Gig Review: The Human League at Newcastle City Hall, 27th November 2018

I don’t really feel that I gave this gig the amount of preemptory excitement that I should have done, given that it was sort of sandwiched between the Culture Club gig of a week and a half ago and the Electric Dreams festival that’s coming up this weekend, and also due to the fact that I’ve been ridiculously, ridiculously busy recently.

As such, I didn’t even realise who the support act was going to be (Midge Ure with his band Electronica!) until I happened to see it mentioned on Twitter the morning of the gig.  That was the best kind of surprise, and I spent the rest of the day bouncing off the walls with excitement – apart from anything else, it’s a fairly major scalp for my Band Aid baby bucket list, given that it’s the guy who wrote the song!

Much to the crowd’s delight, Electronica played all the Ultravox and Midge Ure solo classics, along with a much-appreciated couple of songs written for other people!  Geth and I were a bit surprised that the crowd were on their feet right from the off (Newcastle City Hall is a seated venue), but I could absolutely understand it, because it was such a danceable and entertaining set.  Dude can still belt out Vienna like nobody’s business.

(Also, dude retweeted my excitable gibberish.  Yes, he retweets all his mentions, but that was cool.)

Getting retweeted by the Human League and Midge Ure :)
Most days I’m always decrying the general awfulness of the 21st century, but getting retweeted by your favourite pop stars is awesome. I’ll give it that.

Midge Ure & Electronica setlist:

Yellow Pearl
If I Was
Love’s Great Adventure
Death In The Afternoon
Fade To Grey
Reap The Wild Wind
Vienna
All Stood Still
Hymn (The Power And The Glory)
Dancing With Tears In My Eyes

There was a good long break in between Electronica and the Human League, meaning that Geth was able to go and get us another drink.  Highly useful!

The Human League are one of those bands that I’ve loved forever, because they’ve just been part of the furniture of my life.  I don’t remember where I was when I first heard songs like Don’t You Want Me or Love Action (I Believe In Love), because they’ve always just been there.  It was so amazing to see and hear all those songs live – it’s really just the singers (Phil Oakey, Susan Sulley, and Joanne Catherall) who remain from the classic lineup, but frankly, that’s whom you’re there to see.  I have to give a shout out to the stage decor as well – it was all made up of pretty neon boxes, and it looked incredible.

The Human League
This was the unblurriest picture I could manage. I guess I just got lucky for Culture Club.

My highlight was, rather predictably, Don’t You Want Me – it’s not every day you get to see a UK Christmas number one (1981, in case you weren’t aware) performed live by the original artist (and throwing Midge Ure into the mix, that means I actually saw two artists in one show who had written Christmas number ones!  How appropriately seasonal!).  However, there was also an amazing moment when they finished the encore with Together In Electric Dreams, the classic hit that Phil Oakey did with Giorgio Moroder.  It’s one of Geth’s favourite songs, and he never thought he’d get to see it live, so he’s now making noises about the show being a contender for gig of the year (and given how much he loved Peter Hook & The Light and Promenade Cinema at Infest, that’s saying something).

The Human League setlist:

The Sound Of The Crowd
Mirror Man
Heart Like A Wheel
The Things That Dreams Are Made Of
Night People
Seconds
The Lebanon
One Man In My Heart
Louise
Human
Open Your Heart
Who Do You Love
Love Action (I Believe In Love)
All I Ever Wanted
Tell Me When
(Keep Feeling) Fascination
Don’t You Want Me
Being Boiled
Together In Electric Dreams

Updated Band Aid baby bucket list progress: song artists 2/37 (5.4%); message artists 0/7 (0%); total artists 2/44 (4.5%).

Being a Band Aid baby, or: one hell of a bucket list

If you’re lucky, there’s something special about the song that was number one when you were born.  Maybe it symbolises something about your life, or your interests, or the person that you ended up growing up to be.  Maybe it’s just a really awesome song.

If you’re unlucky, you end up like Geth and get Theme From M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless) (UK number one from 25th May 1980 to 14th June 1980, fact fans!) as your birthday number one.  It’s not bad as TV theme tunes go, but it’s not special to Geth – he didn’t grow up to be a soldier, or an expert on the Korean War, or even much of a M*A*S*H fan, really.

I was lucky, and my birthday number one is special to me.  I love it as a Christmas baby, as an ’80s throwback, as a chart geek, and as a lover of music in general.  It’s an extremely well-known Christmas song – one of those tracks you hear constantly from the middle of November until early January.  It held the record for the best-selling single in UK chart history for more than twelve years, only ever being overtaken by Elton John’s Candle In The Wind ’97 after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in September 1997.

My birthday number one is Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?, one of the most famous recordings in music history.

Do They Know It's Christmas?

I was born on 3rd January 1985, the twenty-sixth day of the thirty-five day period (9th December 1984 to 12th January 1985) that Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? spent at number one in the UK.  From the 1984-1985 UK birthrates available online, I estimate that I share my birthday number one with approximately 71,000 other Band Aid babies, including Georgia Moffett, Lewis Hamilton, and Newton Faulkner.  (I would love to be able to work out the exact number, but the internet is not forthcoming at the moment!)

Due to the ubiquity of the song, I grew up with it, and it became my favourite Christmas song long before I realised that it was my birthday number one.  I pored over the upside-down answers to Smash Hits quizzes that challenged readers to name all the artists involved in the song, and memorised names that were unfamiliar to me in the context of the early ’90s pop music landscape.  I dutifully learnt to sing the song with my primary school class in preparation for our Christmas performance at the local old folks’ community centre.  I waited excitedly for it to come on as soon as my brother and I were allowed to play the family’s Christmas compilation CD (That’s Christmas) on the 1st of December every year.  It’s one of those songs that you hear hundreds of times every year, and so it never really goes out of your mind.  That’s not something you can say about Theme From M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless).

The finer points of Bob Geldof’s project to put together a charity supergroup and the song’s recording on 25th November 1984 are well known, detailed in a hundred different BBC4 documentaries and summarised fairly well on Wikipedia (though I highly recommend the Smash Hits coverage of the recording day included in the collection book The Best Of Smash Hits: The ’80s for a bit of period flavour – it has a great group photo of all the artists involved except for Boy George, who infamously didn’t show up till six o’clock in the evening due to oversleeping in New York and having to get on a Concorde back to London).

I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my life, including a lot of concerts by artists who were big in the ’80s due to it being my favourite music era and favourite era in general.  But the other day, it occurred to me that I had never gone to see a single one of the thirty-seven artists who performed on my birthday number one.  I had never even seen any of the additional seven artists who couldn’t make it to the recording and so sent recorded Christmas messages to be used on the B-side of the single.

This is the part of the post where I get to the point.

I will never get to see every single one of the artists involved in my birthday number one.  Sadly, two of the musicians who contributed to the song (George Michael and Rick Parfitt) and two who recorded B-side messages (Stuart Adamson and David Bowie) have since passed away.  But I have decided that I will make a concerted effort to see as many of the rest of them as possible.  After all, I have more opportunity than some.  My brother’s birthday number one is Ben E King’s Stand By Me (a re-entry at UK number one between 15th February 1987 and 7th March 1987), which means that since King’s death in 2015 he has no longer had the possibility of seeing his birthday number one artist.  People who were born between 14th December 1980 and 20th December 1980, when (Just Like) Starting Over was number one following John Lennon’s assassination, have never had the chance to see their birthday number one artist.

Enter the Band Aid bucket list!

For most of my bucket lists, I reckon that if I’m lucky enough, I’ve got another fifty or sixty years left to get them completed.  Time is not so much on my side for this particular list, given that all the artists on it are now in their fifties and sixties and won’t be performing or alive forever.  As such, rather similarly to the huge hoard of ’80s vintage clothing I’m collecting while it’s still cheap and plentiful, I aim to get the bulk of this project achieved while I’m still in my thirties, and so I’m targeting >50% list completion by my fortieth birthday on 3rd January 2025.  That gives me six years, one month and fourteen days as of this post to see as many of the following artists as possible.  I’d better get a wiggle on.

The artists who sang on the track:

The extra artists who recorded messages for the B-side:

Current progress: song artists 5/37 (13.5%); message artists 2/7 (28.6%); total artists 7/44 (15.9%).

I have arranged to find out about future performances by all of these artists using the extremely lazy 21st century method of following them all on Twitter!

I’ll keep updating this post as I see more artists.  I’m looking forward to this project!

Modern pop music

At the start of 2010, with my interest piqued by the 2009 Christmas number one race between Joe McElderry and Rage Against The Machine, I decided that for the entirety of the 2010s, I would follow what was happening in the UK music chart, no matter how terrible the music was.  I’ve always liked the way that pop culture nostalgia can be packaged neatly into decades, and I thought it would be cool to follow the evolution of one from start to finish.

Though I’m a list obsessive and had loved following the chart as a kid in the ’90s (the tail end of that happy period in UK pop music that roughly ended with the demise of Smash Hits and Top of the Pops), I’d lost interest during the ’00s, largely because I was Too Busy Being Goth.  I was roughly aware that some of the more pop-punk and emo stuff that was featured in the rock magazines I read was in the charts around mid-decade, but I didn’t really have any idea of what was going on in pop music at all, other than what people were dancing to on Strictly.*

Eight years in, it’s been interesting, and catching up with the chart has become such an ingrained weekly habit that I expect I’ll keep doing it into the ’20s and beyond.  90% of 2010s chart music, IMO, is awful, but there has been some stuff I like – the more electro-pop direction of the early part of the decade was good, as was the brief folk-rock trend.  Unfortunately the quality seems to have dipped a bit in the last couple of years and at the moment it all seems to be uninspiring EDM, offensively bad sampling of classic ’90s dance, bland forgettable pop-by-numbers and Ed Sheeran ballads.  I can’t remember the last time there was an actual rock song in the charts.

Some stats, ’cause I like stats:

I’ve liked 250 songs from the 2010s enough to add them to my Spotify playlist.

  • 42 from 2010
  • 49 from 2011
  • 26 from 2012
  • 33 from 2013
  • 27 from 2014
  • 20 from 2015
  • 20 from 2016
  • 32 from 2017
  • 1 from 2018 (so far).

My 2010s playlist does get a look-in when I’m in a more dance-y/upbeat mood, but obviously it doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of airtime my 1980s playlist gets.  Nothing beats the ’80s for me as far as pop songs (and, let’s face it, most things) are concerned.

* I’ve never been Too Busy Being Goth to watch Strictly.