Martin Ware was at the forefront of the synth-pop scene in the late 70s and early 80. He was a founding member of pioneering electro group The Human League and went on to form B.E.F. (British Electric Foundation) and Heaven 17. He has also worked as an arranger and producer for other artists.
We caught up with Martin ahead of Heaven 17's terrific live show at Rewind South
You were right at the beginning of synth-pop, how was it to be involved in the creation of a new genre?
Well, it was kind of new then, and now I suppose you could argue that just about everything is electronic in some way. Back then, it was mainly synthesizers for us, we just didn't want to be rock and roll. And we were like, rock and roll, but I didn't want to be it. So it was the new direction. That's why we ended up forming The Human League. And that's why we're still here today. We actually have a lot of respect for traditional songwriting as well.
You can tell that you have that love of traditional songwriting because those songs are still holding up.
Well it's 45 years since 'Being Boiled' was released and people still love it. So we must be doing something right.
So when you left The Human League and formed Heaven 17 you had a massive hit with 'Temptation.' Tell us about that.
Well, we brought out an album 'Penthouse and Pavement', which did really well, but it was kind of slow burn. Virgin was very kind to us and more or less gave us a blank cheque to make whatever album we wanted next, which became 'The Luxury Gap'. That's never gonna happen ever again, by the way, unless you're Beyonce. So we thought, well, we've got this opportunity, we'd better go for the jugular. So we thought we were gonna write a definitive pop album. But not bubblegum pop, I mean, credible, intelligent pop, with big resources.
I remember waking up one morning and actually imagining this song based on endlessly rising chords; like an Escher staircase that seems to go on forever. And I thought it was a great metaphor for rising sexual excitement. Then I thought, what can we do that could be controversial here? We'd just been listening to 'Controversy' by Prince, which has got"Our Father, which art in Heaven" in the middle. Now, I thought that's so cool. And I said, why don't we make the song about temptation, and actually include part of the Lord's Prayer in the chorus. And that's what we did.
The icing on the cake, was getting Carol Kenyon to sing the girl's part. We knew we wanted it to be a sexual tension duet. It took us a while to find Carol. It was Rusty Egan who recommended her, so that was great. And we had this last-minute idea to put on an orchestra, but it wasn't planned. So I rang A & R at Virgin and asked if we could get an orchestra on it. They said, "Yes sure, when do you want it and how many pieces do you want?" I didn't know so I said 50/60. Within a week, it had been arranged and we'd recorded. I wanted it to sound like that big, dynamic, widescreen cowboy film like Big Country. It all hung together and worked great.
It's still epic 40 years later
The version, the arrangement that we do here is actually based on the 1992 remix by Brothers in Rhythm, which was designed by them, without our knowledge, actually, for the Ibiza scene at the time. We loved it so much and it got back in the top five again 10 years after the original release. It was always a joke that we should release it every 10 years and do a different version.
You worked with Tina Turner on her 'comeback' album and that helped relaunch her career. What was that like?
Well, she's fantastic. She was a fantastic human being, obviously a fantastic talent. But I don't think there'll ever be a female performer as good as her. When people like Beyonce bow down to her performance, I think that says it all. I was 25 at the time and I wasn't daunted by anything. Coming from a very poor working-class background in Sheffield I was brought up not to bow down or scrape to anyone. So my view is I treat everybody the same. I met Tina Turner, I met the Queen, and I preferred Tina Turner to the Queen.
Tina was a lovely person, and incredibly professional. A beautiful soul and human being too. And I knew she wasn't well. I'm a character in Tina The Musical, so I remember going to the world premiere in London, and she turned up on our barely recognised her. She looked really unwell. But what an amazing legacy. Al Green said he really loved our version of 'Let's Stay Together', so that's the highest compliment.
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