Liam Rudden - 70's synth icon undergoing a Numanoid renaissance

ARE Friends Electric? Tubeway Army. May 1979. County Dublin. That was when I first discovered the pale faced new-wave warrior Gary Numan.

Friday, 23rd March 2018, 2:18 pm
Updated Friday, 23rd March 2018, 2:23 pm
Gary Numan on tour

I heard the track on the radio and quickly became obsessed with it. It was new and vital.

So entranced by it was I, that for my 15th birthday, still in Ireland, the only present that would do was that single.

Easier said than done when you’re surrounded by fields and country lanes with just the local dairy and pub within walking distance.

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Nevertheless, at my insistence, we all set off one day, with tales of a record shop in a nearby village that was know to sell ‘modern’ music. And indeed it did.

There, hidden amongst the hits of The Dubliners and recordings of The Angelus was a chart section. In pigeon-holes behind the counter, marked 1 to 30, were the top singles of the day, the quantity of records remaining in each an indicator of the track’s popularity.

At that point, Tubeway Army had yet to hit the heady heights of the Top 30. They were filed in another pigeon-hole marked ‘New Releases’, in which lived a random selection of 7 inch singles, no doubt dropped off by the local record plugger, hopeful of a sale.

“Are Friends Electric?” asked the store keeper, who looked old enough to remember when music was sold on cylinders, “That was the one, wasn’t it?”

I said yes. He popped it in a paper bag, asked for the princely sum of something like 60p and off I went to find a record player to play it on... which I didn’t.

Not to worry, we were heading home the next day where Are Friends Electric? and the B-side, We Are So Fragile, must have driven my folks to despair, I played them so often.

Last Friday, nearly 40 years on, I finally got to see Gary Numan live on stage, in, of all places, the Assembly Rooms.

The singer is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance since the release of his brilliant new album Savage (Songs from a Broken World).

It has been described by others as the album he never made at the height of his fame. They are right.

The trademark synths, heady, soaring and atmospheric are present, as are Numan’s unique ‘cracked’ vocals, woven through heavy beats and raucous guitars.

One of the most influential artistes of the 70’s to remain relevant in today’s ever changing music scene, Numan played a 17 song set, of which six came from that new album.

The 60-year-old was loud, proud and utterly mesmeric, still retaining the otherworldlyness of his youth that set him apart then and continues to do so now, although he does seem more relaxed on stage these days.

That Are Friends Electric?, when it came towards the end of the evening, was almost unrecognisable didn’t really matter - I can always listen to the original release.

It is Numan’s new material that engages these days, and very few ‘vintage pop’ acts can say that.