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In a league of their own - the beginnings of British Electric Foundation Music for Stowaways: How BEF became your BFF

In a league of their own - the beginnings of British Electric Foundation

Music for Stowaways: How BEF became your BFF

by Alan Rider, Contributing Editor
first published: March, 2023

approximate reading time: minutes

The innovative sounds heard on 'Music For Stowaways' were an inspiration to many aspiring electronic artists with Moby declaring it to be one of his favourite albums...

Music For Stowaways
(Cold Spring)

Following their two groundbreaking albums (‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’), the original line-up of Sheffield-based The Human League split in half in late 1980. Most people know what happened to the Phil Oakley lead half, but less well known is that the other half comprising the two principal musicians in the Human League, Martyn Ware, and Ian Craig Marsh, went on to form a new production company of their own - British Electric Foundation (B.E.F.) - and signed a deal with Virgin Records to write and produce up to six albums a year. The artists they were to produce would include Heaven 17, their own new band formed with vocalist Glenn Gregory.

B.E.F. would also release their own material, commencing with the largely stark, moody, cinematic-sounding electronic music on this collection, which was issued in various permutations in 1981-82. Cassettes were a revolutionary new format at the start of the 80s, and, following the lead set in 1980 by Bow Wow Wow's  'C30,C60,C90, Go!' and their cassette only debut album 'Your Cassette Pet', the initial release in March 1981 was as a limited edition (though limited to a rather impressive 10,000!) eight song cassette entitled ‘Music for Stowaways’, with ‘Stowaways’ being a reference to the original name for the then-new Sony designed portable cassette player - later renamed the Walkman. "That became the theory behind Music for Stowaways," explains Ware. "It was about how you could play your music and change your mood wherever you were. Basically, the Walkman liberated music. And there we were at the sharp end with this cassette-only release." However, the cassette was later repackaged as a seven song LP, ‘Music For Listening To’, with a slightly different track listing, whilst other B.E.F. music appeared as B-sides of early singles by Heaven 17.

The music on 'Music for Stowaways' was among the first recorded by Martyn and Ian directly after their departure from The Human League and to my ears stands up well today even though it sounds raw in comparison to the more polished output that followed. Guest musicians who appeared on the album included Adi Newton of Clock DVA (who had been a member of The Future with Martyn and Ian pre-Human League) and  John Wilson (who provided guitar and bass for Heaven 17). Some tracks evolved from other recordings they were working on at the time, such as ‘Groove Thang’ - an instrumental version of the debut single by Heaven 17 released on the same day as the cassette - and ‘The Old At Rest’, which derived from a version of ‘Wichita Lineman’ by Jimmy Webb, their very first recording with Glenn Gregory that would subsequently appear on B.E.F.’s ‘Music of Quality and Distinction, Volume One’ covers album in 1982.

The innovative sounds heard on ‘Music For Stowaways’ were an inspiration to many aspiring electronic artists with Moby declaring it to be one of his favourite albums and its is true to say the influence of B.E.F on popular electronic music continues to this day, with Heaven 17's B.E.F produced 'Penthouse and Pavement' album a modern classic.  For anyone seriously interested in the lexicon of iconic and influential 1980s electronica, I'd say this has to be an essential part of their collection.

Alan Rider
Contributing Editor

Alan Rider is a Norfolk based writer and electronic musician from Coventry, who splits his time between excavating his own musical past and feeding his growing band of hedgehogs, usually ending up combining the two. Alan also performs in Dark Electronic act Senestra and manages the indie label Adventures in Reality.

about Alan Rider »»



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