|TUBEWAY ARMY THE EARLY YEARS
Taken from the Alien Gary Numan Magazine issue 2
Tubeway Army formed in 1977 at the height of punk but they were playing garagey sci-fi rock. In Part 1
of this two part feature eyewitnesses recall the bands early history on the London gig circuit before Numan discovered electronics and recorded the Blue album in summer 1978.
Jess Lidyard: “Well before Tubeway Army I remember Gary telling me that he was going to be a popstar. I don’t think his parents Beryl and Tony were too pleased about it and they sent him round to me for a chat. I’d been a working musician for several years, so I think they thought if I talked about the realities of life that I might put him off. Or, if he was serious about it, he would knuckle down and work at his music, rather than just carry on dreaming about it. But Gary already had it all planned out. He told me he was going to have this hit with a song called Cars, and this was years before he’d actually writ-ten the music. When Are “Friends” Electric? became a big success, he said that the order had gone wrong and it wasn’t supposed to happen that way.”
Jess Lidyard: “I remember going into a studio in Chobham a couple of years before we did the demo for That’s Too Bad. I think Gary was still at college at the time and even back then we recorded his songs. He was never interested in playing cover versions.”
Paul Gardiner, bass player in The Lasers: “The band was hardly off the ground when Gary came in for the audition. Three or four people came for the audition but I was the only one who wanted Gary in the band. The others couldn’t see his difference, but I thought he was exceptional, playing guitar like nobody else ever did at that level in 1977.
Gary Numan: “During one of the early rehearsals of The Lasers I mentioned that the name was a bit cliched. Everyone was called ‘The’ something, why didn’t we come up with something a bit different? When I mentioned the name Tubeway Army they all said that was the one.”
Mike Stone, Beggars Banquet shop, Earls Court: “Tubeway Army were a good band although I didn’t think of them as punk. True punks bands were people such as Discharge and GBH. There was something about the sound and look of Tubeway Army that was quite insular and different..”
Gary Numan: “I think my brother John was more of a punk than me. He was eleven years old and used to call himself Johnny Silver, spray his hair silver for the night and join us on stage for a song he’d written called Lucky. He was a star.”
John Webb: “Gary and I were at home one day in 1976 or ‘77 - I was about eleven years-old at the time. I walked into the front room and I was singing this song Lucky, which I’d just thought up. Gary said, what’s that? He liked it and grabbed a guitar to put a riff on it. Then we started doing it at Tubeway Army gigs. I’d be in the audience and then after five or so songs, I’d jump on stage and start shouting this track. My mum had sprayed my hair silver which I used to wash out the next morning in time for school. I had three or four safety pins, a swastika badge and a T-shirt with Johnny Silver written on it. I did this on and off for about a year. It was nice because there are only three musical people in our family - Gary, Uncle Gerald [Jess] and myself - and we were all on stage together. The weird thing is that there’s a seven year gap between Gerald and Gary, and another seven year gap between Gary and myself.”
Mike Stone: “They used to go down well with punk audiences but Gary... he just seemed to have some other plan. I don’t know whether it was just to disguise his nerves but if anything he looked nonchalant at times, as if he had his future planned. And in the end, it turned out that he did.”
Gary Numan: “I did have a vague kind of master plan but it was never as well thought out or as detailed as people seemed to believe. I pretended it was at the time because I wanted people to think I was on top of things. The truth was I came close to being physcally sick before every gig we even did before the success came along. I thought many, many times that I’d chosen the wrong career. I just didn’t seem to have the right nature for showmanship. Maybe that’s why I turned more towards image based characters, I could suppose being obsessed almost hide behind them. I can be an advantage when you need to overcome your basic nature.
Garry Robson, school friend: “Tubeway Army weren’t really punk, it was variations on the sort of stuff we’d grown up with - T-Rex, Bowie and Lou Reed - but very much based on guitar, bass and drums. Gary dabbled with punk a bit because I think he looked upon it as the only way he was going to get a recording contract because all the labels were signing up punk bands at the time.”
Steve Webbon, Beggars Banquet: “Gary didn’t like a lot of the other punk bands. They were rivals and he’s never been very keen on rivals.”
Gary Numan: “I knew that the punk sound could not last. It was dying on its feet but people were frightened of admitting it, they’d signed so many bands in that style.’
Steve Webbon: “When David Bowie played at Wembley Arena in 1978, I remember Gary was really excited. Gary’s ambitions were well beyond the ambitions of most punk bands who were happy to play a good gig and have a few beers in the bar. Gary wanted to be a star like Bowie.”
Gary Numan: “Going to other peoples shows was like going to school for me. I would spend as much time looking around the audience as I did at the stage. I wanted to work out what was working and what wasn’t. What light colour combinations had good atmosphere and what looked a mess, did talking to the audience enhance the evening or just bore people. You can learn a lot by absorbing the mistakes and triumphs of others. I still treat shows like that, I’m still learning:’
Paul Gardiner: “As Gary joined my band, The Lasers, I felt like I was still responsible in a way, to make sure the new group got somewhere. So I did most of the talking when I went to Beggars Banquet.”
Martin Mills, head of Beggars Banquet: “Paul was definitely the talkative one of the two which surprises me now because later we were all able to see how he was, underneath, more shy than Gary. It’s quite amazing now to reflect on how quiet Gary was on that first meeting and in the very early days. He just followed Paul around and seemed content to chip in the odd sentence but Paul kept on impressing us with his terrific enthusiasm and stories of how good the band was going to be, how it was not just another punk band, and how good the tape would be and would we listen to it quickly!”
Steve Webbon: “Paul and Gary complemented each other. Paul was a good solid right-hand man.”
Martin Mills: “I actually thought their demo was really good. The songs were their own, called That’s Too Bad, Oh Didn’t I Say and another song which has since vanished without trace. I loved That’s Too Bad and noticed the unusual rhythm guitar work of Gary. He played with a lot of “sustain” on it, a sort of controlled distortion which was really effective.”
Gary Numan: “I played guitar, still do come to think of it, with this very chunky style, using big dampened power chords with a few noises and slides thrown in.”
Martin Mills: “When they played at the Vortex in Wardour Street, Gary was just incredible up there on that stage. He seemed incredibly nervous beforehand but the way he looked at the audience, the confidence, the way he held the microphone, just everything about him was magnetic. He had blond hair, his look really had something, and he handled the audience brilliantly.”
Mick Wall of Sounds reviewed the show at Dingwalls where they supported The Lurkers, Johnny G and The Doll: “Tubeway Army began the festivities and at once succeeded in making a favourable impression. They’re a threesome from the London vicinity all aged just 17 and they play some pretty damn good rock and roll . . . this being one of their first gigs. It’s the potential you have to look for rather than the finished article. Kudos everywhere to them for turning in such a promising debut. In Valeriun (vocals, guitar) they have going for them what undoubtedly is their strongest visual asset. Blond-haired, blue-eyed visage that promises to dampen the knickers of many a sweet young thing once given the right kind of exposure.”
Gary Numan: “I wanted to be spacey and mysterious, so I called myself Gary Valeriun. It was a notable mistake.”
Jess Lidyard: “To me punk sounded like a lot of semi-pros having a bash. By the time we recorded That’s Too Bad, I’d been playing for 10 or 12 years. I was six or seven years older than Gary but I didn’t stand out. A lot of the so-called punk bands were a lot older than me. From that first session at Spaceward when we did That’s Too Bad and Oh Didn’t I Say, Gary gradually got to be very assertive. He had a silent battle of wits with the man at the control desk who tried to impose his technical ideas on Gary. But by the time we returned to make a complete album, Gary was telling the guy in the studios just what he wanted. He quickly earned his respect.”
Gary Numan: “I was fascinated by sound and how it could be manipulated. Maybe it’s because I’m a very average musician at best. I’ve never written songs to show off my musical prowess, because I have none, and I’ve always looked at sound more than technique. Why play a thousand notes when one will do? You just need the right sound for that one note to say everything. I admire musicians that play very well but it often gets very boring very quickly.”
Martin Mills: “We got no radio play with the record but That’s Too Bad sold out 4,000 quite rapidly. Those were the days when there were so few punk/new wave records coming out on small labels that people following that sound would buy anything that was remotely punk or an a small label. They’d buy them almost without knowing whether they liked them or not.”
Jess Lidyard on the March ‘78 recordings of the songs later released as The Plan: “Gary’s descriptions of what he wanted were a bit vague. He’d say to me, ‘I want this to sound electronic or like a heartbeat machine in hospital.’ Rehearsals were always pretty basic. We’d go to his parents and even by the time of Replicas it would still be Gary on this very old, out-of-tune piano with some of the keys missing.”
Based on interviews with Gary Numan, Garry Robson, Mike Stone, Steve Webbon, Jess Lidyard and John Webb.
Part two of Tubeway Army: The Early Years will be published in Issue 3 in September 1999.
TUBEWAY ARMY THE EARLY YEARS
Taken from the Alien Gary Numan Magazine issue 3
Tubeway Army formed in 1977 at the height of punk but they were playing garagey sci-fi rock. In Part 2 of this two part feature eyewitnesses recall how and why the original band split, and Gary Numan’s transition from punk into the first true star of electronic music.
Martin Mills: “We were all still very inexperienced. Gary as an artist, we as a record company. We all felt another guitarist was necessary because Gary felt restricted. He was having to sing, move around the stage, play guitar and write. The idea was to bring in Sean as a rhythm guitarist but this never real¬ly worked. Not because Sean was not capable but because his guitar style was exactly the same as Gary’s. He played the same chords, not even dif¬ferent inversions of the same chords. So it just doubled up the sound. Although he was good in his way, it didn’t really free Gary to do what he wanted to do.”
Gary Numan: “I never wanted a two guitar, lead - rhythm type of set up. That wasn’t my reason for getting in another guitarist at all. I just wanted more power. Martin never quite understood what I was after.”
Peter Edwards, Tubeway Army soundman: “They had this wall of Les Paul sound which was different to a lot of punk stuff. If anything it reminds me now of Nirvana. I really liked Tubeway Army. They had a good name, they looked good and they made a really good sound.”
Gary Numan: “I was becoming increasingly convinced that I needed to move out of a punk band, or that Tubeway Army as a band needed to move on. I didn’t know at that point that the move was going to be into electronic music, I just knew I had to move somewhere. I became very frightened that the next big thing was going to come along soon and wipe away the remnants of punk. To me punk was dying on its feet. I didn’t want to be associated with it anymore, I wanted to be the next big thing. Paul was with me, the others wanted to stay punk, and that’s what they were writing. I couldn’t have been less interested in doing more punk songs, no matter who wrote them. I don’t remember feeling upstaged, ever, but if Sean remembers it that way I guess I must have been.”
Garry Robson: “The band didn’t look particularly different in jeans and T-shirts and they were always very stationary on stage, even when Sean Burke joined, It was one of the things that wasn’t very punk about them because they didn’t use to pogo or jump around.”
Steve Webbon: remember him on-stage in black jeans, T-shirt and bomber jacket. I don’t recall him wearing much make-up apart from a bit of eyeliner.”
Gary Numan: “I was wearing jeans and T-shirts very briefly when the punk part of Tubeway Army was playing live. I think I was also wearing flying suits and boiler suits. Soon after that I started wearing all black, military belts with shoulder straps - that pseudo-fascist look, I suppose. It wasn’t easy to move around that much when you were standing on stages the size of a biscuit tin lid. I wore the “spacesuit” on the back of the That’s Too Bad single sleeve once at a gig in Ashford Grammar School in Middlesex. I can’t remember when it was - about ‘77 or maybe ‘76. And it wasn’t a spacesuit exactly, it was a little two piece number, bought from Kings Road I might add, made out of some high tech insulating material so it was fucking hot.”
Steve Webbon: “The set was constantly changing. I got the impression that Gary was reading a lot at the time. He’d have a riff for a song and some basic lyrics and sometimes they’d play it live. Then he’d go back, re-write it and change the title.”
Peter Edwards: “None of us were getting much money for doing gigs, about £5 a night, so when Beggars opened a new shop in Richmond they paid Gary, myself and a couple of other people to refurbish it.”
Martin Mills: “Most of our bands couldn’t care less about equipment at any point. Gary became totally immersed in it.”
Garry Robson: “I was there when they did the second single, Bombers, which has a lot cleaner sound. It was done in a big studio and we lost our way for a while because we were so into all this equipment. This was the first time Gary had recorded at a proper studio with lovely EQ and all these effects. So we were having fun with all this stuff and forgot whatever sound we wanted to get at the start of the session. When we’d finished I think the record company were a bit shocked because Bombers has a much smoother and heavier sound than the punky stuff he’d done before. I think they wanted that home-made, raw sound and that wasn’t what we’d delivered. But Bombers was an important song because it’s the link between Gary’s early songs for Beggars and the post-punk stuff he did on the Tubeway Army album later in 1978.”
Martin Mills: “It was recorded a bit too cleanly for the type of music it was. It ended up as a studio-produced sound, which it wasn’t in essence. It was smoother than That’s Too Bad but not far enough in another direction to make it worth going in another direction.”
Melody Maker, 19th August ‘78:“Interesting, if flawed. The song is hardly great but the treatment shows they’re beginning to scour the studio for possibilities. The progression is well-paced and atmospheric, bolstered by some good old siren effects and undercut by some strident rhythm chops. A nifty blue print.”
Gary Numan: “If memory serves I wanted to go solo after the first album (the Blue album), not when Sean and the drummer Barry Benn left the band. The press got that wrong. Paul and I left because the others wanted to stay as a punk band. I can’t say for sure that I had already found synths by then, I think it was more that I just didn’t want to be playing punk anymore. I didn’t sack anyone. I’m not ruthless, I’m focused. I don’t remember arguing with Sean or Barry about the split but I didn’t want to have to force people to join me. It all seemed very clear to me, I was going somewhere else musically and they didn’t want to go. So I went without them. Beggars’ decision not to support Sean’s new punk band was nothing to do with me.”
Gary Numan: “I thought using that name was trying to rip off the fans. It seemed a little shallow and desperate. Apart from that I didn’t really give it any thought”
Jess Lidyard: “When we recorded the Blue album in summer 1978, Paul, Gary and I did something like 15 or 16 tracks through the night, just bashing through them. Another band had left their gear in the studio. They’d obviously done a previous session and one of the things they’d left behind was this Moog synthesizer. Gary started playing around with it but I left the next morning because I’d done all my parts. When I heard it next, Gary had added keyboards to the songs. I was surprised but a lot of the material was still quite familiar. It was when I heard back the Replicas album that I really had a shock.”
Garry Robson: “I don’t think any of us knew whether Gary was going to be successful or not but I remember him saying, ‘this is all I want to do and I’ve got to see it through to the end, successful or not.
Gary Numan: “I had nothing to lose. I’d made a mess of school, had no conventional career to fall back on, nothing to stop me devoting myself to it absolutely.
Steve Maims: Based on interviews with Gary Numan, Garry Robson, Martin Mills, Sean Burke, Steve Webbon, Jess Lidyard and Peter Edwards.
TUBEWAY ARMY REVIEWS:
SOUNDS 12/8/78 TUBEWAY ARMY: 'Bombers'(Beggars Banquet) Would you believe a Billy Idol look alike already? A peculiarly '78 style of thin, nasal vocals, whose chicness derives from the snot-tiness level you can convey per syllable. More use of repetition, unintentional this time. The drummer makes a valiant effort to sound like a drum machine Sounds like a rough demo half-mixed of a potentially good single.
M.M. 19/8/78 TUBEWAY ARMY: "Bombers" (Beggars Banquet). Interesting if flawed. The song is hardly great but the treatment shows they're beginning to scour the studio for possibilities. The progression is well-paced and atmospheric, bolstered by some good old siren effects and undercut by some strident rhythm chops. A nifty blueprint.
RM Oct 21 TUBEWAY ARMY: 'Bombers' (Beggars Banquet BEG8). Please give up gracefully. Look here, old chums, the market for this sort of heavyweight monotony has died. Never mind, you can sit and tell your grandchildren how you nearly made it. ROBIN SMITH
SOUNDS 9/9/78 Army defeated TUBEWAY ARMY, whose debut single 'Bombers' was released recently by Beggars Banquet, have split due to "different musical directions." Blond frontman Valerium remains under contract to pursue a solo career with an album planned for release later this year.
NME Sept 2 TUBEWAY ARMY, who only recently released their first single, "Bombers", have disband. Beggar's Banquet still intend to release a group LP comprising demos, and lead singer-guitarist Valerium is now recording solo for the label.
RECORD BUSINESS DEC TUBEWAY ARMY : Tubeway Army (Beggars Banquet BEGA 4) Prod: Gary Numan Interesting exponents of the 'I am a machine' syndrome currently popular in what used to be called the new wave Tubeway Army proves to be an inventive threesome specialising in doomy words intoned over quirky, interesting riffs of the clockwork variety with occasional sorties into guitar or synthesiser solo territory which prove the band has the ability to take its ideas a step further. Gary Numan, lead vocals, guitars and keyboards also produced the LP and sounds quite a talent. Initial copies are in blue vinyl.
TUBEWAY ARMY: Tubeway Army (Every day I Die)' (Beggars Banquet BEGA 4). TUBEWAY Army is not the kind of album one surprises one's impressionable friends with for Christmas. Nor is it the kind of album which can be found nestling within the Easy Listening racks at the local record shop. In fact Tubeway Army is an album which 98 per cent of the population would take an instant and furious dislike to. Being a perverse creature, I have taken quite a fancy to it. Tubeway Army (the band) basically revolves around one Mr. Gary Numan. The lad looks like Sting of The Police, at- tempts to sing like Bowie and writes ostentatiously pretentious lyrics. In spite of this however, he does come up with some very infectious rhythms, which open into what I find to be highly enjoyable tunes. Much of the album features the chilling calculated music structures currently so a la mode - but fortunately the more one listens, the more these individual sound grow. Keyboards and synthesizers are the main key to the tunes (and I use the word hesitatingly) on this LP, but on certain tracks, notably the consecutive numbers 'Friends' and 'Something's In The House', guitar (once again played by Numan) plays a surprisingly dominant role often bearing what seem to be strong heavy metal tendencies. I still find the lyrics a little too overbearing to take but the music on this strange, cold album I somewhat out of character, enjoyable listening, +1/2 KELLY PIKE