Martyn Ware: Electronically Yours

Posted by in Design, Music

Oh look it’s Tina, I wonder if she’ll dance with her producer.

TRAVEL WRITER OF THE INTERIOR THOUGHTSCAPE

For someone who doesn’t consider himself interesting the intro is enough to prove otherwise. Supporting Tina Turner on The Tube, Ware glides from the then to now like many working class dudes who somehow ended up somewhere other than the dole office and suffer from serious imposter syndrome. See also Guy Pratt’s book. 

For this reason and from his podcast of the same name, you can tell that although he has done well in his life, like many of his contemporaries (Andy McCluskey, Simon LeBon, Martin Fry) he remains a working class and likeable guy (unless you happen to be a Tory).

Written during lockdown, Ware recounts going into his family tree to try and source an escape route out of Brexit (who can blame him) and proclaims he is descended from kings, princes, saints and witches; a surprise to Ware himself. 

Other than the regal past, Ware then goes into the nitty gritty of, to quote the Dream Academy, life in a northern town and the only luxury he had outside of a tin bath was a slice of Mars bar and a coke. 

By his own account, Sheffield in the 50s and 60s would have been a grim affair and this is before central heating and the winters would have been bitter then. You could say then that given the severity of his childhood, Ware was deserving of his success in later years. 

What else to do in Sheffield as a young coming of age dude? Some hilarious accounts of young love (or love lost), masturbation and then in ‘The Phil Years’ (recounting how he met the exotic looking Phil Oakey) sex itself; over the ‘coming’ months – it’s clear Ware has a similar sense of humour to moi! 

Aye Up, fancy a ride on me snake? No thanks Phil, can’t we just see Roxy?

RIDIN’ AND ROXY

In the Human League song The Snake they urge us to ‘come and join them’ and in this part of the book we get to metaphorically do just that. *The Snake is the unofficial name given to the winding road through the Peak District between Sheffield and Manchester. 

It almost reads like a 70s Brideshead Revisited with Phil and Mart the Charles and Sebastian of the Peak District as they ride through the countryside on Phil’s manly motor bike and the fine details of seeing Roxy Music when they were new on the scene are a nostalgia fans dream. 

On the flip side, the raw onion sandwiches sound like something out of a British Rail horror flick, rather than the Hammer Horror all nighters Ware describes in the book. What isn’t mentioned is the flatulence that must have inhabited the Sheffield cinema by the time they left.

HL MK 1 and II, same logo different band.

THE MEATWHISTLE AND THE RED WEDGE

Loosely speaking the Meatwhistle (nothing to do with Meatloaf) is where Ware (no pun intended) met many of his future bandmates (mainly the ones that made up Heaven 17). We go through a multitude of bands each as ludicrous as the next but the ambition and youthful fizz would eventually morph into Human League. 

Next is an earnest dive into Ware’s socialist values. Some may berate him, but I think it’s great someone gives a shit about his beliefs (enough to quit when Blair launched us into an illegal war) and it would be fun to open the door to Martyn Ware wouldn’t it? (again unless you’re a true blue). 

Saved from a career at the Co-Op, Ware admits he wasn’t immediately fanciable to the ladies but considering he sure reels off the conquests and has a thing for brunettes – snap! Fast forward to the future…

The Human League chapters are packed with info on touring, being covered in skin head gob – common at the time and the usual clatter of being a popular touring band but with no sign of a hit – fortunately at a time record companies would invest, support and nurture.

Well, up to a point, yes even in the late seventies and early eighties record companies required some return on their investment and with HL this simply wasn’t happening. How Empire State Human wasn’t a hit I will never know – it was bang on the money and even HL MK2’s Boys and Girls stalled yet Virgin still gave them time and space and we all know now what was coming.

The well documented split comes and goes leaving you feeling for Ware but at the same time these apparent nightmares at any given moment have a strange way of opening new doors to unseen futures.

Given the longevity of H17, Ware was right, Glenn Gregory was the right choice for original singer of HL but his unavailability meant a music career was gifted to Phil and subsequently the girls leading to the familiar classic line up of the league. That said although Gregory was (in youth) a good looking guy, would he have been as immediately visually striking as Oakey? *not that I have anything against either.

Dare to dream, the dignity of labour pays dividends.

THE HUMAN LEAGUE and HEAVEN 17

Not surprisingly Ware is still miffed but amazingly went with the SAME manager who conspired behind his back – hello! There’s a little bit of laddish tit for tat in Ware and co wanting to see HL MKII fail but to everyone’s surprise DARE was a huge hit. It took Heaven 17 another two years to crack the top 40 and even then their time in the spotlight was brief.

Electronically Yours threads a similar trend in much the same way as the Steven Wilson and Sweet Dreams books dare to be different in its accommodation of lists (100 Electronic Musical Influences), intermissions and views from other key figures like producers and orchestral arrangers. There’s a very nice buddy eulogy from singer Sarah Jane Morris.

The Tina comeback hit which I confess didn’t really do anything for me at the time except for the long intro, I don’t dislike it, it was just sort of there. The subsequent hit along with their own Luxury Gap afforded Ware to live a comfortable existence and the recording of the next H17 album How Men Are with the studio mischief entailed is well documented in Electronically Yours. 

The critic in me however must point out that 1983 was NOT the year of Band Aid (that would be the following year). This is mentioned in the book TWICE! It’s pretty amazing no-one editing picked up on that.

Most ‘pop’ acts eventually have their day and it isn’t long before the wheels slowly develop flats and fall off the bus completely. Cue production career. Well I never knew Ware had produced Dan Hartman and there’s another mischievous tale about a curry you won’t want to miss. 

From heartache to luxury!

As far as a travel connection goes, Ware gives his own shining overture to the city of Venice. And if the man himself is reading this, please consider playing Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri’s Stories Across Borders while walking the canals at night (if you haven’t already).

APPENDICES

Devout fans will absolutely love Martyn’s track by track analysis of all the eighties H17 albums plus the BEF albums and my god there is so much to hear from his choice of 100 Electronic moments. Can’t wait for the next instalment Martyn. Hope Joe Roberts gets a mention and whatever happened to John Wilson?

Buy ELECTRONICALLY YOURS at all good book retailers.
And for more on Martyn at Tileyard Education see here.
Heaven 17

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

Thanks for reading here, should you be interested in my work; principally writing, and photography check out the MEDIA page, and/or the UNIVERSITY page for my teaching ethos. 

Meanwhile, stay tuned with things here at Kulture Kiosk via THE ATLAS or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world.

PLAYLIST
Let’s Stay Together – Tina Turner
The Man Who Sold The World – David Bowie
Re-make/Re-model – Roxy Music
Looking for the Black Haired Girls – The Future
Being Boiled – Human League
Circus of Death – Human League
You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling – Human League
I Don’t Depend On You – The Men
I Feel Love – Donna Summer
Empire State Human – Human League
The Black Hit of Space – Human League
Dancevision – Human League
Blind Vision – Blancmange
Soul Deep – Council Collective
She’s a Woman – Scritti Politti ft Shabba Ranks
Fascist Groove Thang (Rapino Bros version) – Heaven 17
and from the appendix…
The Path of Least Resistance – Human League
Blind Youth – Human League
The Word Before Last – Human League
Austerity/Girl One – Human League
Toyota City – Human League
The Touchables – Human League
Penthouse and Pavement – Heaven 17
The Height of the Fighting – Heaven 17
Song With No Name – Heaven 17
Crushed by the Wheels of Industry (single version) – Heaven 17
Come Live with Me (single version) – Heaven 17
Lady Ice and Mr Hex – Heaven 17
We Live So Fast – Heaven 17
This is Mine – Heaven 17
Contenders – Heaven 17
Trouble – Heaven 17
Look at Me – Heaven 17
Can You Hear Me – Heaven 17
And That’s No Lie (album version) – Heaven 17

Record covers from Discogs.com
Photo of The Snake (Peak District) 2021 and Venice, 2000 by KH