sulley and Catherall trio, although Neil
Sutton was credited with keyboards, and co-wrote most of the material
with Oakey. The album received mixed reviews from critics.
Commercially, the album foundered entering the UK album chart at No.
44, falling off the chart the following week. This was not helped by
the band's record label, Papillon which developed financial problems.
It was closed by the parent company shortly after the album's release,
leading to poor promotion and sales.
BBC Radio 1
Susan Sulley said that the rejection of Secrets was "the lowest the band had been since 1992 and after putting in so much time and effort in to an album that then failed, nearly causing them to call it a day."
To accompany the then-stalled album, the band conducted the 2001 'Secrets Tour'. Along with Sulley and Catherall, the band had Neil Sutton on keyboards. Long time studio engineer David Beevers had become part of the on-stage line-up controlling the sequencers from behind his deck of twin Apple Macintoshes . Oakey further recruited multi-instrumentalist Nic Burke, then aged 21, who he had seen playing in Sheffield, to play electric guitar and keytar. To round off the line up in 2002, percussionist Errol Rollins was added to play the electronic drum kit. Rollins was replaced by Rob Barton in 2004.
As a point of honour the band refuses to use playback; they always
play live and rehearse before every appearance, ensuring that no two
performances are the same. This was clearly demonstrated in 2002, when
the band was booked to appear on UK national TV channel
In 2003, a second single from Secrets, entitled "
Love Me Madly? ",
was released independently as a private venture by Nukove, a small
independent label especially set up to release Human League material,
but it did not have funds for promotion and the single did not chart.
The Human League
Throughout the following years, the band has continued to tour frequently, enjoying enduring success and popularity as a live act. In 2004, they released The Human League Live at the Dome , a DVD of a live show in filmed at the Brighton Dome complete with a compilation CD called Live at the Dome . Prior to this, in 2003, Virgin records had released The Very Best of the Human League , a DVD of most of their previously recorded music videos. The DVD sold well in the UK and US, and was accompanied by a compilation album of the same name.
At the end of 2005, the band together with
As well as dedicated Human League tours, the band has since appeared
at many independent concerts and festivals worldwide. They have played
at such prestigious events as the
On 22 September 2006, the band performed on the US network television
Jimmy Kimmel Live!
The band has been the subject of, and appeared in, various TV
documentaries and features such as
In November and December 2007, to mark their 30th anniversary
(1977–2007) the band conducted their highest profile tour since the
Secrets tour of 2001. The 'Dare! 2007' tour encompassed 20 European
venues from London to Stockholm, most of which were sold out. Their
set list included (for the first time ever) a performance of Dare
played sequentially and in its entirety. This included Philip Oakey
playing the Human League's instrumental arrangement of the theme from
A 12" single remix of " Things That Dreams Are Made Of " (originally from the Dare! album) was released in the UK in January 2008, by Hooj Choons . It peaked at No. 2 on the UK Dance chart.
In August and September 2008, the band headlined the US Regeneration
Tour supported by ABC ,
A Flock of Seagulls
In November and December 2008, the Human League got together with
Martin Fry's ABC and
Heaven 17 for 'The Steel City Tour' of the UK.
This was Philip Oakey's concept of a joint tour of all three bands
celebrating the original electronic music of early 1980s Sheffield
(the titular Steel City). Much was made in the UK media of the history
Heaven 17 and the Human League, the original events of 1980
and the fact they were now working together. Both Oakey and Martyn
Ware were at pains to explain that any acrimony from that period had
long since been forgotten.
The Human League
The Human League
On 11 December 2009,
The Human League
Although the subject of retirement is often brought up in interviews, Oakey, Sulley and Catherall have all stated that they still enjoy performing and intend to carry on for "as long as they are filling concerts and people want to see them." Sulley often jokes that she "has to carry on because she doesn't know how to do anything else."
2010S: 35TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR
A new album, Credo was released in March 2011. It peaked at No. 44
UK Albums Chart
The first single from the album, "Night People " was released on 22 November 2010 but failed to enter the mainstream UK chart. It did however reach No. 25 in the UK Indie chart. The follow up single, "Never Let Me Go" was released in the UK on 1 March 2011, however in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, "Egomaniac" was chosen as the second single. A double vinyl edition of Credo was released on 25 July 2011, together with the download of "Sky", the third single from the album.
At the end of 2012, the band undertook the 'XXXV Tour' across Europe and the UK, to celebrate 35 years in existence. The shows were critically acclaimed. The UK's Daily Telegraph said "as good a night's entertainment as you are likely to find anywhere on the planet".
In March 2014, "Don't You Want Me" re-entered the Top 20 of the UK
Singles Chart , thanks to a social media campaign from the fans of
In 2016, the band announced their 'A Very British
LEGACY AND INFLUENCE
The Human League
In 2001, the tribute album Reproductions: Songs of The Human League
was released, which included
The Human League
Main article: The Human League discography
* Reproduction (1979) * Travelogue (1980) * Dare (1981) * Hysteria (1984) * Crash (1986) * Romantic? (1990) * Octopus (1995) * Secrets (2001) * Credo (2011)
* Ian Craig Marsh – keyboards (1977–1980) * Martyn Ware – keyboards (1977–1980) * Philip Adrian Wright – visuals (1978–1980), keyboards (1980–1986) * Ian Burden – keyboards, bass (1980–1987) * Jo Callis – keyboards, guitar (1981–1985) * Jim Russell – drums, guitar, programming (1983–1987)
* Neil Sutton – keyboards (1986–2017) * David Beevers – onstage engineering (1988–present) * Rob Barton – electronic percussion (2003–present) * Josh Cana – multi-instrumentalist (2016–present)
FORMER ADDITIONAL MUSICIANS
* Russell Dennett – keyboards (1990–1994) * Errol Rollins – electronic percussion (2001–2004) * Nic Burke – multi-instrumentalist (2001–2015)
* 1982 Grammy Awards – Nominated for Best New Artist
* ^ Ankeny, Jason. "
The Human League
* Ross, Alaska. Story of a Band Called "The Human League". Proteus July 1982. ISBN 978-0-86276-103-5 * Nash, Peter. Human League (Perfect pop). Star 21 October 1982. ISBN 978-0-352-31151-1 * Lilleker, Martin. Beats Working for a Living: Sheffield