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Review | The Human League at London’s Royal Festival Hall

By Will Stroude

Here’s what you need when attending a Human League gig: A love of their music of course (and what’s not to love?), a sense of humour and a few drinks inside you.

Their latest tour, which wraps in Nottingham on Friday, is in support of their A Very British Synthesizer Group anthology and as a celebration of the synth-pop combo’s fantastic back catalogue, not to mention their staying power, it’s more of a party than a show.

Yes, there are some fancy graphics and yes, Phil Oakey – who has always seemed like a reluctant frontman caught in the glare of his own success – scowled a fair bit during the moodier numbers at this week’s Royal Festival Hall show, stalking the stage like an angry, androgynous diva dressed in black from shaved head to booted toe.

But by the end even he was smiling his face off (and wearing white) thanks to a rapturous reception from a capacity crowd that not only sang and danced along to all the hits (‘Don’t You Want Me’, ‘Open Your Heart’, ‘Mirror Man’, ‘Fascination’, ‘Tell Me When’ etc etc etc) but also the occasional album track.

Then there were Susan and Joanne, and this is where the need for a sense of humour comes in. They don’t take themselves seriously and don’t expect us to either. Susan is like a Greek goddess with her long limbs and piled-up hair, albeit one who has descended from Primark rather than Olympus, and if “droll” were a dance move Joanne would own the copyright.

Neither great singers nor dancers, the girls are nonetheless a vital part of the alchemy that makes The Human League so fabulous. ‘Don’t You Want Me’ wouldn’t be half as good without Susan’s “I was working as a waitress” interlude, ‘The Lebanon’ wouldn’t work without their backing vocals and a party wouldn’t be a party without them.

Rating: 5/5

‘Anthology: A Very British Synthesizer Band’ is out now as a 2-CD deluxe edition and a 4-disc CD/DVD boxset.

Words: Simon Button

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