The Human League are a British New Wave band. They first formed in 1977 and, after a change in line up, achieved huge popularity in the 1980s. They have continued recording and performing with moderate commercial success in the 1990s and 2000s.

Originally a synthesizer-based group from Sheffield, the only constant band member since the Human League formed in 1977 is vocalist and songwriter Philip Oakey. Today, the Human League still are recording and performing. The group now is presented as a trio of Oakey and long-serving female vocalists Joanne Catherall and Susan Anne Sulley.

Over the years, the Human League has been sampled and covered by various artists including George Michael and Robbie Williams. The band has been a huge influence for many electro-pop acts including early Depeche Mode, Madonna, Moby, and other bands.


The Beginning    
Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh were both working as computer operators in 1977, and combined a love of pop music (such as glam rock and Tamla Motown) with avant garde electronic music. They acquired a Roland System 100 synthesizer and began to create music in their own rehearsal facility. Initially they formed a group called The Future with Adi Newton. Newton left to form the outfit Clock DVA. Ware and Marsh searched for a vocalist, but their first choice, Glenn Gregory (who would be the lead singer of their later band Heaven 17), was unavailable. Ware instead decided to invite Philip Oakey, an old school friend, and a hospital porter at the time to join the band, "apparently by leaving a note stuck to his door". Oakey accepted the invitation, despite never having been in a band before. Shortly after, they decided to call themselves "The Human League." A collection of demos from this period was released on CD in 2002, titled The Golden Hour of The Future, compiled by Richard X.


The name "Human League" derived from the game Starforce: Alpha Centauri, which was the second professionally published science fiction wargame, by SPI. In the game, the Human League arose in 2415 A.D., and were a frontier-oriented society that desired more independence from Earth and the terraforming of systems not naturally habitable.

In addition to Ware, Marsh and Oakey, the band recruited photographer Philip Adrian Wright to run slide shows and films onstage, and was credited as a full band member on record sleeves despite his contributions being non-musical.

The band released their debut single "Being Boiled" in 1978 on Edinburgh's Fast Product label.

The original line-up released two LPs that were mildly successful: Reproduction in 1979 and Travelogue in 1980. Both reached the Top 40 of the UK Album Charts (though Reproduction did not achieve this until two years after its release).

After the release of Travelogue, disillusionment with the band's limited success, particularly after contemporary Gary Numan's "Cars" single became a smash hit, led to the breakup of the band's original lineup in late 1980, with Ware and Marsh eventually forming Heaven 17 with vocalist Glenn Gregory and Oakey retaining legal rights to the Human League name, in exchange for royalties paid to Ware and Marsh for future band revenues.

Following the split of the original line-up, Wright and Oakey released another fringe single, "Boys and Girls". In order to fulfil their European tour commitments, they recruited bass player Ian Burden, and fronted the band with two singers, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall, schoolgirls whom they had met in Sheffield's Crazy Daisy Nightclub, and managed to complete the tour.

In 1981, Virgin records paired them with former Stranglers producer Martin Rushent, and the first result was the single "The Sound of the Crowd", which saw them at last achieve success in the singles chart. Guitarist Jo Callis (formerly of The Rezillos) was now recruited to the band, and with Rushent at the helm, The Human League recorded their most successful album to date, Dare!. It achieved huge success, fuelled by its further hit singles, "Open Your Heart", "Love Action"/"Hard Times" and most famously "Don't You Want Me", which reached number one in the UK charts during the Christmas of 1981 and was one of the biggest selling singles of that year, and it also charted at number one in the US during the summer of 1982. These three releases were accompanied by striking promo videos ("Love Action" based on the movie The Graduate).

In the summer of 1982, a remix album of Dare entitled Love and Dancing was released under the group name League Unlimited Orchestra, reaching number three on the UK album chart. During their Dare phase, the Human League were often associated with New Romantic movement.

In November 1982, the Motown influenced electro pop single "Mirror Man" reached number two in the UK chart. The follow-up single released during April 1983, "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" similarly peaked at number two. The following months proved to be difficult ones for the band as they struggled to record a follow up to Dare. A six song EP called Fascination! compiled the singles "Mirror Man" and "Fascination" together with the new track "I Love You Too Much" from the original recording sessions for their new album, later to be named Hysteria. The EP was released in America as a stop-gap and also became a strong seller as an import in the UK.

The band spent many expensive months agonizing over each and every sound recorded as the band tried to follow up Dare, and as things became ever more stressful the producer Martin Rushent left the project, at which point the band ditched much of the material recorded so far and started over again with new producers Hugh Padgham and Chris Thomas (though some of Rushent's contributions to certain tracks from the earlier sessions were included on the released album). Finally in May 1984 the band released the politically charged single "The Lebanon". Its rock guitar-driven harder edge was a considerable and surprising departure from their previous material, and the single peaked at number eleven in the UK. This was followed shortly after by the album Hysteria, so called because of the difficult and tense recording process, it entered the UK charts at number three however it climbed no further and critics and fans were divided by the new direction the band had taken. The second single was the rather downbeat "Life On Your Own", with its opening line of "winter is approaching, there is snow upon the ground" making it a strange choice of single to be released in the middle of summer. Again the single missed the UK top ten reaching number sixteen, and with the parent album Hysteria failing to live up to expected sales thoughts of a third single were put on hold.

However, later that year, Oakey enjoyed huge success outside of the Human League with the hit single "Together in Electric Dreams", a collaboration with one of his idols, synth pioneer Giorgio Moroder. The track was taken from the film soundtrack to Electric Dreams and became a massive hit around the world. The pair then recorded an album for Virgin, Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder, which met with less success, with the two subsequent singles failing to make the UK Top 40. However, the success of the first Oakey and Moroder track encouraged the Human League's record label to release one final single from Hysteria in November 1984: the ballad "Louise" (UK number 13).










In 1986, the group found themselves in creative stagnation, struggling to record material to follow up on their previous success. Key songwriter Jo Callis departed, replaced by drummer Jim Russell, and Virgin paired the Human League up with cutting-edge American R&B producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who had just scored a huge worldwide hit earlier that year with Janet Jackson's Control. The result was the Crash album. The album featured much material written by Jam and Lewis' team, and showcased their distinctive DX7-led sound, making it quite a departure from previous Human League material. It did provide an American number-one single, "Human", but other singles made smaller chart impact.

In November 1988, a greatest hits compilation album was released which reached number 3 in UK.

In 1990, the band released their last album for Virgin Records, Romantic?. Longstanding members Adrian Wright and Ian Burden, together with newer recruit Jim Russell, had by now left the band (although Jo Callis did return to play on some of the sessions and co-wrote two songs, including the minor hit single "Heart Like a Wheel"). New to the line-up were keyboardist Neil Sutton (who co-wrote over half the album's songs), and guitarist/keyboardist Russell Dennett, who (along with Oakey) made a cameo appearance in Reeves & Mortimer's 1992 comedy TV pilot The Weekenders, playing in a club as "Electric Russell". The Romantic? album did not re-capture the group's huge commercial success of 1981 (with its second single "Soundtrack to a Generation" barely charting), and Virgin chose not to renew their recording contract with little warning causing great animosity between the company and the band that lasts to this day.

The Human League returned in 1995, now signed to EastWest, with the single "Tell Me When" giving them their first major hit since 1986's "Human", and the accompanying album Octopus going silver. On the album credits, cover artwork and in videos, the group was now presented simply as a trio of Oakey/Catherall/Sulley. In reality however, half a dozen other musicians had input to the record, including producer Ian Stanley (former Tears for Fears keyboard player), continued playing and songwriting contributions from Neil Sutton and "Electric Russell" Dennett, and Oakey co-writing one track with Jo Callis. The next single from the album, "One Man in my Heart" (sung by Sulley), and a remix of "Don't You Want Me", were also UK hits, however the subsequent "Filling up with Heaven" and the non-album "Stay With Me Tonight" (from the greatest hits compilation in 1996) barely made the UK Top 40. A follow up to Octopus was slow to materialize and a subsequent change in management at EastWest saw the cancellation of the band's contract.


The band did not release their next album, Secrets, until 2001. The band was still presented as the "Phil & the girls" trio, although Neil Sutton was credited with keyboards, and co-wrote most of the material with Oakey. Despite being extremely well received by critics (the music climate at the time seeing a new interest in electronic pop music with the electroclash movement), the band's new record label, Papillion (a subsidiary of Chrysalis Records), was closed by the parent company shortly after the album's release, leading to poor promotion and sales. UK radio stations also refused to play "All I Ever Wanted" because, now in their 40s, the band didn't match the radio stations' self-imposed demographic target audience. Secrets hit number 44 on the UK album chart in its first week but was absent from it the following week. Susan Sulley is on record as saying that the rejection of Secrets was the lowest the band had been since 1991 and nearly caused them to call it a day.

Throughout the years following, the band have continued to tour, enjoying success as a live act, and releasing a DVD of Brighton show in 2003. In the last few years they have participated in a couple of '80s revival tours, whilst more often going out on the road on their own, playing their many top-ten hits to packed houses throughout the UK and frequently further afield.

On September 22, 2006, the band performed on the ABC television show, Jimmy Kimmel Live. The highlight of 2006 was the band playing to an audience of 15,000 at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles in October, this was followed up by an 11 venue tour of the UK and Europe in November and December.

In the free UK newspaper Metro in December 2006, Oakey stated that the band's project for 2007 would be to record new material, with Sulley later confirming to the The Falkirk Herald newspaper in May 2007 that a new album would be released in her words 'in the near future'. The band also continue with their core business of playing live, with appearances at a number of key music festivals in the UK and Europe during 2007, at many of which they are the advertised headliners.

The Human League marked their 30th anniversary with a special "Dare Tour" in December 2007 where they played their most successful album in it's entirety, to start the set list.

In 2008 the band teamed up with 2 other Sheffield based bands; ABC and Heaven 17 and toured the UK under the banner: Steel City Tour.

In 2009 they signed a deal with Wall of Sound, and writing and recording new material.












2007-2010 Live line-up

The Human League are currently signed to the Wall of Sound label, and have released the first single 'Night People' as a digitally single, followed by a 12" single. They went on a 'Night People' tour in the UK to promote the single. In March 2011 the album 'Credo' will be released. 

The current band line-up is as follows:

Philip Oakey - Vocals, since 1977
Susan Anne Sulley - Vocals, since 1980
Joanne Catherall - Vocals, since 1980
Neil Sutton - Keyboards, since 1990
Nic Burke - Multi-instrumentalist, since 2001
Rob Barton - Percussion, since 2001
David Beevers - On-stage engineering, since 1990


Edited text from Wikipedia - for full article click here.
(thanks to
Andy Mac Giolla Eoin).



Copyright 2011