League still keeping that Fascination feeling alive

The Human League Sheffield City Hall 04.12.12
The Human League Sheffield City Hall 04.12.12
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The Human League City Hall, Sheffield

IT may be hard to believe but it is 35 years since The Human League formed and more than three decades since two teenage girls with no musical experience were drafted into the line-up in what seemed at the time to be an act of madness but turned out to be a masterstroke. Phil Oakey, Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley have stuck together all this time and playing in front of a hometown crowd on their upmteenth tour could hardly fail.

Appearing initially totally clad in black on a platform behind what looked like a futuristic serving hatch - although I suspect the loose ballast chain that almost clobbered Catherall during the opening number wasn’t part of the scheduled set – they may now be classed as veterans but have aged extremely well.

That first song was Sky from last year’s Credo album, as if to prove that unlike many of their 1980s contemporaries who have reformed and are living on their past glories, the League have remained a working act which has continued producing new material. The set was sprinkled with newer tracks, although inevitably it was the past glories which got the best response. Even without the glow of nostalgia, the likes of Open Your Heart, Love Action, Mirror Man and (Keep Feeling) Fascination are fantastic pop songs full stop, and with Oakey prowling the stage bookended by his two female cohorts, while the three-piece backing band provided the grooves and various images flashed up on the backdrop (including one involving politicians morphing into animals) there was plenty to see as well as hear.

And then of course there’s Don’t You Want me, the Christmas chart topper in 1981 lest we forget the days when that spot wasn’t dominated by mawkish ballads. They saved this for the first encore, after Oakey did a solo singing spot to his relatively obscure Goodbye Bad Times collaboration with Italian producer Giorgio Moroder. The League’s biggest hit was recently voted one of the nation’s favourite-ever number ones and It is telling that Sulley held the microphone out towards the crowd to let them sing the: “I still love you,’’ line. You could almost taste the mutual affection. And after another return to do Oakey/Moroder’s Together In Electric Dreams, they were gone.

Apart from a few minor grumbles about the songs they didn’t do – no Human, Life On Your Own or Being Boiled – and the venue’s bars shutting early (I really don’t think synthpop fans are known for their drunken rampages) it was hard to find fault.

The League are still contenders even today.