Blam! Tubeway Army Switch On

"Juke" article from 1979

Tubeway Army, the name behind the strange elusive "Are Friends Electric", is really one person, Gary Numan. The ashen-haired 21-year old Bowie lookalike, a self-confessed paranoid who dislikes crowds and plays all the instruments except bass (Paul Gardiner) and drums (Gary's uncle, Jess Lidyard).

Numan admits he likes working by himself because he grows to dislike people easily. In fact the whole of his first album is about him trying to get back at the people who rejected him early in his career.

He is as ice-cold and calculated about success. He is adamant that there is no hype about his music. In fact the bosses of his label Beggars Banquet, a small London-based label distributed here by WEA, had to literally beg him to allow them to release "Friends" as a single.

"They put me under so much pressure" he remembers, "sending me umpteen telegrams and telexes. Everyone was sure it would be a hit and they were probably right. But I didn't want to do it. I thought it was totally wrong. Just to make money. I could see something like that blowing it for the rest of what we wanted to do."

Within three weeks he had become hotly pursued property in England. A few weeks ago Tubeway Army were simultaneously number One in Britain with "Friends" (which remained at the spot for five weeks and sold more than 500,000 copies) and the Replicas album. The single is currently gearing to fly likewise up the European and Australian charts.

This non-commercial attitude has inevitably brought him into the firing line with Beggars Banquet's two bosses Martin Mills and Nick Austin. Numan says he is pleased about the way they've handled his atristry but readily admits there have been tensions.

Like on the eve of Replicas Beggars Banquet set up a series of promotional gigs (the way all record companies do). Arrangements for all the shows were well advanced when Numan heard about them and, screaming blue murder, nixed the idea.

"I didn't want to go out until we had a big show. I don't want to do what everyone else is doing. I've never liked playing to a crowd that's only 50% into what I'm doing. That sort of uncertainty really messes me up. Now with the single and album behind us, we can go out with a spectacular show and take the country by storm - I'm sure that is what will happen".

When he goes on the road it will be as Gary Numan, not Tubeway Army. For all purposes, Tubeway Army is a dead letter. He is currently working with an extended group on a third album entitled The Pleasure principle and will tour Britain right after.

Just before Tubeway Army, Numan spent some time on the London circuit playing with various New Wave bands, one of them Meanstreet who appeared on the Live at the Vortex compilation - although by then he'd been kicked out of the band.

Tubeway Army emerged in 1976 and split up last July. Right after Numan took some of his songs (at the time mostly about revenge) and spent three days making demos. They were of such high quality that Beggars Banquet released them as the first Tubeway Army LP in a 5000 limited edition without major publicity or distribution. Most reviewers ignored it; but there were a number who were drawn to this guitar-orientated aimless music and who, along with fanzines and specialist record shops, brought attention to Numan and his music.

He vehemently defends his music from being labelled pretentious. "Is it being pretentious to work on a theatrical concept, to create characters in songs and then dress up and act out these characters to make the songs come alive? That's calling the element of showbiz pretentious. To me that word means claiming to be bigger than you really are. I've never claimed my songs to be anything more than just ideas; they're not masterpieces. But it doesn't upset me. The people who have influenced me the most - Kraftwerk, Bowie, Ultravox - they've all been accused of the same thing."

Whether Numan can actually survive will depend on whether he shows as much adaptability and creative vision as Bowie or Eno. But the added problem is that he himself doesn't want to stay within music for too long.

His main passion is flying. He wants to get some money, buy some Dakota planes, paint them the way they were in World War II, and charge tourists to fly to Arnhem like they did on their bomber missions.

"Right now, this whole business of watching the single do well in the charts, getting interviewed, that whole bit, well it's fresh and exciting. But soon that novelty will wear off and then it'll just become a business. Once it stops being fun, then I'll get out. I'm lucky because I've got another passion I can move onto if this one loses it for me."