Hometown gig is Heaven for synthpop pair

Heaven 17 performing at the Flashback Festival at Nostell Priory
Heaven 17 performing at the Flashback Festival at Nostell Priory

You can take the electronic twosome out of Sheffield – but you definitely cannot take Sheffield out of Heaven 17.

At least not on their current tour, which reaches Sheffield this weekend.

The pioneering synthpop act, who started in the city more than 30 years ago, are setting out to roadtest new material for a forthcoming album that is every bit as Sheffield steel as the clangy beats that defined them in the first place.

Keyboardist Martyn Ware says: “Our next album is going to be quite political, but it’s also going to be quite honest and real.

“I think that’s part of being from Sheffield – our approach is honest and real. But there are so many big news events at the moment –- Ebola, the rise of the East and the Decline of the West, Isis, etc.”

Indeed, Heaven 17’s global cultural antenna is never switched off.

Even while driving down the A1 in a Mercedes Splitter, Martyn, aged 58, is considering the topical themes of the duo’s next album.

He says: “I think the next album will be quite political - both global and national.

“It might not be immediately apparent to the listener but the themes will be woven into the songs.”

This global outlook parallels that of Heaven 17’s 1983 album The Luxury Gap.

Martyn says: “When we were making that album we genuinely thought the planet might get blown to smithereens.

“But can you imagine if those events – or events like the Bay of Pigs – were happening now with 24 hour-news coverage?

“I think rolling news is so destructive – it causes more problems – and generally it's about nothing, only repeating the same little bit of news for 24 hours.”

However, underpinning these observations is a political outlook as solid as the Steel City which gave rise to Heaven 17 in the first place.

Martyn says: “We have the same principles as we did when we started.

“My father worked in a steel works, that was part of our life.

“And the sound of Sheffield was also a massive inspiration to us.

“Sheffield is a city where people make stuff and do stuff – in London a lot of people talk about doing these things but not much else.”

Speaking of action, Martyn is making his own stance to help young artists and musicians in the floundering music industry as a board member of the Featured Artist Coalition.

He says: “There is no support for developing artists in the industry now and labels are driving more commercial acts.

“It’s difficult for artists to work with no advances so we lobby for making improvements.”

Indeed, the industry was a very different place when Heaven 17 were started in the early 80s.

However, the duo has evolved with the industry, by making their releases more exclusive.

Martyn says: “We are releasing two songs from our forthcoming album on vinyl and digital download via the Heaven 17 website only – we’re not selling it through any digital outlets like iTunes.”

But some of the duo’s new material will also be aired at the special Sheffield show next week.

Martyn says: “We’ll be playing some of the new songs, as well as new versions of older songs.

“We don’t rest on our laurels, we are always writing new material and creating new sets for our tours.”

n Heaven 17 play at Plug on Saturday.