Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh formed British Electric Foundation within weeks of their departure from The Human League in 1980, bringing out their debut album soon afterwards. Inspired by Sony’s revolutionary new portable tape player and initially only available as a limited edition cassette, ‘Music For Stowaways’ remains one of the most innovative and important electronic albums of all time. And the story of how it all came together has some pretty incredible twists and turns…

Whatever you might think you know about the break-up of The Human League Mk 1, the reality was so much worse. In his recently published autobiography, ‘Electronically Yours Vol 1’, Martyn Ware spells out the full horror.

He arrived at The Human League’s Sheffield HQ one October morning in 1980 for what Bob Last, their manager and the Fast Product label boss, called a “strategic band meeting”. A stickler for punctuality, Martyn was early and was surprised to find that bandmates Philip Oakey, Ian Craig Marsh and Adrian Wright had all got there before him.

“Strange, but I thought nothing of it at the time,” he writes.

He then lays out the conversation that followed the way he remembers it.

Bob: “Sit down Martyn, we have something to tell you.”

Martyn: “Huh?”

Bob: “We want you to leave the group.”

Martyn: “What are you talking about? What’s happening?”

Bob: “We think it’s for the best.”

Martyn: “You can’t throw me out of The Human League, it’s my group!”

Bob: “We’ll compensate you for giving us the name.”

Martyn: “I’m keeping the name. I’ll see you in court. Phil, Ian, what is going on? Did you know about this?”

They’d been plotting to kick him out of the band for months. Everybody knew apart from Martyn.

“I felt like I’d been blindsided,” he writes. “Punched in the head in a cowardly action from behind. By my friends. My best friends. I was losing my livelihood, my passion, but most hurtfully, my most trusted brothers.

It was too much to take. I began to sob with rage and frustration.”

And then, in a moment, the fate of everyone in the room was shaped. Out of the blue, Ian Craig Marsh spoke up.

“If Martyn is thrown out, I’m out too,” he said.

It’s a crisp, early spring Monday morning and I’m on my way to meet Martyn Ware at his studio, a brisk walk from London’s King’s Cross station. I make a quick phone call to let him know I’ve arrived. Moments later, a door swings open and Martyn’s instantly recognisable face greets me.

There’s no time to lose when you’re with Martyn Ware. As we climb the stairs to his cosy, low-lit studio, the chat begins. He’s been based here for a while and he’s lived in the capital much longer.

“I’ve been in London for 40 years,” he says, closing the door behind me. “I think I’ve rinsed it. I would like to live somewhere else, maybe a bolthole in the EU.”

Like where?

“Lisbon is probably our favourite tip at the moment,” he says, taking his seat at mission control. “I really like the people, the food, the climate. And there’s a lot of culture in the city. It’s got everything, really.”

You’re not thinking of retiring, are you?

“It all depends on my health,” he replies. “Provided I’m well, I’ll continue creating, because that’s what I enjoy doing. It’s not a job to me and I love just messing about. This is my happy place, you know?”

We’re here primarily to talk about British Electric Foundation – specifically their 1981 debut album, ‘Music For Stowaways’, which has just been reissued via the excellent Cold Spring label.

I’ve interviewed Martyn before. More than once. He’s great company, open and honest (brutally so at times), and he keeps you on your toes. All of which makes for lively conversation, as anyone who has listened to his ‘Electronically Yours’ podcast will know. More about that in a bit. For now, let’s head back to where we came in.

The Human League are one of the pillars Electronic Sound was built on and there isn’t much of their story we haven’t covered. That Ian Craig Marsh was in on the coup and changed his mind at the last minute is a new one on me, though.

“Well, I’ve never had a platform to say it properly before,” says Martyn as I look at him open-mouthed. “I don’t want to come across as an embittered old twat, but there’s so much disinformation about what happened. It suited the record label to have this narrative that we had agreed to a split and we’d left Phil in the lurch. And then noble Phil plucked these girls out of a nightclub. What an underdog story. And it’s all a load of bollocks.”

I settle in for the ride. I love this stuff, especially when I’m getting it from the horse’s mouth.

Rewinding a little, everything seemed to be going well with The Human League. They’d signed to Virgin and their debut album, ‘Reproduction’, was selling steadily, but the label were getting a little twitchy.

“It wasn’t moving fast enough for them,” explains Martyn. “They had made a huge amount of money in the 1970s, a lot of it from the success of ‘Tubular Bells’, and it was running out. They’d spent a fortune on signing new acts like us, but it wasn’t coming back in at the other end.”

It was suggested that a hit single before the release of their second album, ‘Travelogue’, might help.

“We could feel a bit of pressure being exerted,” says Martyn. “But it wasn’t like I was waking up every morning in a paranoid state going, ‘I must have a hit’. We were convinced we were on the right path. We were building an audience, doing a lot of live shows, and more and more people were hearing about us. We felt we were getting closer to the promised land. Internally, there was no sense that it was plateauing.”

The Human League’s swing at “the pop jugular”, as Martyn puts it, was the ‘Holiday ‘80’ EP. Despite a ‘Top Of The Pops’ appearance with ‘Rock ’N’ Roll’, it merely grazed the charts, missing out on the Top 50. ‘Travelogue’ came out in May 1980 and fared better, peaking at Number 16. But by this point, dark forces were at work.

Virgin were fully at the show-me-the-money stage now. They needed a return on their investment.

“It was a fait accompli and I was the collateral damage,” says Martyn. “But then it turned into something else when Ian, on the flip of a coin, decided at the meeting to join me. He was on the inside. He knew what was going on. I was the mug who didn’t know anything.”

These guys were your closest friends. You saw them every single day. What they did must have really hurt.
“Oh, massively,” he says, letting out a sigh. “It could easily have destroyed me. There are so many stories in the music industry of people who, the first time they get a major setback, just retreat into their shell and go off to become a postman or something.”

From the point at which Martyn Ware was unceremoniously booted out of his own band, the story only gets more incredible. With wounds still raw, and in one of pop music’s most audacious Machiavellian moves, Bob Last called Martyn up.

“I think I may have said in my book that it was the next day, but I’ve been thinking about it and it must have been a bit later,” notes Martyn. “I was heartbroken. I’d lost my band, but I had also lost one of my oldest friends. So Bob called me and – he’s since admitted he’d planned this beforehand – invited me and my then-wife up to Edinburgh to stay for a few days to discuss my future.”

Discuss his future? With the person who appears to have driven a coach and horses through it? If I was Martyn, Bob Last would have been a very long way down the list of people I’d want to talk to.

“The way Bob framed it, there was a lot of pressure coming from the record company and he wanted to protect us from it, because he was our friend as well as our manager,” he explains. “It’s not a problem until it becomes a problem, I can see that. But he wasn’t keeping it from Phil or Ian.”

Which is grounds enough to feel betrayed on every level. And yet…

“I’ve never been able to bring myself to resent Bob,” offers Martyn. “I do think that he was looking at it from a business perspective. And I didn’t see him as the prime mover. I saw him as a cog rotating in the machine.”
Which was big of him. More than that, it was pragmatic and actually pretty smart.

“After the split, something inside me just made me want to prove them wrong,” he says.

He quickly realised he wasn’t going to do that by falling out with everyone. He figured if he was going to get one over on his former bandmates and beat them to the punch, he needed to move fast. His first stop, before he made the trip to Edinburgh, was a pint with his old pal Glenn Gregory.

“Within days, I took him down the pub and said, ‘I’m starting a new band’,” says Martyn. “I’d always thought that Heaven 17 – from the chart in the record shop scene in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ – was a great name for a group and I told Glenn I wanted to get a crack on straight away. He said yes immediately.”

But before they could get Heaven 17 going, Martyn went to see Bob Last in Edinburgh.

“Bob’s opinion was that my strengths were in the studio, so he said, ‘Why don’t you and Ian create a production company identity?’. He said, ‘You can bring in different singers and it would be like a production line of projects and songs’. It didn’t take me long to figure out that was quite a good idea.”

With the production house seed firmly planted and, in a real stunner of a move, Bob on board as their manager, Martyn journeyed back to Sheffield, ready to start work with Ian as British Electric Foundation.

The more you think about what happened, the more astonishing it all seems. Bob Last comes up smelling of roses and ends up managing The Human League, British Electric Foundation and Heaven 17. But that’s by no means the only surprise.

At the time, The Human League recorded in Sheffield at their own Monumental Pictures Studio, which sounds very swish – proper old-school Hollywood. Martyn says he thinks the name came from the movie ‘High Society’, but the place was some distance from glamorous.

“Oh, it was a shithole,” he chuckles. “It was by the West Bar roundabout, but it’s been knocked down since. There’s a car park there now.”

Monumental was a three-storey brick construction at 98 West Bar. It had been abandoned since its previous occupants – Leslie Walker, Fletcher & Saxton, veterinary surgeons – had gone out of business some years earlier.

“I believe the building was probably Victorian, but it had no architectural merit,” says Martyn. “When we moved in, it still had some of the vets’ tranklements in there – metal operating tables, syringes, that sort of thing. There was a cellar as well as three floors and it was frankly disgusting. There was no power on the ground floor so we had to use the first floor, tidying it up and painting the walls sunshine yellow to cheer us up a bit.”

The Human League funded the studio and its equipment with money from their record deal with Virgin.

“When we got signed, we decided not to pay ourselves very much,” explains Martyn. “We invested our advance into the studio rather than pouring it back into Virgin’s coffers. We used their Townhouse Studios to mix in, but having our own place in Sheffield helped to keep the bill down as low as we could.”

Of course, there’s wrangling to be done after any break-up. If they’d been married, they’d have sold up and split the proceeds. The settlement they came to over the studio was quite, well…

“We were all very comfortable there, so we agreed that The Human League would use it during the day and we had it for the night shift.”

You’d think there were easier ways, but when you consider what came out of Monumental in that first year – BEF’s ‘Music For Stowaways’, Heaven 17’s ‘Penthouse And Pavement’ and The Human League’s ‘Dare’ – the arrangement clearly worked.

“For about six months, we never bumped into each other,” reveals Martyn. “I think they were more embarrassed than us, but it was all very cordial.”

Did you have to reset everything before you left the studio in the morning? Weren’t you worried that, with everyone using the same kit, you’d end up sounding alike?

“I always thought, ‘OK, good luck to them’ if they could make anything from what we were doing,” grins Martyn. “Phil and Adrian messed about with synthesisers, but they weren’t deep into them like Ian and I were. I just went, ‘I don’t think we have anything to worry about, really’.”

By March 1981, Martyn, Ian and Glenn were ready to make their move with a double-whammy release – BEF’s limited edition cassette-only ‘Music For Stowaways’ and Heaven 17’s ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’. My teenage ears pricked up at the Heaven 17 single first, probably via John Peel. The BBC went on to ban the record, worried that calling US president Ronald Reagan a “fascist god in motion” might be considered libellous.

A few months before these releases, in October 1980, Smash Hits had a picture of Robert Palmer on the back page. He was barefoot, wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt, and standing in front of a whitewashed villa wall, no doubt somewhere exotic. In his hand was a small box connected by a wire, but to what? Little headphones? Whatever it was, it looked awesome. In the very next issue of the magazine there was a competition to “Win A Sony Stowaway”.

“What do you reckon that device was that Robert Palmer had round his neck on the back cover of the last issue,” trilled the copy. It turned out that it was a “tiny cassette player which is light and compact enough to slip into the average pocket”.

When I clocked BEF’s ‘Music For Stowaways’ tape, I knew exactly the reference they were making. The Sony Stowaway, later called the Walkman, was a portable marvel, revolutionising the way we listened to music. And it arrived at the point when musical equipment was also becoming increasingly compact, as well as more accessible and more affordable, powering the synthpop explosion that was right around the corner.
I also knew I had to have the British Electric Foundation tape.

In the late 1970s, Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka wanted to be able to listen to his beloved opera on the long flights he often undertook for business. But while cassette tapes had been around since the early 1960s, most of the machines that played them were too unwieldy to take on a plane.

Being the top dog at a world-beating electronics company had its advantages. Ibuka tasked the boffins at Sony to come up with a solution and the result was the TC-D5, which was launched in 1978. While it wasn’t particularly compact, it was a decent first effort. Operating on batteries and with a built- in speaker, plus a mechanism specially developed for smaller machines, it was a hit with journalists and field recordists.

The work didn’t stop there and Sony’s next attempt, the Pressman TCM-100B, wasn’t a whole lot bigger than a cassette itself. While this solved Ibuka’s portability problem, it was a stripped-down adaptation released in the summer of 1980 that really marked the beginning of a listening revolution.

Sony’s TPS-L2 – known as the Stowaway in the UK and the Soundabout in the US – was a Pressman without the built-in speaker and the record facility, but with a stereo amp. It also had two headphone sockets, so the listening experience could be shared with a friend. The record button was replaced with a “Hot Line”, which activated a microphone for talking to your listening buddy. Sony soon realised this wasn’t an experience for sharing, though. This was totally personal.

So when and how did Martyn Ware initially encounter the Sony Stowaway?

“Ian had one as soon as they came out,” he smiles. “He was always ahead of every trend. He got New Scientist every week and kept up-to-date with all the latest developments. I turned up for a songwriting session at his house one day and he’d just bought – BOUGHT! – a Fairlight. Thirty-odd grand’s worth.

“With the Stowaway, I remember thinking that, for the first time, I can have a soundtrack to my life. I was obsessed with film and I loved the idea you could create a soundtrack to your own experiences as you walked around the streets. Everyone does it now, of course, but it was a revelation back then. It completely changed the landscape.”

What was the first thing you listened to?

“I think it was an Ennio Morricone tape,” says Martyn. “‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’ maybe. God, no, it was probably another of his pieces, ‘The Ballad Of Sacco & Vanzetti’ [from the soundtrack to Giuliano Montaldo’s 1971 docudrama ‘Sacco & Vanzetti’], which is a favourite of mine. I can remember listening to Morricone and feeling like I was in a film.”

So you’re walking around, headphones on, in your own movie world, and you go, “Right, we’re making a tape for this”?

“Essentially,” he shrugs. “I thought, ‘If we create something specifically designed for this device…’, who knows? Sony might pick up on it. Then, of course, they changed the fucking name of it to the Walkman almost immediately. But I still like the title. It wouldn’t have worked if it was ‘Music For Walkmans’.”

The title was a play on Music For Pleasure, Golden Hour and other ubiquitous 1970s budget labels, who issued compilation albums featuring an hour of tracks by The Searchers, Donovan and the like, as well as collections such as ‘Golden Hour Of Top Brass’ and ‘Golden Hour Of Disco Soul’. Martyn nodded in this direction again in 2002, when he had a hand in ‘The Golden Hour Of The Future’, a compilation which included recordings by The Future, Martyn and Ian’s pre-Human League outfit with Adi Newton, later the frontman of Clock DVA.

“Those Golden Hour albums used to put 30 minutes of music on each side of the vinyl,” he says. “There was no bottom end and they were cut so quietly you could only play them about four times before everything was obscured by pops and crackles.”

‘Music For Stowaways’ also draws on Brian Eno’s ‘Music For Airports’ and ‘Music For Films’.

“He was a big inspiration for us,” admits Martyn. “I love the whole notion of the ambient world he created, but I was always more fond of his pop stuff. His first couple of albums were total genius. ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ and ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’… that interface between pop and weirdness has always been inspiring. You can hear it in the Berlin albums with Bowie too.”

And in much of Heaven 17’s output, come to that.

As Martyn and Ian’s first full-length release since their split from The Human League, it was essential that ‘Music For Stowaways’ was a statement of intent. They insisted on designing the packaging, with Martyn’s photos appearing on the original inlay and Bob Last being responsible for the overall look.

“The artefact was as important as the music,” says Martyn. “We wanted to put a marker in the sand, to make the point that we were not abandoning our artistic side. I think that’s part of the reason why the record company wanted to hive Phil off and make a proper pop band. They could see I was never going to compromise.”

You did alright with your own pop band.

“But it was on our terms,” he counters. “I think they saw Phil as a more traditional pop star. They reckoned they could make him huge because he looked great and, let’s face it, he sounded pretty good. The other side of that particular coin is it can often lead to a quick burnout, and I was never interested in that.”

So where did you start with ‘Music For Stowaways’? Were there already ideas kicking around?

“We had been trying out what electronic cover versions of existing film soundtracks would sound like,” says Martyn. “One of my favourites, which my sisters used to have, was Miklós Rózsa’s ‘King Of Kings’. It’s a biblical epic, so I did a demo to see how a short and relatively simplistic electronic version would make me feel. I knew I could make it sound big, but I didn’t know whether it would work emotionally. And you know what? It kind of did. So we started experimenting with all sorts of different genres using the System 100, the Roland Jupiter-4 and the Korg 700S, which is there…”

He points to the synth sitting not two feet from me.

“Then we got to thinking it was all very well doing these pilot ideas, but we needed to design something that really sounded like a soundtrack using the same forces. That’s when we came up with the idea of ‘Decline Of The West’.”

From Ian’s electronic rainstorm, the dramatic Mahler-esque minor chords, the sweeping synths and rhythmic heartbeat backing, not to forget the weird alien monster roars, the track is a towering piece of work.

“I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, in musical terms,” declares Martyn. “It has that kind of unresolved yearning. It briefly pokes out through the clouds into the sunlit uplands of a major key and then goes back down again. ‘Oh god, my life is so…’, you know, that teenage angst thing.”

It’s curious to note that Martyn has never composed a score for film or television. He’s never been asked. Why is that?

“I have no idea,” he shrugs.

I wouldn’t mind hearing a Martyn Ware movie soundtrack if anybody out there is looking for a score. In keeping with that theme, ‘Music To Kill Your Parents By’ is an interesting title…

“Everything we did at that time was like creating a menu,” he explains. “It was about trying to show people our tastes and what our skills were. That was our horror film soundtrack and it is genuinely terrifying. If you played it loud to people in a constrained environment, it would drive them mad.”

So ‘Music For Stowaways’ is like an audio showreel?

“Yes, that’s the way I felt about it,” he nods. “BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality And Distinction’ album was the same, but for pop production techniques.”

The soundtrack samplers on ‘Stowaways’ are mixed with more conventional tracks such as ‘Uptown Apocalypse’, a jam with Martyn and Ian’s former bandmate Adi Newton. It also features Clock DVA bassist Steven “Judd” Turner, who died a few months after laying this down.

“It was just us messing about,” says Martyn. “We had a Dr Rhythm drum machine and we got in Adi’s bass player Judd, who unfortunately lost his life to heroin.”

‘Wipe The Board Clean’ is more uptempo, “a strident electro-punk thing, more a song waiting for a top line,” as Martyn puts it. ‘Rise Of The East’ is plain showing off, with Ian simulating tablas and triggering discordant chirps on the System 100. It straddles time signatures too, which is always a neat trick. The opening track of the album, ‘The Optimum Chant’, comes with dubby undertones, plenty of resonating bass, and some very lengthy echo.

“We were heavily into dub,” says Martyn. “Not necessarily the reggae groove, but the techniques, the weirdness and the futuristic aspect of some of those records, like Culture’s ‘Two Sevens Clash’. We were going to lots of parties in Sheffield – in basements, in terraced houses – with massive sound systems. Your entry was buying a spliff for a fiver.

“Those places had a big effect on us. They were where we first fell in love with bass. The beauty of analogue synthesis, and particularly the synths at that time, is the components haven’t been surpassed, so the smoothness and the power of the bass that I can get out of the Korg 700 and the System 100 is miles better than the later Roland models. Even the JP-8 doesn’t sound as good.”

I tell Martyn I think one of the best tracks on ‘Stowaways’ is ‘The Old At Rest’.

“Oh, I love that,” he beams, firing it up on his studio monitors. “It’s made from stems of our experimental version of ‘Wichita Lineman’ on the first ‘Music Of Quality And Distinction’ album.”

The sweeps of sound, the way it arpeggiates as though it’s shimmering with light, the warmth of the track… it’s glorious.

“It’s so beautiful,” says Martyn as we sit back and listen. “I was playing the chords on the Jupiter-4 and it was triggering the System 100 in a semi-random fashion. If you listen to it, you can hear that it’s ‘Wichita Lineman’, only slower.”

He waves his finger, conducting as the sound swells in the room. Then he starts singing, filling in the gaps to prove the point: “And I need you more than want you / And I want you for all time / And the Wichita lineman / Is still on the line.”

Have you nicked anything for other tracks?

“I nick all sorts of stuff all the time. I mean, who doesn’t?”

There is an alternative version of ‘Music For Stowaways’, which came out later in 1981, only this time it was issued on vinyl rather than on tape.

“‘Music For Listening To’ was a record company idea,” says Martyn. “They told us they couldn’t get the licensees to produce the cassettes… which I now realise was a load of bollocks. It was just cheaper to produce vinyl.”

Curiously, the vinyl release has a different running order and includes two extra tracks – the short ‘BEF Ident’ and the ‘Being Boiled’-ish ‘A Baby Called Billy’ – both of which feature on Cold Spring’s ‘Music For Stowaways’ reissue.

“Until recently, we used to play ‘BEF Ident’ before all of our live shows,” says Martyn. “It was created by our mate Malcolm Veal – Captain Zapp, as he was known. I really liked the idea of this kind of advertising jingle at the start of the record, a bit like Raymond Scott’s ‘Manhattan Research’ project or something. I wanted it to sound like ‘The Funeral March Of Queen Mary’ from ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and Malcolm came up with this. It’s fucking amazing.”

So who is Malcolm Veal?

“He’s an old friend from Meatwhistle. He played sax and a bit of keyboards. He was a great lad.”

A short-lived but hugely significant youth drama workshop in Sheffield, Meatwhistle was the breeding ground for many of the city’s musical giants of the day. So did Malcolm go on to be in bands?

“I don’t know. I’ve no idea where he is now.”

The real killer on ‘Music For Stowaways’ is ‘Groove Thang’, an instrumental version of the Heaven 17 single, where you can wallow in the virtuoso skills of teenage prodigy John Wilson, who supplied the rhythm guitar lines and that unforgettable bass part. But beyond the music, there was also the fact that it was a vocal-less version of a hit single by the same band under a different name, something that blew a lot of people’s minds in 1981. Which was precisely the plan.

“Right from the start of The Human League, and even when Ian and I were in The Future with Adi, we all felt as if we were creating something like a Marvel Cinematic Universe,” recalls Martyn. “Every piece of work we did was a part of it. It didn’t matter what it was – a flyer, a poster, a cassette, a record, a piece of publicity in a magazine – everything had to feel like it was part of an integrated whole.

“We wanted to present to the outside world this notion that you were entering into our universe. And if you invested in it, conceptually, then you would be rewarded. It was like we were creating an alternative fantasy existence, because your real world – I mean, I was living in a two-bedroom council house – had no glamour attached to it. At all.”

I got it. Totally. ‘Music For Stowaways’ resonated with me then and I’m genuinely excited about the reissue now. The first time out, there wasn’t much else like it around. So what does Martyn think set it apart?

“I think it was pretty daring,” he says. “It was designed to be an attention-grabbing idea for the right people.

Fortunately, a lot of the Human League and Heaven 17 fans became artists, architects, graphic designers, journalists and the like. We were trying to reach young people who were interested in a brighter future and a lot of them were intelligent creative types. I’m not blowing smoke up your arse here.”

Oh, blow away.

“You’ve also got to understand the wider societal context,” he continues. “There was a negative vibe around at the time, so our attitude was about trying to provide a beautiful and maybe even positive alternative.”

Life was certainly grim in the UK in 1981. After the Brixton riots in April of that year, social unrest spread across much of the country, fuelled by the fact that unemployment was at 2.4 million and inflation was running away at 18 per cent. On the global stage, Thatcher and Reagan were squaring up to Russia and the world felt on the brink of nuclear war.

Which explains why ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ doesn’t deal in flowery metaphor. It’s direct. It names names. Politics has always played its part in Martyn’s world – he’s a firm socialist, a proud product of the People’s Republic Of South Yorkshire – so the lyrics of Heaven 17’s first hit aren’t really a surprise: “History will repeat itself / Crisis point, we’re near the hour”. The whole idea of leaders abusing their power was spot-on.

“We’ve been asked by various campaign groups, especially in America, to do a new version,” says Martyn. “But we decided against it. It looks like jumping on a bandwagon and we didn’t want to seem like we were milking it. I think it stands better as a period piece.”

Bloody hell, though, they weren’t far off. Add in track titles like ‘Rise Of The East’ and ‘Decline Of The West’ and…

“We are the Nostradamus of pop,” laughs Martyn.

Martyn Ware isn’t a man to rest on his laurels. While he’s more than happy to talk about past times, he remains as forward-looking as he was when he named his first band The Future. These days, he has his fingers in a number of pies, and we speak about a couple of key projects before the interview draws to a close.

Like most of us, the pandemic gave him pause for thought. A little too much thought, in fact. He needed to do something to keep busy, to shift his focus from the constant bad news.

“I was getting depressed during the lockdown and wondering where the future was leading,” he says. “I had to do something, but I felt no inspiration whatsoever to write music. Music has to come from my soul. While I always enjoy the process, I wasn’t inspired to create any pieces of work.”

What was it about the pandemic that made you feel like that?

“Oh, come on,” he splutters. “Is that not obvious?”

But a lot of people felt empowered by suddenly having the luxury of a little time on their hands, didn’t they?

“I can understand that,” he says. “I know that it gave some people a bit of space in their lives to do something creative. But for me, I come in here and do creative stuff every day. And I genuinely believe you are what you eat. It’s what’s going on around you that informs what you create. It could be happy or sad things in your life. It could be your friends. And all of that got deconstructed during the pandemic, so I didn’t seem to have the templates to provide me with the impetus.”

So instead of making music, he decided to concentrate on writing an autobiography.

“I had never written more than a couple of thousand words before and this was 130,000. So I set myself a target of 3,000 words every day.”

Which is a lot of words. That’s a big daily target.

“I’m not saying that it’s 3,000 highly polished words. I was pouring it out, which I found quite straightforward. The hard part was the timeline. I had this giant spreadsheet on the wall, which my daughter helped me put together. I employed her to help me as a researcher.”

So you didn’t keep a diary back in the day?

“No,” he replies. “It took me months to piece it all together, mainly by questioning my friends and doing bits of research on the internet. Paul Bower [founding member of the seminal Sheffield punk outfit 2.3] was my personal archivist. He knows more about me than me. Thank god, because I honestly can’t remember a lot of it.”

Halfway through the project, another idea struck Martyn.

“So I was writing this book when I thought, ‘Fuck me, who’s going to buy this apart from devoted fans? How am I going to spread the appeal?’. It occurred to me I needed to do something to up my profile that didn’t involve going on some fucking reality TV show. I felt the best way of doing it was a podcast. I know plenty of interesting people and figured it would still be good if it only lasted 20 episodes.”

And so ‘Electronically Yours’, the audio version, was born. You will recognise the logo straight away when you see it. It features the two dancing Letraset characters from the cover of The Human League’s ‘Being Boiled’ single. Talk about quality and distinction.

Martyn chats with a different guest each episode. More often than not, they’re people he’s crossed creative paths with at some point. Many of them are close pals, the likes of Glenn Gregory, Stephen Mallinder, Chris Watson, Vince Clarke and Malcolm Garrett. Others are stone-cold legends, such as Gary Numan, Gerald Casale, Tony Visconti and Sandie Shaw. For good measure, his guests have included plenty of current-day artists too, from Hannah Peel to John Grant to Róisín Murphy.

Martyn’s podcast was only meant to run until his autobiography came out, the intention being that it worked as a trailer. As I type this, Episode 137 has just gone online, with Adamski as the guest. There’s also a bunch of additional material for everybody who is supporting ‘Electronically Yours’ by subscribing via Patreon (

In Martyn’s own words, the interviews are “rare and precious gems”. They really are. If you’re new to ‘Electronically Yours’, you won’t know where to start. Martyn doesn’t pull any punches and his insight is extraordinary. The episodes with Bob Last and Simon Draper, who signed The Human League to Virgin and was another key player in the band’s split, are gobsmacking. And the reason it works is Martyn himself. Each episode isn’t so much an interview as a conversation between peers.

“That’s precisely it,” he beams. “I do get a kicking for it from a lot of people, though.”

Do you?

“Oh, yeah. People get really irritated. The most common thing is, ‘You talk too much. Why don’t you shut the fuck up?’. But the less it’s like a traditional interview, the more at ease people feel, and then the more they open up.”

How did you know you could do this?

“I like the sound of my own voice,” he laughs. “I’ve never had any problem doing interviews.”

You clearly enjoy it.

“It’s a lot of work – I was releasing two podcasts a week at one point because it was saving me from going insane – but it’s done really well. The numbers are going up all the time. An average per episode is over 5,000 listeners.”

That’s good, right?

“I don’t know. I regard it as good for my mental health and I feel like it’s some sort of a legacy because it lives forever. It saves me writing endless fucking boring books about me.”

Which totally hits the nail on the head. Books and podcasts are so essential. There are hugely important artists who won’t speak with the music press, let alone do something like ‘Electronically Yours’. The thing is, once they’re gone and their stories haven’t been documented, they’re going to be forgotten.

“One of the saddest things I ever encountered was when Eve Wood did her ‘Made In Sheffield’ documentary,” says Martyn. “They were asking around for people who they could interview, so Ian, Phil and me were on it, as were Chris Watson, Paul Bower, Stephen Singleton, Jarvis Cocker and others.

“I was talking to Richard Kirk at the time and I said, ‘How come you’re not being interviewed for this film?’. He said, ‘I’m waiting for “The South Bank Show” special’. I thought he was taking the piss, but he said, ‘No, I really am. I think Cabaret Voltaire deserve a big feature piece’. I said to him, ‘You’ve got to talk to people at any opportunity you get’.

“Films and documentaries like that will last forever in the world of the internet. It’s all adding to the body of work. In the end, Kirky went to his grave without really ever having told his story. I think it’s vital not to get bitter by a lack of perceived success. You have to get on with doing what you do and make sure it’s available to people when you’ve gone.”

That’s an excellent point.

“The thing is, I’m not actually very nostalgic,” laughs Martyn. “Which probably sounds weird for somebody who’s just written a book about his life and spends a lot of his time speaking with people about the past on a podcast.”

While Martyn Ware has always been happy to chat about the old days, he’s celebrating his history rather than dwelling on it – and he can afford to do that because he’s also very much in the moment. As I get ready to wind things up, he turns to the subject of Illustrious, the sound design company he set up with Vince Clarke, although Vince is something of a sleeping partner now.

“Illustrious is my vehicle for moving forward and has been for the last 20 years,” he says. “We’ve recently expanded our staff in order to target new work in various marketplaces. One of the main developmental areas that I’m interested in is immersive theatre, which is becoming big business.

“I think this is the future of entertainment. It’s all about creating experiential worlds and there’s normally some kind of narrative that you follow. If you’ve never seen any immersive theatre before, do yourself a huge favour and go to ‘The Burnt City’ by a company called Punchdrunk. It’s on in London, in Greenwich, and it’s this epic piece about the fall of Troy.

“‘The Burnt City’ is an open-world experience, with something like 35 rooms you can wander about in. These people are the dons of this scene and I’m hoping we can get to work with them. My ambition, ultimately, is to make completely immersive, convincing, ultra-realistic experiences for people.”

Which sounds amazing.

“But then that has always been my aim,” he continues. “It goes right back to ‘Music For Stowaways’. We create our own reality on a second-by-second basis based on the sensory inputs we are getting. That’s all ‘Music For Stowaways’ was. It was putting you into a different headspace.”

And with that, we have come full circle. All tied up very neatly there, Martyn. Thank you.

“I’m such a pro, aren’t I?”

‘Music For Stowaways’ is out on Cold Spring. Martyn Ware’s autobiography, ‘Electronically Yours Vol 1’, is published by Constable. The ‘Electronically Yours’ podcast is available from all the usual providers

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