Thursday, 11 August 2016
Despite the fact that the sound of Gary Numan’s debut solo LP was drawn from totally different influences than that of the first Tubeway Army album, you won’t find too many people who like one act and not the other. Indeed, as soon as Numan started touring as a solo artist, large numbers of old Tubeway Army songs were installed into the set, as Numan knew they would be crowd pleasers. And to this day, still are.
But it makes sense to look at his former band in isolation, simply because Numan’s own solo career has run on for years, with a back catalogue that is both lengthy and at times, quite complex. It probably needs covering in multiple blogs. So before we even think about going there, it makes sense to look at the band Numan was in beforehand.
Gary Webb had emerged during the punk scene of 76, and hooked up with bass player Paul Gardiner in a band called The Lasers, before the pair decided to form their own band. Recruiting a relative of his to be their drummer, Jess Lidyard, the trio formed Tubeway Army in 1977. A demo tape was recorded deliberately in the punk rock vein, as Numan later explained, to garner interest from record labels, and the band were dutifully signed to indie label Beggars Banquet. The band had an interest in science fiction, and each of the band members were initially referred to by single, almost “alien” type names - Webb was credited as “Valerian”.
The band’s first single was “That’s Too Bad”, backed with “Oh! Didn’t I Say”, both songs being given equal billing on the front cover. By all accounts, the single was issued in relatively small numbers, with just 4000 copies pressed, a combination of both the then obscure status of Beggars and the band themselves being virtually unknown. By the time the single was released, Lidyard had been temporarily replaced by Bob Simmonds, and the photo of the band used on the back cover featured the new line up instead of the line up that actually featured on the record itself.
When the band went into the studio to record a second single, the personnel had changed again, and “Bombers” featured the new 4-man line up of the band on it’s cover, although Webb’s image was far more prominent than those of his fellow band members. Although “Bombers” was still very much a guitar based track, it had a slightly more mainstream sound than it’s punky predecessor, which may well explain why it slotted into Numan’s solo setlists in the early 80s where it was performed in his, by-then, trademark synth style.
In late 1978, the band issued their self titled debut LP. The lineup had reverted back to the original trio, with Lidyard back in the group. Beggars only pressed 5000 copies of the album - again, seemingly because it was felt there was no demand for any more, and I guess the label might have gone under had they tried to press too many copies. It came in a sleeve which, you might think, looks like the sort of dodgy looking cover you’d expect to see on a budget compilation release, with a slightly tacky band logo filling up the entire front image - made all the more surprising when you realise that the superior and more common sleeve it gained when it was reissued was not the original cover, you’d have expected it to have been the other way round. All 5000 copies were pressed on blue vinyl. After the band found fame in 1979, Beggars reissued it in the new, far more stylish sleeve - a monochrome cover with a portrait of Numan on the cover, and a new, “professional” looking band logo printed at the top.
Although the album is still often thought of as being more aligned to their punk roots, the legend goes that some of the more electronic numbers on the album came about after Numan found a Minimoog synth lying about in the recording studio, and had a bit of a play on it. This would have something of a minor influence on the debut LP, but it was only really after the release of that album that Numan, who by now had dropped the Valerian moniker (after the release of “Bombers”), began to really push the band in a synth based direction, having been completely fascinated by the sounds he thought he could produce on it.
Seemingly also determined to move away from the band’s punk beginnings after being unhappy at the violence that sometimes erupted at punk gigs, Numan more or less reinvented the band overnight. In March 1979, the band issued their third single, the dark, brooding, electro pop of “Down In The Park”, an absolute age away from the rudimentary three chord thrash of the debut 45. On the front cover of the 7” was a new look Numan, dressed all in black whilst staring forlornly out of a room lit by a single light bulb and a lamp. It seemed to conjure up an air of isolation, the short blond hair adding to the almost robotic vision that Numan seemed to project. On the back, a close up of his eye, complete with Bowie-esque make up and eyeliner, and a pupil that looked quite space age. There was also a now rare 12” issued, with an extra bonus track and housed in a completely different sleeve. Some copies underwent an accident in the pressing plant, and produced a bizarre concoction which mixed up the image with that of a Leif Garrett album sleeve. The bonus track on the 12” was an alternate version of a song called “I Nearly Married A Human”, the original version of which was due to be featured on the band’s second LP. The title itself suggests a further fascination with the alien concept.
“Down In The Park” sold in meagre numbers again, although it would later become an almost permanent feature of Numan shows. It was the lead 45 from the band’s second LP, “Replicas”. The front cover used the same exact image as the 7" single, and even the rear cover of that 7” appeared on the back of the album - Beggars must have been too skint to take any more photos! But this time around, things were about to change.
After the album’s release, notable for featuring no photos of any of the band other than Numan, the second song from the LP was issued as a single. “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” catapulted the band into the mainstream. With a sleeve depicting another alien-like image of Numan, the song itself concerned the themes of isolation and loneliness, and seemed to place Numan in a strange world where robots were his best companions, and not humans (“but are 'friends' electric? Mine’s broke down”). You can, perhaps, read into this the fact that Numan was many years later diagnosed as having a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome. He admitted in 2001 “polite conversation has never been one of my strong points...I have trouble interacting with people”. For anybody who, in 1979, felt as though they couldn’t relate to the world they lived in, then Numan must have made complete and utter sense.
Helped, most likely, by a 7” picture disc pressing that used the same photo as that featured on the sleeve of the black vinyl edition, “Friends” hit the number 1 spot, making Tubeway Army one of the more unlikely chart pop acts of the decade. Sales of “Replicas” started to pick up, and by July, it too had topped the charts. It is an undisputed classic, it’s synthetic electronic stylings predating the likes of Depeche Mode and Soft Cell, and getting the balance between mainstream pop and futuristic synth sounds just right.
For reasons that I have never fully understood, Numan decided to go one stage further. Having removed any traces of his bandmates from the artwork of “Replicas”, he now presented himself as a solo artist, and by the end of the year, had released his debut solo album “The Pleasure Principle”, which continued the alien/robot like image, and the electronic, Kraftwerk-esque sound. The idea of abandoning your band the minute they had had a hit record might have seemed odd, but it worked. His debut solo 45 “Cars” became an enormous hit just weeks after “Are 'Friends' Electric?” had hit the charts.
Numan later found himself being invited to perform both songs on the Christmas edition of “Top Of The Pops”. The result? The same backing band who appeared with Numan as Tubeway Army doing “Friends” were the same backing band backing a solo Numan when he came to do “Cars”. No wonder in later years, the two “artists” got lumped together.
As “Cars” went to the top of the chart in the UK, Beggars began to cash in - unsurprisingly - on the man who was now their new star signing. The first Tubeway Army singles were reissued as a double pack 7” in August 79, some copies using the original “That’s Too Bad” cover on the front, whilst others used the photo of the band that had appeared on the rear of the “Bombers” 45. Both variants were housed in a gatefold sleeve, and whichever one you bought, the front and rear covers of both singles were featured in the artwork somewhere. There was also the aforementioned reissue of the debut LP, issued second time around on Cassette as well as Vinyl, and pressed in considerably larger numbers.
As early as 1983, Numan’s newfound pop star status was being used to try and drum up interest in his old band. Reissues of the “Tubeway Army” album on EMI’s Fame imprint were rather tackily credited to “Tubeway Army featuring Gary Numan” - later reissues of both this and “Replicas” were similarly credited in this way. Expanded reissues of both albums were conducted in 1998/99, with the “Tubeway Army” name now correctly reinstated. The debut album appeared as a double CD set, with a live concert on disc 2, whilst “Replicas” was a single disc job, adding some outtakes from the album sessions along with the B-sides of “Are 'Friends' Electric?“ (“We Are So Fragile“) and the “Down In The Park” 12“ (“Do You Need The Service?” and “I Nearly Married A Human 2”). In 2008, the album was reissued again as a double disc release, credited to “Gary Numan + Tubeway Army”, and dubbed “Replicas Redux”. The three B-sides appeared on disc 1 with the original 10 track album, whilst disc 2 included an “alternate” version of the LP. The outtakes from the 1999 reissue were included second time around as well. To coincide with this reissue, a 7” picture disc was issued, a double A-side release of “Are 'Friends' Electric?” and “Down In The Park”.
Tubeway Army material continued to appear long after the band had ceased to exist. The demos that were recorded for Beggars were eventually issued on a 1984 album called “The Plan”, later reissued in expanded form on CD to include further outtakes along with the five tracks from the first two 45’s. And you will be hard pushed to find a Numan “best of” that doesn’t cover the Tubeway Army years. A 1987 reissue of “Cars”, remixed and dubbed the “E Reg Model” version, included the original “Are 'Friends' Electric?” as a B-side - credited simply to Numan, with no mention of the Tubeway Army name at all. Trying to detail these oddities isn’t easy, but future articles on Numan’s solo career that I hope to do will obviously identify the occasions when this happened. It is worth mentioning that many of the former members of the band during it’s final months later formed a group called Dramatis, who then backed Numan on a 1981 solo single called “Love Needs No Disguise”, which they included on their first LP. When the album later got reissued, the entire record was recredited - cheekily - to “Tubeway Army Featuring Gary Numan”. Probably one for completists only.
Anybody specifically hoping for a Tubeway Army reunion will be unlucky. Aside from the fact that “Replicas” was the subject of a Numan solo tour when the “Redux” release took place, the only other permanent member of the band other than Numan, was co-founding member Paul Gardiner, who died of a drugs overdose in 1984.
Now, anybody starting from scratch will only need a handful of releases to tick the boxes - the expanded debut album from 98, the “Redux” version of “Replicas”, the expanded “The Plan” and then one copy of each single. But to try and show you some of the other oddities that appeared, I have listed selected releases aside from these where the artwork or the band credits differ. There are more variants than listed below, but for anybody with money to burn, these are the most interesting ones. The 45s list is a fairly complete list, as the album reissues in the 90s took into account all the flipsides, so it almost doesn’t matter what version of “Are 'Friends' Electric?” you buy, you won’t be losing out in any way.
Tubeway Army (1978, Blue Vinyl LP, Beggars Banquet BEGA 4)
Tubeway Army (1983, LP, Fame FA 3060, “Numan” sleeve credited to “Tubeway Army Featuring Gary Numan”)
Tubeway Army (1983, Cassette, Fame TC-FA 3060, “Numan” sleeve credited to “Tubeway Army Featuring Gary Numan”)
Tubeway Army (1988, LP, Beggars Banquet BBL 4, “Numan” sleeve credited to “Tubeway Army Featuring Gary Numan”)
Tubeway Army (1988, Cassette, Beggars Banquet BBLC 4, “Numan” sleeve credited to “Tubeway Army Featuring Gary Numan”)
Tubeway Army (1998, 2 x CD, Beggars Banquet BBL 4 CD, “Numan” sleeve, expanded edition)
Tubeway Army (2010, Blue Vinyl LP, Vinyl 180 VIN180 LP026)
Replicas (1979, LP, Beggars Banquet BEGA 7)
Replicas (1979, Cassette, Beggars Banquet BEGC 7)
Replicas (1988, LP, Beggars Banquet BBL 7, credited to “Gary Numan + Tubeway Army“)
Replicas (1988, Cassette, Beggars Banquet BBLC 7)
Replicas (1995, Cassette, Music Club MUSMC 509, altered p/s without light bulb)
Replicas (1995, CD, Music Club MUSCD 509, altered p/s without light bulb)
Replicas (1998, CD, Beggars Banquet, BBL 7 CD, expanded edition)
Replicas Redux (2008, 2 x CD, Beggars Banquet BBQCD 2057, credited to “Gary Numan + Tubeway Army”, mail order copies include bonus CD with extra alternate mixes [GNCD 2008])
2 Original Albums On 1 Cassette (1982, Cassette, Beggars Banquet BEGD 1, credited to “Gary Numan And Tubeway Army”, with “Replicas” on side 1 and “The Pleasure Principle” on side 2)
The Plan (1984, LP, Beggars Banquet BEGA 55)
The Plan (1984, Picture Disc LP, Beggars Banquet BEGA 55 P)
The Plan (1984, Cassette, Beggars Banquet BEGC 55)
The Plan (1988, LP, Beggars Banquet BBL 55)
The Plan (1988, Cassette, Beggars Banquet BBLC 55)
The Plan (1999, CD, Beggars Banquet BBL 55 CD, expanded edition in new sleeve)
Replicas / The Plan (1987, CD, Beggars Banquet BEGA 7 CD)
Replicas / The Plan (1993, 2 x CD, Beggars Banquet BEG 152 CD, expanded editions of both albums, although “The Plan“ is missing 2 tracks when compared to 1999 edition)
Tubeway Army / Dance (1993, 2 x CD, Beggars Banquet BEG 151 CD, includes bonus tracks)
That’s Too Bad/Oh! Didn’t I Say (1978, 7”, Beggars Banquet BEG 5)
Bombers/Blue Eyes/O.D. Receiver (1978, 7”, Beggars Banquet, BEG 8)
Down In The Park/Do You Need The Service (1979, 7”, Beggars Banquet BEG 17)
Down In The Park/Do You Need The Service/I Nearly Married A Human 2 (1979, 12”, Beggars Banquet BEG 17T, unique p/s)
Are 'Friends' Electric?/We Are So Fragile (1979, 7”, Beggars Banquet BEG 18)
Are 'Friends' Electric?/We Are So Fragile (1979, 7” Picture Disc, Beggars Banquet BEG 18P, in clear sleeve with backing insert)
That’s Too Bad/Oh! Didn’t I Say/Bombers/Blue Eyes/O.D. Receiver (1979, 2 x 7”, Beggars Banquet BACK 2, some copies issued as 4 track releases without final track)
Are 'Friends' Electric?/Down In The Park (1981, AA-side Cassette, Beggars Banquet SPC 4, unique p/s)
The Peel Sessions EP: Me! I Disconnect From You (BBC Version)/Down In The Park (BBC Version)/I Nearly Married A Human (BBC Version) (1987, 12”, Strange Fruit SFPS 032)
Are 'Friends' Electric?/I Die You Die (1990, 7”, Old Gold OG 9917)
Are 'Friends' Electric?/Down In The Park (2008, AA-side 7” Picture Disc, Beggars Banquet GNS 2008)
Note: there are also a pair of boxsets issued by Vinyl 180 in 2010 - one houses “The Plan” along with the first album, and the other includes all three plus “The Pleasure Principle”. They were both pressed in very limited numbers, so may be quite hard to find.
Note 2: in 85, Beggars issued what seemed to be a Cassette only release credited to “Gary Numan” in big letters, with the words “Tubeway Army” in smaller lettering beneath (BEGC 7879). In addition to this, they released three singles dealing with Tubeway Army material, but all were also heavily credited to Numan as a solo artist. Only the first (BEG 92E) even bothered to mention the band name on the labels at all, with a curious credit stating “Gary Numan Tubeway Army 1978”. We shall list these in any future Numan solo articles in greater detail because of these quirks. I have also avoided any hits compilations that mix Numan solo material with Tubeway Army material, as these will also make more sense to include in a Numan solo article as they usually weigh heavily towards the solo stuff.