Heaven 17’s Temptation hitmaker Martyn Ware has been tempted to the dark side of pop for his latest album with the B.E.F. (British Electric Foundation), as he told The Star’s digital editor Graham Walker.
He’s best known a founding member of both the Human League and then Heaven 17 – responsible for hits including Being Boiled and Temptation.
But Martyn is also the driving force behind the B.E.F. (British Electric Foundation) and he’s just released Music of Quality and Distinction Volume Three; Dark.
It’s dark versions of previously happy pop songs. And it works a treat.
He admits the album has been 22-years in the making. That’s since the release of Volume 2.
But with a line-up including old pals Boy George, Kim Wilde, Andy Bell, Heaven 17 buddy Glenn Gregory and Sandi Shaw - she appeared on the first volume back in 1982 - it’s well worth the wait.
Fans are in for a special treat, because he’s bringing most of the big names who appear on the album to his home town for a live BEF show at Sheffield O2 Academy on Friday, October 4.
They are only doing one other show, the previous night, at London O2 Shepherds Bush Empire.
Martyn, aged 57, will also be back in Sheffield with Glenn to perform as Heaven 17 at The Star backed www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk, with the likes of ABC’s Martin Fry, Baby Bird and Grammy Award winner Elioit Kennedy, at Sheffield City Hall, on November 9.
In an exclusive chat with he explained how the new BEF album came about and its sub-heading, Dark, plus how he got the all-star cast to record the album and the upcoming concerts.
He smiled: “It’s 22-years in the making I suppose. The proper time for it would have been around the millennium, but I wasn’t being inspired by what was going on around then. I had just started other projects. It wasn’t the right time to make it. But yes, it’s the third volume of Music of Quality and Distinction. This time it’s called Dark - because it’s dark electronic versions of previously happy pop songs.
“We’ve got famous singers and me doing the arrangements, mixing and what have you.
“It was quite an enterprise, based on some ideas I had while listening to some some northern soul songs actually - about what would happen if you took off the jolly backing tracks and replaced them with film sound tracks. The first one to inspire me was The Night, by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time by The Delfonics. I’ve always been a bit of a soul boy.
“And it worked.
“What I really love about pop music is the narrative thing and the story telling. There’s not enough of that in contemporary popular music, it’s vague and bland a lot of it.
“It seemed great way to frame great vocalist - which we’ve got on the album. Secondly it was quiet an interesting challenge.
“We’ve got some fantastic names, Kim Wilde, Andy Bell, Sarah Jane Morris, Boy George doing a couple of tracks; Glenn doing a couple of tracks; David J Roch from Sheffield, Polly Scattergood, a Russian pop star called Max Pokrovsky, Kelly Barnes and Billie Godfrey, who are our two Heaven 17 backing vocalists, and Shingai Shoniwa from the Noisettes.
Then there’s Sandi Shaw, now 66, the first UK act to win the Eurovision Song Contest and whose hits include Always Something To Remind Me. On the album, the 1960s barefoot pop princess is singing Walk In My Shoes. A nice touch.
“I think the BEF gigs will be her last ever gigs,” says Martyn.
“She’s an amazing woman. Still so sharp. She’s the chair woman and I’m on the board of The Featured Artists Coalition, a lobby group which fights for the rights of artistes. It sounds a bit dull, doesn’t it. But it’s actually essential and somebody should do it.
“I also do a lot of lecturing. I enjoy education and sharing the knowledge we’re acquired over the years. It seems like our duty really. The music scene is incredibly tough for artistes now. How do you make money out of it?”
Martyn seems to have the answers - he took the blunt Yorkshireman’s approach when he asked all the big names to sing on his latest offering, with no money up front.
“The DNA of my proposal was very Sheffield,’ he laughed.
“I was honest with them from the out set. I said basically there was no money in this, no advanced fee or anything. I told them we would put the album together, if they liked the artistic idea and I’d make sure it was top quality, then we would share the proceeds after costs, fifty-fifty at the end, per track. It was as simple as that really.
“To be fair, a lot of the people involved have become good friends of mine over the years. But people like George, Kim and Andy didn’t have to do it. They did it because they liked the idea. Glenn had to do it because I forced him.
“It’s not about showing off who you know. Artistes are surrounded by people putting all sorts of pressure on them to do things for commercial reasons and I’ve been of the impression if you do things from an artistic view point, the rewards will follow from that, in terms of reputations and ultimately, sales.
“A lot of them were quite pleased to be asked anyway to do stuff on a series that has been going for 30-years...a tiny bit of pop history.
One of the most transformed stars on the album is Boy George - who is back to his best and making his own new album, explains Martyn.
“George is a really nice guy. He always has been. He was in denial about his drug taking and various other things. He went down the wrong road for quite a while. And that thing, where he had to do community service in New York, I think he decided to change his life. He went cold turkey, gave up drugs and drink and started eating eating macrobiotically. He’s lost loads of weight, he looks super hot and he’s having a great time. He’s a much happier chap. And good luck to him.
“He’s always done well out of his DJ-ing work - he still travels the world doing that, even when the band wasn’t going. He’s working on a new album at the moment and that’s good news. We were on the same label together and go back 30-years. I’m just thrilled that he’s on the album. His version of I Wanna Be Your Dog is just awesome.”
One of the album’s forthcoming highlights is a music video for Kim Wilde’s track, Everytime I See You I Go Wild. In it she’s dressed as a sexy Catwoman.
”That’s quite interesting. I’ve not seen it yet, it’s still being edited. I can’t wait to see it. It’s got lots of zombies in it, werewolves and things.
“I was away when the video was being filmed. There was no way around it. Obviously I would have preferred to be there. They won’t even show me any photos from it. They’re keeping it all top secret. She’s a proper woman. She’s not Anne Hathaway, is she? We’re really good mates.
“She remembers the first album - she went out and bought it. She’s a big fans of Penthouse and Pavements as well.”
And if it’s 22-years to volume 4, I remind Martyn that he’ll then be 79!
“Great. It will be like Mantovani, won’t it? May be we’ll go back to an electronic big band era,’’ he says. You heard it here first.
* Tickets for his BEF show at Sheffield O2 Academy are £19.68, available in person and online at www.o2academysheffield.co.uk.
Tickets for The Women Of Steel Concert are £20 and £22, may be subject to a booking fee, in person from the venue, call the Box Office on 0114 2789789, or visit www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk.