UEA, Norwich November 20, 2021
by Adam Aiken
There can be something a little sad about watching bands try to relive their glory days decades later.
It’s usually not their fault – it’s just hard not to make now-and-then comparisons.
But there’s no such issue tonight with Heaven 17. It probably helps that despite being predominantly a 1980s band, they didn’t hit the road until much later (in 1997, debuting just down the road from here, funnily enough), so they don’t have to worry about becoming parodies of their former selves.
But even without that advantage, Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware belie their years and look as fresh as many acts half their age.
That freshness is matched by their songs, which have all stood the test of time. We get a belting one-two with Height Of The Fighting and (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang, with its lyrics remaining as relevant today.
Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry keeps the momentum going, and it all builds up to Geisha Boys And Temple Girls, which is one of the evening’s highlights.
Geisha… is also one of the standout moments for backing singers Kelly Barnes and Rachel Meadows. Complementing Gregory nicely throughout the evening, it’s good to see them – and synth player Flo Sabeva – front and centre rather than being packed off out-of-sight in the wings.
Gregory, meanwhile, shares some amusing anecdotes between songs, and there’s genuine warmth between band and audience.
One of his more surreal tales involves Liz Kershaw arranging a lift for the band earlier in the day after they couldn’t find a taxi at Norwich station. It’s bizarre in its randomness, endearingly un-rock star-ish, and reassuring in its familiarity for anyone round here who’s ever waited in vain for a cab at the end of a long train journey (although most of us don’t have a Radio 1 DJ on hand in an emergency).
The second half of the evening loses its flow a little. You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, which gives Ware the chance to share vocal duties, is a nod back to his Human League days, but it feels a bit out of place amongst the higher-energy tunes.
It would also be nice to hear another Heaven 17 song instead of a cover of Let’s Dance, which is one of the encores.
But these are only minor observations, because overall this show is a masterclass of synth pop.
It’s Meadows’s last outing for the time being – she’s due to give birth in a couple of weeks – and she and Barnes both go hell for leather in Temptation. Songs such as Penthouse And Pavement and Being Boiled are equally triumphant.
Early on in the evening, Gregory had made a pledge not to swear during the show, and he just about manages to stop himself from doing so on several occasions.
But no one else has made such a promise. That’s handy, because tonight is fucking brilliant.