Record Review: Heaven 17 – Live From Metropolis Studios [part 3]

L-R: Asa Bennett, Martyn Ware, Julian Crampton, Glenn Gregory, Billie Godfrey, Berenice Scott [not pictured: Al Anderson]

L-R: Asa Bennett, Martyn Ware, Julian Crampton, Glenn Gregory, Billie Godfrey, Berenice Scott [not pictured: Al Anderson] ©2012 Oded Shein

“We Live So Fast” sets the pace for the show and it’s a great opener. “Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry” is my favorite song from “The Luxury Gap” and it has a pleasing heft here, though the intro and the samples of paving stones are obviously run off of Berenice Scott’s Roland Fantom workstation, which frankly, could have the whole gig in there. It’s with the song “Penthouse + Pavement” that the full extent of this band manifest. At first I was shocked that guitarist Asa Bennett was playing midi guitar synth for the funky lead lines to this song until I re-checked one of my [several] copies of “P+P” and noted that John Wilson had been credited with guitar synths for the album. Then there was the Julian Crampton factor to contend with. He was all over this tune like white on rice!

After years of listening to pallid performances of this song, never my favorite H17 number to start with, it really comes to life in the hands of this lineup. Never mind the fact that I much prefer the voice of Billie Godfrey to Josie James on the original. At the bridge where the breakdown occurs, it’s a rhythm section orgy as Crampton locks into blistering syncopation with drummer Al Anderson on the electric kit. frankly, this tune has never sounded better than it did here. Then the first curve ball the band were throwing that night knocked me for a loop.

“Heaven 17 Unplugged…
it’d just be really quiet, wouldn’t it?” – Glenn Gregory

Glenn Gregory next brought an acoustic guitar out and proceeded to play and sing an unexpectedly tender rendition of “Geisha Boys + Temple Girls” that I was completely unprepared for. And it worked superbly. Only Ms. Godfrey joined him on vocals. I guess that old line about a song being measured by how it sounds on an acoustic guitar is no bill of goods. With acoustic still in hand, the next song was a cheeky stab at The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” led with an audience sing-along! I saw it on the back cover and was immediately intrigued, but never expected this. When they hit the chorus, one can hear Martyn Ware really belting with gusto. He can do that now. It’s all water under the bridge, and the point of sales on the next album he and Ian Marsh got for letting Phil Oakey keep the Human League name when they split might also have something to do with it.

Crampton Comes Alive ©2012 Oded Shein

Crampton Comes Alive ©2012 Oded Shein

The next two tracks benefitted from Bennett’s guitar work. “[We Don’t Need This] Fascist Groove Thang” was the recipient of some tight rhythm guitar licks and “Let’s All Make A Bomb” received an injection of guitar filigree that it never previously had, and was all the better for it. Then came the most vivid example of what this band were capable of live. “Soul Warfare” was again, never a favorite on album, but with this band at the helm, it pops out of the speakers with a sonic heft and visceral power that finally does its forays into Latin syncopation justice. The groove here just will not quit! Crampton and Anderson were on fire. The vocals benefitted from great three-part harmonies by Ware, Gregory, and Godfrey, but ultimately the star here was bassist Crampton. He was given almost a full minute for his massive, concluding bass solo; the latter half of which was deliciously flanged for even greater impact. The result is a transformation of this tune into a show stopper.

The program dove next into a fantastic series of deep cuts that I’d call showing off if it didn’t bring me so much pleasure to hear. “B.E.F.’s “Wichita Lineman,” which long has been a favorite, has never sounded better that it did here! It’s not just my opinion. Judging from the blissed out look on his face playing this, Martyn Ware just might agree! Anderson’s monolothic drumming prefectly evokes the original drum track, but there are some changes here. Not the least of which is the introduction of Bennet’s twangy guitar chords into the mix; bringing the song a half-step back to its Glen Campbell/Jimmy Webb roots. But the synths still manage to win out in the end. When viewing the DVD, I was flabbergasted to see that the dissonant glitch element in the song’s magnificent extended coda [so much better than the album version] was actually Ware playing a Theremin! Gregory added his acoustic and Bennet dirtied his tone for the heart-wrenching final fade. The result is simply a magnificent version of a magnificent song.

“And That’s No Lie” was another song that never did too much for me. I thought that the ten minute album version felt like filler. On what was to my ears, an already weak album. The shorter [!] 12” mix helped, but ultimately ,the 7” edit was my favorite version of this song. Until now. The 6:30 live version here bloomed into vibrant life with this band! The soul sophistication inherent in the number was finally given the juice that it needed to rise above its strictly Fairlight/Linn Drum beginnings. The tune breathes now and it manages to get a head of steam that I never felt before.

2005’s “Before After” was a weak Heaven 17 album for me. The songs seemed okay enough, but they lacked something …in addition to any political content, which was strictly absent. “I’m Gonna Make You Fall In Love With Me” was a thrashing disco number that by rights, should have done more for me than it did, but wow – hearing this band tackle this tune live was a revelation! Instead of plug-in bass synth and a wah-wah loop, Crampton and Bennett dig their teeth deep into the neck of this song and it attains a scorching flashpoint of energy that completely transforms it into a funky disco bomb that explodes into technicolor life here! The song actually becomes a duet between Glenn Gregory and Billie Godfrey as well, and she bites deep into this one to make the pallid album version a distant memory. She exudes a sizzling sass that really pushes the song further out along with the band and when it culminates in a white hot cold ending it’s all I can do to exclaim “¡Mamacita!” This number now slays.

Another deep cut gained new life next when “Dive,” the brilliant opener of the criminally under heard “Bigger Than America” album got aired in a radically new piano arrangement. The original song was a favorite, but the cocktail version here with Crampton and Bennett adding slight hints of guitar and bass to round out the sound a tad, is amazing primarily for Gregory’s fantastic vocals. Singing out live has done wonders for his instrument, and when he concludes the tender tune, he’s changed the ending to take the final evocation of the title down an octave just once, without any of the repetition of the album version. It’s a pure goose-pimple moment that gets me every time. Outstanding!

“Let’s go back to the days of Futurism!” – Martyn Ware

With those words of Martyn Ware, they trotted out the big guns and any remaining stops were pulled out. First, “The Black Hit Of Space” will always be my favorite Human League song, and while the song probably relied more on the Fantom’s memory banks than much on offer here, it still gained something that can only come of live performance. Even then, there were surprises afoot when Crampton strapped on a keytar synth for the now enhanced synth bass line and Bennett added guitar squeal to the unforgettable noiseshriek introduction to the song. Anderson’s drum pads flawlessly replicated the original hard, thwacking rhythm track. This was a vital reminder of the original Human League’s Radiophonic Workshop glory at full bore, and I sincerely hope that one day Ware gets his wish to do a whole show of this material. I have two kidneys. I could afford to go!

After that uncompromising track, the single “Come Live With Me” appeared. It should have been anticlimactic as the ballad was never a go-to track for me, but that did not take into account Gregory’s insanely great singing, where he makes me hold my breath involuntarily on the stunning outro. It starts at a high level of accomplishment and then climbs the mountain to vistas of startling perfection. His singing here was simply jaw-dropping. “Let Me Go” followed and did so brilliantly. This has long been a favorite single by the band and like any song here, Julian Crampton’s flanged bass made me sit up and take notice of the luscious sound that this band were offering.

Ware and Gregory are on top of the world now ©2012 Oded Shein

Ware and Gregory are on top of the world now ©2012 Oded Shein

Then it was “time for Temptation.” The band have long since performed the [superior] Brothers In Rhythm 1992 arrangement. I’ll maintain that I’ve never heard the song better than on this album! What this band bring to the table cannot be underestimated. First of all, the guitar lines are actually being played by Bennett, then the vocal intro is now a duet between Godfrey and Ware, who handles the “love energy” counterpoint against the “higher and higher” mantra that Godfrey takes up to the skies. Then, my jaw dropped when they kicked the extended intro into high-nrg Moroderspace with Crampton nailing the sequencer line from “I Feel Love” on bass with Ware and Gregory singing the “Love To Love You Baby” refrain in falsetto to brain-melting effect. They maintained this energy for the better part of a minute before moving on with the song. I was so happy that it was more than two bars worth, let me tell you!

Then, when the drop occurred, it was time for the familiar portion of the song to unfurl, but when Ms. Billie Godfrey is in effect singing the lead on it in her inimitable fashion, then all we can do is gape in wonder as a voice with no seeming limits takes this tune into the stratosphere! I have never liked Carol Kenyon’s original vocals on “Temptation.” They always seemed shrill to me. Ms. Godfrey has a suitably piercing instrument, but her tone was rounder here, and beyond palatable; it was delightful. I now have to consider this live recording of the song to be my go-to version. Knowing how much I worship at the altar of the demo version; this is a real statement of sea-change coming from me.

After that, what else could they do but perform “Being Boiled?” Crampton once again donned the keytar synth and did honors on this one; puckishly bending the pitch in the song’s intro as if to say “wait, I’ll make it better!” This time, it was Mr. Ware’s time to shine as he was jamming on the famous “Boys of Buddha” synth horn solo like there was no tomorrow. Then, with the climactic “Listen to the voice of Buddha” it was over. And I was floored. Everything I ever loved about H17 was present in this concert and kicked up in feeling and intensity many, many notches. Everything I was less than enthusiastic about was lovingly buffed and re-thought and made anew into cherished songs and performances. Then they delivered things I didn’t know I even wanted [Heaven 17 …acoustic…?] in a cornucopia of abundance! Quite simply, this is now my favorite Heaven 17 album!

“What an amazing gig!” – Martyn Ware

It cherry picked from the acme of both the H17 and Human League canon to deliver a créme-de-la-créme set list that effectively makes this a desert island disc for both groups. It is simply thrilling to this longtime H17 fan and I am astonished at what they now accomplish live. Okay, so they hedge their bets with the Roland Fantom, but aside from idiosyncratic synth tracks taken from the dawn of time, a bit of percussion here and there, or a snatch of strings during Billie Godfrey’s solos on “Temptation,” this is now a vital performing juggernaut of a band with only a scant need for backing tracks. With Crampton aboard, they are treading on hallowed Simple Minds live performing territory. I tend to single him out because I’m all about the bass, but really, the band they’ve assembled is incredible.

They’ve been busy building it for the last five years, dating back to the “Penthouse + Pavement” 30th anniversary tour, and they seem to be using them consistently across the years. Better still, the new single has Crampton’s playing on it and that’s what I am salivating over; the notion of this band getting it down on ones and zeros in the studio on the album currently being made. The new material is fantastic. The players are at the top of their form, and Ware and Gregory have never been better. The last B.E.F. album and the pre-release single show Ware at the top of his arranging game. I simply cannot wait for the next Heaven 17 album based on the evidence my ears are hearing.

– 30 –

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22 Responses to Record Review: Heaven 17 – Live From Metropolis Studios [part 3]

  1. tim says:

    It’s interesting that a lot of these 80’s synth acts weren’t big on guitars and then later in their career arc material is revisited and guitars are added and the end results often are not half-bad. I wouldn’t mind checking out this disk but I also know I am not going to find it on Netflix.

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  2. Echorich says:

    Am I missing something? Rush Winters? She of Carmel and Yello backing “fame”? Is that her robotic vocal on the Temptation Demo? It’s the wonderful Carol Kenyon throwing the vocal kitchen sink at the album/single version.
    The Metropolis Studios concert is absolutely sublime. It captures the band with no holds barred – confident, excited, far from the restrictions of any boundaries live interpretations may have put up in the past. Billy Godfrey is absolutely essential to the sound of Heaven 17. The thought and care that Martyn has taken to find superb musicians in Julian Crompton, Al Anderson, Bernice Scott and Asa Bennett shows how committed he is to the band’s continued, evolving legacy. I can’t wait for this next album to drop.
    I find it interesting to know that some the track that I consider seminal to the Heaven 17 discography are not among your favorites in their original recorded form. For me Penthouse And Pavement is one the most important albums of the Early 80’s, if not ever – yes a bold statement, but one I am always willing to debate with success. The socio-political references are upfront and in your face. The blasphemous (cold) fusion of computers and disco/funk are a template of pop music’s future. Electronic artists didn’t “jam” – but Heaven 17 did. Electronic artists didn’t right pop anthems – but Heaven 17 did.
    Now I don’t mean to get down on you Monk, for casting even the slightest aspersion or critique of some of those early tracks, I’ve just always jumped on the soap box when it comes to defending H17.
    I agree that there is a new found energy and direction on And That’s No Lie and certainly I’m Gonna Make You Fall In Love With Me. But let me say two things about the albums those tracks come from…
    In my mind there are only 4 really important “Fairlight” Era albums – Peter Gabriel III, ABC’s How To Be A Zillionaire, Scritti Politti’s Cupid & Psyche ’85 and Heaven 17’s How Men Are. How Men Are uses the Fairlight CMI to an advantage rather than a crutch. It isn’t the primary musical instrument at work and the samples blend well with the brass and guitar that feature so well on the album.
    I agree that Before/After was certainly missing something. I think that something was a mission statement to be honest. I came to this conclusion over the passed few years while slowly collecting all the remixes (and there are A LOT) from the released singles and even some unofficial DJ remixes which have found their way on the interweb. What Martyn and Glenn should have done is present the entire completed album, as it was eventually released, to a series of remixers to have a go at the entire thing and from there released an album made up of the best of the lot that they got back. Sure it’s probably prohibitively expensive to do, but it would have been a nice twist. The best examples I can give are Astromills’ symphonic, anthemic rendering of Hands Up To Heaven and Electroluv’s remix of I’m Gonna Make You Fall In Love With Me.

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    • tim says:

      I recently loaded ABC’s Zillionaire onto my computer at work (wellllll, my remade/remodeled version of it) and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well it has aged. Quite honestly I thought that I would find myself hitting the skip button from time to time and that hasn’t been the case.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        tim – I find “Zillionaire” to be the most fascinating ABC album! It seems to offer me the most impact of the early albums. It’s so dated, it’s futuristic! Getting Keith LeBlanc to program the beatbox was a strike of genius. The moods on it fascinate me. The title cut is the best thing Heaven 17 never wrote!

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        • tim says:

          It’s one of those ones that has aged a lot better than things that were contemporary to it. By 85/86 the New Wave was essentially kaput and most of the bands that were left had released their better material already (exception to this rule: Eurythmics – Savage). I’ve really reassessed it on the last few listens.

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          • postpunkmonk says:

            tim – Yes, the New Wave had fully crashed on the shore by the dreaded mid-80s. For me, much of New Wave [ as opposed to the Post-Punk subset] was just the 60s replayed with new technology. Immediate pop music with a quirk factor. By 1985 fully mainstream [read: boring] professional music was assembled in the methods that New Wave had developed, leaving the movement adrift.

            Mainstream pop was now just like what had started out as weird synth pop five years earlier. The difference was that people like Phil Oakey had very different things to say with their content than perhaps Taylor Dayne, but in terms of form, the end products were becoming very similar. When The Human League got Jam + Lewis to write their album, they, in effect, became Taylor Dayne!! Any walls segregating the two artists had summarily vanished. This was what I’d call an existential crisis for almost every artist I loved. Few escaped with their dignity intact. Bowie? Please! John Foxx wisely got off of the bus and avoided any further releases for 12 years, though some would look askance at his “In Mysterious Ways” album as sign of rot, I am not one of them.

            One of the few artists to scramble back to artistic relevance was The Eurythmics, who managed the singular trick of closing a wide quality gap that had exploded in their faces with the lumpen “Be Yourself Tonight.” “Revenge” was a slight improvement, but I was astounded at how much “Savage” offered. Then they slipped back to irrelevance in due haste with their next projects. But, wow, what a brilliant last gasp; so much further ahead of their peers, too. Most were still busy nose-diving in 1987!

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            • tim says:

              Oh, the abomination called “Human.”
              Nick Cave, in if my memory is right “The Secret Life of the Love Song,” talks about how many love songs are really hate songs in disguise. This is a prime offender and I was aghast when it was such a hit, not only for the lyrical content but for it being just a turgid piece of music made on auto-pilot by people who should know better.

              BTW, the Nick Cave disc with that piece on it is worth hunting down if only to hear him recite the lyrics to Kylie Minogue’s “Better the Devil You Know.”

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              • postpunkmonk says:

                tim – No argument there on “Human!” It was only a few years ago that I even bothered to pay attention to the lyrics at the gym and naturally, I was taken aback at this “love” song. Then I got a compilation with the offending song on it in 12″ form; insult to injury! I can never do a Human League Rock G.P.A. because I will never hear that album! Here’s the gist of it anyway.
                Reproduction – 3.5
                Travelogue – 4
                Dare – 3.5
                Fascination EP – 2.5
                Hysteria – 1.5
                Crash – 0 [na]
                Romantic? – 1
                Octopus – 3
                Secrets – 2.5
                Credo – ?

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Gulp! Excessive donning of the Aztec Energy Dome must be affecting my memory! Rush Winters was seen in the expressionistic “Temptation” music video, lip- synching to Ms. Kenyon’s vocals, but that’s as far as it went. Duly chastised!

      As far as early H17 and P+P go, I was floored by “Fascist Groove Thang” and especially “I’m Your Money!” Martyn had stated that they just couldn’t get a handle on the latter song as part of their live set a few years back, but I’m confident that it would be putty in the hands of their band now. It’s still the best cut Gang Of Four never wrote! “Play To Win” and the title track were never favorites with me. “Soul Warfare” was a bit repetitive.

      The fifth single, “The Height Of The Fighting” was a much better choice for me to highlight. On the second album, the disco funk elements were better integrated with the group and that’s like a master class project, though I did miss some of the residual Human League eccentricity that the “Pavement” side evidenced. As to which I prefer, I really can’t decide! Even 30+ years later! I’m more impressed with the musical accomplishments of “The Luxury Gap” but I can’t deny the attitude of “Penthouse + Pavement,” which is so “in your face” as you say. Though on fave Gap cut “Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry” I get to have my cake and eat it too!

      That’s a great selection of Fairlight albums, but I never really warmed to “How Men Are” though I know it’s a fave of yours. It let the wind out of my sails at the time and only gained a bit of cred with me after hearing the much worse “Pleasure One.” That album found the band lost in a welter of session musicians. Like Glenn says in the liner notes to “Endless,” they were now 30 men strong in the studio… real drums, real guitars, how much more real could they get? I maintain that they got lost in all of those steely-eyed flat bellied professionals. Their essence was watered down. Their current band is just right. The players bring depth to the material while allowing its idiosyncrasies to remain.

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      • Echorich says:

        Monk, Height Of The Fighting is by far my favorite H17 track in their catalogue. At under 3 minutes, it’s futuristic, punk, post punk, funky and anthemic…basically it is white hot and sharp as Sheffield Steel.
        I understand where you are coming from with regard to How Men Are. Their mission was achieved, though, on HMA where it went totally awry on Pleasure One. The orchestral or big band elements on How Men Are were still belted in by the importance of the electronics. Those synth/electronic elements stood out strongly on Five Minutes To Midnight among the strings and on This Is Mine when blended with the amazing Phenix Horns. What How Men Are really gave us a taste for was the addition of some female presence in the form of Caron Wheeler, Claudia Fontaine and Naomi Thompson – Afrodiziak. Each of these women would go on to be voices of the dance music explosion in England of the late 80’s and early 90’s and brought a new humanity to Heaven 17. Today Billie Godfrey can do that with just her amazing voice, but the experiment of How Men Are laid that groundwork.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – I’m frankly in awe of Ms. Godfrey. I have seen that she was a DJ before crossing over to the stage. What a waste of innate talent! I’m glad she’s been central to the H17 story for lo, these [gasp] nineteen years of re activation. True on Afrodiziak as well. H17 were so far ahead of the curve with them. Jazzie B was probably taking furious notes all the while.

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          • tim says:

            I mentioned on a Spandau Ballet post of yours feeling a level of arrogance on the “hit” album that I always wrestled with. i find that same sort of thing with Heaven 17 at this point, particularly “At the Height of the Fighting.” It’s a fine line walked between confidence and arrogance and this track was always a standout for me as it challenged the status quo of the 80’s while it was happening in a pop context. In the states you had to seek out a lot of the UK acts that were calling out Thatcherism and it was delightful to hear someone advocating standing up for yourself as opposed to not worrying and being happy. I was a bit late to the H17 party and ATHOTF was a track that instantly sold me on them.

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    • JT says:

      Echorich,
      You wouldn’t consider Hounds of Love or The Dreaming by Kate Bush, or the first Art of Noise records to offer crucial examples of the Fairlight used to its best?

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        JT – I’m partial to “The Dreaming” more than “The Hounds Of Love” as an example of good Fairlight usage. And “Who’s Afraid of The Art Of Noise” was certainly the album that got everyone’s attention on sampling, though I think that ultimately, it may have done more damage than help. It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from sampling Yes’ drummer [from tracks that have not been released yet] to sampling James Brown’s drummer on tracks that have. And sampling quickly lost its luster as it devolved into biting hooks from other people’s records.

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  3. Simon H says:

    Hadn’t noticed this release, now added to my ever lengthening ‘to buy’ list….as said before, H17 are one of the most thoroughly enjoyable live bands you can see right now, not a statement anyone would have imagined hearing back in their initial heyday!

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  4. Brian Ware says:

    Based on your superb review, this is a must have item. I’ve put in my Father’s Day request.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Brian Ware – Prepare to be amazed. I had slotted this in as your birthday gift, but I completely understand. Better not to wait! It was the first thing that I played from my vacation stack as soon as I got home and I have been obsessed with it for half a year now. My intrigue was well rewarded and not even the epic Simple Minds Rock G.P.A. could keep me away from it. Against all odds, Heaven 17 are now the hottest live band I can name. I desperately need to see this band live. $300? This show was worth twice that! After “And That’s No Lie” Glenn quipped “we didn’t pick any of the easy ones!”

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  5. Often overlooked from the early days of the British Electric Foundation’s productions is Arlene Phillips’ Hot Gossip ‎– Geisha Boys And Temple Girls. Perhaps with good reason!

    http://www.discogs.com/Arlene-Phillips-Hot-Gossip-Geisha-Boys-And-Temple-Girls/release/186211

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      iainxmacdonald – Welcome to the comments! Au contraire, mon ami! The Hot Gossip album is not so overlooked at this locale.

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      • I should have known better! That’s got to be the most detailed critique Hot Gossip’s recordings have ever had. You’re right about this one eclipsing those post-Dare Human League albums.

        Do you know what became of John Wilson? He seems to have dropped completely off the radar – he certainly was/is a great talent.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          iainxmacdonald – As I recall from possibly the H17 podcast, they put the call out locally for a bass player when they decided that “Fascist Groove Thang” should have an over the top bass solo on it as the middle eight. They found this notion far-fetched and ludicrous considering their former Human League hard-line stance on such things.

          Wilson was a local guitarist who responded to the call somehow and had never played bass. They got him in the studio and were astonished at what he was capable of and quickly incorporated him into the whole album.

          Wilson worked on their first three albums but they recalled that it was when he took another job for someone else that he had an experience that soured him on showbiz. Apparently, Wilson was a straight-laced guy (possibly Christian if memory serves) who was offended in some way by the people he was working with and he retreated from performing music. H17 lost track of him and attempted to reconnect in the years that they have been reactivated to no avail.

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