Monday, April 3, 2023

Book Review: Electronically Yours vol. 1

The Human League and Heaven 17 were among some of the most pioneering bands of the 1980s, with Martyn Ware having played an integral role in each of their numerous successes. A young lad from the heart of post-war Sheffield, Ware formed The Human League a few years out of school in his early twenties. Described by David Bowie as 'the future of music', it wasn't long before the band become known for their innovative and infectiously catchy singles such as 'Being Boiled', touring with the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Iggy Pop before Ware's departure. Heaven 17 followed suit, with their soon-to-be classic albums, Penthouse & Pavement and The Luxury Gap, featuring several colossal hits. Ground-breaking icons in new wave and synth pop, both groups remain some of the biggest-selling bands across the UK and worldwide.

In Electronically Yours, Martyn takes us through his incredible route to stardom; from his austere upbringing in various council houses and close teenage friendship with former-bandmate Phil Oakey, to the white-hot experimentation in the 'Synth Britannia' era and his production career, which allowed him to work with some of the world's greatest singers, including Tina Turner.

First released in the UK in 2022, the hardcover from Constable Books, an imprint of Little Brown and Company, hit the US on March 24, 2023.

I have been a Heaven 17 fan since I first heard their songs back in 1982. I owned vinyl of their earliest records and in recent years picked up the Play to Win: Heaven 17 - the Virgin Years boxset on CD. They are one of my all-time favorite 80's synthpop bands. So, I was very excited when I saw Martyn's autobiography had been released.

One of the first things, outside of the music, that struck me was Martyn's interest in science fiction and even comic books. If I already hadn't felt a kinship (sharing the same first name albeit different spelling), this just adds to it. I suspect he and I would have gotten along swimmingly as mates.

I enjoyed the evolution of his career, especially going from his starter bands to the Human League and finally to forming BEF and Heaven 17. These are a part of the soundtrack of my late high school and my college years. It all took me right back to that time once again. I really appreciate hearing about how things really went down all those decades ago.

The final one hundred pages is an appendix that does a track by track breakdown of the music he wrote and produced. As a music fan, this is a most appealing section for me. I like that he put this all together in one spot rather than sprinkling it throughout his story as he told it (the exception being his discussion of the tracks he worked on for Tina Turner's Private Dancer album - which perfectly fits in the chapter where he talks about his work with her). It works much better this way, I feel.

I am looking forward to volume 2 to read about the latter half of Martyn's life.

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