By Jacqueline Grima
When I was eleven years old and just starting at high school, I went to my first concert, my mum and dad surprising me with tickets before driving me to Deeside Leisure Centre in Flintshire where I sat on my dad’s shoulders so I could see. This week, now somewhat older than eleven, I found myself queuing outside Manchester Academy to see the same artist, Gary Numan, still drawing a huge crowd to his gigs 37 years after first signing to Beggars Banquet Records in 1978.
Gary started his career as frontman of punk band, Tubeway Army, performing under his own name from 1979 onwards. He has since released more than 20 albums, his army of devoted fans, many with him since the beginning of his career, still calling themselves ‘numanoids’. To thank fans for their support, Gary, now permanently based in America, came over to the UK to revisit some of his so-called ‘Classic Albums’, performing Replicas, The Pleasure Principle and Telekon in full during three shows in London before treating fans to a medley of all three albums in Manchester.
From the beginning of the gig, it was clear that, despite Gary’s love/hate relationship with the music industry, his popularity peaking in the early 80s and waning somewhat in the 90s before a recent resurgence in interest, his fans have in no way deserted him, be his career on a high or at a low. A huge crowd filled the Academy’s main room and, as the theme from Gary’s Replicas began to play, the atmosphere was electric, many fans filling the air with their signature ‘Nuuu-maaan’ call as they waited for the man himself to appear.
As Gary came on stage, a massive cheer went up, die-hard Numan fans instantly transported back to their teenage years as he began his set with old favourites, ‘Metal’, ‘Remind Me To Smile’ and ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’. These were followed by the only single from fourth album, Telekon, ‘This Wreckage’, popular B-side ‘We Are So Fragile’ and fan-favourite ‘Down In The Park’.
Not one for small talk in between songs, Gary played hit after hit in the hour and forty minutes he was on stage, his vocals strong and his performance energy seeming to be at a peak as he moved from synths to electric guitar and enjoyed on-stage banter with his band members. Loving every minute, the crowd, most of whom knew every word of every song, sang along enthusiastically as he launched into hit singles ‘Are Friends Electric?’, ‘Cars’ and ‘I Die You Die’.
After leaving the stage briefly, Gary came back for a three-song encore, treating fans to ‘Everyday I Die’ and ‘My Shadow in Vain’ before closing the set with an acoustic version of ‘Jo the Waiter’, from early album Tubeway Army. After the event, it was a strange sight to see so many Gary Numan fans, many of whom still identify with their hero by dressing like him, traipsing up Oxford Road towards hotels, trains and car parks.
Gary Numan is not often recognised for his contribution to the British music scene, his recent acceptance of a Q Award from musician Jean Michel Jarre one of the few music awards he has received during his career. With his varied images and innovative and, often, experimental sound, however, Gary has had a massive influence on, not only bands of his own generation but, also, on the current music scene, artists like Marilyn Manson and Foo Fighters both covering Numan hits and American industrial-rock band, Nine Inch Nails, citing him as a major influence on their work.
It is clear though, that, with performances such as he gave this week in London and Manchester, Gary can still draw crowds and, as he constantly reinvents his image to stay current, can hold himself on a par with any band or artist in the British music scene today.
And, with talk of a new album next year, I have no doubt that Gary Numan will still be entertaining his followers for many years to come.