Susan Ann Sulley

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Susan Ann Sulley
Suesulley2007.jpg
Susan Ann Sulley
Background information
Birth name Susan Ann Sulley
Also known as Susanne Sulley
Susan Ann Gayle
Born (1963-03-22) 22 March 1963 (age 51)
Origin Sheffield, England, UK
Genres Synthpop
Occupations Vocalist
Years active 1980–present
Labels Virgin Records, A&M, EastWest, Papillon
Associated acts The Human League
Past members
Music sample
Sulley's highest profile vocal role. 1995 single "One Man in My Heart"

Susan Ann Sulley (born 22 March 1963), formerly known as Susanne Sulley and Susan Ann Gayle, is a British singer and one of the two female vocalists of the synthpop group The Human League.

Born and raised in Sheffield, England, as a schoolgirl in 1980 Sulley (aged 17) and her friend Joanne Catherall were "discovered" in the Crazy Daisy Nightclub in Sheffield by Philip Oakey, the lead singer and a founding member of The Human League. The pair were invited to join the new line-up, initially as dancers and incidental vocalists (and, as Oakey puts it, "to provide some glamour"[this quote needs a citation]) for a European tour. They soon were asked to provide full vocals by Oakey as an experiment. The girls' distinctive vocals rapidly became a signature of the new Human League, changing the band's style, its appeal to the mainstream public, and to its subsequent commercial success.

Recruited into The Human League at age 17, she is a joint business partner in the band[1] which is recording and performing to this day. The Human League has dominated Sulley's life; she has been a singer all her adult life and has never had any other full-time job.

"Joanne and I weren't ambitious; we didn't want to be in a pop group. We were just two girls at school who wanted to go to university."[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Sulley was born Susan Ann Sulley in Sheffield, UK on 22 March 1963. She was raised and spent all her early years in the Gleadless suburb of the city. For her final education she attended the city's Frecheville Comprehensive School from the late 1970s until mid 1981. Her best friend from the age of 13 was fellow lifelong Sheffield resident and Frecheville student Joanne Catherall. By early 1981 she was calling herself 'Susanne Sulley', a familiar amalgamation of her two first names, a nickname which she had been casually known as at school. In 1980 while still at school she had a part-time job in a Sheffield hairdressing salon and a casual summer job selling ice cream at a Sheffield cinema, the only jobs she has had in her life apart from music.[3]

1980: The Crazy Daisy story[edit]

The story of how Sulley and Joanne Catherall came to join The Human League remains firmly embedded in pop legend. Although verified by all involved, it was questioned at the time in some quarters as a modern Cinderella story or a deliberate publicity stunt.

Sulley (then age 18) in 1981

October 1980 saw the acrimonious departure of Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware from the original line-up of the Human League at very short notice. It was decided that Philip Oakey would retain the title of The Human League. Oakey also would be responsible for honouring the band's commitments to Virgin Records. One of these commitments included an imminent European tour, and the promoters threatened to sue Oakey if it wasn't completed as scheduled. With a hostile music press writing off The Human League, Oakey hastily set about finding replacement group members for the tour that was due to start in less than a week.

With time rapidly running out before the tour, Oakey needed a female backing vocalist to replace the high vocals originally provided by Martyn Ware. Visiting Sheffield city centre on a Wednesday night, Oakey spotted two teenaged girls dancing at the Crazy Daisy Nightclub. "With what he considered unique dance moves, immaculate make-up, and an ultra-feminine dress style",[this quote needs a citation] Oakey felt they would be ideal and both were invited to join the tour. Catherall and Sulley accepted the offer, but then had to convince their parents. Fears were laid to rest when Oakey visited the girls' parents to assure them that, in Oakey's words: "it wasn't a heinous plan to take the girls abroad and sell them".[this quote needs a citation]

When recruited, the girls had already bought tickets to see the group perform, later in the tour, in Doncaster. Both girls were studying for their final year at school, but eventually it was agreed that the chance of seeing Europe would be a good opportunity for them. The arrival of "dancing girls" was met with derision by the music press who now were convinced that The Human League were finished. History, however, proved that the girls' arrival in the group was critical to its success. On completion of the tour, both Sulley and Catherall were asked to join the group full-time.

Sulley tells the story of her recruitment into band in 1980. Interview clip recorded 10/04/2009

Problems playing this file? See media help.

1981: Dare and "Don’t You Want Me"[edit]

In 1981, whilst Sulley was still at school, the group recorded Dare, their most commercially successful album to date. The release of the album also coincided with the prevalence in the use of music videos and the launch of MTV. Dare's success persuaded the record label (Virgin Records) to finance an expensive and elaborate promotional music video for the single "Don't You Want Me".[citation needed]

In the video Sulley plays a successful actress walking out on her bitter Svengali lover (played by Oakey) who laments her success and departure. Set on a "film shoot" on a wet winter night, Sulley sings directly to the camera whilst walking through the atmospheric set, immaculately made up and wearing a distinctive trench coat. The single, aided by the now-classic video, was a commercial breakthrough for the group, going to number one in the charts in both the UK and the US[4]

Sulley denies the claim, by some, that the song is in any way an analogy about Catherall and her joining the group.[citation needed] It was actually written by Oakey after reading a story in a magazine. Another falsehood often repeated by the media is that she was once actually a real cocktail waitress. When asked about this Sulley points out that she was still at school when Dare was recorded, and often jokes that she "has never had a proper job in her life".[5]

Sulley in the iconic music video for "Don't You Want Me" (December 1981)

The remaining 1980s[edit]

The international stardom that Dare brought was short-lived. The group took three years to release their next full album, 1984's Hysteria. A stop-gap E.P., Fascination!, was issued in America in 1983. From these releases the group had a number of top-ten singles in the UK and the US, including "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" and "Mirror Man" which both charted at number two in the UK. The single "Human" from Crash was the group's last real commercial success of the decade, charting at number one in the US and number eight in the UK. From then the group's mainstream popularity plunged, with subsequent releases not even breaking the top forty. It also was about 1986 that she stopped calling herself Susanne, opting for the more formal Susan.

The mid to late 1980s were not a particularly happy time for Sulley, as she had to deal with the personal problems unexpected international fame brought her. Also, internal disputes and pressure to produce more hits caused conflict, and eventually splits, within The Human League. When asked in late 1995 to describe that period, Sulley said:

I hated the 1980s, it was horrible ... absolutely all of it.[5]

The 1990s[edit]

In 1990 the band released their last album for Virgin Records, Romantic?, which included the minor hit single "Heart Like a Wheel". The Romantic? album did not re-capture the group's huge commercial success of 1981; with its second single "Soundtrack for a Generation" flopping, Virgin chose not to renew their recording contract. Although disheartened, the group remained together and persevered with new material. The Human League made a surprise comeback in 1994, now signed to East West Records, with the single "Tell Me When", giving them their first major hit since 1986's "Human", and the accompanying album Octopus going Gold.

"One Man in My Heart"[edit]

Main article: One Man in My Heart

In 1995 the Octopus album gave the UK another hit single with "One Man in My Heart". This provided Sulley her highest public profile in the band's history. The song was a ballad sung by Sulley on lead vocals, with Oakey and Catherall providing supporting vocals. The stylish accompanying video, set in a Parisian cafe, gave (the now 32-year old) Sulley the best opportunity to demonstrate her considerable screen presence since "Don't You Want Me". Although only moderately successful (it reached number thirteen in the UK charts), it was described years later in The Guardian as "one of the best love songs of the 1990s", and has been remixed and re-released a number of times since.

2000 to the present[edit]

Events conspired against the group when, in 2001, record label problems (Papillion Records had financial difficulties and eventually went bust) caused the critically acclaimed Secrets album to be starved of adequate promotion.[citation needed] The album was widely believed to be the group's best since the mid-1980s. Starved of airplay, the single "All I Ever Wanted" didn't realise its full potential. The group embarked on the Secrets tour to accompany the album. The tour was a major success, and demonstrated that the group's strength was as a live act.[citation needed] The tour also demonstrated that they had a huge following – not just as a nostalgia band to those who remember the 1980s material – but also to a new generation with new material.[citation needed]

By now Sulley was being credited by her married name, Susan Ann Gayle, which caused some confusion with the public when it appeared unannounced on the album credits; she remained better known to Human League fans by the name Sulley, and she eventually stopped using Gayle as a professional name in 2007.

Susan Ann Sulley – On stage in Sheffield April 2008
Susan Ann Sulley – On stage in 2010

The group regularly play to sell-out venues worldwide. In 2006 they played to an audience of 18,000 at the Hollywood Bowl, and appeared on the network US television show Jimmy Kimmel Live!. In late 2006 The Human League completed another tour of the UK and Europe, again with many venues sold out. In a 2007 interview, Suley stated that the main effort of The Human League in the immediate future was the recording of new material, with the possibility of a new studio album, while continuing to play live at a variety of venues both in the UK and internationally.[6]

Sulley, when asked (in 2004) to pick the highlight of her career, said:

"I think it's still happening. I think the fact we're still doing it now. After all these years – I'm 41 now, and really, I shouldn't be in a pop group any more, but I am and it's still my job! I wake up in the morning and I haven't got to go to a nine-to-five. I've got this life and I'm very, very lucky![7]

Today[edit]

Today Sulley still lives in her native Sheffield. She continues to record, perform and tour full-time with The Human League. Off stage she often acts as The Human League's media 'officer' and has been responsible for many interviews, press statements and publicity events. She has also guest presented on music TV channel VH1 and is an independent media personality in her own right.[citation needed] She also does occasional charity work in Sheffield.

Influence[edit]

  • Victoria Beckham of The Spice Girls has stated that it was Sulley that inspired her to enter pop music.[8]
  • In the 2008 BBC TV drama Ashes to Ashes (set in 1981), Keeley Hawes's character Alex Drake uses the line "I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar" (from "Don't You Want Me") in the dialogue; included by the script writers as a deliberate reference to Sulley's media presence in 1981.

Film and television[edit]

  • 1999 "Hunting Venus" (Buffalo Films, D. Martin Clunes) – Played herself
  • 2007 VH1 – Presenter

Professional name chronology[edit]

Although her birth name is Susan Ann Sulley, she has been known professionally by a number of variants throughout her career; the table below shows the chronology. Because she rarely corrects journalists using an incorrect name, it is possible to find any of these currently in use in the media.[9]

1963–1981
  • Susan Ann Sulley
1981–1986
  • Susanne Sulley
1986–2001
  • Susan Ann Sulley
2001–2007
  • Susan Ann Gayle
2007 – present
  • Susan Ann Sulley

Note: Her middle name can be spelled either Ann or Anne by the media and is only used professionally

Awards[edit]

  • 1982 BRIT Awards – (as 'The Human League') – 'Best British Breakthrough Act'
  • 2004 Q Awards – (as 'The Human League') – 'The Q Innovation in Sound Award'
  • Nominated for Grammy Award in 1982 for Best International Act (as 'The Human League')

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Liverpool Echo 02/12/2005
  2. ^ Interview Sulley – Yve Ngoo BBC Local Radio Newcastle Oct 2004
  3. ^ Lancashire Times 2004
  4. ^ A Band Called The Human League, Alaska Ross 1982, ISBN 0-86276-103-4
  5. ^ a b NME 18 November 1995
  6. ^ Susan Sulley speaking to Falkirk Herald 5 May 2007
  7. ^ Interview Sulley – Yve Ngoo BBC Local Radio Newcastle Oct 2004
  8. ^ Human Remains, The Guardian, 13 July 2001
  9. ^ Online Biography, www.susanne-sulley.net