Having stopped paying attention to Gary Numan by the early 80s, Graham Smillie decides to pop along to the Exhibition Centre and discovers why the artist retains such a massive cult following.
I confess that it’s been a long time since I paid attention to Gary Numan.
The first songs by Tubeway Army, his first incarnation, became classics of new wave electronic music and have been sampled to death. But that, I’m afraid, is where I left off.
Which is fine. He seems to have gotten along quite well without me, to be fair. I did see him once at the Liverpool Empire in about 1990, but was too involved trying to stop his fans wrecking the place that I didn’t catch much of the music.
So approaching this gig tonight was always going to be interesting.
According to my pre-gig research, Gary Numan has produced 22 studio albums in a career stretching back to 1976. Since I stopped listening, he has incorporated jazz fusion, industrial rock, ambiance and goth into his work.
He arrived in town, promoting his upcoming offering, Savage. It’s a cheery collection about a post-global warming planet in the, not too distant future. It’s due out in September and he premiered a lot of the material tonight. Best of the bunch was lead single My Name is Ruin, a moody piece that seems to incorporate everything Numan is best known for in one package. He introduces his daughter, Persia, to sing backing vocals – fans might recognise her from the video. She does a fine job, as competing against her father’s iconic voice must be daunting.
Numan has clearly become one of the great cult artists of our time, and the reaction to him makes this clear. Being surrounded by that level of devotion makes it difficult not to get caught up in the excitement.
It’s easy to see how he has done this – he has stayed true to who he is as an artist. The hits did get played, but the focus of the show was on where Gary Numan is today.
I felt like I knew the material, even when I didn’t. wish I knew the material. In truth, it was 50 minutes before I recognised a song, and that was a false alarm. But it didn’t matter. Opening with the industrial Everything Comes Down To This from 2013’s Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind), and quickly seguing into Films from 1979’s The Pleasure Principle seemed like some kind of statement, and it was pretty alarming how well the different eras seemed to fit together, through Bed of Thorns, Pressure, We Are The Unforgiven, A Prayer For The Unborn.
It’s unusual for me to be without a camera at a gig these days, so it was strange to stand and watch from the back and concentrate on the overall show. I thoroughly enjoyed myself too. Numan is a fantastic front man, his distinctive voice and energy throughout was a joy to behold, despite the darkness of much of the material.
Towards the end he brings out the real big hitters. Cars, a massive hit over the years, instantly recognisable and still a great song which takes the roof off the place. When the World Comes Apart and Love Hurt Bleed finish the set, the crowd wants more, of course.
Seeing as this show is billed as Pioneers of British Electronic Music, following a similar show by the Human League back in May, Numan obliges with some classics. Down in the Park is one which I actually remembered in the back of my mind, and of course the one that started it all way back in the mists; Are ‘Friends’ Electric?, a stone-cold classic and brilliantly, faithfully performed.
At the end of the show, I found myself surprised. I might even go see Numan again on the next tour.
Support came from Gang of Four. They originated in the post-punk era, and gave us some truly memorable agit-pop songs, angular, angsty and political. They were hugely influential, but I wish I’d seen them back in the day.
Now there’s only the guitarist Andy Gill left and although there is a lot of energy in the youthful replacements, it was all a little dull, with only occasional flashes of Gill’s guitar to liven things up. They played the old songs Anthrax, At Home He’s a Tourist and finished on To Hell With Poverty, which seemed to delight pockets of the crowd.
Maybe I’d prefer them in a smaller venue, I didn’t quite get it here.
Pictures by Phil Greenhalgh