Heaven 17's Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware share memories of working with Tina Turner

They were young lads from Sheffield being driven through the Hollywood hills of Los Angeles to the home of Tina Turner. “The door opened and there she was,” says Glenn Gregory of synth-pop band Heaven 17. “It was like ‘woah’.

“She was absolutely so warm and welcoming and friendly. Not in any way kind of ‘starry’ and ‘Hollywoodish’. Really warm. I seem to remember she was wearing a red and black gingham shirt and I think her hair was in pigtails. She said come on in and we sat in the kitchen...She was so friendly. We were a little bit starstruck to be honest. There we were, straight out of Sheffield, straight into Hollywood.”

Glenn, and bandmate Martyn Ware, discuss their memories of meeting and working with Tina in a new documentary to air this Christmas. It tells the story of the American-born superstar’s relationship with the UK. When Tina Turner Came To Britain features previously unheard interviews with Tina herself as well as contributions from those who have met and worked with her. The film begins with Tina’s first visit to the UK, when, alongside her then-husband Ike, she supported The Rolling Stones on tour in 1966 and performed in cities including London, Leeds and Glasgow.

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The programme then moves on to her second UK tour with Ike Turner in 1968, which saw her perform in smaller venues including in Harrogate and Redcar, before exploring her solo reinvention in the late 70s and 80s. Finally, we see footage of Tina attending the world premiere of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical in London in 2018.

Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory in When Tina Turner Came To Britain. Photo: BBCMartyn Ware and Glenn Gregory in When Tina Turner Came To Britain. Photo: BBC
Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory in When Tina Turner Came To Britain. Photo: BBC

In the documentary, Martyn talks about how working with Tina on the album Music of Quality and Distinction Volume One happened completely by chance. "We were recording an album in the early days of Heaven 17, under the name of the British Electric Foundation,” Glenn picks up the story. “We had done a load of electronic cover versions of songs and we were getting different, disparate artists from all over the place to sing them. The idea was to get people that you wouldn’t normally have singing that type of [electronic] song.”

One of the team at Virgin Records overheard their conversation about looking for someone to work with on the last track of the album. He happened to be going to LA to see Tina. “We were massive Tina Turner fans,” Glenn says. And so they found themselves flying to California to meet her in the early 1980s. "I didn’t know these people,” Tina is heard saying in the documentary. “All of this is management that takes hand of artists and [they] said there are some guys in England who are very interested in you and I think we can get some really good records out of England.”

She agreed to come over to the UK to record for the album. “We’d recorded the backing track and she came in the studio and she said ‘where’s the band?’,” Glenn says, “thinking there’d be a couple of guitarists and a bass player. We pointed at the Fairlight and the computer and said ‘we’re the band, this is it’. She was a little confused. But she is such an absolute professional.

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"She went into the studio, she sang absolutely amazingly. We were gobsmacked. Every single time I’ve recorded with Tina, my jaw has been on the floor because she absolutely nails it first time every time. And she did then. She went in and sang and it was like watching a classic performance on a film screen or massive stage but you were right there in the room with her. It was fantastic. She did the first take and we loved it but we didn’t want her to go so we made her do it two or three more times.”

Martyn and Glenn went on to work with Tina on her 1984 album Private Dancer, including on her cover of Let’s Stay Together. “What you are hearing on that record is Tina’s first take,” Glenn says. “She absolutely nailed it. Such emotion, such lyrical understanding. She was fantastic. We knew the track was really good.”

Tina also appeared on popular TV show The Tube at Tyne Tees Studios in Newcastle. Glenn says: "She said something like ‘I’d like to introduce my producers Martyn and Glenn’. We walked on stage feeling totally perfectly inadequate, two guys from Sheffield walking on stage with a living legend. I find it quite hard to watch really because I look so nervous.”

The song Let’s Stay Together – and Tina’s album – has been credited with helping her reinvention. Performances at the Apollo, Manchester and in front of huge stadium audiences at venues like the NEC in Birmingham followed.

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Glenn says: “She was amazing, she always has been amazing. But at the time that we contacted her, she was in a little bit of a dip really, as 99 per cent of musicians do. You fall out of the public eye a little bit but you’re still working. She was working and gigging, smaller places, and doing her repertoire, which was an amazing one, but not really going forward, just kind of treading water.

"That song (Let’s Stay Together) just grabbed people and immediately shot her back into the public eye. Because of the person she is and the career she has had, it was like she’d never been away...Tina herself has said thanks for asking her to do that, but really all we did was shine a bit of the light back on her.”

Ahead of the documentary airing this Christmas, Tina has spoken of the “love, energy and support” she has had from Britain over the years. “I couldn’t have enjoyed the career I’ve had without my time spent in the UK and collaborations with amazing British songwriters, musicians and producers,” she says. “From my very first visit to London in 1966 I always enjoyed visiting Britain and performing for fans across the country – it felt like my second home.”

When Tina Turner Came To Britain will broadcast on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer on Christmas Day at 9.25pm.