A lead singer with pierced nipples and half a head of hair, and two bits of Sheffield totty, discovered dancing in a disco.
The band was initially formed as a synthesizer duo called The Dead Daughters in 1977 by computer operators and synthesizer players Martyn Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh.
A few months later Phil Oakey and Adrian Wright joined the band and they became The Human League (named after a sci-fi board game).
Oakey was 21, a porter in a Sheffield hospital and “completely without ambition” when he was talked into singing by his friend, Ware.
Having invested in a Stylophone because playing the guitar made his fingers sore, Ware and Marsh wanted to break electronic music into pop’s mainstream.
After touring the UK supporting Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Human League were signed by Virgin Records.
Their pioneering style of twin lead harmony vocals, syncopated bass line rhythm sections and singing flat really caught on. It wasn’t long before the idea was taken to its extreme by Soft Cell.
By the time Don’t You Want Me had topped the UK chart, Marsh and Ware had left to form BEF and then Heaven 17 – the name taken from Anthony Burgess’ book A Clockwork Orange. Oakey bought off his old friends for 1% of the group’s future earnings and got in new musicians including two teenage girls – Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall (his girlfriend) who he had seen dancing in Sheffield’s Crazy Daisy disco. He also added bass player Ian Burden and former Rezillos guitarist Jo Callis.
By 1984 The Human League were faltering, although they fared relatively well with Mirror Man and (Keep Feeling) Fascination. When The Lebanon‘s U2-inspired guitars and political lyrics misfired, Oakey turned to big-name producers. With disco-king Giorgio Moroder he cut the beautiful Together In Electric Dreams (guitar solo by Peter Frampton thank you very much) and with R&B major-domo’s Jam & Lewis, they scored a second US #1 with Human.
Increasingly name-checked by the likes of Moby and Armand Van Helden, Sheffield’s synth-pop doyens continued to camp it up on the wedding/office party/bar mitzvah circuit into the new millennium.
Their 2001 album, Secrets, was a shiny collection (arguably their best since Dare) which made it clear that The Human League still knew their way blindfolded to a thumping pop song.