In 2016, it seems like many acts are touring their own albums in full possibly for anniversaries or maybe just for fun but synth-pop bands have always done everything different. As synth legends Heaven 17 stop by the O2 Academy , they bring fun and friends with them as they begin their anticipated Penthouse and Pavement 35th Anniversary Tour in style.
After pilling into the Academy and waiting just almost an hour-and-a-half, the lights went down as seemingly the opening to the legendary A Clockwork Orange played over the P.A before finally the Heaven 17 duo Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory took to the stage to an uproar of attendees before they spun into a wild opening rendition of their classic “We Don’t Need No Facist Groove Thang”. Dancing, high-kicks and a powerful voice, Gregory quickly showed that Heaven 17 still had a place in the live-game.
Shortly after, Glenn gave the introduction before going into the title track “Penthouse & Pavement”. It was remarkable how the duo boldly played the album in a live order, not the album order, “usually that song is in the middle of the set on the album, I’m fucked now.” jokes Gregory.
The next few songs including “Geisha Boys & Temple Girls”, “Play To Win”, “Let’s All Make a Bomb” and the brilliant “Height of The Fighting” were sure-fire attempts at having a great show and succeeded.
After the act’s penultimate song, “We’re All Going to Live For a Very Long Time” which is as long as it’s title, Gregory states that each night the duo will play a different song not off the record, tonight was Glenn‘s pick, to-which the classic “Let Me Go” was chosen and quickly proved to be a highlight of the set.
Now onto the rare stuff, after a half-an-hour rest Martyn and their backing singers came back to the stage with new attires, and Heaven 17 removed from the set-up and replaced with the anticipated B.E.F.
Martyn introduced the B.E.F to the audience, which somehow felt lighter. Quickly Mari Wilson came to the stage to play a snyth version of her song “Just What I Always Wanted” to a delight, her voice was peak, the B.E.F quickly danced into a cover of “Rescue Me” proving the soul singer’s chops lie in her roots.
After the two, Martyn went to introduce a “Liverpool legend” before an audience member jokingly yelled Cilla Black‘s name out, “now that’d be a surprise wouldn’t it” laughed Ware, the former Human League member. The Farm‘s Peter Hooton was introduced, quickly the scouser exchanged “Martyn we wouldn’t even let her in the building”.
The act stepped into the classic anthem “All Together Now”, held with the snyth backdrop provided by Ware and the B.E.F, the entire crowd sung in unison. Brilliantly, in the end Hooton sung a snippet of Sister Sledge‘s “We Are Family” in-time. Before leaving the stage, Hooton preformed a cover of The Clash standard “Bankrobber”.
The final guest was introduced, an original Sex Pistol in Glen Matlock, holsting an acoustic guitar, Matlock and the already high-regarded B.E.F ran into a synth-heavy cover of “Pretty Vacant” by the Sex Pistols. Remarkably, the next strange moment would prove great as Matlock led the rest into a cover of the modern hit “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. It was like an odd moment in time, but by the final encore everyone was singing.
Before ending the set, Glenn Gregory came out to perform more. The band proceeded into a euphoric appearance of “Wichita Lineman” including the acoustic outro by Gregory. After the great moment in-set, Gregory yelled “does anybody remember this?” before comically entering The Human League‘s “Don’t You Want Me” to which the audience sung every line.
Slowly, taking their time, Gregory led the B.E.F into a cover of David Bowie‘s “Ashes to Ashes”, singing every line powerfully and confidently. Unquestionably, Gregory will provide vocals for Holy Holy‘s Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars tribute in Hull next year. This showed he can handle the task, possibly like no other.
Joking they had to play it, they finally preformed Heaven 17‘s hit “Temptation” to crowd delight. The backing vocalists stole the show, taking everyone on a journey back to the heyday of snyth-pop bands and the days of Heaven 17. Inviting everyone back, they had one more to play, a special encore cover of Black‘s “Wonderful Life”. The effect of performing such a number in this Academy was emotional.
The opening tour stop proved to be an absolute highlight with B.E.F being one hell of a rare treat that should be witnessed.
Words by Jack Cinnamond, photography by James Ainsworth.