Heaven 17, The Waterfront, Norwich, 29th May 2015

h17wf29515-19Line-up:
Heaven 17:
Glenn Gregory (vocals)
Martyn Ware (synthesizer, vocals)
Berenice Scott (synthesizer)
Billie Godfrey (backing vocals)
Rachel Mosely (backing vocals)

Support:
Chris Pidgeon (vocals, guitar)

Venue:
The Waterfront
139-141 King Street
Norwich
Norfolk
NR1 1QH

h17wf29515-20Way back in 1980, during a rather routine music lesson at school, the teacher (a somewhat delectable soul called Daphne King) introduced us to the music of The Human League (in the dim and distant days when they were the “proper” League – i.e. no out of tune girls). Most of the class quietly died from lack of interest and/or teenage angst (yes, we had teen angst back in 1980 – it’s nothing new). However, a small core of us sat up and actually took notice. The album was “Travelogue” and the track that the lovely Mrs. King had chosen for us to listen was “Dreams of Leaving”, a curious sequence driven piece, almost but not quite Tangerine Dream, European sounding but at the same time very British. I was already into the EM thing, wooed as I had been by the likes of the afore-mentioned Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Jean-Michel Jarre, Isao Tomita, Walter/Wendy Carlos and the recently emerged solo offerings from John Foxx, but this amazing piece of the purest English electronic music captured not just my attention, but also my imagination and musical soul. And just as I got the League sound in my hormone saturated blood, two of the founding members, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh only went and bloody well left the band!!! As history has recorded, singer Phil Oakey and visualist Adrian Wright went on to recruit “the girls” and we had the album “Dare” which was basically great. I loved it, no really, I did (I even went to see them at the Ipswich Gaumont in December 1981 and they were really good), but for me the “new” League lacked the sound that I had found in both “Travelogue” and the debut album “Reproduction”. Anyway, I have seriously digressed. Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh went off to set up a new outfit called Heaven 17 (the name taken from a fictional pop group mentioned in the classic Anthony Burgess tome, “A Clockwork Orange” – if you haven’t read it, read it, it’s frighteningly prophetic) and a production company called the British Electric Foundation. Through the 1980’s they enjoyed a modicum of success with tracks such as “Let me Go”, “Crushed By The Wheels of Industry” and the seminal classic “Temptation” which featured the wonderful vocals of session singing favourite, Carol Kenyon. The 90’s were a much quieter time with the band members seeing themselves in h17wf29515-17various roles working with other artists, not releasing anything new as Heaven 17 until 1996 and playing their first live shows a year later (interestingly, the very first H17 gig was at the Waterfront in Norwich, the scene of this here review!!!) and it was at this time that the very talented vocalist Billie Godfrey started working with the band. Ian Craig Marsh left Heaven 17 in 2006-ish to return to university. Heaven 17 have been something of a regular feature on the gig circuit, developing and maintaining a solid reputation for their shows, joined in 2011 by keyboardist Berenice Scott (her dad is none other than Robin Scott, better known as M, who had a massive hit in 1979 with “Pop Muzik” – small world huh?) and in recent times by Rachel Mosely on backing vocals.

So, to the venue itself. This was my first visit to The Waterfront in Norwich (I’ve only lived in Norwich for 10 years!!!), situated as it is in King Street not far from Norwich’s busy city centre and Riverside leisure development. It has a 700 person capacity and is a standing only venue. It was originally built as a venue for local musicians to play in, however, after a few years, it suffered significant financial difficulties, finally failing in 1993. It was at this point that the Union of UEA Students approached the local council with an offer which was duly accepted and it’s safe to say that it has gone from strength to strength, playing host to some major music acts from around the worlds of pop and rock in the time since. The Union Of UEA Students still support local musicians, regularly holding events at which bands (and individuals) from the area can perform at. It’s quite an intimate place and I can see why it’s popular with audiences and musicians.

The evening was quite lovely with a late Spring sunset washing the venue with a warm light, the lighter evenings making for quite a lovely riverside scene and the prospect of some good live music ahead. My photo pass was ready waiting for me a the box office (huge “thank you” to Marc Wiles for that) and the staff were really friendly. Being a regular at other venues, particularly Epic Studios, I’ve come to know some of the security personnel, so it was nice to exchange “hello’s” and “how are you’s” with the guys who keep the venues safe for the rest of us, they have a tricky job and are often un-necessarily criticised by many, so I will always make a special mention for them.

h17wf29515-7Opening was a local muso in the form of singer/songwriter Chris Pidgeon – one man and his guitar playing a nice blend of acoustic rock with folky elements thrown in, some very strong Damian Rice influences in there. His songs are all about growing up, playing in bands, the joys of work and most recently about becoming a father, with clever lyrics that are easy to relate to. I really liked his voice, perfect for the cool material he was playing, strong without being harsh, smooth without being insipid. His half hour set came to an all too quick end, I could have happily listened on, he was that good. It’s always really good to see a strong support act and hopefully, the days of the major acts fielding below average bands with bad sound mixes are now far behind us. Keep an eye out for Chris, he’s well worth going to see performing.

Absolutely bang on time, it was the turn of Heaven 17.

The crowd was instantly engaged when the immortal words “well in just a few moments we’re off to Hawaii to join Steve McGarrett and the team for tonight’s adventure……” thundered out over the PA and the Human League classic, “Circus of Death”, pulsed us into the world of H17.

h17wf29515-2The line-up comprised of Martyn Ware and Berenice Scott on a pair of Roland V-Synths with Billie Godfrey and Rachel Mosely on backing vocals. Lead singer Glen Gregory appeared from stage right, tall and imposing, watching out over the audience with the most intense of stares before launching into the song with his commanding vocals – I read somewhere that he was to have been the original lead singer of The Human League but was unavailable, in these first few minutes of the H17 set, I saw why he was the first choice. This was a powerful opening, H17 took charge and we were basically theirs for the remainder of the set.

All too quick this first track was done, the Gregory smile came into play and we moved into “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang”. Real high energy stuff with the essence of the 1980’s sound wonderfully captured, but not coming across as dated. Looking at the audience, they were already up with it and feeling the groove, and Billie Godfrey’s bluesy vocal really added to the atmosphere. The pace didn’t let up, as soon as “FGT” finished, a small amount of great on-stage banter and straight into “Crushed By the Wheels of Industry” – a great live track allowing for audience participation and hands-over-heads handclaps a-plenty.h17wf29515-28The pace softened slightly with a great rendition of “Geisha Boys and Temple Girls”, the opening synth sequencing beautifully realised by Martyn Ware, followed by another crowd favourite, “Come Live With Me”, one of the evening’s many highlights as it showed the strength of Glenn Gregory’s voice with it’s meandering melody line. And then, perhaps my personal favourite of the evening, was the track that I didn’t see coming. Martyn Ware using the D-Beam facility of the Roland V-Synth to control the synth with hand movements rather than the keyboard and a small delicate sequence that heralded the start of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”. Martyn came out from behind the synth to join Glenn in a truly excellent duet, great harmonies throughout, playing the audience with banter and singing to one another (!!!). Fabulous.h17wf29515-11

“Pray” and “Dive” (and NOT “Dave” as someone had apparently thought it was called, according to Mr. Gregory) followed with great vocals from Glenn once again before the pace picked up once more with the brilliant “Sunset Now”, another personal favourite H17 song which came across  brilliantly live and once again demonstrating in performance how tight and solidly together Heaven 17 are as a live act. The up-beat tempo and fun element continued with the H17 single “Play to Win” – and another crowd pleaser it was too, great tempo and great vocal performances from all. Next up was perhaps my own personal favourite H17 song, “Let Me Go”, which sounded as good live as it does on record. Great vocals again, and Glenn’s voice was still sounding spot on this far into the set, not something many other performers of the same era who are on the live circuit can claim to be able to do (having looked at various videos of H17 live on YouTube since, I’ve seen this is a pretty consistent thing – up and coming performers please note this).

h17wf29515-25The penultimate song of the main set was next, a full on rendition of “Penthouse and Pavement”, again that certain 80’s vibe dominating without sounding dated, leading into the song that I suspect everyone was waiting for – yeah, “Temptation”. Billie Godfrey and Rachel Mosley absolutely nailed it good and proper, with Billie taking the principle lead female vocal. Featuring a new ending (according to the printed set list I stole!!!), a dynamite vocal from Glenn and a storming club beat throughout, it did exactly what Mr. Gregory wanted the audience to do – take the roof off. That, I feel with all levels of certainty, happened. I have to say again about Billie Godfrey, because she really belted out pitch-perfect flourishes and leads with that massive voice of hers, a perfect match to Glenn Gregory’s vocal. Audience participation was high on this one with Billie leading the audience over the thundering club beat. A brilliant ending to this part of the set.

The band left the stage and allowed a few welcome minutes to catch the breath before they returned for a two song encore. Now, the first of these was an interesting choice, and quite appropriate considering that Glenn Gregory is about to embark on a tour with acclaimed producer Tony Visconti and drummer Woody Woodmansey, performing in it’s entirety, David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” album. An absolutely belting version of Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging” pounded out of the speakers, Glenn’s voice still strong and easily up to the task. It was a great choice and the crowd loved it (as a side note, I’m hoping to get Review Elektro to the Visconti/Woodmansey/Gregory gig as they are playing in Norwich as part of the tour).

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How could this be topped? Simple. Finish with a classic Human League track and leave the crowd wanting more when they’ve left the stage after performing “Being Boiled”. They performed the newer version that was on the “Travelogue” album, and it was the perfect finish to what was a terrific night of live music.

So, once again, another “retro” act comes to town and seriously shows how it’s done. Heaven 17 perfectly lived up to my personal formula for a top class concert, the three simple elements of style, performance and presentation. They oozed style, they looked great and it was clear that looking good was as important as sounding good, too many younger/newer bands I see are not taking this into account. H17 performed and presented their show with the professionalism and ease of a band of their standing and years in the business and lived up to the title of an early BEF release – music of quality and distinction. I’ve not seen Heaven 17 live before this gig, but I had heard many good things about their concerts, so my expectations were understandably quite high.

Those expectations were exceeded.

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Links:
HEAVEN 17
CHRIS PIDGEON

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Heaven 17/Chris Pidgeon