"I thought it was a little bit... middle of the road," the Human League's chief songwriter Philip Oakey says. "I thought it was a bit ordinary."

Believe it or not he's talking about his group's era-defining, worldwide smash and synth-pop classic, Don't You Want Me, a song of such hook-laden, pop genius that people mistake its sinister overtones for a celebratory love song.

"We were close to bands like Joy Division and quite liked the doomy raincoats stuff," he explains. "I was afraid we were getting too much into Abba territory. How wrong I was!"

How wrong? Massively. The song was immediately recognised as a classic when it was released in 1981 and it rocketed to no.1 in the UK, US and here, before going on to become the 23rd most successful single in British music history.


"There were all sorts of difficulties writing the song," he reveals. "In that case we had a slight problem that we hadn't written the chorus. We had all the other bits and we had a bit that sort of went 'da-da-da-da-duh, Ohhhhh, Oh-oh-ohh'."

He sings the song's famous chorus hook down the line, before describing how their record producer Martin Rushent coaxed the words out of him.

"Martin actually locked me in a room and said I'm not going to let you out until you write the chorus. So I had to come up with something," he laughs. "About half an hour later I came out and said, 'well, it's not got many notes in it. Will it do?'. And he said, "Yes Philip. I think that'll do."

Despite topping the charts back in the day, and since soundtracking many a retro party, wedding reception and drunken sing-along it's hard to believe that tonight is the Human League's first ever New Zealand gig.

"We think it's hard to believe as well. We've been trying to get there for such a long time but there's just that difficulty of crossing the world with a load of equipment. Because we're an old synthesiser band we have to take loads of old junk with us and it costs a fortune."

That's because when Oakey and his fellow Human Leaguers Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley, hit the stage they'll be backed by their live synth band.

"We had a period when we were doing things to backing tracks and it made us very unhappy. So we try not to do that," he explains.

"I'm quite a shy person. I don't like the whole focus of attention being on me. If I have to go out and do something on my own I feel really awkward. And if you're singing and there's big tunes coming and there's no one playing them... it's a bit weird. We like the band thing. It's always been a group effort and, to be honest, that's been the joy of the group. Any little success we've had has always been as a band. "

He' won't be behind the keys tonight then?

"No. I'm not good enough," he laughs. "Myself, Joanne and Susan aren't super talented musicians or anything. We have three guys who are really excellent players and, honestly, I'm not a musician. It's amazing for me that I've managed to look like a musician for a whole career. But I've not got that facility. I was too lazy to even want to put in the practice."

"There's something slightly wrong with my rhythmic sense as well. If you ever saw me trying to dance you'd realize, 'that guy can't quite do things in time'."

*The Human League play Logan Campbell Centre tonight with support from Pseudo Echo.