6 February 2013
Articles | Travel

Tour Diary: Gary Numan

Synth pop idol does battle with the booze, Butlins hipsters and missing bandmates on the road

Words Gary Numan
Photography Ed Fielding

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Wednesday, December 7th. Day one of the second leg of our Dead Son Rising UK Tour. Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms.

Wake up to some bad news. Emma, girlfriend to our bass player Tim Slade, has gone in to labour and is expecting to give birth today. Tim, for some strange reason, has decided he can’t play the gigs and won’t be joining the tour after all. Unbelievable :(

Truthfully, we knew this was a possibility as Emma was due next Tuesday, December 13th, so it was always going to be a gamble. To make matters worse we also knew that David Brooks, one of our two keyboard players, couldn’t do the first two shows, but we had that situation in hand. Ade Fenton, the other keyboard player and co-writer of the new Dead Son Rising album, had absorbed as many of David’s parts as possible and I would handle some myself. The remaining parts have been programmed into the laptop, not an ideal situation for a live show but necessary in this case.

The tour bus is great. A beautiful, stretched double decker with beds, toilet, kitchen and a big lounge upstairs. Unfortunately, after just a few miles, we are hit by a car. A lady tried to overtake us on a bend, didn’t make it, hit the front corner of the bus and was sent spinning backwards, and airborne, into a grass embankment. We all rush out to see if she has survived and are pleasantly surprised to see her exiting the car, completely unscathed. She doesn’t even seem flustered. We wait a while for the police to arrive so the lady has some help, and then we’re on our way again to sample the delights of Leamington Spa, our first venue.

Arrive late due to getting caught up in the traffic jam of another accident, not involving us this time, on the M25. Our VIP ‘Meet and Greet’ guests arrive at 4pm so I have a pleasant hour or so chatting to them, signing lots of things and posing for photos. Had a text from Tim saying the baby was born healthy and they’ve named him Jack. He won’t be back on the tour, though, which is understandable. We’ll miss him.

The soundcheck finally gets underway at five and is surprisingly easy considering the four of us remaining are trying to sound like a six piece. With no real problems other than a very badly behaved laptop (the one that controls all the projections throughout the show) the sound part of the check is soon over. The projection laptop, though, isn’t having any of it, and we have to use my personal laptop instead. Luckily it still has the correct software and film files installed, but it still behaved badly once or twice during the gig. Two computers cannot have exactly the same fault so it must be something else, or two factors interacting somehow.

The show is great — fantastic crowd, very vibey, no major mistakes, but we do feel the gap left by the missing players both physically and sonically. Hopefully we can sort something better out for tomorrow. It’s particularly important as we’re filming it. All the more stupid, then, that we all get extremely drunk and don’t get to our bunks until about 6am. Before last November I had never been drunk. Not once in my entire life. But we did a show in Mexico City and I drank what I thought was a Mexican version of Red Bull but which apparently had Vodka in it. I had about four or five in thirty minutes and had the best time. I’m an accidental drunk, a giggling buffoon mostly, but the taste is so vile it keeps me sensible.

Thursday, December 8th. Day Two. Manchester Ritz.

Don’t really sleep at all. Gave up trying at about midday and got up. Looked outside — it’s raining, obviously, as we’re in Manchester. I love Manchester if truth be told, but not for its weather. The venue is great, but colder than deep space. One tiny bar heater in the corner is clearly not quite up to the job. And it’s the only heater I can see in the entire building. Tonight we have a full line-up again. Presley, from Sheffield band KIK, is standing in on keyboards, and Steve Harris, more usually seen playing guitar, has offered to help out on bass and is driving up from London.

Ed Fielding is here taking his usual array of amazing photos and the Cybertec crew are here setting up their HD and robot cameras for the filming. VIPs at 4pm, another nice group, easy to talk to, and then into the soundcheck. Steve arrives about halfway through, which is a big relief, and so we get a full and comprehensive soundcheck once he settles in. There are more projection problems, but that turns out to be a bad cable giving spurious data and a definite fault on the main projection laptop. A new cable and reverting once again to the back up laptop fixes all the projection issues immediately. Much relieved.

Jayce Lewis, our most excellent support act for all the DSR shows, does another great set and leaves the crowd cheering for more. A good support act is such an important part of the night. Some headline bands seem to be intimidated if the support goes down well with the crowd but I don’t understand why. To me it all helps towards making it a good night for everyone.

The show is brilliant. The Manchester crowd have never let me down, ever, and it should be a very exciting DVD when all the filming is put together. Ed shows us a few glimpses of his photography afterwards and it’s just amazing. He captures moments like no-one else and I’m very glad he’s become part of the team.

Back on the bus, but suffering still from last night, so straight to bed. Kind of.

Friday, December 9th. Day Three. Southampton Guildhall.

I love the Guildhall and I’m glad to be back. I stroll off with Ade and Richie to find something to eat at about 1pm, via a fan who wants his picture taken with me and Ade, and makes some stupid comment about ‘drummers’. Some people don’t realise how offensive their little jokes can be. We put it down to nerves and let him wander off happy and oblivious. Eating sounds like a good idea but when it arrives I just feel sick and so head into the gig. It looks bigger than I remember. Tonight Steve is on bass again and David is flying in from Oman. His plane should arrive at about 5.30pm and so, with luck, he should be here in time for the show, but he will miss the soundcheck. I meet the VIPs at 4, as usual, and then we plough through the soundcheck which goes very well.

After the soundcheck everyone goes out for a meal and I wait alone in the dressing room. On this tour we are all wearing arm bands with S.O.P.H.I.E. on them. It stands for Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere and is an initiative created by the parents of Sophie Lancaster who was beaten to death by a gang of teenagers for nothing more than looking different. I spend my time alone reading about what happened. An hour later and I am utterly depressed and shocked by the needless savagery and its tragic results, and yet amazed and uplifted by the work being done by Sophie’s parents. Anyone that would like to know more about S.O.P.H.I.E. can visit the website here.

David arrives about 30 minutes before the show and quickly changes into regulation black. Steve is here again on bass, but has lost his trousers, so he squeezes his huge six-foot-whatever frame into my tight little jeans and waddles onto the stage. I wouldn’t have thought it possible. I am quite small, he is really quite big.

My good friend Andy is here and at one point during the show decides to streak naked across the stage. Luckily, or unluckily perhaps, he decides he is too… ‘diminished’ shall we say, in the pant department, by alcohol, and abandons the attempt. At some point I engage in some poor microphone control and smash myself in the mouth with it, again, and chip a tooth. It’s only been about a week since I was at the dentist fixing all the chips in my teeth from the September tour.

Afterwards the dressing room fills up with large numbers of people who shouldn’t really be there, mixed in with those few we really do want to be there. Things go missing, a big batch of old vinyl singles that I’d signed for a charity being the most important one, so we decide to head back to the bus and keep to ourselves.

Another bus party as we drive through the night towards Somerset for the ATP Festival.

Saturday, December 10th. Day Four. Minehead. ATP ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ Festival.

I wake up first, closely followed by Gemma [Gary’s wife], and so we head off to the seafront to get some air. It’s still early in the morning and few people are about. We meet a jogger who has travelled a considerable distance to be here and she is a Numan fan. It’s a good start for my fragile confidence, but it doesn’t last long. The festival is actually taking place in the Minehead Butlins holiday camp, but my fears of Redcoats and people shouting ‘Hi DE Hi!’ everywhere prove to be unfounded. ATP simply take over the site and make use of its facilities while the camp is effectively closed for the winter. The fans stay in the many chalets dotted around, the bands perform in the various venues, large and small, and, all in all, it’s a much better setup than I thought it might be.

However, walking around throughout the day amongst the people who will later be watching our set (hopefully), I begin to get increasingly nervous. These are not the people I normally see at a Gary Numan show. To make matters worse, with the exception of Battles, I have never heard of any of the other bands playing. I’m beginning to think I shouldn’t be here.

In the afternoon I have a filmed interview and then it’s a quick clean up at our allotted chalet. I’m unusually nervous. Very much so, actually, and it’s not a feeling I like at all. A brief walk to the dressing room and I can hardly speak. Festivals are always a little bit of a leap into the unknown compared to playing to your own crowd, but I don’t usually feel overly nervous. I love festivals, so this feeling is something of a surprise. We also have no bass player tonight, nor do we have our usual light show or projection system so we are going on a little under-gunned.

The set starts cautiously enough, but the venue quickly fills up. That in itself is a relief and a good sign. Having checked out a number of other bands throughout the day it’s clear that we are the odd one out. Compared to the other bands we feel raw and aggressive. Like a thug at a ballroom dance. Halfway through the set and it starts to come together for all of us. I stop caring and just lose myself in the power and energy of the music. The crowd seem to get what we do and the vibe builds with each song. By the end we are all very happy and I leave the stage feeling as though we’ve won a significant victory.

Before we leave we manage to watch the Battles set which is very impressive. We were invited to the festival by Battles, who curated the Saturday night, and I am very grateful. Sadly I don’t get to meet up with them when they finished as we have to leave for Hatfield for our final gig of the short tour.

Sunday, December 11th. Day Five. Hatfield. The Forum.

I wake up a bit groggy (another bus party) and step off the bus straight into a skip which is about two feet away from the door. We seem to be parked in a skip graveyard. With nothing of interest in sight we set off on foot for the nearby Galleria and the hope of some decent food. Apart from a brief and bizarre stop en route to watch an Irish dancing demonstration, we have a fun and relaxing time. Another long and freezing walk back to the venue where I head off to met the VIPs. The Forum is a great venue, and once Londoners realise how close it is I think it could become a major addition to the touring scene in the South East.

We are back to a six piece tonight, thankfully, as Steve has travelled out to Hertfordshire to play bass for us again. This is the last night of the tour and everyone is grumbling, band and crew, about how short it is. Me more than anyone. When we put the Dead Son Rising shows together, many months ago now, we were still thinking of the album as a filler, something to keep the fans interested while they waited for the next main studio album. But it turned out to be so much more than that and we could have done a far more lengthy tour, and not just in the UK. I feel as though we have sold the album short somehow as the shows have been better than ever, the crowds have gone for it in a big way and the album reviews, around the world, have been extremely positive. It is a situation that we may have to rethink as we move into 2012.

But tonight the tour ends on a high. It’s relentless and powerful, the carefully structured set a mix of new, nearly new and a scattering of older faithful. It has been a success night after night, and that is not something I always get right. I love the gig, as I’ve loved every single DSR gig, and that is also something that has never happened before. You always play a few that don’t quite happen for some reason, but not this time. It’s been great fun.

The aftershow party is ridiculous. Jayce is about the best person to hang out with that you can imagine and I wish him well with his career. He deserves to be massive and I hope it happens for him. It would be great to tour with him again in the future. America, perhaps?

I hate the end of tours. They are the most amazing things to be involved with — a life in a bubble, perhaps, but I dread the day when the bubble bursts. I want to do this forever.

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