It's Monday April 1st, and I jump off a train at Bath Spa rail station and am met by Matthew Holbrook (who, in grand British style, greets me with a sincere "Howdy!"). He shows me the sights around Bath, taking me to a couple of wonderful little pubs for lunch and then dinner (I had lasagna... and they say British food is lousy!) We even stopped by the local record shop where I picked up my copy of Songs In The Key Of X for an outrageously high price. Matthew shows off with some pride his very extensive Numan collection (which weighs more than I do), and I get to see, for the first time, concert video footage filmed AFTER 1979. :-)
The next day (April 2nd), we find ourselves again at Bath Spa train station, this time boarding a London-bound train. We arrive at Paddington Station nearly two hours ahead of the coach's scheduled departure, so we amuse ourselves hanging around the station (much, I'm sure, to the consternation of the ever-present security personnel), punctuated every five minutes by my asking Matthew, "how much more time do we have to kill?". Every 15 minutes, I do my impersonation of "a man outside, in a black coat, long hair, smoking a cigarette." Friends are indeed electric. How shocking.
At 14:40 we board the Numanoids On Tour bus, and lemme tell ya - they are NOT kidding. I'm not a very "visible" Numan fan for the most part, meaning I don't wear leather jackets with the Sacrifice logo on the back, etc. This group.... WOW! In comparison, I felt like an infidel - THESE people were fans and I was merely an admirer. Don't take the wrong impression - to date they've been the most friendly, good-natured, and ACCEPTING group of people it's ever been my privilege to know. Of course, I was helped in this by the fact that I became a bit of a celebrity myself.... "oi, 'ave you met this bloke over 'ere? 'e's flown over 'ere from Canny-da to see Gary!" :-)
So off we go to Southampton. Matthew gives me some last-minute details about what to expect (of the show, of the other fans, of the hotel accomodations, etc.), but by this time I'm so fired up that it's all going in one ear and out the other.
After checking in to the hotel, we head over to the venue. Myself and Matthew are accompanied by two of his friends - Jason Smith and his girlfriend Kirsten Meigh. Jason is thought by many to be "the world's biggest Gary Numan fan" - this man has totally devoted his life to Gary Numan. We're walking through the park, and Jason is COMPLETELY decked out as a Gary Numan lookalike, including hair and makeup (and Matthew himself is dressed very Numan-like as well). I'm decked out wearing a very bright red Calgary Flames (ice hockey) jersey, with the number "96" on the sleeves and back, and the name "Gary Numan" proudly displayed above the back number. Some of us were feeling rather self- conscious about our attire: Jason was heard to remark (not an exact quote): "here I am, walking through a park in Southampton next to a guy with bright flashing neon clothes, and I'm the one who feels embarrassed".
We arrive at the Southampton Guildhall and head inside. In the line-up we meet up with Robert Eggleston (master of the Are Friends Electric? web site) and his wife Maria, turning it into a Numan-page convention. Inside the door is all the merchandise... t-shirts, sweatshirts, posters, and a tour programme (written, coincidentally, by Matthew Holbrook). To my very great surprise - and delight - one of the back pages contains a list of Numan Web Sites. Heading the list is, of course, NuWorld, but seven other sites are also listed... including, gasp!, my own World Wide Webb site. This was apparently not Matthew's idea - 'twas Gary's. Obviously, I was walking on air for quite some time after discovering all this. Unfortunately, the Digest wasn't mentioned... probably an oversight and less worrisome than it might have been, since most of the listed sites mention the Digest in detail.
So now we're in the hall. Matthew, Jason, and Kirsten go up front as close as they can get in order to fry their brains - they're standing about 2 millimetres from a very large, and very loud, stack of speakers. Robert, Maria, and myself hang back a ways, ostensibly to protect our ears, but in fact to better position ourselves for access to the bar. The support band, "Cubanate", then come onstage in a flurry of distortion and mangled chords. To describe this band as "bad" would be to do a great disservice to the word "bad". Instead, let's go with adjectives like "awful", "trash", "terrible", "horrific", "excruciating", "nauseating", "dreadful", "beastly", and maybe even (insert Eric Idle accent here) "appalling!". But somehow, they don't seem to adequately describe the situation. Most of the performance was lost in a squeal of distortion... except, unfortunately, the lead singer's profanity, which apparently is used to disguise the fact that he has no vocal talents whatsoever. I haven't been told to go fuck myself that many times since I tried picking up women in the local lesbian bar.
After about 10 minutes of this, we can't take any more. We head
upstairs to the balcony and even this is too loud, so we hang
about in the corridor behind the balcony, where at least we can
hear ourselves think if we shout the words. And it is here that
Cary Johnston of Meridian Television found me. Cary is producing
a half-hour feature on Numan and his tremendously loyal fans, to
go out on Meridian Television this Thursday or Friday (April 4-5)
and possibly repeated on other ITV affiliates later. He takes
me downstairs to the lobby, cameraman in tow, and interviews me
there. I explain on camera how far I've come, how long it's been
since I've seen Numan live (nearly 16 years), why I'm a fan, and
what the hell is that shirt you're wearing, Joey?
After the interview, I rejoin the Egglestons and we endure the rest of the Cubanate show. At 8:40pm, we're finally granted a reprieve and this lame excuse of a band finally gets the hell off the stage. We head back downstairs, stock up on more beer, and rejoin the crowd (again, a safe distance back). At 9:05pm, my long wait ends. The lights go down, the curtain drops, and Gary emerges onstage to an incredible outpouring of enthusiasm by the fans. He starts out at the top of an elaborate stage-set, then descends a staircase, grabs the mike, and launches into "Prophecy", a song from the upcoming Exile album. If you've been hoping that Gary continues his "dark" themes to this album, you're going to be very pleasantly surprised - the new songs SURPASS Sacrifice in this respect (and, I might add, they're very very good too).
The track listing on the night was something like this:
Prophecy (from Exile)
A Question Of Faith
ME! I Disconnect From You
The Seed Of A Lie
An Alien Cure (from Exile)
Are 'Friends' Electric?
Everyday I Die
Are You Real?
Dark (from Exile)
Love And Napalm
We Are Glass
Remind Me To Smile
What immediately struck me was just how INTO the show the fans get. I'm standing in a room filled with (an estimated) 2,700 screaming Numan fans who are jumping, screaming, clapping, and dancing in time with the music, stopping only to jam their fists skyward at various musical "posts". I was absolutely overwhelmed - I've been to a lot of concerts and I've never seen anything at all like this, and I haven't even begun talking about the actual SHOW yet.
|The show itself was absolutely brilliant (especially after you accept the inevitable lyrical foul-ups, particularly on "A Question Of Faith"). Gone was the standing-there-staring Gary I remembered from the 1980 Teletour - here was 1996 Gary, jumping, dancing, pouting (he does that SO well), and singing - it was a very strong vocal performance. The lights were scaled down a bit from previous concerts (so I'm told), in keeping with the new image (which tends to be much "blacker" in many respects), but are still damned impressive. Gary's image is rather more difficult to describe - it has been described as a "jack-booted funeral director from Ursa Minor" - and that does rather fit.
The fans, as I said, were VERY much into the show, but they seemed to crank it up a notch on three songs in particular: "Are 'Friends' Electric?", "Love And Napalm", and (oddly, I thought) "Cars". People were dancing harder, pumping their hands in the air further, and singing so loud that at times they actually drowned out Gary's vocals. It was absolutely incredible to be a part of, and I quickly put a large dent into my film supply, snapping photographs at every opportunity (some of which, when developed, will appear on my web page and others). The show was tight, smooth, and full of energy. The two new musicians didn't seem to have any problem fitting in - David Brooks on keyboards is widely experienced, while Rob Harris on guitars brought his own understated energy to the performance. According to the Programme, Rob "turned up outside Gary's house one foggy night, all dishevelled and starving and begged for a cup of tea". I think someone is playing with our heads on this one. :-)
I don't remember the trip back to the hotel that clearly - my mind was still back in the Guild Hall. But somehow I stumbled back to the room, meeting Matthew en-route. We changed and headed down to the hotel's bar and settled in for a night's partying with fellow Numanoids. Matthew had hinted (as has Gary in the Digest) that since we were staying in the same hotel as Gary and the band, there was a good chance that Gary might pop in later. And, sure enough, he did. He then immediately popped out, as did Matthew. I was a little disappointed, but about five minutes later Matthew came back, and above the din managed to beckon me to follow him. We walk across the lobby: all eyes are following us and nobody is saying a word. I'm mortified. Petrified. OK, I'm scared shitless. There's Gary, Gemma, Ade, and all the rest, enjoying pizza and chips (note: Gary himself in fact does not eat pizza), and watching this guy with the bizarre shirt walking towards them.
Matthew then introduced me to Gary, and like a complete idiot I of course mumbled something about having waited 16 years to meet him. However, from that point on I had a fantastic time. People came and went, joining and leaving the various conversations. Gary and I (and others of course) discussed topics ranging from CGI HTML scripts to operating systems to Quebec seperationists (after all, I'm the resident expert on things Canadian).
Gemma O'Neill - Matthew Holbrook - Gary Numan
Robert Eggleston - Kirsten Meigh - Jason Smith - Matthew Holbrook
Gary in person is quite a bit different from the on-stage persona - as, I suppose, is virtually every performer. In person he's a real guy, with real opinions and real emotions. What really impressed me about the man is that he treats those around him, including guests like myself, as complete equals. I honestly didn't know what to expect, but I have to admit this took me just a little bit by surprise. Gary is friendly, personable, and engaging - the type of person and personality that usually turns up in my closest friends. He patiently autographed several CD covers for me, including my recently-acquired and long-awaited copy of Berserker. I suggest to him that it must be a bit of a drag to be constantly asked for autographs. He says not at all, he doesn't mind a bit, it's just that these big HMV signing sessions tend to be BORING AS HELL when all you're doing for an hour or two is signing autographs. Having never done that - I guess due to the fact that I'm not famous - I can't confirm this.
After about 2 hours, Gary and company headed into the bar. Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I stayed in the lobby with several other guests and we drank, smoked, and chatted away until about 5am, at which point I headed off to bed before I collapsed from exhaustion (but taking five minutes first to phone home - Mom hadn't heard from me in over a week).
It's now 6:30pm on April 3rd - in about 45 minutes we jump back
on the bus and head down into Guildford for tonight's show at the
Civic Hall. And I know it's going to be another great night.