Heaven 17 and BEF – 35 Years of Penthouse And Pavement.

October 23, 2016

 

Penthouse And Pavement quickly became a cult album during its release 35 years ago.  Its synth tracks with some very thoughtful lyrics made it so popular that Heaven 17, who were originally going to be one of several projects of BEF, was born.  There is no denying they had carved a place for themselves in the early 1980’s where yuppies and mobile phones were in its infancy; where wanting to be rich and successful was an aspiration of the youth coming off the back of the dreary 1970’s with its 3-day week where punk had had its day.  This was the post punk generation.  This was exciting and ambitious.  The ironically sad thing about Penthouse And Pavement is that 35 years later the lyrics of the polarity between rich and poor is still an issue.  The issues of government taking from the poor to make themselves richer has only made the lyrics of this album more poignant.  After the Brexit vote, there has been a lot of hatred pouring out … does this not sounds like: ‘Have you heard it on the News?  About this Fascist Groove Thang. Evil men with racist views spreading all across the land.’  It is a warning.  A warning that Heaven 17 told us about 35 years ago and yet we find ourselves on that same road.

 

The original album had a penthouse side and a pavement side.  The image on the front is an icon of 80’s Britain.  The title track, Penthouse and Pavement absolutely sums up the yuppie.  ‘My career fits like a glove. Knowing no orders can come from above’.  You are the boss.  Let’s All Make A Bomb is another classic that we lived under the threat of Nuclear war (who remembers Threads?) ‘Let’s celebrate and vaporise’.

 

A big part of the genius of Heaven 17 is those wordy lyrics.  Songs such as Song With No Name and Geisha Boys and Temple Girls have such a story to tell that the lyrics could be poems worthy of Wordsworth and Keats.  And of course, the last song on the album went on for a very long time.  The almost evangelic words of ‘I don’t care about life or the world around me – I’ve got a place to go. I don’t care what you say words cannot harm me.  You’re going down below’ are brilliantly delivered by our reverend, Glenn Gregory.

 

To hear this album played live in its entirety is a wonderful experience.  But how can you improve on a masterpiece?  Martyn and Glenn have worked on this and incorporated the original songs into dance versions so the audience can not only sing along but dance along to the iconic songs.  The show opens to a clip from A Clockwork Orange. This is where Heaven 17 got their name so it fits perfectly with electronic music. The energy from the audience is palpable. They sing along to every word. They sing and dance and clap and enjoy every moment. It is one of those moments you wish would never end. Alas Penthouse And Pavement only has nine tracks and they are over far too quickly. However luckily for us we get to see a performance of Martyn’s choice of song. You’ve lost that loving feeling. It is a chance for Martyn to sing with Glenn front of the stage and you can see how this friendship has lasted so long. They get on so well and it’s wonderful to see. They finish the set with a dance version of Temptation. It’s almost a shame to have a 20-minute interval as everyone is on our feet singing at the top of our voices. But then we remember we are not 20 anymore and actually we are grateful for a chance to get our voices back on track and energy to get ready for the second set of the evening – a BEF special.

BEF stands for British Electric Foundation and was originally going to be several projects of producing artists   BEF is a rare and very exciting outing of well-known artists working alongside BEF to produce unusual versions of classic covers.

 

At this gig, we are treated to some real gems.  First it is Peter Hooton from The Farm.  He starts off with one we all know and easily recognise him from Altogether Now.  But then he throws us a completely curve ball with a cover of Bank Robber by The Clash.  He smashes that curve ball out of the park.

We are then treated to Mari Wilson and her soul voice.  She sings her biggest hit, Just What I Always Wanted, which takes me right back to when my best friend performed this at school and I did all the hair and make-up.  What a gem of a show this is.  And Mari then performs a cover of Rescue Me.  This absolutely defines her as a queen of soul.  I could listen to her all night.

 

Finally, and an absolute highlight of the night, the original punk pioneer himself, Glen Matlock comes on with Pretty Vacant that he wrote with the Sex Pistols.  It is fantastic.  I may have been part of the post punk generation but I have a punk ethos and really appreciate this.  Glen is amazing and I am watching in awe as he delivers ‘Oh we're so pretty, Oh so pretty. We're vacant’.  Glen then really gives us a moment of surreal sheer brilliance with his next track.  He covers Pharrell Williams’ Happy.  It is a real juxtaposition to punk and totally awesome.

 

Then our very own Glenn comes on and sings Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman which is the first song they ever recorded as Heaven 17 (even before Fascist Groove Thang).  And Glenn has been doing some Bowie covers for a while now, both with Heaven 17 and Holy Holy but this was a new one on me when he sang Ashes to Ashes.  Glenn is one of very few people in the world who can deliver a Bowie song with perfection.  Glenn doesn’t try to be Bowie but sings with such affection as both Glenn and Martyn were huge Bowie fans.  This seeps through in his delivery and makes it worth every penny for this track alone.

 

The finale is a tribute to Colin Vearncombe who passed away earlier this year.  He was better known by his stage name Black and due to perform as part of BEF. Heaven 17, Mari, Glen and Peter all perform Wonderful Life together and it is a really touching moment.

 

This is a moment in time.  Stand up and be counted.  Go to the show.  It’s one of those you will wish you had been at. every moment is engraved in my soul.  It is simply inspirational.

 

 

 

 

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