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Heaven 17
Glenn back in the day with Heaven 17

Glenn Gregory interview

Glenn talks about his Sheffield past, forming Heaven 17, composing film scores and his new project Honeyroot with DJ Keith Lowndes.

Since fronting synth-pop trio Heaven 17, whose biggest hit, Temptation is said by some to have defined the '80s, Glenn Gregory has gone on to work with an exciting range of artists including Tina Turner, Grace Jones, Propaganda, BEF, Terence Trent D'Arby, Ultravox, Midge Ure, John Lydon to name a few!

Now he has teamed up with Keith Lowndes who toured with ABC before becoming an internationally renowned DJ, and the duo have formed Honeyroot where they're producing 'soulful electronica'.

We caught up with Glenn, to talk about his early days in Sheffield and how his career has developed since.

So Glenn, you started off as a photographer then?

Yeah I did actually, that was exactly what I was doing just prior to joining Heaven 17, infact I even took shots of the Human League at the Leadmill for the Melody Maker, then we went out and did a cover shot... and about four or five weeks later I got a call from Martin and he said they're splitting up and the rest of that bit is history.

So did you actually meet Martin and Ian at the Leadmill?

No, I knew Martin and Ian and Phil, all of them... I knew Ian from when I was about 14 actually, and then Martin a little bit later on and then Phil after that.

I mean I was singing in a band with Ian really early on, like 1973/4 or something with the beautiful name of Music of Honour, and I used to play bass actually and later became a singer with Vomit.

Glenn Gregory
Glenn formed Heaven 17 with Human League defectors

Then I was even in a band with Martin before the Human League in a band called VDK and Stud. We played one fateful concert only ever which was at Psalter Lane Art College where our drummer splattered the audience with pigs ears, with him being a butcher and it was just slightly on the punk side.

So you're not returning to those days?

No, the pig's ears days are over...

So you were very much in the scene in Sheffield in those days with other musicians... how was it?

I don't think at that point you could call us musicians, there was something that opened up in the city, I guess it did in cities, in a lot of working class cities, and it was brought around I think probably by punk-rock, where you suddenly realised that you could get up and do this thing and you could be in a band.

Up 'till then it was always, you know like Monsters of Rock or incredibly intellectual guitar bands who were just fantastic players. But suddenly it was like if you could play three chords on a guitar you could get up and do it, it was like "wow, yeah, well I can do that".

That was in the early days of synthesiser technology as well, so that was really interesting. And computers, as early as they were they were still getting involved in music and it was a real eye-opener for the youth of that time.

Cities like Manchester and Liverpool all had the same feel, basically it was a way out, it was a way were you weren't going to end up working in the steel works and weren't going to end up boning bacon.

Actually Martin and I were both employed by the Co-Op at separate times boning bacon.

So from there you guys formed Heaven 17, how was the experience?

Well it was great, fantastic. I always used to follow the Human League whenever they came to London, 'cause I was living in London at that time, I came back to Sheffield when we formed Heaven 17.

But at that time I was living in London, it was like the South Yorkshire Embassy at our flat, anybody who ever came down always stayed at our flat, we only had one bedroom but never had less than about seven people staying, including when the League were down, the League, the roadies and the girlfriends, but it was great fun.

"I am kinda busy with Heaven 17, Honeyroot and Eskimo, which is the name we go under for all our film and TV work"
Glenn Gregory

I was actually in Sheffield and I had to take photos of Joe Jackson at the City Hall and I didn't want to go on my own so I phoned Martin and said "fancy going to see Joe Jackson?" and he wasn't that keen to be honest but I said I'll take a few photographs and we'll go for a drink so he came along.

He started asking me loads of questions, are you happy in London, are you happy doing this photography, and I was thinking God, what do you want, do you want to marry me or something? And in fact, he then popped the question.

He said "Look, I'm definitely leaving the Human League, I think Ian's going to leave as well, do you fancy coming up and forming a new band and we'll see how it goes". I said absolutely, and I think that was a Tuesday and by Friday I'd come back to London got my stuff and moved back to Sheffield, back to my mum and dads.

Maybe a couple of months later, not even that we'd recorded Fascist Groove Thang and we were on our way - that was exciting ya know.

So did you gig in Sheffield in the early days?

No we didn't, because we never played live as Heaven 17 for a very long time, probably not until about 10 years ago. We did do a few bits and bobs that were kinda half live.

I remember when Fascist Groove Thang was released we'd stayed up all night at Marsh's house on a Wednesday night waiting for Thursday morning to go down to Sheffield station where you could get the papers early, and we got the music papers and thought "oh please let it be reviewed".

We got the papers, the Music Melody Maker and the NME and it was record of the week in both NME and Melody Maker and there was a photograph and we were like "Jesus Christ!" I couldn't believe it man, I was on the bus, going home on the 75 to tell my mum and dad.

So that wasn't influenced by you and your connection with the music press?

No, not at all no [laughs]. If anything it would probably been a drawback.

So was there a particular reason why you didn't perform live for so long?

Glenn and Keith Lowndes have formed Honeyroot
Glenn and Keith merged to form Honeyroot

There were a couple of reasons actually, one was Martin and Ian had done loads of touring with the Human League and had run up quite a large debt with Virgin Tour Support and were tired of it, which is kinda why they formed BEF (British Electrical Foundation).

They were gonna be like producers basically, and Heaven 17 was gonna be the first project which was gonna be me, but as things like that often happen it got too personal, too big, too successful and they didn't want to leave it. So we suddenly all were Heaven 17.

The other reason was that it was kind of trendy at the time not to play live. Spandau Ballet said they weren't playing live, then Duran Duran said they wouldn't play live, and it was very "Oh no, we don't play live, we're a studio band".

But then of course they went on to play live and made millions and we didn't and made nothing... no fools!! [laughs] Actually I'm glad that we do now, I absolutely love it and I do kick myself and wish we had done from the start.

Well it's not that bad a thing, you're still enjoying it now?

Actually, yeah, if we had done it a load then I wouldn't enjoy it now. I really do enjoy it now, we going to Germany to do a gig out there as Heaven 17.

Glenn has formed Honeyroot with Keith Lowndes. The pair have clubbed together their vast experience and formed after a classic Ibiza moment.

There they were, sitting on the beach, watching the legendary sunset whilst listening to beautiful music when they had the urge to go home and recreate that moment musically.

They did and the result was Summer Sky, a track which epitomized Ibiza and signaled the beginning of Honeyroot.

So you're juggling a lot of projects, including Honeyroot and writing scores?

Yeah, I've been editing a film all day today actually, and yeah I'm busy quite a lot, I've got a studio. I used to have it in the house and then we had a little baby, and little Louis Earl Gregory nicked my studio for a bedroom. So I had to build a studio in the bottom of the garden, which has actually worked out really nicely.

So I am kinda busy with Heaven 17, Honeyroot and Eskimo, which is the name we go under for all our film and TV work, but I like being busy.

You get quite a lot of things rubbing off, like a film score or TV work will be a good starting point for a Honeyroot track because it's more ambient. Honeyroot is very filmic basically.

last updated: 08/06/05
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