Glenn Gregory, songwriter and singer with Heaven 17 chats with Kevin Cooper about using a forged Student Union card to get into The Students Union to see David Bowie, writing music for TV and film with Berenice Scott, touring with Claudia Brückenand and Suzanne Freytag of Propaganda and Heaven 17’s forthcoming tour of the UK to celebrate the 35th anniversary of The Luxury Gap.

Glenn Gregory is an English singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist whose music career spans more than 30 years. He came to prominence in the early 1980s as co-founder and lead singer of the new wave and synth pop band Heaven 17.

Gregory has been playing bass guitar and singing with Ian Craig Marsh since 1973 who was a member of The Human League along with Martyn Ware. After the split from the Human League in early 1981, Gregory was contacted by Ware and was asked to join Heaven 17 as the lead singer. The band released eight studio albums and released six singles which entered the top 40 charts in the UK during the 80s and 90s, including Temptation, Come Live With Me, Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry, Sunset Now, This Is Mine, and (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.

However, by the late 80s their popularity had declined and the band broke up in 1988, but reunited in 1996, and played their first ever live concert in 1997. Craig Marsh left the band in 2007, but Ware and Gregory continue to perform as Heaven 17.

Whilst getting ready to start rehearsals for their forthcoming tour, Glenn Gregory took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Glenn good morning, how are you?

I’m fine thank you Kevin, how are you?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

That’s alright mate, it’s a pleasure.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at the moment is not too bad. I have been really busy but I would much rather be busy than not busy (laughter).

You and I last spoke prior to the 35th Anniversary Tour of Penthouse And Pavement so I have to ask, how did it go and did you enjoy it?

Oh it was great actually. We had a really good time. The Luxury Gap was our most successful album and a lot of our best-known songs are really from that album and I love performing those. We do quite a lot of them a lot of the time but Penthouse And Pavement has got some really strange songs on it (laughter). Things like Song With No Name, which we don’t very often play so yes, I enjoyed doing them all really.

And here we are again, speaking about the 35th Anniversary Tour of The Luxury Gap (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I know, we really are going to have to stop meeting like this (laughter).

Well I have to say that I have listened to the album once again today and, in my opinion, I feel that the album sounds as fresh today as it did thirty-five years ago. Would you agree with that?

Do you really, well that is so very nice to hear so thank you for that. However, after our previous discussion this will most probably shock you but yes I do totally agree with you. I most probably said to you the last time that we spoke that because Penthouse And Pavement was the first album, it is kind of like the first baby. It was all written up in Sheffield, everything felt kind of close, and so I guess that in my heart Penthouse And Pavement is my favourite. However, having said all of that, I probably prefer the songs on The Luxury Gap.

What you did say about Penthouse And Pavement was that listening back to it now, you felt that you had tried and used every available keyboard on the album (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I tell you what, there are some keyboards that I wouldn’t mind having back from that album.


Actually having said that, Martin (Ware) has most probably still got most of them somewhere in his studio. He has still got the really early synthesisers that we used back in the day.

Being totally honest, do you feel that both Penthouse And Pavement and The Luxury Gap have really stood the test of time and that they do actually sound as good now as they did thirty-five years ago?

I think so yes, undoubtedly. I honestly think that, really genuinely, they sound better than a lot of albums that are released now to be honest. There is something about the recording technique of that time, and there is something about recording onto tape, and there is something about the equipment that was used, certainly for The Luxury Gap we were using an orchestra and I feel that album was really beautifully recorded. Gregg Walsh, who co-produced it with us, is an absolute stickler for technique, and would often microscopically discover the exact snare drum sound that he wanted; it would take forever.

However, looking back on it the album has stood the test of time and it was well worth spending certainly all of that time and all of that money making such a pretty good album. Honestly, I really genuinely believe that it has absolutely stood up to the test of time.

You have already mentioned that The Luxury Gap is your best-selling album to date, peaking at number four on the UK Albums Chart and certified platinum having sold in excess of 300,000 copies. That must have pleased you at the time?

(Laughter) oh god yes, it’s amazing. For us to top Penthouse And Pavement was a real achievement. All of those songs came out of the split with The Human League and Martyn (Ware) Ian (Craig Marsh) and I wanted to make a very different album to that simply because we didn’t want to make the same music that The Human League were making. We decided to make The Luxury Gap more pop accessible and began writing songs in that way. So for us to have the success that we did with the album meant that we had succeeded and to be honest, that was about as good as it gets really.

Let’s be honest, with the current UK charts being as they are together with the state of the British record industry, who the hell is going to get close to selling 300,000 units of anything, let alone an album (laughter)?

(Laughter) I know what you are saying. I must admit that it is a little lacklustre the amount of records that you have to sell in order to achieve a platinum album nowadays (laughter).

I did hear somewhere that it’s around fifty-five copies isn’t it (laughter)?

No its not, I think that it is actually fifty-nine (laughter).

Having played the album again today it reminded me of just how much I loved Who’ll Stop The Rain; I think that is a fantastic track.

I agree with you, it is a good track and I have to say that sadly, we don’t play that track very often live. Having said that it is one of those tracks that whenever we do perform it, I always think ‘I love singing that track’ despite it being quite complex vocally. Because we have got the girls who sing with us, together with Martyn, It really does kind of work especially with that five part harmony. So yes, it does work really well. It is very nice to sing although it is rather difficult.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

If you pushed me for one then I would have to say Let Me Go. I think actually that is my favourite Heaven 17 song mainly for the reason that when we wrote it, well let me put it this way, you know when you write something, or you have got something in your head, I think that Let Me Go is the nearest to what was in our heads that came out and was finished. That’s the nearest that we have ever got to how we wanted it to be. Quite a lot of the time you write things and they change, in fact they change quite a lot along the way. You love what you have done but you think ‘one day I might go back and have another look at that because it wasn’t quite how I imagined it’ (laughter). But Let Me Go is one of those ones that was absolutely as we wanted it.

You mention the girls, for the forthcoming tour you have got Claudia Brückenand and Suzanne Freytag formerly of Propaganda performing with you. Now that will be something really special.

I am so looking forward to that because I love the album A Secret Wish; I really honestly do love that album. It’s the first Propaganda album and I have to say that it is up there with The Luxury Gap really. When we first started talking about it with Claudia, I was thinking ‘oh man if this could come off then I would go and pay to see that concert’ (laughter). The Luxury Gap and A Secret Wish are the two albums that I want to go and see (laughter). It is fantastic; it is a really great double bill.

Have you started listening to the album as yet in order to get yourself ready for the tour?

(Laughter) no, I haven’t as yet but I have put it in the car, because that is where I do most of my learning when I am driving around and obviously I am going to have to do that (laughter). There are tracks on the album that we don’t normally perform live so I am going to have to go in and re-learn them and like most Heaven 17 songs they are quite wordy (laughter). When we wrote the songs thirty-five years ago we weren’t even playing live or had any idea of what we were doing and most certainly had no real intentions of learning them and going out playing them live; it was all studio work (laughter). Having said all of that, we did well I think, and you have to remember that we did tour this album a while ago now, but we did it then with a full band.

However, I have to be honest and say that we have never done it in the way that the album was both conceived and written. We have never performed it with just the synthesisers and played it in the way that we wanted to. So I am really looking forward to that. I think that by doing it in that fashion, the people with feel the warmth of the songs and appreciate just how we wanted the album to sound like.

I can tell that you are already looking forward to the tour so I am not even going to ask you (laughter).

Yes I am, I am really looking forward to both the tour and also playing the album live (laughter). However, one day I would quite like to get out of the habit of doing it when it is bloody freezing (laughter). What’s wrong with touring in August and not bloody November? Why have we got ourselves into touring in November (laughter). Who the hell is responsible for getting us out on the road when it is bloody freezing cold (hysterical laughter).

When will you be starting rehearsals?

I will be rehearsing a lot here on my own in my home studio. Vocally I do that a lot. I will literally sing the entire set, perhaps once a week and then as the tour gets nearer, I will actually be singing it once a day. That’s not so much so that I remember the songs, it’s to get my voice used to going out on the road singing for two hours a day. What you don’t want is to go out there, blare it out and the next day find that you can’t do it (laughter). So it’s more like muscle training really.

You will be playing the album in its entirety. Will that be in chronological order?

Yes, I think that we will be playing it in order although that is under a bit of discussion at the moment (laughter). I personally am not one for performing an album in order but it seems that everyone else is saying that is what we should do. So it looks like we will be playing it in order, which is okay I guess (laughter).

I have to mention the fact that the original album was only thirty-seven minutes long….

Yes it was, so it is going to be a short gig then isn’t it (laughter). We will all be back home for the football (laughter).

(Laughter) so what will you be playing after that, a mini Heaven 17 greatest hits set perhaps?

Yes we will. We can’t do a gig without playing the likes of (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang. There are some good songs in there as well from previous albums so yes, we will be playing some different tracks. We may also play a few songs that we have never played live before and perhaps even a few that we haven’t performed for a good few years now. We always try to make the set list as interesting for fans as we can, trying to make sure that they don’t get the same thing all of the time.

The last time that we spoke you mentioned that you were working on new material for a new Heaven 17 studio album. How far along are you with that?

I would have to say that we are now probably half way with a few finished songs. Unfortunately it’s the same old problem, Martyn is always busy, I am always busy, and really to get the two of us in that studio and for us to spend time doing that is to be honest proving very difficult. But, having said that, what has come out is very interesting; the tracks are really good so yes, it will happen.

If you had to choose just one, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

One of the things that always sticks in my mind even though it was a really long time ago now, and I guess that it is a highlight although at the time I was petrified, it was being on stage with Tina Turner when we did Let’s Stay Together on The Tube. I was absolutely really very, very frightened about getting up there on stage with the female dancers which just isn’t me, I’m not normally a nervous person (laughter). If you find that clip on YouTube and take a look at my face I look like a condemned man as I was literally scared to death (laughter). Having said that it has always been up there as one of my all-time highlights.

You most probably won’t remember this but I was fortunate enough to speak to Al Green and when I mentioned Let’s Stay Together he actually said that he thought that Tina’s version was in fact better than his.

I do remember that very well, how could you not remember something as fantastic as that (laughter). How amazing is that, it’s awesome.

There must have been some low points?

Yes there have been a few low points over the years but in all honesty there has been nothing unsurmountable. There has been nothing that has ever held me back. To be honest with you, one of the low points was when I buggered my knee up. I had to have the kneecap off and messed around with, and it really wasn’t a good time for me. It happened just at the time that we had released Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry. Everybody loved the song and we were scheduled to appear on Top Of The Pops. I told Martyn that I didn’t think that I would be able to do Top Of The Pops as I was in hospital (laughter).

Everyone kept telling me that we really should try and that perhaps I could perform the song whilst sitting down. So me being me, I went along to the Top Of The Pops studio to do it but the problem was that I kept fainting. I really couldn’t do it and I remember that I kept thinking ‘everyone loves this track and I can’t even perform it on Top Of The Pops’. We actually had to pull-out of two TV shows and I really did feel low at that point. Why couldn’t I pick a better time to bugger my knee up (laughter).

On the subject of Top Of The Pops what are your memories of your very first appearance on the show?

The first time that we appeared on the show was to promote Play To Win and I have to say that it was a little strained and it was a little strange (laughter). I actually thought that the powers that be treated the members of the audience rather quite badly to be honest. Obviously with hindsight they had to do that to make them work within the time restraints but at times they were pushing them around like cattle (laughter). I did at one point stop our performance and shout out “just what the hell are doing, you can’t treat people like that” (laughter). Having said all of that, and having grown up in the period that we did, Top Of The Pops was pretty much the pinnacle TV show that you could appear on. So that really does have to be up there with the highpoints.

Despite all of the recent bad press which has rightly or wrongly been levelled against Top Of The Pops, which we won’t go into, the actual TV programme is sorely missed. The British music industry really does need something like that on the screens now.

Yes it does, I know exactly what you mean when you say that but if I am being honest then I’m not sure that I would watch it (laughter). But what a great show in its time. However, I personally think that we would be far better off with a newer version of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Something that looks a little harder and is a little more interesting.

Testing your memory now, what was the first record that you bought?

Do you know what, I honestly think that was one of those Top Of The Pops compilation albums where the songs were not recorded by the original artists, I am sorry to say (laughter). In all honesty, that is what it really was I’m sorry to say (laughter).

We laugh about those albums but I actually bought a few back in the day (laughter). That is where Tina Charles first started to make her way within the music business, isn’t it (laughter).

I don’t know, is it really?

Yes it is, Tina would have been one of the ladies that you and I were listening to. She would have been singing Middle Of The Road’s Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) that was actually on there; that was on that album (laughter).

In that case you were actually listening to a very young Tina Charles.

Well you have certainly broadened my knowledge and education today it has to be said (laughter).

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

Oh god, now who would that have been, do you know what, it might well have been (David) Bowie in his very early years. He played at the Students Union in Sheffield and let me tell you we weren’t students but we forged some Student Union cards which actually did get us into the gig. I think that I was only fifteen at the time. So that would have been one of the very early gigs that I managed to get to see. After that I saw some fucking great bands at the Sheffield City Hall, the likes of Roxy Music, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Marc Bolan and even Gary Glitter, who we won’t mention (laughter). I really did have some great times back then.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

To be honest with you I cry quite a lot actually. I really am a weepy type of person. Most recently it was a piece of music that had been written by composer, vocalist and pianist Berenice Scott who I actually work with, as we are partners in a side project called Afterhere. Together we write a lot of music for TV and film. Bernie had written a piece of music for a project that we are pitching for and it was so beautiful. I actually watched it together with the scene which we had written it for and it actually did make me cry. That was literally just four days ago.

On that note Glenn, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. As always it’s been a pleasure. I’m hoping to get along to the Birmingham O2 Academy on Saturday 17th November to review and photograph the show. Who did you say it was that organises these gigs in the cold (laughter).

(Laughter) I know, I really do need to get that sorted out (laughter). We always have a good time whenever we play in Birmingham. It is one of my favourite gigs on the tour schedule. We love playing in Birmingham; we always have a really good gig. It’s been a pleasure Kevin and I hope to see you in Birmingham. You take care and bye for now.