Witnessed by Jason Guest
With but a handful of pub gigs to his name, by late 1978, Numan had released two singles under the Tubeway Army moniker, both ‘That’s Too Bad’ and ‘Bombers’ receiving indifferent reviews and failing to chart. While recording a bunch of punk rock tracks for the band’s eponymous debut, Numan stumbled upon a Minimoog, which, fortunately for us all, had been left on a setting that made the walls tremble. Hitherto writing punk with the sole intention of getting a record deal, the effect of this monstrous sound on Numan was revolutionary. Combining punk with dark, dystopian electronic sounds, released in November 1978, the album’s limited run of 5,000 would have little impact. But Numan had already moved on and the March 1979 single, ‘Down in the Park’, marked a distinct shift in sound which the album Replicas released a month later cemented.
April 1979 and ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ – the result of Numan splicing two unfinished songs together as well as hitting a wrong note while readying for recording – begins its seven-week climb up the charts to number one where it will sit for four consecutive weeks and change not just pop music but music itself forever. Soon after, Replicas hits number one. Described by Numan as “a pretty average song” and his first release as a solo artist, ‘Cars’ is released in August and tops the charts and Replicas is quickly followed to the top spot by The Pleasure Principle in September. Two number one singles and two number one albums in less than a year, Gary Numan took to the stage in Glasgow in October 1979 a full-blown pop star.
And in celebration of four decades on stage, Numan has taken to the road playing tracks from across his catalogue to his devoted fans. Nottingham Rock City is sold out. The place is rammed. When Numan enters the stage, the place erupts into applause and cheers, and Numan, stoic and humble as ever, kicks the night off with ‘My Name Is Ruin’, quickly followed by ‘M.E.’. These two tracks marking opposite ends of his career, Numan treats us to the song that kicked it all off: ‘That’s Too Bad’. A track I – and no doubt a few others – thought I would never see live, it’s soon followed by another, ‘Stories’, from 1981’s Dance. Truth be told, I could’ve left the gig a happy man at that point, but then ‘Metal’ begins. And then ‘Absolution’, ‘Dead Son Rising’, and, of course, ‘Down in the Park’.
Since Numan quit trying to achieve commercial success and started writing music he cared about, Numan has transformed from pop star to rock star, his music becoming stronger and more potent album after album. The same for his live shows. Here at MR, we’ve seen Numan a few times – May 2012, December 2012, November 2013 in support of Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind), October 2017 in support of Savage (Songs From A Broken World), and November 2018 with Skaparis Orchestra – and each gig has been better than the last. And why? Because Numan is enjoying himself. He’s making music that he loves. He’s playing shows that are outstanding. And his fanbase is growing – again. And deservedly so.
Taking us back again to the early years, yet another track I never I’d witness live, the title track of Replicas opens the encore and is followed by ‘My Shadow In Vain’ (written in 1977/1978). And then, probably unbeknownst to himself, lets us know that he’s enjoying himself a little more than usual. How? He’s talking to the crowd. Not much, but more than usual. Humble and grateful as ever, Numan thanks us for our support and enabling him to have such a long and successful career before introducing ‘Intruder’, a track from the next album that, though very much in its early stages, indicates good things. And seeing one of, if not the, most influential pioneers in electronic music, strap on an acoustic guitar and go unplugged for tonight’s closer, ‘Jo The Waiter’, is pretty funny.
40 years on stage, it’s breathtaking to think about how many times Numan has played some of these songs. But he still plays them like it’s the first time. And the audience respond in kind. Numan could have so easily given all this up a long time ago and hopped on the 80s nostalgia tour circuit, banging out ‘Cars’ night after night and made a comfortable and complacent life for himself. But he never had any interest in doing that, thankfully. And by playing ‘Intruder’, Numan reminds us that he is no nostalgia act. We can look back and celebrate, yes, but Numan will continue to move forward. And we’ll be there with him.
- My Name Is Ruin
- That’s Too Bad
- Dead Sun Rising
- Down In The Park
- The Promise
- Here In The Black
- Me! I Disconnect From You
- A Prayer For The Unborn
- Are ‘Friends’ Electric?
- My Shadow In Vain
- Jo The Waiter