British Electric Foundation: Boxed Set 1981-2011

Martyn Ware + Glenn Gregory © 2009 Tracy Welch

Just in time for the concert tonight at The Roundhouse featuring Heaven 17 performing “Luxury Gap” and tomorrow night’s following B.E.F. concert debut, is the sorely needed boxed set of B.E.F. music. When Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware split from The Human League, Martyn actually signed to Virgin as a production company, which he named the British Electric Foundation. He liked the corporate, aspirational irony of it and Virgin’s lawyers revealed that “Foundation” was a legally safe word to use in such an endeavor. He couldn’t really use “Corporation” without drawing up actual articles of incorporation. His contract allowed for him to produce up to six [!] albums per year and the first recording he made with Glenn Gregory was a version of “Wichita Lineman” for the calling card “Music Of Quality + Distinction vol. 1” album which acted both as a manifesto and workshop to build up his CV.

Heaven 17 were to be just one of his irons in the fire, but of course, once they attracted attention, they quickly became the tail that wagged the dog, but for a year there in 1981, Ware and now departed partner Marsh were incredibly busy. They released a cassette only album called “Music For Stowaways.” The Sony Walkman® was originally called the Stowaway for several months in England before getting the rebranding that took it to the top. This cassette featured edgy synthesizer instrumentals not a million miles away from the early human league sound. The tape was limited to 10,000 copies and it was only pressed in vinyl for export, albeit with track and title changes. It was released in the US on CD only in 1997 in an edition by Virgin’s US Caroline subsidiary label and given the title “Music For Listening To.” It rounded up all of the tracks on both versions but was out of print for many years and selling for a premium.

Heaven 17 were born from “Groove Thang” on that tape, with added formidable lyrics and the vocals of Glenn Gregory, it became “[We Don’t Need This] Fascist Groove Thang,” the debut Heaven 17 single and template to which their brand of synth funk would be designed according to. Their “Penthouse + Pavement” album caught many ears in 1981, including mine. Though I loved the first two Human League Albums dearly, I was happy to have a popular Human League as well as a funkier Heaven 17 now making twice as many records for my ears to soak up.

B.E.F. also managed to make an album that year for the dance troupe Hot Gossip called “Geisha Boys + Temple Girls.” If you’re an American, this would be akin to them making an album with the Solid Gold Dancers, only with less clothing. This unique release was filled with the dancers singing [rather well] a selection of deeply weird Human League songs, with some Heaven 17 tracks and a few outside covers [Talking Heads “Houses In Motion,” Sting “Burn For You”] added to the running.

The most amazing track there was a redux of the early single by The Men called “I Don’t Depend On You.” The cut was made at the behest of Virgin records, who weren’t convinced that just synthesizers wold be commercial enough and asked the band to work with guitars and drums. Cannily, they complied, but under the assumed name of The Men. They wrote a great disco song that touches along the themes that “Don’t You Want Me” would do again years later, but when it failed to storm the charts, they knuckled down to make the Human League records we all know and love. The cover with Hot Gossip succeeds wildly because it isn’t a weird arty Human League track – it’s a disco number which fit the “band” like a glove. The vocals I actually like better than the Phil Oakey originals.

The jewel in the B.E.F. crown was “Music Of Quality + Distinction vol. 1.” It’s ten songs they loved given an electronic spin and featuring a host of intriguing guest vocalists. It was released on LP, boxed set of 7″ singles, and a decade later on CD. The record was the seed that revitalized Tina Turner’s music career as their cover of “Ball Of Confusion” became a UK hit and led to Turner’s huge comeback. When her next solo single got released, B.E.F. produced her wonderful cover of “Let’s Stay Together” and it stormed the charts the world over. I always especially loved the hoot of a cover with what looked like for all the world Bryan Ferry opening a Ferrari door for Debbie Harry!

That same year as “Music Of Quality + Distinction vol. 1” got a CD reissue, the second volume was released. Instead of a program of 60s classic gone electronic, Ware made pretty much a straight soul cover album using a mix of American and British singers. Turner and Billy MacKenzie appeared again and were joined by luminaries like Mavis Staples, Chaka Kahn, Billy Preston, and Green Gartside. By 1991, Ware had a pretty hot production career what with worldwide hits by Tina Turner and Terrence Trent D’Arby under his belt. This album set out to celebrate what the first Music Of Quality + Distinction album set out to instigate. Twenty years later, both CDs were high priced “collector’s items.” This has now been redressed.

Virgin | UK | 3xCD Box | 2011

Disc 1: Music of Quality + Distinction Volume 1

  1. Tina Turner: Ball Of Confusion
  2. Billy MacKenzie: The Secret Life Of Arabia
  3. Paul Jones: There’s A Ghost In My House
  4. Paula Yeats: These Boots Are Made For Walking
  5. Gary Glitter: Suspicious Minds
  6. Bernie Nolan: You Keep Me Hanging On
  7. Glenn Gregory: Wichita Lineman
  8. Sandie Shaw: Anyone Who had A Heart
  9. Glenn Gregory: Perfect Day
  10. Billy MacKenzie: It’s Over
  11. Ball Of Confusion [backing track]
  12. The Secret Life Of Arabia [backing track]
  13. There’s A Ghost In My House [backing track]
  14. These Boots Were Made For Walking [backing track]
  15. You Keep Me Hanging On [backing track]
  16. Anyone Who Had A Heart [backing track]
  17. It’s Over [orchestra mix]

Disc 2: Music of Quality + Distinction Volume 2

  1. Chaka Kahn: Someday We’ll All Be Free
  2. Lalah Hathaway: Family Affair
  3. Richard Darbyshire: Early In The Morning
  4. Billy MacKenzie: Free
  5. Terrence Trent D’arby: It’s All Right Me, I’m Only Bleeding
  6. Tashan: I Want You
  7. Mavis Staples: A Song For You
  8. Billy Preston: Try A Little Tenderness
  9. Green Gartside: I Don’t Know Why I Love You [extended]
  10. Tina Turner: A Change Is Gonna Come
  11. Ghida DePalma: Feel Like Making Love
  12. Billy Preston: In My Life
  13. In My Live [drums + vox]
  14. In My Life [a cappella]
  15. Family Affair [a cappella]
  16. I Want You [alternative introduction]
  17. It’s Alright [instrumental]
  18. I Don’t Know Why I Love You [original version]

Disc 3: Music For Stowaways to Dark

  1. The Optimum Chant
  2. Uptown Apocalypse
  3. Wipe The Board Clean
  4. Groove Thang
  5. Music To Kill Your Parents By
  6. The Old At Rest
  7. Rise Of The East
  8. Decline Of The West
  9. A Baby Called Billy
  10. Honeymoon In New York
  11. B.E.F. Ident
  12. Mavis Staples: Trade Winds [work in progress mix]
  13. Kelly Barnes: Co-Pilot To Pilot [work in progress mix]
  14. Billie Godfrey: Smalltown Boy [work in progress mix]
Here’s the track listing for the new box and bonus tracks, as usual, are in red. I’m shocked not to see the monster dub version of Bowie’s “The Secret Life Of Arabia” as sung by Billy MacKenzie included, but collectors should note that track was mastered to CD for “Methods Of Dance” as discussed previously here. Other than that, this is a gift for any fans of the B.E.F. sound who didn’t already have the CDs. And in case you did, the pot has been salted with a nice selection of bonus tracks. I’ve heard the Orchestra Mix of “It’s Over” and Billie Godfrey’s “Smalltown Boy” on the Heaven 17 podcast so this will be entering the Record Cell most assuredly. Below you can see the box spread out and it’s looking like EMI have done their usual tip top job of packaging.

click to enlarge

I just got the deluxe RM box for “Penthouse + Pavement” and in addition to a substantial booklet and the three discs in paper sleeves, there are single sleeve repro cards and what looks to be another large poster. You’ll buy this and marvel at what your CD buying dollar nets you these days.  Buy this now and set aside your shekels for 2012, which will bring the third “Music Of Quality + Distinction” album… “Dark.” Scuttlebutt has it that anyone who appreciated the Human League’s brilliant cover of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” will be in for a treat!

– 30 –

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26 Responses to British Electric Foundation: Boxed Set 1981-2011

  1. Tim says:

    I’ve always wanted to hear these albums but have never been able to find them. Being a collector of covers they sound like great twofers….Heaven 17 alumni + very special guest stars doing covers. Most interested in hearing the Sandie Shaw because I like a good Burt Bacharach cover and the Wichita Lineman one because, well, that’s just a damn good song in my book that I’ve amassed several covers of, one of my favorites being one by Earth, Wind & Fire.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – If you are finally hearing these for the first time, how I envy your virgin ears! Vol. 1 is amazing. They totally smoke Bowie on “Arabia!!” Vol. 2 is pedestrian, but professional. There’s less magic overall there. Billy MacKenzie steals the show as usual. But then again, there’s not a head-scratcher like Paula Yeats’ turn on “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” either. That’s as polarizing a number as B.E.F. ever committed to tape [though I’m in favor]. “Wichita Lineman” is as stellar as you’d expect. The only singer I can’t get behind is Richard Darbyshire on vol. 2. I never liked Living In A Box either. If you listen to the B.E.F. BBC documentary available for another 24 hours, I think they play “Lineman” in the context of the program. Act now. Supplies are limited!

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  2. Tim says:

    I see Amazon is offering this as a digital download, it’s about time!

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  3. Echorich says:

    ORDERED! I love that the box looks like the box 7″ collection from back in the early 80’s. I believe I have every version released of MOQAD vol. 1 and Stowaways/Listening to. I bought the vinyl back when if first showed up on the racks at Metro Music in Little Neck, NY back in 1981. A few years later I was gifted the Stowaways cassette and have NEVER played it for fear of ruining it. As I write this the B.E.F. show should be getting underway, and I am playing Anyone Who Had a Heart feat. Sandi Shaw (another career they set back in motion with Morrissey’s help as well).
    I agree Vol. 2 is lacking the spark of the first volume, but there is a lot of respect paid to the music in the production.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – You are a sterling gentleman, sir! Cheers for keeping your record of collecting MOQAD spotlessly perfect! I remember the 7″ boxed set! You are absolutely correct. Except for the new dates added to the cover, it is the same design. Reader and close, personal friend Chas_M plunked for the box, back in the day. I don’t think I ever saw the straight LP of that title. I think I bought both volumes on CD in 1991 and thus I lived for a decade without a copy in my Record Cell! The “Stowaways” cassette was among the handful of pre-recorded tapes ever bought for the collection. Did I buy it at Crunchy Armadillo Records? If not, then where? I had played it a bit at the time but over the years, obtained “Music For Listening To” during my honeymoon in 1996, and broke down and bought the CD from Amazon in the early naughts. I dumped 90% of the cassette tapes I had some years ago. “Stowaways” was among the select few I kept. But there are no longer any cassette storage units in the Record Cell. The question arises; where are my tapes now? I wanted to see what number I had, but can’t. But here’s a little treat I just found out about. I’m guessing you probably don’t have one of those! It’s interesting that they pressed vinyl copies for library sales. I wonder if anyone ever paid for a synch license? I sure hope someone used “Music To Kill Your Parent’s By” in a film!!

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      • Echorich says:

        Sadly no White Labels or Test Pressings by BEF or H17 in my collection…White Labels are bit of a curiousity for me. If it’s a white label “release” I tend to look out for it, but if it’s an actual “test pressing” I tend to stay away. Test pressings tend to have a sorter lifespan if played and I have always been one who plays their records.
        I was going through my HL & H17 section the other day and found that I have a 2 disc live bootleg of Human League from their late 1982 tour of the US to promote Dare. I believe it’s from the Palladium in NYC and I probably picked it up having seen that show. And listening to it again…it’s rubbish…
        Martyn posted a link to the H17 set list from the Roundhouse. I would love to hear Glenn singing You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling….

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – I have the very occasional white label if it has exclusive material that I can a) find for sale and b) afford. I don’t have any acetates. That’s a fetish level beyond me. “The Black Hit of Space…!!!!” (gasp!) Wonderful setlist. I can’t imagine the Human League ever delivering live, as good as some post-split of their records are, so I’m not shocked by your ’82 boot. But in ’82, I would have been in the audience too. Definitely.

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  4. Echorich says:

    Did you read the reprint of the Bloomberg/Muse review of the B.E.F. show which Martyn posted? – I’m sure you have –
    I am close to pulling out the Ginsu knife (*80’s reference alert) and slicing my wrist! – almost –
    One of my musical wishes is to hear Sandi Shaw perform Anyone Who Had A Heart live. the B.E.F. version with her is one of the best songs ever recorded, IMHO…
    Boy George performing Make Up seems like an obvious choice I never thought of. I suspected Midge was on hand for Secret Life of Arabia and happy he did not perform anything from Ultravox. And Glenn singing Don’t You Want Me, just fuels my favorite fire that there is more to the history of the tracks on Dare than we may ever know. I hope that it will be included on Dark.
    MOQAD 3 – Dark sounds like it will be a winner.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – At least Vinny was there for the team! Yeah, every year there’s at least one show in the UK I’d give a kidney to see. 2009 had Ultravox and Magazine. 2010 had the John Foxx analog show at the Roundhouse [Numan relegated to DJ!]. This year it was Claudia Brücken at Scala, H17/B.E.F. at the Roundhouse, and the John Foxx + The Maths tour. That’s a lot of kidneys.

      Early word had it that Andy Bell was to sing the MacKenzie material, but the Erasure tour eventually conflicted. Midge Ure was a good choice, though the other Scot could sing rings ’round him. He’s one of the Nancy Boys on “These Boots Were Made For Walking” so that was a sort of homecoming for him. Yes, MOQADV1 is the singular album with Foxx and Ure participating! We can only wait for the DVD.

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      • Echorich says:

        I was not expecting lots from Midge on …Arabia, mostly because he seems afraid of his higher register these days (comes with age – just listen to Ian McCulloch attempt The Cutter or Back of Love these days). I’m afraid for me, Billy has owned SLOA since the album was released. It’s rare that someone out does Bowie to the point that I never need to hear him perform it ever again.
        I was happy that there is some really good footage from both shows on Youtube. Martin and Vince’s 3D sound system really must have impressed in persons because even some of the vid taken in the back sounds amazing!
        I just want to know one thing, why are Who’ll Stop The Rain and Lady Ice and Mr. Hex always left out or the ugly step sisters from Luxury Gap? No one put up their performances and I much prefer both songs to We Live So Fast ( not that there are any bad tracks on the album).

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Everyone loses their higher register with age, but if you’re a singer, nature bestows power as compensation. Agreed with MacKenzie owning Arabia ever since that day. After a shaky start with “Boys Keep Swinging” Billy managed to smoke Bowie at his own game 2/3 rounds. See also “Wild Is The Wind” for more evidence. As for “We Live So Fast” being accorded with greater status that “Lady Ice + Mr. Hex,” remember that it was a single [at least in America!]. Which, come to think of it, so was “Who’ll Stop The Rain!” Hopefully the damned-well-better-be DVD will still convince in 5.1!

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  5. Echorich says:

    I will admit, as a completest, I have that ridiculous Arista/Virgin US release which culled the first two albums together – boring pastel pink and blue abstract cover too. I think We Live So Fast must have become a UK single somewhere along the line because my copy is definitely an import 12″ – could be German or Benelux though I suppose.
    I meant no disrespect to Mr. Ure, but I wasn’t convinced he was all that prepared to be up there on stage that night. Kate Jackson’s version of ‘Picture This’ was pretty amazing…I hope that ends up on Dark.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Yeah, I bought the US H17 mashup too. After all, it was the first way to get “Who Will Stop The Rain” several months prior to the release of “The Luxury Gap!” See? Arista was good for something! In fact, I still have a sealed copy of the NZ edition of “Penthouse + Pavement!” I’ll admit that I have not watched any web viddy of the shows. Too busy working! As for “We Live So Fast,” it was the UK B-side of the “Temptation” 12″ – in a reversal of the US 12″ of “We Live So Fast” that had “Temptation” on the flip. German/Benelux mileage may vary.

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      • Echorich says:

        Yeah that sounds about right on the the US/UK 12’s… They made me even crazier with the And That’s No Lie 12’s from How Men Are. So many cover variations and edit lengths! Must have all been Martyn’s doing…lol.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – …Wha…??!! Do you mean to tell me that each of the “And That’s No Lie” 12″ers not only feature different covers, but different edit lengths?!! Since day one I thought that 1/4 each had the same content: 6:10 12″ remix/ “The Fuse” LP mix/”And That’s No Lie” 10:02 LP mix; differing only in the cover design. Disc 5/5 had the 8:28 H17 Megamix instead of the LP version of “And That’s No Lie” as its sole difference, other than cover?

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  6. Echorich says:

    I definitely stand corrected. I have just checked all 6 (I seem to have 2 copies of 3/5) copies in my record crypt. I seem to be completely pissed off back in ’85 that I couldn’t control my completist tendancy and bought all 5 as I saw them in the shops.
    On another point about “…(And That’s No Lie), it is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE Heaven 17 tracks. It is the culmination of all the effort the group had put into melding electronics with funk and dance. The ending wtih Caron Wheeler and Claudia Fontaine, harp and the sound of bombs in the distance is just brilliant.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – “How Men Are” didn’t move me on release. It’s taken 25 years or so, but I can now live with it. All of it’s songs are too Fairlight Page R busy to my ears. Only “This Is Mine” stood tall for me. “Pleasure One” is the one I can’t stand now! I disliked it so much on my last listen that I traded it away on LaLa 1.0 [back when it was a CD swapping godsend!]. I thought that “Teddy Bear, Duke + Psycho” was a big step up from the previous five years of H17. “Bigger Than America” was a textbook return to form for me. Easily shoulder to shoulder with the first two. Hrm. This reply is morphing into an impromptu H17 Rock GPA® [memo to self].

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      • Echorich says:

        Well I was going to suggest, if it wasn’t in your mind to include H17 in a full out Rock GPA®!!! I will save my further impression of the later H17 releases for just such a time when I can fully expound on them with you. We will certainly agree to disagree along the way! I can’t wait!!

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – It’ll happen. I just finally bought “Naked As Advertised” with that goal in mind. But should I include B.E.F. in the GPA as well? I didn’t plan on getting the new B.E.F. boxed set immediately since I have the older CD issues to tide me over for a while. Thoughts?

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  7. Echorich says:

    It’s an interesting decision to make. Since it all started as B.E.F. presents, it probably requires some inclusion, but the B.E.F. story does take a real back seat for almost a decade, to the point where Pleasure One isn’t even a B.E.F. production, so maybe it deserves separate space for review and grading. I am quite interested in your take on Naked As Advertised, because that release caught me off guard when it was released.

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  8. Echorich says:

    He co-wrote Seven Day Weekend on ABC Skyscraping as well. I had high hopes for Ugly, but was cool with Glenn returning his energies to Heaven 17 for Bigger Than America. I think Glenn is really important to the ABC story too because he brought Keith Lowndes and Uriel to the table for his good mate Martin.
    A friend of mine lived in Notting Hill Gate in the mid – late 80’s and he used to kill me because his local pub was the regular haunt of Martin Fry, Paul Weller, Glenn Gregory and a few others back then. I’d love to get pissed with all the above – as long as Weller didn’t get outta hand…lol.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – “Bigger Than America” was so worth any sacrifices made! It’s just a cryin’ shame that such a magnificent H17 album went largely unnoticed in the World Of Philistines®!

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      • Echorich says:

        I have to agree! I got people to listen to Bigger Than America back when it came out and brought a few new fans to H17. They found an ember from that first spark and created a masterful album.

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