It was May 1979 when most of us got our first ever look at Gary Numan as he fronted Tubeway Army and enjoyed a #1 hit:-
mp3 : Tubeway Army – Are Friends Electric?
He was a very peculiar looking individual, looking more like a dummy or a robot from a sci-fi film than a human being. It’s only when doing the research for this post did it hit me that he was just 21 years of age when he achieved this mainstream success – he was only five years older than me but I remember watching him on Top of the Pops and thinking that he was ancient.
The mentality of the school playground was such that I can’t recall any of my male peers being fans as he was considered an out-and-out weirdo. The girls didn’t fancy him either, probably on account that he didn’t ooze sex appeal. Looking back, we were of an age that didn’t get it.
You had those of us who loved the fast spiky guitars of new wave while others were at the other extreme of appreciating nothing but the bombastic noise of hard rock, and, for both camps, the very thought of synthesisers blasting out of the cheap stereo speakers in our bedrooms was too much to handle. There were some who had a love for keyboards via their prog rock collections, but their contempt for Numan was ever worse given his haircut and the fact he wouldn’t be caught dead wearing patchouli oil.
But it’s amazing what a difference a few months can make. Most of the gang had left school in the summer of 1979, with many finding work as cheap labour in the banking and retail sectors, while others got a foot on the bottom rung of the civil service ladder. The luckier ones found themselves an apprenticeship/trade and and the unluckiest found themselves on the dole, from where they would eventually be plucked and put into some sort of training scheme for not much more than slave wages. Only about a quarter of us returned to school in August 1979, into 5th Year to sit exams that would possibly see us eventually go to college or university, and the biggest single change was that we now had a common room in which we could congregate when we weren’t attending lessons. A common room in which we could play music, mostly via radio but very occasionally someone would bring in a cassette player, having saved all their pocket money to buy the six large batteries that powered it. It was in that very common room that I would have first heard this:-
mp3 : Gary Numan – Cars
It seemed the weird looking bloke had gone solo and cut a record that was tailor-made for radio. He still had a squeaky, robotic-type voice but there was something rather immediate about the song which made it an enjoyable listen. Being know-all 16/17 year-olds, there was a bit of a competition to come up with the songs/records that were closely related to Cars, with, as you’d expect, David Bowie being mentioned, and in particular, Heroes. Those who had older siblings were dropping he names of Roxy Music and Brian Eno into the conversation and I threw in the name of a new band that had just come across my radar, Magazine, but was quick to point out that their songs also had loads of guitar and bass on them.
So…..we now had a situation where is it was now very acceptable to like Gary Numan, and indeed there were a number who were now saying that they had liked Are Friends Electric? all along (I’ll plead guilty to that charge…..). Little did any of us realise that an electronica revolution was just around the corner, and that just over a year later, a number of us would be making our way to the Glasgow Apollo to our first ever synth-gig where the headliners were Orchestral Manoeuvres in Dark, a duo that had just taken the singles chart by storm. Little did we know, until Andy McCluskey spoke during the set, that this was not OMD’s first appearance at the hallowed venue, having been there 12 months earlier as support to, yup, Gary Numan.
I now recognise just how big and important and how brilliant Gary Numan/Tubeway Army was back in the day. He paved the way for what would come next, enabling the likes of The Human League and Soft Cell to enjoy chart domination at the start of the 80s. But I still can’t get my head around the fact he was in his early 20s at the time.
Here’s the b-sides of the two songs featured above:-
mp3 : Tubeway Army – We Are So Fragile
mp3 : Gary Numan – Asylum
The latter, an instrumental, is like something out of a horror movie.