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Heaven 17 are an English New Wave synthpop band originating from Sheffield in the early 1980s. Originally a trio, the band comprised Martyn Ware (keyboards), Ian Craig Marsh (keyboards) (both previously with The Human League) and Glenn Gregory (vocals). Although most of the band's music was recorded in the 1980s, they have occasionally reformed to record and perform since then, playing their first ever live concerts in 1997. Marsh left the band in 2007 and Ware and Gregory continued to perform as Heaven 17 since then.
Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware were the founder members of pioneering British electro-pop group The Human League; Glenn Gregory had been their original choice when seeking a vocalist for the band but he was unavailable at the time, so they chose Philip Oakey instead. When personal and creative tensions within the group reached breaking point in late 1980 Marsh and Ware left the band, ceding the Human League name to Oakey. Taking their new name from a fictional pop group mentioned in Anthony Burgess's novel, A Clockwork Orange, (where The Heaven Seventeen are at number 4 in the charts with "Inside"), they became Heaven 17 and formed the production company British Electric Foundation (BEF).
BEF's first recording was a cassette-only album called Music for Stowaways and an LP called Music for Listening to. Shortly after, they completed their line-up when they recruited their friend, photographer Glenn Gregory, as vocalist. Like The Human League, Heaven 17 heavily used synthesisers and drum machines (the Linn LM-1 programmed by Ware). Session musicians were used for bass and guitar (John Wilson) and grand piano (Nick Plytas). Whereas the band's former colleagues The Human League had gone on to major chart success in 1981, Heaven 17 struggled to make an impact. Their debut single "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang" attracted some attention and, due to its overtly left-wing political lyrics, was banned by BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read (who is a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party), and neither this nor any other of the four singles taken from the band's debut album Penthouse and Pavement managed to reach the Top 40 in the UK Singles Chart. The album itself proved to be a minor success and peaked at Number 14 on the UK Albums Chart, and was later certified gold by the BPI in 1982.
Around this time, Ware and Marsh produced two further LPs as BEF, the first being Music of Quality & Distinction Volume One featuring Glenn Gregory, Tina Turner, Paula Yates, Billy Mackenzie, Hank Marvin, Paul Jones, Bernadette Nolan and Gary Glitter. The tracks were cover versions of songs that Ware, Marsh and Gregory had grown up listening to. The album peaked at Number 25.
The second album was Geisha Boys and Temple Girls for the dance troupe Hot Gossip, which used songs formerly recorded by The Human League and Heaven 17, and a track each from Sting and Talking Heads. BEF took over production duties when Richard Burgess of the group Landscape was unable to do so.
In October 1982, Heaven 17 released their new single "Let Me Go", but this too charted just outside the UK Top 40. However, in 1983, the band's fortunes changed. Their next single, "Temptation" (on which they were augmented by vocalist Carol Kenyon), reached Number 2 on the UK Singles Chart in spring 1983 and became their biggest hit. The song was taken from their second album, The Luxury Gap, which featured further chart hits "Come Live with Me" (UK Number 5) and "Crushed by the Wheels of Industry" (UK Number 17). The album itself charted at Number 4 in the UK Albums Chart, their highest ever position, and was certified platinum by the BPI in 1984.
In the United States, the self-titled Heaven 17 album was a re-working of Penthouse and Pavement with three songs deleted and replaced by "Let Me Go", "Who'll Stop the Rain" and "I'm Your Money" (along with a different mix of "The Height of the Fighting"). American new wave audiences were most familiar with "Let Me Go", which received high rotation airplay on Alternative/New Wave format radio stations, such as Los Angeles, California's KROQ-FM, and Long Island, New York's WLIR, plus frequent MTV exposure.
Towards the end of 1983, the band (under their BEF guise and assisted by Greg Walsh) helped relaunch Tina Turner's career, producing and providing backing vocals on her hit "Let's Stay Together", a cover of the Al Green song. 1984 saw the release of the third Heaven 17 album, How Men Are, which reached Number 12 in the UK chart and was certified silver by the BPI. The album featured the Earth, Wind and Fire brass section, and two singles from the album ("Sunset Now" and "This Is Mine") both reached the UK Top 40, but would be the band's last singles to do so until various remixes were released in the 1990s.
The band also worked on the Band Aid single at the end of 1984, with Gregory supplying vocals alongside Midge Ure and Sting, after a personal request from Ure that he attend. However, they did not perform at Live Aid the following year. Heaven 17's first "live" performance was in 1986 on the UK television programme The Tube (though the band made use of backing tapes during this performance).
After the remix album Endless peaked at Number 70 in July 1986, the band's fourth studio album Pleasure One was released in November 1986 and featured the single "Trouble" (UK Number 51, Germany Number 17). The album contained a number of songs that were originally intended for a French film project that never came to be. This was also the first Heaven 17 album to not mention production credits for BEF and the abbreviation would not appear again until Bigger Than America in 1996. It was followed up in 1988 with the album Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho (featuring the singles "Train of Love in Motion" and "The Ballad of Go Go Brown"), although these two albums were poorly received and had little commercial success. In September 1988, the band appeared on the bill at the Sport Aid event in Sheffield. Heaven 17 were managed by Keith Bourton for Heavenly Management Ltd. during much of this period.
The early 1990s was a quiet period for the band, though Ware produced a second BEF album in 1991, to follow 1982's original Music of Quality & Distinction (again featuring Tina Turner and Billy Mackenzie, but this time also featuring artists such as Scritti Politti's Green Gartside, Lalah Hathaway, Billy Preston, and Chaka Khan). Ware also became a producer for the likes of Terence Trent D'Arby, Marc Almond and Erasure. Gregory, meanwhile, went on to form the band Ugly.
In late 1992, a remix of "Temptation" reached Number 4 and was followed by the compilation album Higher and Higher – The Best of Heaven 17 in 1993. Remixes of "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang" and "Penthouse and Pavement" were also minor hits in 1993. However, the band would not release any new material as Heaven 17 until 1996's Bigger Than America album, though this failed to chart.
2005 saw the release of a new album, Before After, which had a much more contemporary dance sound compared to previous albums. A CD of remixes of "Hands Up to Heaven" from the album reached number 6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart in May 2006. In October the same year Virgin Records issued a greatest hits compilation album entitled Sight and Sound, which included a previously-unheard version of "Temptation" with spoken vocals by an unknown student from Germany whom the band met in 1982. It had been discovered on 1-inch tape by Gregory's mother and was remastered by Simon Heyworth. In November 2005, Heaven 17 were filmed for a live DVD playing to a packed house at The Scala in London. The DVD contains an in-depth question-and-answer session with both Ware and Gregory, and fans' reactions to the gig.
In 2006, Marsh stopped making live appearances with the band. In an early 2009 interview, Ware stated that Marsh had left the band and was now studying at university. Since the mid-1990s, Billie Godfrey has worked with the band as a backing vocalist and appears with them at concerts. She appeared with them as part of the band on 21 November 2008 for their highest profile TV appearance of recent years on Now That's What I Call 1983 on ITV1. In December 2008, Heaven 17 toured the UK as part of the Sheffield band based Steel City Tour alongside The Human League and ABC. Coinciding with this was the release of their new album, Naked as Advertised – Versions 08, issued through the Just Music record label. The album contained re-workings of tracks such as "Temptation" along with versions of Ware songs best known from his time with the Human League, including "Being Boiled" and "Empire State Human", as well as a cover of the Associates' hit "Party Fears Two". The band were managed by Nick Ashton-Hart for much of the early 2000s.
In December 2009, Heaven 17 made appearances at the "Nokia Night of the Proms" in Germany.
On 16 February 2010, Heaven 17 joined La Roux to record a joint live session for the BBC which was shown on the BBC Red Button interactive channel in January 2010 while Glenn Gregory joined La Roux on stage at Glastonbury on 26 June 2010, performing "Temptation". (La Roux cite Heaven 17 as one of their main influences). The two acts also appeared live on stage at the War Child Brit Awards aftershow in February 2010.
In the run up to their 30th anniversary, the band announced several live dates in which they would perform their 1981 debut album Penthouse and Pavement live in its entirety for the first time. The dates were scheduled over November and December 2010 with the first date held on 10 November 2010 at the well known Leadmill venue in Sheffield. By chance the Leadmill also celebrated a 30 year anniversary in 2010. By their own admission this Leadmill gig was one of the band's most successful. The band performed a couple of dates of the Penthouse and Pavement tour in March 2010, one of which was in Sheffield and was filmed and shown on BBC Two on 16 May 2010. An hour-long documentary about the making of the album was shown on BBC Two the following night. This film was also screened at a special "Music in Sheffield" evening of films at the Showroom in Sheffield, at which Martyn Ware attended, on the eve of the announcement of the City of Culture 2013. Sheffield were unsuccessful losing out to Derry.
The band appeared on Later... with Jools Holland on 22 October 2010, performing "Fascist Groove Thang" and "Temptation" and appeared in BBC Children in Need in November 2010. They also made a tongue-in-cheek appearance in TV advertisements for Sheffield-based broadband provider, Plusnet. On 22 November the band released a 2 disc DVD combining never-seen-before documentary and rehearsal footage with the band's full live concert filmed in Sheffield in March 2010. Also included was a unique collection of all the digital videos used in the live show, set to the accompanying live audio from the performance. Each video was commissioned by a different visual artist and included both established up-and-coming artists from the worlds of digital and graphic design, fine art and film.