Susan Ann Sulley

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Susan Ann Sulley
Suesulley2007.jpg
Sulley in 2007
Background information
Birth name Susan Ann Sulley
Also known as Susanne Sulley
Susan Ann Gayle
Born (1963-03-22) 22 March 1963 (age 55)
Origin Sheffield, England, UK
Genres Synthpop
Occupation(s) Vocalist
Years active 1980–present
Labels Virgin Records, A&M, EastWest, Papillon
Associated acts The Human League

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. They soon were asked to provide full vocals by Oakey as an experiment.

Sulley is a joint business partner in the band,[1] which still records and performs. 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. She explains: "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 in Sheffield, UK on 22 March 1963. She 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 by which she had been casually known at school. Whilst still at school in 1980, 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]

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

The group recorded Dare, their most commercially successful album to date, in 1981. The release of the album also coincided with a steep rise in the use of music videos and the launch of MTV.

In the video for "Don't You Want Me", released in November as the fourth single from the album, 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 was still at school when Dare was recorded, and often jokes that she "has never had a proper job in her life".[5]

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]

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]

Sulley, Sheffield, April 2008
Sulley, 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, Sulley 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]

Influence[edit]

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, October 2004
  3. ^ Lancashire Times 2004[permanent dead link]
  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 Archived 8 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine., www.susanne-sulley.net