There are few venues in London that could provide electro-pop legends, The Human League, with such a bizarre contrast to their Blue Peter-style space gadgets and Jetsons fancy dress. The Royal Albert Hall appeared unperturbed by this invasion of eclectic electro nik-naks, welcoming long-standing fans in from the rain to squeeze into every single seat - not that this hardcore following would be needing them!
Tucked behind what appeared to be a huge Mac keyboard, the Sheffield poppers opened with 'Sky' from their most recent album, 'Credo'. White double-tiered keyboards, slutty synths and more attitude than a Thursday night in Shoreditch, Philip Oakey is the original Dalston Superstar. With mad-professor goggles and an understated black hoodie, Oakey has lost none of his stage presence, even if his hair has fallen by the wayside over the years.
For the boppers and swayers in the crowd, it seems that life does not indeed go on. We were all in the eighties, back in a simpler time when lyrics rhymed and fans did not spend hours googling the deeper meanings behind them; it seems that they could even get away with “Your arms embrace, I love your face”. Still, at least in these good old pre post-lyrical days Oakey could wear his hoodie in central London without the threat of embrace from over-zealous politicians.
Vocal-wise, The Human League still sound as good as they ever did. Highlights for us were classics, 'Tell Me When' and a bassier, thumping 'Night People', another under-rated gem from 'Credo' that would more than hold its own amongst more musically complex, modern offerings.
The set was an enjoyable mixture of the old and new, all stripped down slightly to create a more intimate experience in such a vast space. Both Oakey and Sulley chatted with the audience, Sulley pointing out in her candy-pop way that if the Stones can make it to fifty then they certainly have fifteen more in them, much to the delight of fans. By the time 'Together in Electric Dreams' sent us back out into the rain there was an air of friendliness native to the band’s northern roots.
Multiple outfit changes, keyboard-come-keytars and a dollop of good old fashioned charisma; these guys know how to put on a proper shin-dig. And, in the spirit of old-school entertainment, the hit that simultaneously captured the imagination of end-of-the-night disco chancers and hatched cringe-inducing chat-up lines for cocktail waitresses everywhere was saved for the encore. We couldn’t help but sing-a-long, despite our best efforts to resist.
They may be celebrating thirty-five years in the industry, but if the shimmying human sea of bodies hanging onto every electronic bleep and buzzing vocal is anything to go by, these ageing-synthers are still in a glitter-filled league of their own.
Words by Kate O'Sullivan
Photos by Tom Armstrong