ABC/Human League/Heaven 17: Hammersmith Apollo, London

THERE ARE QUEUES around the building for the Sheffield groups who brought electro-funk (Heaven 17), orchestral disco (ABC) and synth pop (the Human League) to the masses. But at a guess, most of the swinging mums and dads are here for the hits, not to see three acts reclaim their reputation as electronica pioneers.

Two of Heaven 17’s original trio, Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory, remain. If they look corporate in their suits, the musician-as-subversive-businessman was their idea back in 1981. With their dual identity as band and backroom boys (producing acts such as Tina Turner under the name BEF), they were the N*E*R*D/Neptunes of their day, but the computer rhythms are appreciated less than the powerful voices of the girls hired to sing along with Gregory on their biggest single, ‘Temptation’.

ABC, too, once dominated the charts with their deconstructed disco. The sole survivor of that lineup is Martin Fry, a superb post-Bowie/Ferry crooner who brings an arch intelligence to every line of ‘Poison Arrow’ and ‘he Look of Love’, which is tonight given a Las Vegas sheen.

It is left to the Human League to reaffirm Sheffield’s futurist past. Phil Oakey, in leather trench coat and shades, is cyber-cool, while the fabulous Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall dance like surreal dolly birds. The sound is immaculate, the visuals magnificent – all sci-fi lights and flickering images on a giant screen, from A Clockwork Orange to Barack Obama.

Propelled by black-clad programmers prodding Macbooks and Syndrums, ‘Love Action’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me’ are the missing link between Abba and Kraftwerk. It’s a very early-1980s notion – the marriage of pop and the avant garde – but really, all concerts should be this arty, ambitious and entertaining.

© Paul LesterThe Guardian, 10 December 2008

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