Music: The principal of pleasure (1978-1980)

A guy that I’ve met wrote a list on Facebook which has been running ’round my head for the last few hours. Quite a simple idea really – the albums he was listening to in his teenage years. It sparked something within me and took me back to another time and so I’m up in the night writing a list of my own but also exploring things that in some ways I’d rather not think about it – a very different time – and some things I guess I’d rather forget.

But in the midst of it there was always music.

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The Strangest Living Boy You Could Ever Wish To See

Who: Gary Numan

What: Convergence 2015

Where: Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, London

When: 20th March 2015

In 1981, after an exhausting two years, two number one singles and three number one albums, Gary Numan retired from touring with a lavish set of final shows at Wembley Arena in London. On Friday night, at Convergence in the Royal Festival Hall, London, for Numan it is now thirty-four years since he returned from retiring from live shows and he has a one-off special concert to mark his influence as a pioneer of electronica. The poster outside the venue doors described him as having “a ever-growing fanbase”. Apparently despite this, his records no longer trouble the top of the charts. Numan’s career has been a regular conundrum and a game of snakes-and-ladders and tonight was just the latest twist.

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Top of the Pops – Christmas 1979

What: Top of the Pops Christmas Special 1979

Where: BBC 4

When: Christmas 2014

In 2014 I’ve been following as much of the Top of the Pops re-runs from 1979 as the BBC would allow me to. The episodes where Jimmy Saville and Dave Lee Travis were hosts weren’t broadcast but I kept track of the rest right up to the broadcast the other day of the Christmas Day special which covered many of the records from that year which made the top two in the charts.

The only two limitations on the programme seemed that they left out anyone who wouldn’t appear “live” in the studio for the big occasion and the time restraints of the hour long format. In later years, they would probably have just made a second edition for Boxing Day or New Year’s Day but this time it was just the one.

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Past or Present…… Tense

 

Gary Numan

The Pleasure Principle Tour 2009

The Junction, Cambridge

1st December 2009

Numan has decided to perform “The Pleasure Principle” album as it was, back in the day, in 1979. Out comes the skinny tie and digital synthesizers with patches to emulate the sounds produced by the analog models that were used on an album that has become highly esteemed in recent years. In 1979, Gary Numan was disparaged by the critics. Now they love him.

When Numan toured two previous classic albums – Telekon and Replicas – he updated the sound of those albums to fit his current style. This time there is no such tampering but there will be a second set featuring songs which are not from The Pleasure Principle and those songs will be presented in Gary’s current modus operandi. It will be interesting to see which wins – the new against the old – not only artistically but in the view of the crowd.

The Junction is a fairly bog standard rock venue. Standing only. Cramped. Dark. Your shoes keep sticking to the floor where drink has been spilled on a previous night and little effort has been made to clear up. The sound reproduction is good but the stage is small. This, in itself,is a problem. Numan is jammed behind a keyboard for most of this first set and reproducing the old keyboard sounds on the modern synths takes little effort on the part of the band. All very static. This used to work in the old days on huge stages with vast light shows. It is a testimony to the ability of this band that they still manage to hold your attention.

The songs are well performed but the performance is rather sedentary and there is a great sound but not much to watch. The set list has its brave moments, not too many acts would open their show with two instrumentals. The second of these is “Airlane” which heralds an in-order run through of the album. High points? “M.E.” and the seldom performed “Conversation”. On “Tracks”, Numan blows the lyric completely. During “Asylum” the stage is rearranged for the second half. Once the table that Numan’s keyboard is stood upon is taken away and Chris McCormack straps on his electric guitar the whole feel of the show changes.

Whether because he is now able to perform in his preferred style or whether because being out from behind the keyboard frees him, Numan is now much more energetic and moves around the stage with poise, mystery and momentum.

The first song in this section of this set is the yet unreleased “The Fall” which bodes well for forthcoming releases. “Halo”, “Jagged” and “Haunted” from recent albums are all performed well but it is ironic that the high points of the second half are a storming “Down in the Park” and a version of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” which alternates between a gentle piano-like sound and thunderous keyboards and guitars. There is clear evidence that whatever the quality and energy of his performance, Numan’s songwriting is no longer what it once was. Too often his recent lyrics address his dislike of religion and playing on this one lyrical note can soon become tired whatever your own views. In this regard using a burning cross on his video screen – an image with racial and Ku Klux Klan overtones as well as religious ones – was not exactly his most sensitive decision.

Aside from this the visual elements of the show work well and the show builds towards a dynamic conclusion with “We Are So Fragile” (old) and “A Prayer From the Unborn” (fairly new). Ironically, the restricted movements of the first half giving way to the torrent of activity of the second gives the illusion of a build in energy which works well. In reality, both halves of the show work well in their own way and the performance is a huge success.

This is likely to be the last of these album-revisited tours that Numan will do. It is hard to see him performing the excellent “Dance” album with the current configuration of his band. The last model of combining the old and the new has worked well and will hopefully bring some of his old audience to a greater appreciation of the newer material and performance style. Hopefully, they won’t notice the falling away of the songwriting content as much as this reviewer does. But that is something only Gary can address and the increasing gap between his studio albums suggests he is not close to finding an answer..…….

Nu-maaaaaan!!

Great night at the Gary Numan “Replicas” concert in Oxford last night. In geographical terms, alone, the London show would have made much better sense but I’m afraid I’m spoiled these days. I’m so used to getting free tickets at the big shows given to me by artists’ agents who want me to write something for their employers fro an EPK or something similar that I’ve lost all interest in going to the larger venues unless I’m guaranteed great seats or VIP privileges. Enough of my snobbery! When I was much, much, younger Replicas was a very cool album and its science fiction themes enthralled me. It’s good to know that all these years later the lyrics haven’t aged and Numan’s more aggressive mature persona doesn’t dent that edge. It was enough to send me off on the train reading a Phillip K. Dick novel this morning.
Thoroughly enjoyed the show. Have felt for at least twenty years that the rockier version of ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ loses the atmosphere of the original where the sheer other-worldliness of that recording was the thing which launched Numan’s commercial career. Aside from this hearing “The Machman”, “Me! I disconnect from you”, “We are so Fragile” and all the rest, one more time, was a great way to spend an evening.

Support band, Rubicks, full of frenetic energy (7th time I’ve seen them):

and Numan at 50 still as strong (makes me feel young)

Listen to my album from 20 years ago

There’s a real trend at the moment for doing a show that is based around a complete performance of an old album. I’m not sure how this differs from a band that has lost its way creatively and is just doing “nostalgia” shows for the money but it seems that it does in the mind of the audience. It seems to work. I caught John Foxx last year doing a complete performance of Metamatic (from 1980), b-sides, outakes and all. It was a great night. In retrospect though I didn’t enjoy it as much as when he toured “From Trash” earlier in the year or when he did his art-house stuff like “Tiny Colour Movies” so I remain a little ambivalent.
One of the best tours I ever saw was All About Eve when they were performing with Toni Haimi on guitars doing a set that was almost entirely new material and which had never been committed to disc. All lot of that material still hasn’t. It was boundless energy and unpredictable. A little different from here’s the song that was side 1 track 4 on the original vinyl release.
Anyway, life is for living and I’ll take both. Just booked to see Gary Numan performing the whole of “Replicas” in the Spring….. Seems a whole lot more credible than Sweet whose remaining members are doing a Seventies show with the Rubettes and Showaddywaddy. Why is this that? I wish I understood the difference.

Electronic

I’ve been a longtime lover of electronic music. It began in the late seventies and early eighties with Kraftwerk, John Foxx and Gary Numan. I was in a band called “Sonic Dude” for a while who cut one single on an indie label. We came up in Sheffield at the same time as the Human League, Heaven 17 and Pulp. There had to be one band who didn’t make it. We were it. Our career peaked with a sellout show at the Leadmill in Sheffield. It all went downhill from there.

Anyway, back to the broader electronic scene. In the mid-80s, Foxx disappeared, Numan went off the boil and Kraftwerk began to recycle their old material. I got into jazz in a big way and began to prefer Thelonious Monk on piano to what anyone was doing on synthesiser.

Numan recaptured my interest with his “Sacrifice” album. I didn’t care much for what he’s done since then but it was enough to get me checking out that scene again. John Foxx reappeared and has made the best albums of his career. “The Pleasures of Electricity” is the pick of the bunch but all 3 “Cathedral Oceans” sets and “Tiny Colour Movies are interesting and exciting in a minimalist sort of way whilst “Crash and Burn” and “From Trash” are more unrestrained and more mainstream.

Even more exciting have been the smaller new bands that have appeared in the UK. One favourite is Ladytron who have achieved a modicum of success and exposure. More obscure and hidden are “Swarf” who are simply quite wonderful. They have one of the finest female vocalists on the planet and some of the most inventive electronic melodies you are ever going to hear. Amazingly, they have remained an underground phenomenon who need greater exposure.

They have one album on Cryonica – “Art, Science, Exploitation”. Do yourself a favour and buy it.

You can also find them on a number of compilations and I-Tunes. There were rumours of a new single but nothing seems to have happened. Listen to them, get them the exposure they deserve.