Gary Numan in 1978
On my musical journey through my teenage years Gary Numan preceded The Stranglers. Bedroom wall superiority was only achieved by The Stranglers some time around '85 I'd say. Up to that point, it was all Touring Principle and Teletour era posters and telecon stripes painted on the wall (illuminated by red spotlights if I remember correctly). Also painted on one wall was the Tubeway Army logo, identical to the road sign indicating that normal speed restrictions apply (only rotated so that the black bar runs across the horizontal).
To many, Gary Numan may have seemed to fall from outer space into peoples living rooms in the autumn of 1979 with the quirky, but brilliant 'Are Friends Electric?'. However, whilst Tubeway Army were catapulted to fame with unusual rapidity, the band had served something of the time honoured rock 'n' roll apprenticeship in the two years leading up to chart dominance.
It was Tubeway Army that released the aforementioned 'Are Friends Electric?', but the band at that point were a far cry from the Tubeway Army that had existed up until the previous year, in terms of personnel, but more noticeably sound.
Formed in 1977, the band consisted of Gary Webb and Paul Gardiner, who came together briefly in the ranks of another London punk band, The Lasers. Recognising a kindred spirit in each other, the two abandoned The Lasers with a view to forming their own band.
Much boot leather was lost on the streets of London until they reached the door of Beggars Banquet in Fulham. Beggars was a fledgling record label established in a similar vein to the other groundbreaking independent labels of the punk era, most notably Stiff and Chiswick Records.
Two singles were released on the label in 1978, 'That's Too Bad' in Febuary 1978 and 'Bombers' the following July. These 7" offerings took the 3-chord approach that such small labels required, but the songs left the 'No Future' message behind. Many of Numan's lyrics and themes predated punk by several years. Something of a loner, he wrote science fiction stories inspired by the likes of Philip K. Dick and William Burroughs. This material dominated the entire span of Tubeway Army. The thing was that to yet to be christened Gary Numan, what he saw as the simplicity of punk was nothing more than a means to an end. Gary aspired to the kind of fame then enjoyed by rock's elite (a far cry from the punk ethic.... at least that's what the musicians of the scene were telling the NME!). Numan made no secret of his admiration for David Bowie and he wanted some of that fame, fame, fame.
Tubeway Army Mark I 1978 (at the time of the 'That's Too Bad' single)
(l-r: Gary Numan, Jess Lidyard, Paul Gardiner)
Tubeway Army Mark II 1978 (at the time of the 'Bombers' single)
(l-r: Gary Numan, Barry Benn, Paul Gardiner, Sean Burke)
But before that was possible there was gigging to be done. At this point, Gary's uncle Jess Lidyard handed back the drumsticks for the time being.
Unfortunately, Tubeway Army were not what you could call prolific on the live circuit. Numan himself puts this down to a fear of an often unpredictable, occasionally violent audience at such close quarters. However, I on the very limited evidence available (see later), live they were tight and entertaining. Many of the bands live shows were at the Roxy towards the end of the venues short existence in London's Covent Garden. In fact, the venue played host to all of the key bands with a stake in Tubeway Army's early career (Mean Street (Gary Numan), The Lasers (Gary Numan and Paul Gardiner) and Open Sore (Sean Burke and Bary Benn)).
Tubeway Army appeared at the Roxy on several occasions between July and October 1977, supporting X-Ray Spex (then mistakenly billed as Two Way Army) and Penetration as well as headlining in their own right. But whilst The Roxy continued to put on punk bands until its closure in April 1978, the doors were closed to further gigs by Tubeway Army.
The ban was as a consequence of a management change in the latter days of the club's existence. The new manager, Kevin St John, was by all accounts a rather dubious character with his own interests at heart rather than those of the venue. By all accounts, predatory by nature, it seems that the somewhat androgynous lead singer if Tubeway Army was in his sights!
In Paul Marko's excellent and massively comprehensive account of this legendary club, Gary declined to contribute, but emailed the following to the author:
' Thanks for the email, about the Roxy Club. Unfortunately my memories of the place are all unpleasant and I don't want to go over any of it. I was only involved late in the day and wasn't there when it was a cool place to be. Sorry.'
The only currently known live recording of the 'punk' Tubeway Army comes from February 1978. A bootleg of the show attributes the recording to The Roxy 1977, but that cannot be the case since the recording is more accurately dated by Gary's reference to the scheduled release of the first single. Besides that, people better placed than myself believe that the recording originates from a gig at The Rock Garden, Covent Garden on 21st February 1978.
Putting exact date and venue to one side, Gary's personal issues with the Roxy and its proprietor were clearly evident in the thinly veiled song 'Kill St Joy'.
With the Roxy club history, the band continued to gig, but by all accounts this was becoming an increasingly less enjoyable experience to Gary.
One of the last gigs Tubeway Army played was support slot to Dunfirmline's The Skids at the White Hart pub in Acton on 28th January 1978, which as history has it descended into something of a blood bath. This event further focused the band (or Gary at least) to break from the then waining punk scene to seek something new.
Flyer for the ill-fated Skids support slot
28th June 1978
Change was afoot for this particular band. Gary, disillusioned with punk in its entirety was determined to changed direction and it seems that in this respect the existing members of Tubeway Army had the age-old choice of 'Either you are with me or against me' To this end, Paul Gardiner was with and Sean and Barry were against and the waves parted.
It was at this point that Gary's ever supportive uncle Jess once again took the newly vacant drum stool back in order to maintain the momentum.
Within a month of the Skids debacle, Tubeway Army were back in the studio, this time at Spaceward in Cambridge. The recording session is well documented and doesn't require repeating here, other than to say that in that recording studio Gary Numan found his fast track to Bowie-like fame. All it took was the late collection of a hired synthesiser and the rest is history... or maybe not quite.
Recorded between July and August 1978, the eponymous 'Tubeway Army' largely ditched the three chords and produced an album that in many respects was a prototype for the electronic movement that was to become dominant within two years (lead to a very significant extent by Gary himself).
An eclectic mix of guitars (both eclectic and acoustic), drums and the newly discovered synthesisers 'Tubeway Army' was different for sure, with themes of alienation, The Life Machine, Joe the Waiter and Everyday I Die, the themes would have been familiar to anyone who had seen the band in pubs and clubs in the previous twelve months, but the game plan had changed somewhat drastically.
'Tubeway Army' (a.k.a. The Blue Album)
'Tubeway Army' Re release
I remember buying the Tubeway Army album in a Brighton second-hand record shop in late 1981 and the reissued double pack of the first two singles a year later and that for then was it for Tubeway Army. That was until Beggars Banquet searched the vaults. In 1983, Numan had realised that his retirement from the stage was premature announced plans for a major UK tour. This was the 'Warriors' tour. Beggars, realising that there was life in the (not so) old dog yet, issued (from 'ealy '83 to early '85) a series of 12 inch singles featuring unreleased material from the 1978/1978 period.
The icing on the cake was the 1983 issue of an album of unreleased material under the banner of 'The Plan', many of the songs on which had only appeared on the 'Roxy' bootleg.
Thanks to Gary Numan and Beggars, these related releases more than doubled the available recorded output of Tubeway Army.
Finally, a 20th anniversary reissue of the Tubeway Army album featured a cleaned up, remastered version of the 'Live at the Roxy' bootleg, retitled as Living Ornaments '78, in keeping with a series of official live tour recordings released from '79 to '81.
That then was the lesser known story of Tubeway Army, a band that continued to operate under that name for the time being, but in a very different form. The founding members (Gary and Paul) remained at the heart of the band and other musicians were recruited who were to remain with Gary Numan up to the point to his Wembley '81 'retirement' shows (some of these players returned for tours later in the '80's as well).
Tubeway Army 1979
(l-r: RRussel Bell, Paul Gardiner, Billy Currie (on loan from Ultravox), GN, Chris Payne, Ced Sharpley)
From 1979 onwards, the visual aspects of a bands performance became increasingly important (in direct contrast to punk). Gary Numan himself was instrumental in this trend, with the reintroduction of massive lighting rigs on tours, promotional videos and striking looks for both himself and his band (emulated by many kids at the time, including myself!)
The turning point came with a live appearance on the the hugely influential 'Old Grey Whistle Test' from which it is abundantly clear that Gary Numan was offering something rather unusual with this new material (which would feature on Tubeway Army's second album, 'Replicas')
'Down in the Park' Old Grey Whistle Test BBC Television 1979
Top of the Pops followed shortly afterwards which brought Gary Numan and this version of Tubeway Army into the homes of every music conscious teenager in Britain.....
Tubeway Army (reissue)
The Roxy London WC2 A Punk History by Paul Marko
Electric Pioneer: An Armchair Guide to Gary Numan by Paul Goodwin
Sean Burke's website (guitarist for Tubeway Army, Open Sore and Tubeway Patrol)
Tubeway Army on the OGWT (thanks Numa Boots)