Heaven 17 @ The Assembly, Leamington Spa, 2nd March 2010

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“No-one was supposed to turn up for this one!”

Recession, unemployment, and the (potential) rise of the Tories mean that the 2010s have a fair bit in common with the 1980s so it’s quite fitting that Heaven 17 have climbed onto the seminal album bandwagon with the almost 30 year anniversary of the recording of Penthouse and Pavement.

It’s also fitting because of the political nature of the music, Songs like …Fascist Groove Thang and Lets All Make A Bomb were controversial enough in 1981 to raise the blood pressure of renowned stuffed-shirt and self appointed protector of the moral majority Mike Read. He eventually banned the former from the Radio 1 play list.

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But tonight was more than just an exercise in nostalgia for 80s synth-pop and a different political era. A casual observer would have been forgiven for thinking that the gig was a celebration of British Electric Foundation rather than an anniversary of Heaven 17’s first album.

In 1981 these guys were underground heavy-weights; like The Human League, which Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware had left prior to No.1 chart success, but with loads more street cred and a power to revive flagging careers for the likes of Tina Turner.

Glenn Gregory was one of the coolest guys back then and he has still got it now. But even he admitted to “bricking it” about what was to come tonight. This is not really surprising as Heaven 17 had never played the whole of the album live and in fact didn’t play live at all properly until 1997! Plus there can’t have been many more precise albums to replicate on stage. The mix of drum machines and synthesizers was always a sparse backdrop to the vocals and played live the songs left the band no where to hide.

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Perhaps that’s why the output of BEF was so well represented. The connection between Heaven 17 and British Electric Foundation is an obvious one, but maybe not one that was too obvious for the fans in the Assembly, who didn’t really seem to know what to expect.

Essentially Heaven 17 became their own disembodied support band with three large screens pulsing along to a British Electric Foundation mix from Music For Stowaways including Groove Thang, Decline of the West, Music To Kill Your Parents By and Honeymoon In New York. This was unannounced and strangely unstructured with stops and starts and long pauses, This “performance” was met with indifference for the most part and complaints from a few who didn’t appreciate the finer points of sound and light experience.

When the band eventually appeared the songs from the Penthouse and Pavement sides of the original vinyl acted as the bread to a filling of covers originally heard on the BEF album Music of Quality and Distinction Volume 1.

For me this is what made the whole night as the album itself was obviously going to be predictable and it was the unexpected that stood out.

It’s easy to forget how intricate some of the songs are; the convoluted bass solo in …Fascist Groove Thang had never been played live before and the vocals were just as taxing, or “so wordy”.

Things didn’t go quite to plan due to a faulty kick drum pedal and at one stage Glenn Gregory picked up a guitar to fill in with an acoustic Geisha Boys and Temple Girls imploring the audience not to tell anyone we had seen him play guitar because it would “ruin his electronic credentials”.

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Soul Warfare ended side one and it was back into BEF territory with Perfect Day and Wichita Lineman, originally covered by Glenn Gregory for Craig Marsh and Ware, and Ball of Confusion with Billie Godfrey taking the Tina Turner role. The surprise of the night was the appearance of Claudia Brucken for These Boots Are Made For Walking.

Then it was back to side two with the crowd being asked which song was first on the second side and someone shouting “Love Action!” – cue much mirth on stage. Of course it was Geisha Boys and Temple Girls followed the excellent Let’s All Make a Bomb. The band made a fuss of Heaven 17 uber-fan Sumo “he even went to Canada when we didn’t turn up” for his favourite The Height of The Fighting.

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The encore was more familiar territory for the majority of the audience with Let Me Go and Temptation before going off on one with Buzzcocks’ Are Everything and the first song Martyn Ware ever penned Being Boiled.

The crowd might have got into the whole thing a lot earlier but they did seem to go home happy in the end.

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Set list – in vague-ish order – the memory is not what it was!

(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang
Penthouse and Pavement
Play to Win
Geisha Boys and Temple Girls (Acoustic)
Soul Warfare
Wichita Lineman
Perfect Day
Ball of Confusion
These Boots Were Made For Walking
I’m Your Money
Geisha Boys and Temple Girls
Let’s All Make A Bomb
The Height of the Fighting
Song with No Name
We’re Going To Live For A Very Long Time
Let Me Go
Temptation
Are Everything
Being Boiled

Review – Ian Gelling
Photos – Steph Colledge

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3 thoughts on “Heaven 17 @ The Assembly, Leamington Spa, 2nd March 2010

  1. leamington spa was very hospitable,loved the venue for the assembly,was like the royal court in liverpool used to be.the concert was awesome.the guys loved it and really enjoyed themselves on the stage.highlights were ‘At the height of the fighting’ and ‘Im your money’ and ‘Song with no name’

  2. Couldn’t make it down Sumo – gutted!!! Was actually spreading the H17 gospel in South America of all places. See you in November, no doubt…

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