Temptation by Heaven 17 (BEF/Virgin)

BREAKFAST television was a new and exciting concept. New kid on the telly block Channel 4 was showing the very creepy and disturbing Minipops. Everyone thought it was simply hilarious when some student asked if he could have a P please Bob on Blockbusters. One pound coins and wheelclamps appeared for the first time. Everything was changing.

It was the year that cruise missiles arrived at Greenham Common, prompting massive CND protest marches. David Niven and John Le Mesurier died. I remember it as a time of great fear and uncertainty. The top selling single of 1983 was Karma Chameleon. Terrifying.

In the aftermath of the Falklands war Margaret Thatcher won 42 per cent of the vote in the June general election, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, “over Michael Foot, who led a highly-divided and weakened Labour Party which earned only 28 per cent of the vote. Then Thatcher sucked off Hitler.”

Most of the history books omit this last detail. They are wrong. Thatcher sucked off Hitler. Fact. It says so on Wikipedia. That’s good enough for me.

Anyway, I was at sixth form and, although I didn’t know it (I could probably have taken a decent guess, to be honest) I was just about to fail my A levels. I was a bit distracted.

Me and this – by my standards – very posh girl named Nell had a bit of a flirty thing going on in the Wednesday afternoon general studies session and I eventually got the message and asked her out. We got  the college bus from town to my house and then my dad gave us a lift over to a village a few miles down the road where a guy called Hoss was having his 18th birthday party in a church hall.

Rocking a shabby, baggy black Oxfam suit with crepes, little round John Lennon glasses and spiderplant hair, I must’ve looked a right state. Suave. And I probably had a bit of a spring in my step. A lot of the kids at school thought I was a dork – they might have had a point – but I’d not seen some of them since we left. Turning up with this extraordinarily glamorous Laura Ashley blonde was a wonderful thing. Dreadfully superficial I know, but I’m that kind of guy.

I was knocking back the Bailey’s, trying to affect a veneer of rakish sophistication, but the effect was spoiled somewhat by the fact that I ended up spilling a glassful of the thick creamy liqueur all over the crotch of my trousers. Despite some frantic mopping with wet tissue in the toilet, it left a very large and noticeable oily splash stain, like the aftermath of the most premature case of premature ejaculation you’ve ever seen in your life. I can laugh about it now.

The DJ was playing the standard pop fare of the day, which – according to some bloke off the internet – would’ve included stuff like Let’s Dance by Bowie, Is There Something I Should Know by Duran Duran, Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics, Blue Monday by New Order, True by Spandau Ballet, Beat It by Michael Jackson, Speak Like A Child by the Style Council and, for the erection section, Total Eclipse Of The Heart by Bonnie Tyler.

Classic pop, some might say. Not me. I kinda hated pretty much all of it at the time and with a few obvious exceptions hate it now. But the DJ, I remember very clearly, also played Heaven 17’s big, brassy breakthrough single, Temptation.

I had eventually managed to get some Bailey’s down my throat rather than down my trousers and was drunk and horny and full of myself and the hot lady on my arm. All of this unstoppable, boozed-up sexual invincibility, that ridiculous sense of uncompromising teenage bravado, seemed to be summed up by the soulful, soaring Temptation.

While synth-pop (apart from odd track by Soft Cell and the Human League), and funk for that matter, was never really my thing (Earth Wind & Fire, Chic, yes. James Brown, Funkadelic, not so much), I loved Heaven 17’s debut single We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang. I didn’t have a view on Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware’s split from the Human League. I liked Being Boiled and Empire State Human, but I actually preferred the Human League after Suzanne and Jo joined.

I bought Fascist Groove Thang off Pete Burns at Probe during an eventful visit to my aunt and uncle in Toxteth in the summer of 1981. That whole trip was a big eye-opener for a 15-year-old. The loathsome Mike Reid refused to play it on Radio One, citing political bias. What a massive wanker.

Temptation, built around a terrific shared vocal by Glenn Gregory and Carol Kenyon and released a year or so later, just blew me away completely. It had the same kind of energy as an old Northern Soul record, but it was made with synthesizers, in Sheffield.

Beginning her career, like Amy Winehouse, singing with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, the  classic underachiever Kenyon sang backing for Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Jon & Vangelis before hooking up with Heaven 17. Luckily for them. Her big, big vocal took Temptation onto another level entirely and gave the band their highest ever UK chart placing – though, criminally, it stalled at No 2. Not that any of that shit is important, you understand, but if any record deserved to be number one it was Temptation.

scan0005Inexplicably, Kenyon was replaced in Steve Barron’s promo video by former Page Three model Gillian de Terville. She’s also absent from the picture on the sleeve of the record itself and in her place is some backcombed peroxide trannie applying lipstick next to Glenn Gregory (we all know why she had to re-apply her lipstick, right?), although the singer did make a memorable TOTP appearance.

To their eternal credit, Kenyon and Gregory deliver superbly convincing vocals for a lyric that is not much more than doggerel . Adorable creatures .. with unacceptable features? Seriously? The best line in the song is when Carol Kenyon sings “Trouble is coming .. it’s just the high cost of loving”.  That works. The rest of the lyric? Meh. Okay, the “Lead us not into temptation!” line is cool as well.

But who cares? It sounded fucking great even if some of the words were a bit ropey. Oasis lyrics rarely make any sense whatsoever. Doesn’t stop them sounding brilliant a lot of the time, does it? Temptation’s insistent, thudding groove hit the spot, big time. Me and Nell practically had sex on the dancefloor.

We went out for a bit after that. It was one of those situations where a girl decides that you are going to be the one and there wasn’t much I could do about it, even if I’d wanted to. Which I absolutely didn’t, obviously. Despite that, I behaved like an appalling twat, seeing another girl at the same time, thinking I was being clever, all that tedious teenage lad stuff – although I ended up getting dumped by both of them , so I wasn’t being that clever, clearly.

In my defence, I would say that a) I was very young and iii) I was also a fucking idiot.

I had to stay on at sixth form for another year, meeting even more girls and doing even less work – although I did enough to scrape a college place up north. Years and years later, out of the blue, Nell invited me to her wedding, which was very generous given my earlier behaviour.

I bought the seven-inch of Temptation in 1983 but lost it somewhere along the way without even really noticing. Brothers in Rhythm needlessly remixed the track at the height of rave in 1992, adding absolutely nothing to this genuine stone-cold Eighties party classic. Three or four years later, the urgent, horny, erotic charge of Temptation was used to great effect in the nightclub scene in Trainspotting.

Doing the ‘research’ for this piece, I came across  a couple of pretty rad covers of Temptation, one by Jarvis Cocker and Beth Ditto from the NME Awards a couple of years ago and the other by inveterate doom-merchants Cradle of Filth. Both are excellent in their own unique way.

Carol Kenyon has gone onto work with Vangelis and Demis Roussos, Paul Hardcastle, Malcolm McClaren and Pink Floyd – and in fact, according to her website, she is currently in the US on the last leg of Roger Waters’ Dark Side of The Moon world tour.

Heaven 17 never really recaptured the glories of Temptation for me personally, although I did stop listening after a while, so what do I know? They split up in the early Nineties, reformed a few years later and Gregory and Ware are still touring occasionally to this day, although they’ve just had to cancel a US trip with fellow Sheffield synth-poppers ABC, as it was “impossible to make the tour work from a financial point of view”.

After Martyn Ware created a tonal soundscape for Sheffield’s ill-fated National Centre for Popular Music, he created the Illustrious Company in 2001, with a remit to “create new forms of spatialised sound composition using their unique three dimensional 3D AudioScape surround-sound system.”

He recorded an album with synth-pop genius Vince Clarke, formerly of Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Erasure and kickstarted the Future of Sound, a not-for-profit organisation which “creates immersive experiences using state-of-the-art technology.”

Eh?

“You got the speakers in a circle at different heights,” Clarke has explained. “You sit in the middle of the circle and we programme a piece of music that moves around you. In stereo, all you do is left or right. With this system you can do height, you can do depth. The weirdest thing is the height. You get sound that moves from your shoes up to your head and then way above you.”

“It’s like a rollercoaster for your ears,” added Ware.

Funnily enough, I ran into Ware at a conference in Manchester a couple of years ago, where he was talking, and demonstrating, his vision for ‘sonic branding’. Fascinating guy.

Recently, I bought Temptation from the local Oxfam for just £2.99. It is every bit as spine-tingling as it was at that party all those years ago  (I also bought The Power Of Love by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Eighties kids, so stay tuned for that one). I’ve been playing it a lot.

Meanwhile, I am still avoiding Bailey’s. Unless the real booze has run out, of course ..

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12 Comments

Filed under hip replacement, synth-pop

12 responses to “Temptation by Heaven 17 (BEF/Virgin)

  1. It was/is a great record.
    You and the posh girls…what are you like?
    x

  2. smith3000

    Yeah, it’s almost like I deliberately seek them out, isn’t it? Trying to drag them down to my level, no doubt .. x

  3. another fine read :)

    one of my fav tunes as young kid in the 80’s…singing along to the lyrics from my No1 Mag or Smash Hits …. Record Review was just not colourful or tacky enough to appeal to a nine year old …..

    I picked up this 12inch at a car booty last year…along with a hand full of other Heaven 17 tunes in pretty much untouched condition which was a result… and found an absolute Gem in there called “Let me go” ..

  4. smith3000

    Cheers Tim, you are very kind.

    Yeah, digging Let Me Go. Not heard it for years (and get you using the fancy-pants comment vid-embed!).

    It always struck me as a bit odd that early UK electronic pioneers like the Cabs, Heaven 17 and Depeche Mode didn’t get on the house music thing until quite late on.

    Thanks again ..

  5. Yeah maybe they saw House as a black music thing and closley linked to soul and disco…particulary as most early house tunes like Farley’s “Love Can’t Turn Around” were cover tunes of older music (Isaac Hayes – Love can’t turn around) and also were made up from stealing samples…. The Synth Pop bands I suppose were more progressive in their thinking and may have wanted to focus on new unique sounds….but the power of house and robbing samples from old tunes soon took over the world ….guess they had to follow at somepoint…albiet they still generally produce original sounds …… or of course I could be talking a load of old bollocks…but I felt the need too :)

    And some more gonad expression in the for of a Nerd Alert….the synth stabs at the start of Heaven 17’s “Let Me Go”…was later sampled in 1991 by dutch rave group – The Problem House who produced the anthem “The Party Zone”….came out on import label Hithouse records…and also on a compilation called Reactivate – Belgian Techno Anthems…..Nerd alert over ;)

  6. smith3000

    Feel free to be as nerdy as you like, mate.

    Thing is, Heaven 17 and the Cabs were into black music like soul, disco and dub, Depeche and all that lot were into Kraftwerk – some of the same elements were there, but it didn’t produce the same music. I take your point about the progressive outlook though.

    I did not spot that synth sample even though I quite liked the Party Zone at the time. I am now sitting in the corner in a pointy dunce hat ..

  7. good call …did not realise they were all into those sounds…..but that makes sense …..now…give me back that dunce hat

  8. Heaven 17, Temptation…..I can take it or leave! Yes it’s a class record….another that is always in my box, just in case…Currently reading a good book about the Cabs….Industrial Revolution…Cabs throught the eighties…a good read.

  9. smith3000

    Alright Wak, good to hear from you.

    That book sounds interesting. Cabaret Voltaire have made some amazing music over the years.

    Have you heard Richard H Kirk’s dub project, Sandoz? Excellent stuff. Stephen Mallinder did some music with Pete Carroll, one of the Central Station design guys (and Shaun Ryder’s cuz) when they both moved to Oz. Also very good. I forget the name, but the label is Offworld Sounds.

  10. Richard H Kirk making dub….that sounds interesting and will check this out. Tks.

  11. Forgot to mention…..I recently befriended Geoff Bolam on Facebook……He has a new punk band called Dirty Protest…they have a myspace page.

  12. undeleted

    Alright Waka, good to hear from you again. Totally recommend Sandoz. Brilliant stuff.

    Good old Geoff, glad to hear he’s still doing music. That’s a great name for a band too. Will investigate ..

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