Music of Quality and Distinction Live
“I was once watching Richard Burgess play drums with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and Carol was a singer in the band. It was really when I was a budding drummer and Richard was a session drummer, I was about seventeen… Anyway Carol was about fifteen and an amazing singer of jazz. I always remembered her and she joined a few jazz bands around the time… Later I was recording in Trident Studio when Martyn Ware called me asking if I could suggest a singer for a track they were working on, someone with a range like Tina Turner or a real singer. Carol Kenyon was firmly in my mind as an amazing talent and I suggested her, found her number and connected them… once I got my copy of ‘Temptation’ by Heaven 17, I knew she was just perfect” – Rusty Egan, 2011
Electronic music has developed in the form of many diverse sources over the years. Take the in-depth German-influenced, vintage synth beat maps, through to the more easily accessible pop-toned song crafting – what you emerge with is a fine continent of channelled influence, on which to build and explore. The Heaven 17 / BEF weekend festival double-header, at the London Roundhouse, offered up the perfect opportunity to rekindle such journeys over land so often treasured. Effectively a career celebration of Martyn Ware who formed British Electric Foundation, the production company set up by himself and Ian Craig Marsh following their departure from The Human League, it was certainly an occasion of distinction. As the billing would suggest, it was an event filled with memories, warm feelings, dancing shoes and the most extravagant party dresses you could possibly imagine. Colourful, it was.
Kicking off on the Friday were Heaven 17 – following up on the success of their 2010 Penthouse And Pavement 30th Anniversary Tour, with a live world premiere performance of The Luxury Gap, in 3D sound. Blending their polished and precise instrumentation with the sophistication of innovative electronics, Heaven 17 as a band, were able to express their own visionary concepts that would etch into mainstream, and slot seamlessly into pop culture. Interestingly, The Luxury Gap was one of the first albums to use the Roland TB303 Bassline Computer which later became synonymous with Acid House!
Acid House aside, Heaven 17 dished up a tempting opportunity to unlock the doors once more, leading us into a world of shimmering electronic pop. However, the critical acclaim of 1983’s The Luxury Gap, which charted at No. 4 in the UK Album chart, is not so much of a secret . Whilst it was performed in its entirety for the very first time this weekend , tracks such as ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’, ‘Key To The World’, ‘Lady Ice And Mr Hex’ and ‘We Live So Fast’ were making their onstage live debut.
As per the album’s running order, the show opened with the metallic clasps and crashes that was ‘Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry’ – a production line of electronic beats, strobes and funk-driven guitar, all with uplifting piano lines slotted between the cogs of the track. It got the party off to an edgy start, with no shortage of action.
Next up was a bouncy rendition of ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ that kept spirits high, courtesy of its funky bass line and catchy synth (hanging on just a couple of notes, yet enough to carve a unique personality all of its own alongside some fine singalong backing vocals). Things slowed up with ‘Let Me Go’, but that didn’t mean compromising on energy, not at all. It reached down to great depths with its big chorus and heavily woven synth textures that cleverly brought richer tones to the fore, plus ultra sharp guitar work just blending subtly in the background.
By the time we grasped the ‘Key To The World’ it was a bright contrast, full of curiously groovy movements. Without hesitation, the time then came to welcome and give in to ‘Temptation’. Although the original 1983 version featured the renowned Carol Kenyon on vocals, this show saw that we were treated to the equally sensational Billie Godfrey’s immensely powerful interpretation – this being just one of many opportunities throughout the weekend for Billie to shine. ‘Come Live With Me’ brought the pace back to touch on essences more smoother and cooler but with absolutely no passion missing.
You could almost taste the late night cocktails with ‘Lady Ice And Mr Hex’. A track that flaunted a split personality – busy, slightly eerie jazz like piano that integrated its passing notes of rich individuality, all alongside its alter-ego, that held a funky edge. Sometimes it was hard to believe that a particular cut was born almost thirty years ago – precisely the case with ‘We Live So Fast’. Glenn gave it his best to maintain the speediness on this one, by his own admission. Nonetheless, the audience were happy to leap in time to the animated electronic pulses that were stabilised by clasps of beat – all sounding strangely up to date now (in 2011). Speaking of change, Glenn Gregory’s vocal hadn’t faltered one little bit throughout, and sounded just as rich as it was back in the day.
As The Luxury Gap was almost completed, the show didn’t finish with the ballad-like ‘The Best Kept Secret’ however. There was plenty more in the offering, much to audience approval. With the original line-up of Heaven 17 comprising two former members of The Human League, it was highly appropriate for Martyn Ware to revisit tracks from his sojourn the sedate ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ (as covered by The Human League on Reproduction) and ‘The Black Hit Of Space’. In fact, at this point, it was evident that The Luxury Gap had just been the warm-up.
It wouldn’t be a Heaven 17 show without showcasing cult favourite ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ which gave way to a tantalising slap bass solo.
Absolutely saving the best until the last, the audience swallowed up the encores – huge crowd-pleasers, the first one in the form of ‘Being Boiled’. This lush and extremely powerful take on The Human League song was given true justice and had the audience diving out of their seats as they revelled in the pure excitement of it all. Then, to follow, and equally as pleasing and energetic, came the dance remix and super extended reprisal of ‘Temptation’. An untraditional twist, with regards to encores, but layered with a driving pulse that every one of the audience now craved – not to mention a truly spine-tingling intro that, once again, danced around the dynamic vocal talents of Billie Godfrey.
If Heaven 17’s Friday evening show failed to send you into a captivating reverie focussed around those dynamic swinging groves, and we can’t imagine why, then the fast paced action delivered on the Saturday certainly would have done.
Saturday night was devoted to BEF and the ambitious Music of Quality and Distinction covers project. Volume 1 effectively relaunched the career of Tina Turner while Volume 2 fully revealed Martyn Ware’s love of soul music. The forthcoming third volume Dark promises happy songs reworked in a more sombre electronic manner. In true keeping with the weekend’s exclusivity theme, the set featured only four songs that had been played live previously. Picking up on the general atmosphere around the venue and many comments, this had been the night everyone had been waiting for – the most anticipated. A host of classic talents, all brought together on one stage there were great expectations for a glittering show.
Glenn Gregory opened the show and performed ‘Wichita Lineman’ before the stylish, sharp-suited Ultravox front man Midge Ure took to the stage to perform David Bowie’s ‘Secret Life of Arabia’, followed by an immensely passionate version of Roy Orbison’s ‘It’s Over’. Despite the shouts from the audience, there was no slot for ‘Vienna’ tonight, although that said, Midge did warn us, slipping in the notification between a joke about synth reliability! Kim Wilde held a captivating stage presence; still looking great as she performed three songs – among them was a fiery rendition of her 1986 hit record ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’, originally recorded by The Supremes and part of Volume 1. Her rendition of ‘Everytime I See You I Go Wild’ with its stark Depeche Mode-styled Roland System 100 backing will be one to look forward to on the new BEF album. To follow, the atmosphere mellowed blissfully, with Green Gartside singing ‘Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time’ and ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You’.
BEF was never going to be without the huge vocal workouts, and this is where Heaven 17’s female vocalists came in. Both Billie Godfrey (who was the first western vocalist to record a full album in Japanese) on ‘Smalltown Boy’ and Kelly Barnes on ‘Co-Pilot To Pilot’ certainly showed their virtuosity, with Glenn Gregory commenting on Kelly having the best twenty-four year old voice he’d ever heard. He’s got a point.
As the night drew to a close, Noisettes vocalist Shingai Shoniwa gave her heart to her performances of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ and ‘God Only Knows’. Meanwhile, Sandie Shaw stunned the Roundhouse, not only with her lively and seductive ‘Walk in My Shoes’ and yes, she was barefoot – but also, arguably, the most stunning outfit of the evening. At that point, she owned the stage. Finally, to close, Boy George took to the stage to huge applause, in perfect make-up and sporting a bright pink hat. Sure enough, ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’ really did wonders to aid a brisk pace. He even took time to joke with Martyn Ware about a Gary Glitter concert they both attended and how the autograph he’d obtained was probably worth nothing now! With so many different highlights, it was a monumental production that was pulled off admirably, and it’s virtually impossible to pinpoint every specific talent – everyone had something unique to offer.
There was no doubt that this weekend would be bountiful and, true to promise, BEF unleashed plenty of electro pop hooks with soulful visions and captivating vocals – all of which soared great heights and formed perfect melodic arcs. By the time the all-star finale featuring the iconic ‘Temptation’ came around, it was time to think fast-paced action sequences, contrasting artistic talents, not to mention throbbing pulses of electro pop, all tinted with soulful extravagance. Billie Godfrey led the upbeat anthem with the audience cheering their approval, while Sandie Shaw and Glenn Gregory were in fine duet. You can add to that plenty of fun – certainly judging by the huge smile that was etched across Boy George’s face.
Special thanks to Peter Noble at Noble PR.
BEF 1981-2011 3CD boxed set is available now on Virgin/EMI Records.
Photos by Jus Forrest.