Heaven 17 + BEF and Special Guests @ Town Hall, 21 October 2016

Posted by Gig Junkies on Friday Oct 21, 2016 Under Electronica, New Wave

Gig review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with photography by Ken Harrison

So thirty five years ago. This band released an album. It wasn’t a hit and a single got banned. Boom. Their other guise had morphed out of one electronica band that had a minor (sic) degree of success (and who are still touring today) before developing into something new. But success did come their way. In bucket loads. So welcome tonight to the delectable Town Hall in Birmingham, the British Electronic Foundation (BEF) and their ‘alter ego’ if you like, Heaven 17.

Heaven 17/BEF

Bit of background is needed, as like so many early eighties bands, original band line-ups split, morphed and did something different. And these guys were another group inspired by the godfathers of electronic Kraftwerk. Right at the turn of the 80s, two members of the Human League, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh walked away and formed a band / production company B.E.F. (British Electronic Foundation). Initially recording music under the guise of BEF, they subsequently recruited photographer Glenn Gregory on vocals, and became Heaven 17 (taking their name from the fictional pop group ‘The Heaven Seventeen’ from the classic film ‘A Clockwork Orange’).

Heaven 17/BEF

Heaven 17/BEF

‘Penthouse and Pavement’ was released in 1981. And Heaven 17 play it tonight in track order. In ’81, while the Human League began to have commercial success, Heaven 17 found life more difficult with the first single (and first track of the evening) ‘(We don’t need this) Fascist Grove Thang’ getting limited radio play due to Radio 1 DJ Mike Read effectively banning it due to its left wing lyrics. At a time when the Top 40 was key to success, none of the singles from this album broke into the charts. It would be a further two years before they really made commercial success….

Heaven 17/BEF

So the band take to the stage a little after 8pm. H17 are just Ware and Gregory nowadays, supported by female synth players and 2 cracking female vocalists. And here we go on ‘Penthouse and Pavement.’
Following ‘(We Don’t Need This) Facist Grove Thang’ Gregory asks – “How long do you think people will sit down? 35 years on….. same f***ing thing today…” referring to the songs subject matter. Next up ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ – a song that usually they wouldn’t do so early in a set, but as it’s in album order… “it’s so f***ing tiring..” quips Gregory.

Ware and Gregory are, as usual, on form – a comedy duo – as Gregory winds Ware up about The Human League – Ware: “Phil  [Oakey] is my first love….” as they complete the ‘A’ side.And that’s the end of side A, turn over and listening to the cracking of side B...”

Gregory declares he’s already knackered – as they kick off with ‘Geisha Boys and Temple Girls.’  The guys tell us that Heaven 17 were never intended to be a live band. Ware (and then member Craig Marsh) had had enough of the Human League’s relentless touring. So they put lots of words in the songs – cos they were never gonna perform them live. Meanwhile 35 years on…… Mr. Ware is playing Sparkie (his Magic Piano) as they belt out the rest of the album, clearly having a blast in the process.

Heaven 17/BEF

Heaven 17/BEF

Album over – the set ends with a ‘love-in.’ Gregory in for Oakey – as they give us a rendition of the Righteous Brother’s ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’ – and we sing.

So break. For about 15 minutes. Before…. BEF.

BEF. Another guise that they never intended playing live with – experimental electronica with guest vocalists – again going back 35 years. Ware informs us that this is never gonna happen again – so get your phones out…

And to accompany BEF we have guest vocalists. First up Peter Hooton (The Farm) – and their take on The Farm’s ‘Altogether Now.’   Rave man. As it morphs into a tad of Chic’s ‘We Are Family.’ Hooton’s been busy doing stuff to support Justice for Hillsborough – and the tour he did turned this track into an anthem. Dedicated to ‘Sir’ Philip Green – his take on The Clash’s ‘Bankrobber.’

Peter Hooton, BEF

Next up Mari Wilson – the lady of beehive fame – and as she states she can’t wait to sit down cos she’s got her bus pass… BEF and Wilson give us a close rendition of Wilson’s hit ‘Just What I’ve Always Wanted’ followed by a cover of ‘Rescue Me’….

Mari Wilson, BEF

Next up, like buses, another guest. This time, one time Sex Pistol – Glen Matlock. Matlock and Ware met way back in ’79 we are told – and Ware has a ‘punk’ streak. And we’re into ‘Pretty Vacant’ – Sex Pistols cover, sang originally by one John (ny Rotten) Lydon, without an electronic synth in sight. So if that was left field – the next one has to be one of the bizarrest concepts. BEF + Glen Matlock performing Pharrell’s ‘Happy’. I kid you not.

So after parking my brain after that challenge – we’re back on course – as Gregory is back with the BEF cover of ‘Witchita Lineman’ (originally by Glenn Campbell). Gregory grabs an acoustic guitar and goes all ‘Phil’ again…“You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar……” – The League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me Bay’, with Ware in the background taking the p***. We’re all singing along. “We have to pay PRS for that…” quips Gregory, …“great song though.”

Now for Bowie tribute – ‘Ashes to Ashes.’ Gregory and BEF do it justice.

Heaven 17/BEFHeaven 17/BEF

Ware: We love coming to Brum – you are true music fans and we thank you very much…. let’s raise the roof….”  And we do as they deliver us the traced up, 12 “, mega remixed remix of ‘Temptation’ – with the lasses ripping their tonsils out to hit all those notes. Paaaarrrrttttttyyyyy.

Encore. They don’t usually do one but they are tonight. Friend Colin Vearncombe died tragically in a car crash in February. Known to the world as Black – this is their take, with guests back on stage, on his beautifully haunting hit … ‘Wonderful Life.’ Us little Gig Junkies were lucky to review Black in May 2014.

So tonight’s gig was fun. H17 / BEF love to play live – and really are great to see. Tonight’s set was great, and at times sometimes musically challenging in it’s eclectic mix of combining musical forces – but as always, all great fun. Well worth a trip out.


Setlist: Heaven 17
Penthouse and Pavement – Side A:
(We Don’t Need This) Facist Grove Thang
Penthouse and Pavement
Play to Win
Soul Warfare

Penthouse and Pavement – Side B
Geisha Boys and Temple Girls
Let’s All Make a Bomb
The Height of Fighting (He-La-Hu)
Song with No Name
We’re Going to Live for a Very Long Time

You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling (Righteous Brit hers)

Setlist: BEF
With Peter Hooton (The Farm)
All Together Now (The Farm)
Bankrobber (The Clash)

With Mari Wilson
Just What I’ve Always Wanted
Rescue Me (Fontella Bass)

With Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols)
Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols)
Happy (Pharrell Williams)

With Glenn Gregory
Witchita Lineman (Glenn Campbell)
Don’t You Want Me Baby (Human League)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Temptation (Heaven 17)

Encore (everyone):
Wonderful Life (Black)


Heaven 17 – Penthouse and Pavement (1981) digitally remastered (2010)
BEF – ‘Music For Stowaways’ and ‘Music Of Quality And Distinction Vol.1’

One Response to “Heaven 17 + BEF and Special Guests @ Town Hall, 21 October 2016”

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