British Electric Foundation

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B.E.F. (British Electric Foundation) was a band/production company formed by former Human League members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh which became largely eclipsed by its best-known project, Heaven 17 (with lead singer Glenn Gregory).


Ware and Marsh's first release as B.E.F. in 1980, a collection of instrumentals entitled Music For Stowaways, was initially available only on cassette and was inspired by the appearance of the first Sony Walkman (at first marketed in the UK as the Sony Stowaway). There was also a vinyl release, Music For Listening To, mainly targeted for export sales, which was slightly truncated (though with the addition of a track not found on the cassette). In the late 1990s, a CD release with this title contained the complete contents from both versions.

In 1982, with Heaven 17 already established with Glenn Gregory as the lead vocalist, B.E.F. released an album entitled Music of Quality and Distinction Volume One on Virgin Records, which involved other artists covering classic songs.[1] However, as this album came out before the 'age of the featured artist', the record was classed as a 'Various Artists' compilation, similar to albums released at the time by Ronco or K-Tel, and not a record by the British Electric Foundation,[2] (so its number 25 placing in the UK Top 100 albums chart is seen as a hit for Virgin Records and not the B.E.F. or BEF).[3]

The album's production was mainly in the Heaven 17/ B.E.F. style (i.e. synthesisers and LinnDrums) and featured Glenn Gregory covering Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" (made famous in a version recorded by country star Glen Campbell). B.E.F.'s album also featured covers by Billy Mackenzie ("The Secret Life of Arabia" and "It's Over"), Paul Jones ("There's A Ghost In My House"), Paula Yates ("These Boots Are Made For Walkin'"), Gary Glitter ("Suspicious Minds"), and Bernie Nolan ("You Keep Me Hangin' On", and "Perfect Day").[1] In addition to those tracks, the album had a version of "Anyone Who Had a Heart" by Sandie Shaw, a recording which was released as a single that charted at Number 71 in Australia, and "Ball of Confusion". This recording of the Whitfield and Strong song by Tina Turner, drew the attention of Capitol Records, which resulted in Turner being signed by the label. Her next single "Let's Stay Together" would be co-produced by Ware and would peak at number six in the UK Singles Chart (also making the US Top 20).

It was not until 1991 that a second volume appeared, with the album this time being handled by Ten Records through AVL (Associated Virgin Labels Limited) rather than by the main unit of Virgin Records. Music of Quality and Distinction Volume Two again featured Tina Turner (singing "A Change Is Gonna Come") and Billy Mackenzie (singing "Free"),[1] whilst B.E.F.'s version of "Family Affair" gave them and singer Lalah Hathaway a Top 40 hit in the UK Singles Chart (this time credited to 'BEF featuring Lalah Hathaway').[4] Scritti Politti's Green Gartside was another guest on the album, performing "I Don't Know Why I Love You", a track recorded in the same set of sessions that included Scritti Politti's pop-reggae version of "She's a Woman" (featuring Shabba Ranks), a recording which became a Top 20 chart hit early in 1991.[5]

Dark was released 27 May 2013, with Ware explaining the album would consist of

very dark versions of tunes that have to be of a certain type. Basically it's dark reinterpretations, primarily looking at things differently from a lyrical point of view. It's almost like soundscape stuff, in much the same way as "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" on "Reproduction" was kind of like a soundscape.[6]

First live performance[edit]

In March 2007 B.E.F. made their first live performance, as part of the line-up for the Tribute to Billy MacKenzie Concert held at Shepherds Bush Empire, London, in memory of their three-time guest vocalist, and in aid of Sound Seekers. The B.E.F. line-up consisted of Martyn Ware on keyboards, a guitarist/keyboardist and a bassist, with Glenn Gregory and Billie Godfrey, Heaven 17's female vocalist.[7]


  • the aforementioned "Free"
  • Heaven 17's "Let Me Go" (Gregory revealing that it was MacKenzie's favourite Heaven 17 track)
  • a version of "Temptation" similar to the original demo, with guest vocalist Claudia Brücken (who was present with two other acts: Onetwo and Claudia Brücken/Andrew Poppy)
  • David Bowie's "Drive-In Saturday" (another MacKenzie favourite)
  • the Associates' "Party Fears Two" in a slower/stripped-down version.

Following this concert, the stripped-down cover of "Party Fears Two" was recorded in studio and was featured on Heaven 17's 2008 album Naked as Advertised.


Year Album UK Catalogue Label Notes
1981 Music for Listening To - BEF 1 B.E.F./Virgin Records Vinyl L.P. album released by Virgin UK mainly for export to other countries, featuring selected tracks from the Music for Stowaways cassette (TCV 2888) plus exclusive track "A Baby Called Billy"
1981 Music for Stowaways - TCV 2888 B.E.F./Virgin Records Cassette only release (limited number edition of 10,000 copies)
1982 B.E.F.* Presents Sandie Shaw - Anyone Who Had a Heart - VS 487 - Vinyl 7"
1982 B.E.F.* featuring Tina Turner - Ball of Confusion - VS 500 - Vinyl 7"
1982 Music of Quality and Distinction Volume One 25 V 2219 B.E.F./Virgin Records listed as a 'Various Artists' compilation album on the UK Top 100 albums chart
1982 Music of Quality and Distinction Volume One - VV 2219 - Vinyl 5 x 7" singles
1991 BEF featuring Lalah Hathaway - Family Affair 37 TENX 369 Ten Records/AVL Vinyl 12"
1991 Music of Quality and Distinction Volume Two - - B.E.F./Ten Records/AVL -
1991 BEF Featuring Billy MacKenzie – Free - TEN 369 Ten Records/AVL Vinyl 7"
2011 British Electric Foundation: 1981-2011[8] - - B.E.F./Virgin Records Box set including Vols 1 & 2, Music For Stowaways, "A Baby Called Billy" and tracks from Dark
2013 Music of Quality and Distinction Volume Three: Dark - - - Standard CD and iTunes releases, plus 2-disc limited edition CD release autographed by Ware


  1. ^ a b c Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who’s Who of Indie and New Wave Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 31. ISBN 0-85112-579-4.
  2. ^ "VARIOUS ARTISTS (VIRGIN) | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company".
  3. ^ "BEF FEAT. LALAH HATHAWAY | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company".
  4. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 36. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  5. ^ "SCRITTI POLITTI | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company".
  6. ^ " news section: Live debut of BEF, January 17, 2007, Billy MacKenzie Tribute Concert". February 2007. Archived from the original on 10 October 2007. Retrieved 21 April 2007.
  7. ^ "Billy MacKenzie Tribute Concert Shepherd's Bush Empire, London". The Independent. April 2007. Retrieved 1 February 2009.[dead link]
  8. ^ "British Electric Foundation: Boxed Set 1981-2011". 14 October 2011.

External links[edit]