I used to live next door but one to Phil Oakey. It’s a story I often forget, but I’ve been waiting to write that line for a while. He wasn’t very neighbourly. It was 1988, The Human League were quite famous. He’d nod, and Joanne would smile occassionally, we’d just stare a lot, so I guess his non-neighbourly-ness was understandable.
I was in the first year of a Fine Art degree at Psalter Lane in Sheffield. Me and Whil rented the downstairs of a house on the corner of Gisbourne Road and Ecclesall Road South, just down the hill from college. Phil and Jo, as we never called them, lived two doors down on Ecclesall Road South.
We moved up to Sheffield from Norfolk in the back of horsebox. It belonged to Whil’s uncle and was one of the lorry types, clearly very much in use for moving horses, and quite recently too as it was full of straw bales. We travelled, with all our worldly possessions (bag of clothes, radio/cassette, duvet, black and white TV), in the back for some reason, perhaps it was the allure of standing straw bales on their end and trying to surf them as we rattled towards South Yorkshire.
We stopped off in Nottinghamshire, somewhere or other, to visit more of Whil’s relatives. I appreciate this tale is getting a bit off-piste, and I really must check, but I recall this relative was an old friend of Christine Keeler, who in 1961 had a fairly low-key affair with with a guy called John Profumo… who was the Secretary of State for War in Macmillan’s government. Show me a man who wouldn’t want a job title like that – isn’t it called Secretary of State for Defence these days?
Anyway, back on track… slightly. Our house in Sheffield was odd, but then when has student accommodation ever been anything else? We shared it with total strangers called Kev and Bella (jolly nice people as it turned out, luckily). We had one frontdoor, they lived upstairs, we lived down. The place we moved to after Gisbourne Road was next door to a, erm, ‘massage parlour’, and their fire exit was a wooden hatch that opened into our flat. Not a problem when you’re a student, I guess. It also had a room in it that was locked. We were told the previous tenant had left his stuff and was going to come collect it at some point. Can’t remember if he did. Must ask Whil.
So, Phil and Jo’s house wasn’t the sort of place you’d expect mega pop stars to live in. there was very little sign of opulence, but in the drive there was a Jag and more than several big motorbikes – five or six. The most remarkable thing about it was the front room, which was clearly visible from the road. In it was a giant teddy bear, giant, almost as high as the room, and across the back wall, arranged in a line like some sort of mission control, there were four TVs.
There was no Sky, which was perhaps lucky for Phil, because the TVs were all on at the same time, each tuned to one of the four available channels. We thought it was terribly impressive, the very height of pop starness. Boy, were we were naive fools.
What? Oh, music, yes. Almost forgot. In the days when proper remixes were coming from a sprinkle of US cities, from New York and Detroit, Martin Rushent (have I mentioned him before? I have? Oh) was leading the charge in the UK. ‘Dare’ had been a massive hit for The Human League in 1981, and in a cynical bid by Virgin to exploit the success and fast, ‘Love And Dancing’ appeared the following year.
It was a revelation, stripping out much of the vocals and adding rafts of effects and tricks, Rushent says the mixes, essentially all his own hard work, were a result of not having time to do ‘proper’ B-sides. Inspired by Grandmaster Flash, he’d add effects and chop and splice tape till his eyes bled and his fingers ached, or until he’d finished, whichever came first. He’d then serve them up to Virgin as B-sides. When he had half a dozen he’d almost done the whole album… so he finished the job and the spectacular ‘Love And Dancing’ was the result.
- The ‘Love And Dancing’ album is still very much available, get it from Amazon on CD or download for about a fiver. There’s a rather nice remaster from 2002 of the original ‘Dare’ album bagged up with ‘Love And Dancing’, for a bargain £7.99. Download that here.