Last night’s adventures took me to the Royal Festival Hall to see one of my favourite bands of the Electro era of the early 80s, The Human League. I’ve seen them more than twenty times over the last thirty five years, from muddy fields across the land to concert spaces the length and breadth of the UK, including in their hometown of Sheffield. Last night’s gig however was by far the best League experience of them all.
My day started by meeting my friend who was over from Nuremburg for the day. I’d then arranged to meet two good friends in The Retro bar where we caught up over drinks, amongst much hilarity, as always. We walked over to the Royal Festival Hall taking in the majesty of London by night with all its twinkly Christmas magic across the vista. It was to set the scene for a fabulous evening ahead.
As we congregated near the Clore Ballroom, our group grew in number, with friends who were also there for the concert. We eventually moved into the familiar venue; some in a box, some in the stalls. We had great seats in row D, right in the centre of the row. Phil Oakley was going to be sick of the sight of us by the end of the evening as we were directly in his line of vision!
The support band, London-based Ekkoes set the proceedings off to a great start with some toe tapping numbers in their repertoire. Their first album Electricity is currently out and deserves to do well. Blancmange have also been supporting various dates across the tour and it would’ve been great to have seen them too as they’re excellent live. In fact that’s my only bugbear about an otherwise overall fabulous evening.
After a brief interlude, the house lights dimmed and the stage was set. Phil Oakey appeared as a lone figure, dominating the stage with both his strong familiar vocals and dominating stage presence, to rapturous applause.
The League girls then joined the stage for the second song, to even louder shouts and whoops from the eager crowd. “You never let us down London” announced Suzanne. As if they could be more endearing! They were always the women who girls wanted to be, and who (straight) men wanted to be with. They were sexy and slightly edgy and that hasn’t changed in their 35-year career. Whatever Suzanne is on, I want a slice of that please!
All of their hits and more, were served up with their unique brand of oh-so-Britishness; too cool for school, almost untouchable yet comfortingly accessible. They’re girls just like us but who got a lucky break, proving the pop miracles can happen. The band, in all its manifestations over the decades are also such a part of our unconscious psyche and so much the fabric of our culture that we almost take them for granted. This is testament to the fact that most of the 18-shows on this tour have sold out, including the London show which is nearing the end of an extensive UK tour, taking in most major towns and cities, earning the right to their self-penned description of “a very British synthesiser group”.
During the show there were several carefully scheduled costume changes, none more so than Phil who must’ve changed outfits about six times. We were treated to tracks from across the broad spectrum of their career ranging from Seconds and The Things That Dreams Are Made Of, from the early days, to their massive pop hits including Louise, The Lebanon, Don’t You Want Me? and later hits such as Tell Me When and Filling Up With Heaven. A couple of less familiar tracks Sky (from the unfathomably critically-slated album Credo) and Stay With Me Tonight although not as instantly recognisable still went down well with the audience.
After what seemed like five minutes, we were soon at the end of the show, crescendoing with the 80s hit Together in Electric Dreams. A perfect end to a perfect evening and by far the most superlative performance of the band I’ve ever seen. They are still very much on top of their game.
There’s still time to catch them tonight at Liverpool, York on Thursday, and ultimately at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall on Friday when the tour ends.
Long live The League!
14 December 2016