Heaven 17: exclusive chat with lead vocalist Glenn Gregory ahead of their '80s Weekender' gig in Blackpool

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I spoke to Heaven 17 about their upcoming gig in Blackpool, their memories of the town and what’s changed since the 80s...

Heaven 17 are heading to Blackpool Winter Gardens next weekend to host a special night celebrating all things eighties.

On Friday, March 15, '80’s Weekender' returns to Blackpool with Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond as the host, and then the following day it is the turn of synth-pop band Heaven 17, with support from renowned DJ Rusty Egan.

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Ahead of Heaven 17's show, celebrity reporter Aimee Seddon sat down for a chat with lead vocalist, Glenn Gregory, to find out what people can expect, to hear his memories of Blackpool and to find out what’s changed since the eighties!

Take a look at what he had to say below:

Glenn Gregory shares his excitement at performing in Blackpool next weekend.Glenn Gregory shares his excitement at performing in Blackpool next weekend.
Glenn Gregory shares his excitement at performing in Blackpool next weekend. | Neil Cross

How are you feeling about bringing 80s Weekender to Blackpool?

Glenn replied: “I'm really pleased to be coming to Blackpool. I've got very good friends in Blackpool and in fact, I'm coming up for the whole weekend. I'll be up there on early Friday and I won’t be going back until Sunday night so yeah, I'm really looking forward to spending the weekend in Blackpool [and with]... two of my favourite people to play with live - Marc Almond, who I just think is an amazing showman, puts on a fantastic show, and DJ Rusty Egan because I don't think there's anyone better at getting the crowd going for that kind of vibe, you know that kind of 80s vibe, than Rusty Egan, he's brilliant - I really am genuinely looking forward to it.”

Will you be attending the Friday night show with Marc Almond?

The father of one answered: “Aye, I shall be coming inside and standing at the back. On the website, the VIP ticket includes a preshow treat of crunchy chicken and chips in a basket and a retro cocktail. So I want my chicken chips in the basket and a retro cocktail.”

How would you describe your '80s Weekender' show?

Glenn said: “We've been doing it for a while and we're getting reasonably good at it. We've got a very good connection with our live audience. It's very good fun, sometimes it's a bit more more Morecambe and Wise than rock and roll up there on stage but Martin and I have a good old banter with the audience. 

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“It’s a really loving, good evening and great tunes. It's good fun, it's really good fun. I mean, I quite often get in trouble because when you plan a gig... you get the setlist and everybody agrees it and the girls know what they've got to learn and Martin knows what's going on but then I get up onstage and I start talking to people and somebody’ll shout out [let’s do this song] and I’ll go oh yeah let’s do that one, so I say to the rest ‘can we do etc etc’ and they look at me like 'please Glenn, can we for once just stick to the setlist' but it's always good fun to do so I love it.”

When asked if they will be performing just Heaven 17 songs, Glenn revealed they may slip one or two Human League songs in but actually the setlist is still undecided!

Glenn and Martin have been members of Heaven 17 since 1981.Glenn and Martin have been members of Heaven 17 since 1981.
Glenn and Martin have been members of Heaven 17 since 1981. | submit

You mention you’re like Morecambe and Wise, does that mean you won’t just be entertaining the crowd with music?

Glenn replied:" Definitely, we enjoy talking to the audience and it's not just a standing, look at us type show, there's definitely a lot of toing and froing. It’s not only just singing along, there's quite a lot of banter that goes on as well. In fact, the last time we played [in Lancashire], I saw Rusty Egan in the audience and dragged him up on stage and we had a little chat,  talking about the old days." 

What memories does Glenn have of Blackpool?

He answered: “I've got such amazing memories of Blackpool because we used to go there a lot as a kid. Coming from Sheffield, a lot of our family holidays were in Blackpool and I've just got really fond memories of it. And as I said, I've got  a couple of friends that live there now and I see them a lot and so yeah, it's really nice, I enjoy going up there."

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Aside from his memories as a kid, Glenn added: “One of my fondest memories is probably from 1977, the punk times, myself and Martin and a lot of other mates that were in bands -this was before the Human League but we were all in crazy punk bands - decided to go for a day trip to Blackpool. About 14 of us went on a coach and went up to Blackpool and it was packed! It was a really beautiful day and it was absolutely packed. I remember there was a working man's club somewhere, just off the back of the main drag… and we went in there and we had such fun. They had an open mic thing and we were all going on and singing punk songs with acoustic guitars. We had such a ball and then we all went in the sea at about six o'clock at night. It's a great place, I really liked Blackpool.”

Will you be repeating any of those adventures next weekend?

Glenn replied: “I don't know if I'll be going in the sea, it might be a little nippy. I am bringing my dog up though. So I will be walking on the beach with Rocky the dog, who is a whippet, and my friends have got two Italian greyhounds up there so I'll be I'll be walking along the seafront with three dogs.”

When asked if Rocky will be enjoying any of Blackpool’s famous fish and chips, the music star responded: “My dog loves chips, yeah, we’ll stop and get some chips on the sea front.”

Heaven 17 at Leyland's Music in the Park in 2022Heaven 17 at Leyland's Music in the Park in 2022
Heaven 17 at Leyland's Music in the Park in 2022 | Neil Cross

Back to work now- what have the audiences been like in Lancashire?

Glenn: “It's a good northern audience, isn’t it? They don't get much better than that, it's really exciting. We converse with people on stage, and even beforehand and afterwards, and people up there really enjoy friendly people and they are friendly people so even though you're there to do a job, you still get involved and you still have a really good time. it's a great place to play. I mean Blackpool, I actually honestly think, has really turned a corner and is really starting to kind of regenerate- it can only go from strength to strength I think, it’s brilliant.”

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What songs are the audiences' favourite?

He answered: “'Temptation', you can play that in a small venue with 300 people and it just erupts and lifts the roof off or you can play in front of 30,000 people, which we have done, and it still takes the roof off. It's just one of those songs, no matter who's listening to it or how many people are listening to it, it's just infectious and it's lovely to have got one of those songs in your cannon.

"It's funny because sometimes it gets longer and longer and longer, because the girls now build up the front of it and everybody's getting excited, and because it kind of drops for that first line, you know, ‘I've never been closer, I've tried to’ and everybody sings, it's such a lovely feeling when you're on stage when that happens. But there are others as well, like my favourite Heaven 17 song is 'Let Me Go', which was never really a hit here - it was in America, but not here-  but it's a fantastic song to sing and again, that's another one that everybody really sings along with.”

Why is 'Let Me Go' your favourite song?

Glenn said: “When we started writing the demos for that album, for 'The Luxury Gap', we were in my s***** flat in Ladbroke Grove, and it really was pretty disgusting but that's where we were writing stuff. Martin had gotten that little melody, it sounded very French, very filmic themed. And as we wrote that track, from the really early demos, through to playing it to the record label, to going into the studio and recording it properly and then even putting a 30 piece orchestra on it- throughout that entire period, from sitting in my little rubbish flat in Ladbroke Grove, to recording the orchestra in our studios, it didn't change, and it had that same kind of quality and personal attachment. And I've always loved it, and it's Martin's favourite song as well, it's just really from the heart that song.”

Heaven 17 pictured in 1983 (l to r: Martyn Ware, Glenn Gregory And Ian Craig Marsh). Credit: Brian Rasic/Getty ImagesHeaven 17 pictured in 1983 (l to r: Martyn Ware, Glenn Gregory And Ian Craig Marsh). Credit: Brian Rasic/Getty Images
Heaven 17 pictured in 1983 (l to r: Martyn Ware, Glenn Gregory And Ian Craig Marsh). Credit: Brian Rasic/Getty Images | Getty Images

Has the dynamic between yourself and Martin changed over the 40 years you’ve been performing?

The Sheffield local replied: “I think I was 15 and he was 17 when we met, and we got together over music really and then we'd been in very silly bands prior to the Human League forming so we've actually been friends for a really, really long time and not that much has changed. We still have a lot of banter, the only time we ever argue is when we're working in the studio together - we can get quite heated, which is probably not a bad thing when you're creating things and Martin is one of the worst people to argue with, because he never loses an argument, he just puts it in his back pocket and waits to bring it up at a later date when he thinks he might stand a chance of winning! But once that's done, we go out and it's totally forgotten and then we're just friends again. So it is a genuine friendship that's lasted a really very long time and I think that comes across even on stage, you know when we're talking and laughing and I kind of poke at him a bit and he gets angry, but it's all light hearted!”

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The night is called ‘80’s Weekender’ how would you summarise your eighties?

Glenn answered: “The 80s, obviously was a very successful part of our career, we were kind of trendy and hip, the clothes were flamboyant, we were travelling all over the world, playing in different venues, different clubs, on different TV stations and it was just a really, really good time. But genuinely what we never did was change as people, I mean I've got the same friends now as I had back then.”

He then added: “It's also been a decade that's lasted for four decades really, it kind of went away during the 90s for a bit when electronic dance music came in but it's slowly crept back in, and it's never gone away, and we play live more now than I think we ever have.”

Does it surprise you that 80s music still has such a resonation today?

Glenn replied: "It kind of did at first. When we first started doing these kinds of things, you think ‘is this just pure nostalgia, people come to relive their youth', but then it's gone on and you watch the audience, and if anything, the audience is getting younger, now older! I mean, really, genuinely, the Heaven 17 audience now, sometimes I look out and say ‘none of you were born when this music came out, what the hell are you doing here?!'

"But it's the way people listen to music now, it's different. When I was growing up, I wouldn't really listen to my mum and dad's collection of vinyl because looked old and I was wanting something new. I was interested in Bowie and Mark Boland and T Rex, and things like the Beatles for me were a bit old and old fashioned. Whereas these days with Spotify and Apple Music -however you listen to your music- there's no age implied with that, you know it's all about playlists. I listen to playlists that have got music that's 60 years old and music that came out last week and you don't really get that kind of ageism with listening to music now and I think people are happy to go and see the music they're listening to and in our case they come and see Heaven 17 or Marc Almond."

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What would you say to the people of Lancashire who haven’t got tickets to see you yet?

Glenn said: “Definitely think about coming and having a great night out. Get your chicken and chips in a basket, retro cocktail or not, but you will honestly have a good time. I love playing with Marc as I said, because he's a really good showman, he talks to the crowd, he gets the crowd and his songs just sound fantastic live. And for us, you'll come and you’ll meet people. I promise you, you’ll go away you will have had a great night, you will have enjoyed the music, you will have enjoyed the audience, you will have enjoyed the band, there's nothing to lose!"

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