Glenn Gregory, the only son of a steelworker, was born in Sheffield and grew up on the Flower Council Estate in Shire Green, one of the poorest and roughest areas of Sheffield.
As a frustrated 16-year old he found salvation at the Meatwhistle theatre/arts workshop, where he met Phil Oakey, Adi Newton, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, with whom Gregory embarked on his pop star career in his first band, Musical Vomit.
Martyn and Ian went on to form The Human League.
In 1980, Ware and Marsh were told by Oakey that they were surplus to requirements in Human League.
So they travelled down from Sheffield to London to ask Glenn to sing in their new band, which they were thinking of calling Heaven 17 (the name of a fictional pop group in the classic Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange).
The disjointed sequenced rhythms of debut single (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang was received warmly in the press and on the dancefloor, and received much support from DJ John Peel, yet chart success proved elusive after the single was banned by the BBC for implying that recently elected US president Ronald Reagan was a fascist.
Their debut LP, Penthouse and Pavement (1981), was a quintessentially 80s pop ‘n’ politics confection, back when every dancefloor had a soapbox in the corner.
Recorded simultaneously at the same Sheffield veterinary surgery turned recording studio as The Human League‘s Dare, the album’s lyrics and image intelligently parodied the emergence of global corporations.
The album’s first side is dominated by the title track’s Latin funk rhythms and Play To Win‘s call and response routine. Side Two is much more avant-garde territory, developing on the earlier electronic innovations of their previous incarnation and fellow Sheffield natives Cabaret Voltaire, most effectively on the post-apocalyptic nightmare Let’s All Make A Bomb.
Temptation (1983) became Heaven 17’s biggest hit single. Come Live With Me and Crushed By The Wheels of Industry followed, but the band’s tendency to shun the limelight meant that they had almost vanished from public view by the mid-80s.
Ian Craig Marsh