When Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware left The Human League in late 1980 the reverberations were felt not just in their native Sheffield. On the verge of pop stardom the League's tale is told elsewhere but the two keyboards players had different ambitions.
Regarding themselves as primarily studio based producers Marsh and Ware created the corporate image of British Electric Foundation (BEF) to promote themselves, albeit with tongue in cheek. Commandeering old friend Glenn Gregory, who was working as a photographer in London, the trio batted about a few ideas before settling on the name Heaven 17, a reference to the fictional group in Anthony Burgess's novel, A Clockwork Orange.
After releasing a brace of cassette-only items as BEF Heaven 17 made their first foray proper with the album Penthouse and Pavement, which reached Number 14 on the UK Albums Chart and would eventually go gold. The core of the album consists of a slew of high class dance tracks which utilise the then prevalent Linn LM-1 drum machine, banks of flashing synths and the odd session player like John Wilson on guitars and Nick Plytas on treated piano. Befitting the mood of the time the album has a cool atmosphere but is lent undeniable human emotion thanks to Gregory's vocals. He would also become the media face of the trio and a convivial presence in the press and on TV as well as their video face.
Penthouse and Pavement's combination of gritty subject matter and urban chic can be heard in its singles. The debut '(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang' owed plenty to the likes of Parliament and Funkadelic although it's subject matter, a denunciation of British and American foreign policy, caused controversy meaning certain folks at the BBC refused to play it, absurd as that now seems thirty odd years later. Subsequent releases from the parent disc, including the title cut, 'The Height of the Fighting' and 'Play to Win' attracted more attention from club goers than mainstream record buyers but time has treated them well and the whole shebang is well regarded.
The Luxury Gap (1983) continued the theme of financial disparity with the lead off track 'Crushed by the Wheels of Industry' setting a high standard for what would be the outfit's biggest selling album. The initial single 'Let Me Go!' preceded The Luxury Gap when it was leaked to dance floors in Europe and America. Featuring the Roland bass synth it's possible to see this song as a precursor to the acid house movement that was just starting to percolate in New York City, Paris and London. Those with a love for trivia may recall that 'Let Me Go!' was the first song played on the opening episode of That 80's Show.
In any case Heaven 17's fortunes took a turn for the better when they released their signature piece 'Temptation', featuring the soulful duet vocals of Carol Kenyon, a fine session singer with a spectacular range and power. 'Temptation' has proven to have long legs since Brothers in Rhythm's remix reached the top of the dance charts a decade later and retro clubbers still rate it highly today.
Keeping things fresh Heaven 17's third album, How Men Are, featured two more hits in the guise of 'Sunset Now' and 'This is Mine', but also balanced the synths with acoustic instruments, select orchestration and even guest appearances from Earth, Wind & Fire's brass section, The Phenix Horns. Maintaining the up soul mood the female trio Afrodiziak added memorable back ups.
The fourth album, Pleasure One, flummoxed some since it saw a return to the dance plus politics of earlier releases while bridging the gap between the Heaven 17 of 1986 and their latter-day slicker approach, with funky guitars and tight grooves set next to some nascent breakbeats. It shouldn't have been a problem because Pleasure One is a fine thing indeed. Gregory's deadpan vocals really come into their own here on the tracks 'Contenders' and 'Trouble' which are as good as anything from the earlier catalogue.
The Heaven 17 story certainly doesn't end there either since the sprawling Teddy Bear, Duke and Psycho (their alter egos) repays investigation and there are also several quality compilations to explore - notably Greatest Hits - Sight And Sound, Temptation - The Best Of and the big club affair The Remix Collection.
In recent years Ware and Gregory have performed their albums as continuous pieces, appeared on Later with Jools Holland and featured in numerous charitable and social events in Sheffield and other European hotspots!
Definitely a band with a message but also one with a classic beat and a defined sound. All dressed up and raring to go, Heaven 17 aren't ready to hang up their boogie shoes just yet.
When synthesists Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware left the Human League in 1980, the decision seemed iffy; after all, the League appeared on the way up and would achieve global fame the very next year with Dare!. The first album from Heaven 17, Marsh and Ware's new trio with singer Glenn Gregory, wasn't greeted with quite the same commercial kudos when released in 1981, but it turned out to be an important outing nevertheless. Picking up where Kraftwerk had left off with The Man Machine, the group created glistening electro-pop that didn't skimp on danceable grooves or memorable melodies. What set Heaven 17 apart was the well-deep vocals of Gregory, who managed the difficult trick of sounding dramatic without seeming pretentious, and an overtly left-wing political outlook best expressed on the debut single "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang." Other standout combinations of witty lyrics and whiplash electro-grooves include "The Height of the Fighting" and "Play to Win," while the funky title track draws on American R&B for its popping bassline. Despite the catchy material, chart success proved somewhat elusive; the group didn't score a major hit until their next album, 1983's The Luxury Gap. Nevertheless, Penthouse and Pavement stands as one of the most accomplished debuts of the '80s.
Words: Dan LeRoy
After creating a marvelous electronic debut, Glenn Gregory, Ian Marsh, and Martyn Ware decided to tamper with their winning formula a bit on Heaven 17's 1983 follow-up to Penthouse and Pavement. The result, which added piano, strings, and Earth, Wind, & Fire's horn section to the band's cool synthesizer pulse, was even better, and The Luxury Gap became one of the seminal albums of the British new wave. The best-known track remains "Let Me Go," a club hit that features Gregory's moody, dramatic lead above a percolating vocal and synth arrangement. But even better is the mechanized Motown of "Temptation," a deservedly huge British smash that got a shot of genuine soul from R&B singer Carol Kenyon. Nearly every song ends up a winner, though, as the album displays undreamed-of range. If beat-heavy techno anthems like "Crushed By the Wheels of Industry" were expected of Heaven 17, the melodic sophistication of "The Best Kept Secret" and "Lady Ice and Mr. Hex" -- both of which sound almost like show tunes -- wasn't. If there's a flaw, it's that while the band's leftist messages were more subtle and humorous than most of their time, they still seem rather naïve. But the music, which showed just how warm electro-pop's usually chilly grooves could be, is another matter entirely. Caroline follows the order of the British pressing, adding some extended remixes.]
Words: Dan LeRoy
It all came together for Heaven 17 on this album, and as a result it is by far their strongest, most brilliant album. Combining their various influences (including R&B, pop, dance, electronica), Heaven 17 fused these styles together to create an almost perfect sound. There is simply not a weak track on the album. Highlights are numerous, including the very long but very wonderful "And That's No Lie." A strong melody, stunning vocals from Glenn Gregory, and tight production equal a fascinating glimpse into the human struggle. Adding a number of session players, including a guitarist, Heaven 17 was able to expand and build on their solid sound. Gregory is also allowed to branch out on this album and write more personal and political statements that were not clearly heard on their first two albums. Fans will not be disappointed, and in fact, this could be the album to win new fans over. "Sunset Now," "Flamedown," and the brilliant "This Is Mine" are just a few of the reasons for this album's greatness.
Words: Aaron Badgley
This was the first release byHeaven 17 to not be released on vinyl. It was released only on CD and cassette, with the longer, complete version only available on cassette. This was also the first non-vinyl release to chart in the U.K., where it did very well. And why wouldn't it? This is the best of Heaven 17 all mixed together to form a complete soundtrack of brilliant dance hits with a heavy political message and no breaks between songs. Most of the versions are the 12'' extended versions, and others were re-recorded or remixed explicitly for this release (such as the stunning "Let's All Make a Bomb" and "Song With No Name"). Fans will love this collection and it is ideal for those house dance parties.
Words: Aaron Badgley
A 1993 compilation of 17 tracks which contains all the groups best moments including the hits ‘Temptation’ and ‘(We don’t need this) Faschist Groove Thang’. Also included are a number of album tracks, lesser hits and remixes of their biggest hits.
Sight and Sound collects together the band's major, minor and almost-hits as well as all their promotional videos. It's a definitive overview, featuring not only early singles "Play To Win" and "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang" plus obvious smashes "Temptation", "Come Live With Me", "Crushed By The Wheels of Industry" and "Let Me Go", but also a smattering of songs from less successful albums such as Pleasure One and Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho. Extras, such as the demo version of "Temptation", recorded at their home studio in 1983, give the collection even more appeal.
Words: Danny McKenna
The Remix Collection highlights Heaven 17's sultry appeal on nearly a dozen remixes. Cult favorites like "Temptation" and "Train of Love in Motion" are switched up for something chic, and the sexy remix version of "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang" struts with light house breakbeats.