Time Machine: When The Human League Met Bowie

Back to when things weren’t how they are now

MARTYN WARE remembers the night DAVID BOWIE turned up to watch THE HUMAN LEAGUE play in London in 1978

Words: NEIL MASON

davidbowie-smallThere are many extraordinary images that stick in the mind from the world of music, rare snapshots that capture a moment in time you can only marvel at. And now, courtesy of Human League founder, BEF kingpin and Heaven 17 head honcho Martyn Ware, we have a new, never-before-seen picture to add to that collection.

This backstage snap of David Bowie was taken in the dressing room before The Human League’s show at the Fulham Greyhound in London in December 1978. At least Martyn thinks it was the Greyhound. It was, as he points out, a while ago.

They group had only played their first show as The Human League at the Psalter Lane Art School in Sheffield the previous June. But by September, momentum was building pretty quickly and they had tucked support slots with Siouxsie And The Banshees and The Rezillos (featuring one Jo Callis, who went on to join The Human League after Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left the band) under their belt.

“We played the original Marquee Club towards the end of 1978,” explains Martyn. “It was the hottest gig I think I’ve ever played in my life. It was ridiculous. It was rammed and it must have been a thousand degrees in there. About six weeks ago, I heard from somebody who went to that show and they said that, while they were waiting outside to go in, they saw David Bowie and Iggy Pop, both with their full entourages, getting turned away by the door staff.”

Even 30-odd years after the event, that sort of news must still come as a proper blood-draining-from-face moment.

“Yeah, it could have been a disaster,” says Martyn. “That could have been that. But then a couple of weeks later, we were in London again to play the Fulham Greyhound, and about 20 minutes before we were due to go on stage, David Bowie suddenly appears in our dressing room, totally unannounced. We were just four lads from Sheffield, and there was Bowie and his entourage, there were something like eight people, turning up out of the blue in this tiny dressing room with no door on it, a room about twice the size of your average toilet cubicle. Can you imagine?”

What did he make of the show?

“We didn’t see him afterwards, so as far as we knew…”

He could have buggered off after the first song?

“We knew it went down well and we were pleased with it, but you just don’t know,” offers Martyn. “And then there was Bowie in the NME the following week, saying he had seen the future of pop music. You’ll never get a quote like that again, will you? I’ll settle for that. It’s a shame Iggy didn’t turn up again, but we ended up touring round Europe with him the following summer, probably because of Bowie’s recommendation I should think.”

In the picture, Ian Craig Marsh is in the centre, head slightly bowed as he’s seemingly writing something at a table, and Martyn Ware is standing to the right of the Thin White Duke. What did they talk about?

“Do you know, I can’t remember,” says Martyn. “It’s quite a long time ago, isn’t it? I do remember he was a lovely guy. He didn’t stay in touch, though.”

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