Stef Hall interviews singer Glenn Gregory of Heaven 17
IT’S the night before the gig and Glenn Gregory is feeling tense as he paces around his home in London’s Primrose Hill.
He isn’t fretting about one of the synth-infused concerts Heaven 17’s fans have come to know and love, but his 10-year-old son Louie’s debut at the school barbecue.
The youngster is following in his dad’s footsteps but has swapped the synthesizers for a guitar.
Glenn, 55, who will be watching anxiously with wife Lindsay, says: “They write their own stuff, usually about how much they hate school!”
“I think this time they are going ‘Ziggy Stardust’ too.
“ We knew he was going to be musical when he was a toddler – he would shuffle around on his bum when Britney Spear’s Toxic came on the radio.
“I think I’m more nervous than he is, he’s fine. I heard them practice last night, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ and they sound good.”
Glenn lives in a leafy conservation area with Lindsay, Louie and their whippet Billy – who he quickly stresses is not named after the band’s backing singer, Billie Godfrey.
He explains: “ We actually called him after our friend Billy who got me my first ever whippet. My wife made me phone Billie and explain!”
He is alluding to his friend Billy MacKenzie, singer with cult new wave post-punk band Associates, who took his own life aged 39, in the shed where he kept his beloved whippets.
Life in Primrose Hill is a world away from Glenn’s humble background.
The only son of a steel worker, he grew up in one of the poorest areas of Sheffield.
He dreamt of becoming an actor but was sent for interviews for jobs in the metal industry.
He met Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware, founders of pioneering British electro-pop group The Human League, as a teenager.
He was their original choice when seeking a vocalist but he was unavailable at the time, working as a photographer, so they chose Phil Oakey instead.
In late 1980 the duo left the Human League, taking a new name from a fictional pop group mentioned in Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange, and recruiting Glenn, who had been living in London.
Synthesizers and drum machines featured heavily in their songs.
Their first single “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” was banned by BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read due to its overtly left-wing lyrics.
Debut album Penthouse and Pavement peaked at 14 in the UK charts. Its singles brought little interest – though ironically it is now seen as a cult album.
However when “Temptation” reached Number 2 in 1983 it became their biggest hit.
Their iconic sharp business suits were a sharp contrast to the makeup and flamboyant costumes donned by other acts of the era.
Away from the band Glenn forged a career in soundtrack music, spending the last decade writing scores for TV, radio and film.
He has also worked with an exciting range of artists including Tina Turner, Grace Jones, Propaganda, Terence Trent D’Arby, Ultravox, Midge Ure, and John Lydon.
He creates scores in a studio at the bottom of his garden, and is currently putting the finishing touches to a BBC film about the Great Train Robbery.
He was booted out of his home studio when Lindsay fell pregnant, and had to apply for planning permission to install his purpose built soundproof and air conditioned studio, manufactured off site. It had to be lifted into their garden with a crane!
Inside is Glenn’s own personal heaven, boasting computers, synths, guitars, microphones and other gadgets.
Martyn Ware lives on the other side of Primrose Hill with his wife and two children, and they generally write Heaven 17 material in his home studio.
For many years they regarded themselves a studio act, only taking to their first tour back in 1997.
Since then they have established a big rapport with fans, meeting concert goers after gigs and interacting with a large Facebook following, where Glenn scores a few laughs by editing pictures of Martyn to make him look like a clown.
He explains: “You get a genuine feel for how people feel about your music and what they want from you.
“Some people think they’ve got more rights to your time than others, but overall social networking a very positive thing. We are quite open and converse and meet people at gigs.”
The band are looking forward to meeting Lancashire fans at the Lytham Proms at Lytham Green on August 2, alongside other notable 80s acts including Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet and Jason Donovan.
Glenn says: “ We love playing outdoor gigs.
“It’s much more fun and relaxed outside, there seems to be less pressure. It’s more family orientated and it’s always a great atmosphere.
“It’s like a school trip for us because we work hard away from Heaven 17 doing things and it’s like a big reunion.”
But he admits it is a challenge as he’s got older, laughing: “We sleep in the dimensions of a coffin on the tour bus. And it’s all late nights. We generally don’t leave a gig until at least midnight because we get out and about talking to fans and having a drink. “Then we’ll get on the bus but end up talking until 4am some nights.”
Ian Craig Marsh left in 2007 to pursue a degree in neuroscience in Brighton.
Glenn says: “He’s off doing what he does and its fine. We don’t talk often but he texted: “Ding dong the witch is dead’ when Thatcher died. I hadn’t seen the news – I thought he was off his rocker!”
Thatcher was “largely hated” in Gregory and Ware’s home city as she was perceived as being the driving force behind the steel industry being destroyed, Gregory’s father among those made redundant.
With no sign of Ian returning, Glenn and Martyn are getting on with penning a new album.
Their last album Before After, had a more contemporary dance sound than other albums, but their new material promises to be in their traditional signature synthpop style.
He explains: “It sounds more like Penthouse and Pavement, our really early stuff.”