Why creative process remains heavenly experience for pairing

Heaven 17. Pic: Tracey Welch / Retna Pictures.
Heaven 17. Pic: Tracey Welch / Retna Pictures.
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It may be 30-odd years since Heaven 17 released Penthouse and Pavement, but the band’s creative juices are nowhere near drying up.

The duo – which consists now of founders Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory – are releasing their latest album later this year, although it hasn’t got a title yet.

But while budgets are bigger, the electronic outfit still work to the same principles as they did in the early ’80s.

At that time Heaven 17 had nothing more than, in singer Glenn’s words ‘a crappy drum machine’ to work with.

Yet the sounds from that modest device paved the way for electronic pop.

Fast forward 30 years and Heaven 17 are working to the same rules.

“We are using very simple electronic sounds, though it’s not entirely limited to electronica – there are some guitars on there too.”

But unlike their earlier material, on this album the duo are not confined to a dreary post-industrial unit in Sheffield – now they have the luxury of a London studio.

Glenn says: “You have to cut your cloth accordingly. You never realised it at the time but that’s all we had and that’s what we worked with.

“But it’s not always a bad thing. We might have had that crappy little drum machine but what came out waselectronic soul.”

In fact, giving electronica soul has been Heaven 17’s goal.

Glenn says: “People assume that synthesised music is never soulful and that it can’t be emotional but it’s completely beautiful and very often emotional.”

But it’s not all futuristic – there is always room for a pen and paper.

Glenn says: “I always carry a notebook with me so that when ideas strike me I can write them down wherever I am, or I record them on my iPhone.

“I then transcribe all my notes and now I’ve got about 120 pages’ worth, which are all plastered on the studio wall.”

Lyrical themes vary but are generally based on social observations. However, like all historical events, they eventually repeat themselves.

Glenn says: “There’s a song from Luxury Gap called Key to the World, which is about borrowed finance.

The album was released in 1983 but in a post credit-crunch economy you could read those lyrics and think they were referring to life today.”

But while some themes and observations have repeated relevance to Heaven 17’s output, others are banished.

“We keep a list of ‘banned words’ such as ‘love’ and ‘game’ and that list gets bigger and bigger.”

Their songwriting method – simple, technically brutal but observational – is clearly working.

Heaven 17 are still playing sold-out shows across Europe today. But between performances, they are finishing their latest album, which is out this autumn.

And though their forthcoming LP is recorded in London, Glenn says the duo are still informed by Sheffield.

“That will never leave us,” he says.

Watch this space for details on Heaven 17’s album.

Heaven 17 also perform at Music in the Gardens at the Botanical Gardens on July 17.