Glenn Gregory

Thirty-five years since the release of their landmark debut album, Messrs Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware will be commemorating the record that launched their sensational career by performing a brand new electronic version of ‘Penthouse And Pavement’ live in nine shows across the country starting in Liverpool on 20th October.   They will visit The Apex in Bury St Edmunds on Friday 28th October.    Grapevine caught up with Glenn just before he went into rehearsals in his studio.

Lets start with Penthouse & Pavements – a cult album which on this tour you are playing, and I quote ‘a new electronic version in full’.  How do you feel the fans are going to react to a new version?

Don’t be scared! Everybody calm down!

We did this before, a while ago, we played played Penthouse & Pavement but when we did it that way we decided to try and make it sound as near as humanly possible to the record, we really went out of our way to use the same kinda samples and the same drum patterns and everything.  It was great fun but quite restrictive because nowadays as we have been playing these songs live for… well, a lot of them thirty five years.   You kind of evolve and you change things and always we try to keep it fresh for the fans so we do different versions and we kind of make them more contemporary in a way, and it works really well.  But honestly if you come to the gig you will just be getting Penthouse and Pavements!   ou probabaly won’t even notice but you will just feel warmer and happier inside!

‘Fascist Grove’ got banned by the BBC – was that a help or a hindrance do you think?

It wasn’t a help like it was, for instance, for Frankie Goes to Hollywood when they got banned.  It really made it go massive because everybody made a big thing of it.   Having said that I think it did help us, it made it a very cool thing to have.  For instance that album stayed in the charts for like, I don’t know, seventy weeks or something like that, it was just always there in the top forty.   It was a very cool thing to have happen, if I were given a choice now, would I wished that they played it, I’d probably say no, I’m glad they didn’t!

Given the current political climate, do you think it is time for a re-release?

Oh god that is just such a scary thing, isn’t it?   Yeah – absolutely, a lot of the fans, on twitter and facebook and everything they were doing Fascist Go Thank a while back.   There are a lot of people talking about it but we have always resisted the urge to re-do it but unfortunately these times are, rather sadly, it could have been released today, yeah.

Talk to me about British Electric Foundation, if BEF a band or is it a production company?

When the Human League split, and Martin and Ian left, the Human League had just come off the back of two years of pretty much constant touring – they played with The Stranglers, Sousix and the Banshees, Pareuu, Iggy Pop, Talking Heads even – they spent so long trying to break the band, that was the way they did it in those days.  Martin and Ian just didn’t want to go through that same old, as they thought – and I agree, old fashioned way of doing things.   When we re-signed to Virgin, they signed almost as a record label, BEF, and they were able to bring something like, I can’t remember what it was, maybe six acts a year to Virgin, so almost like its own label.  That was initially how it was sorted out but then, because we were such good friends anyway, and Heaven 17 took off fairly quickly – no, very quickly to be honest.  BEF rode alongside Heaven 17 and then became a just more of Martin’s production arm really and that’s how it is today.   It is an interesting sideline for him as it was for everybody at that time – just to be able to do interesting things without having to be a band, it leaves you open to many more things if you have something like that.

And on this tour Heaven 17 is going to morph into BEF half way through, Isn’t it?

Yes, exactly.  It is a magic show – yeah!  Martin and I will suddenly change clothes and… eh, no!  

It is going to be definitely two halves.   Really ‘Penthouse and Pavements’ is quite dark album – Facist Groove THang and Play to Win and Song With No Name – they are all quite dark electronic songs, and definetly I am going to try and emphasise that in the live show, I want that to try and come across more.   Whereas the BEF side is much more of a party time, with lots of different people doing some fantastic songs.

And yet BEF have never toured before, why not?

Because it is such a pain in the bum! (laughs) sorting out all those people!  Every time Martin does either a new BEF album, every time he does it he says to me ‘please don’t ever let me do this again, shoot me if I say I’m going to do another BEF album.   It always ends up costing him money, it always ends up being so much more difficult to do, because it just is.  You have, say, ten different artists, you have to co-ordinate all f that kind of stuff, and so when the idea came up to do it live, he ran a mile at first!   But then you talk about and you think about who you might invite and you can’t help but go back.   This will be the first time we have done it.

So who have you got lined up to join you?

Em, there is quite a few people, I’m not sure if I am supposed to say!  But there will be Mari Wilson, Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), and Peter Hooton (The Farm) and there may be others as well.  Some of the songs that those guys are singing are just fantastic, really fantastic.

Heaven 17 broke up in 1988 and reformed in 1996, what did you get up to in the eight years in between?

Just went shopping.  Off to Tesco, did a bit of gardening….

Actually, no, we didn’t really break up we just didn’t work.  I remember talking to Martin and saying lets not just write anything for a bit, it could have been a week, it could have been six weeks or six months and it ended up being, as you said, eight years.  But having said that , I am really glad that we did wait that long because when we got back together to work again the flame had been re-lit and it was very very exciting and it has stayed very exciting to this day.

It is sounding to me, talking to you now, that you are doing what you are doing because you want to, not because you have to?

Oh gosh absolutely!  i LOVE doing what I do, I am sitting here now in my studio, I have to go and rehearse at ten, but I was up at eight in the studio because I am trying to finish something off that I was doing last night.  I adore what I do.

You are about to go on tour doing nine dates in ten days – to put it bluntly, is that not going to be knackering?

Well, I have just got back from a six week tour of America with Tony Visconte doing David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The Worlld’ album, live.   We did something like thirty dates in six weeks and after that, believe me – all on a tour bus, four days on, one night off, three days on, one night off – after six weeks of that I believe I can do anything.  This tour is going to be like a walk in the park!

You have produced for many artists, and I am going to ask you the horrible question, do you have a favourite?

I loved working with Billy McKenzie, he was such a vibrant, crazy, nutty character.  There were so many ideas just spilling out of him like I don’t know what, a volcano of strange beautiful ideas.  But obviously my favourite person, the one that made my jaw drop, watching them sing in the studio was Tina Turner- she was amazing.  And do you know what? And this is kind of a cliché, but everybody says it, but for such a famous person she is so lovely, she is completely like the girl next door.   It was an absolute pleasure working with her on those two songs that we did with her.

You were unavailable to be part of The Human League because you were working as a photographer, is that true?

It is really, I mean I’d been in bands with Martin and Ian for a couple of years – just kind of crazy, nutty bands with such wonderful names as ‘Underpants’, ‘The Dead Daughters’, ‘Musical Vomit’…. great names!  I always ended up being the singer and literally just as Martin had bought this synth and started to work on this electronic stuff, I moved to London to take up this job of being a photographer of bands for Sounds initially, and magazines like that.

So I had gone, and they said who are we going to get to sing cause Glenn has gone now.  What are we going to do?  And Martin actually said this fro real: “Listen, there is a mate of mine from school, Phil, I don’t know if he can sing but he has a fantastic haircut!  Let’s ask him!”  And they did, they got ‘Being Boiled’, the backing track and they gave it to Phil and they said, look, go away and come back and see what you can do with that.

And he came back with Being Boiled, the lyrics and the rest is history, and I’m really, really, really glad that I wasn’t the original singer because I love The Human League and I love Phil’s voice and what he does.  I am really happy the way it all worked out.

Do you still take photographs?

I kinda stopped a little bit.  I did up to quite a long time ago, I even considered having an exhibition because I have still got a lot that have never been seen.  I have got some brilliant pictures of The Human League because I actually used to take quite a lot of the early photographs of The Human League. The other day I came across, in a drawer, a big bag of 35mm negatives and I looked at them and they are all of Human League, never been seen, never even been printed!  

One last question to finish off with, assuming you have some sort of MP3 player with gazillion of songs on it.  Apart from Heaven 17, BEF and Human League are there any tracks on there that might surprise your fans?  Are you a closet country or heavy metal fan?

(Laughs) You know what?  You just hit the nail on the head!  Country Music!!  Let me tell you a funny story.  We were in a studio recording the third Heaven 17 album and I came into the kitchen.  There was a microwave there and it was sparking and going mad.  Martin and Ian were laughing like mad and I said “What the hell are you doing?”   They were microwaving my CD of Country Hits!

Well, there is just no way to follow that Glenn.  Thank you for taking the time to talk to GrapevinLIVE – we have calmed down and are not scared about the show at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds in October.

Click here for tickets.