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Tubeway Army were a London-based punk rock and new wave band led by lead singer Gary Numan. They were the first band of the post-punk era to have a synthesizer-based hit, with their single "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and its parent album Replicas both topping the UK Album Chart in mid-1979. "Are 'Friends' Electric?" was also the only song released by Tubeway Army to be a hit single, making the band technically a one-hit wonder; however, the success of Gary Numan often overshadows the band, leaving them off most one-hit lists.


Line-up[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The only constant members were:

  • Gary Numan (also known as "Valerian"; birth name Gary Anthony James Webb) – vocals, guitar, keyboards/synthesizers
  • Paul Gardiner (also known as "Scarlett") – bass guitar, occasional backing vocals

Other musicians included:

  • Jess Lidyard (also known as "Rael"; Webb's uncle) – drums (part-time 1976, and 1978/1979, including "That's Too Bad" single, Tubeway Army and Replicas sessions)
  • Bob Simmonds – drums (late-1977/early-1978)
  • Barry Benn – drums (mid-1978, including "Bombers" single)
  • Sean Burke – guitar (mid-1978, including "Bombers" single)
  • Chris Payne – synthesizers (1979 Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops performances)
  • Billy Currie (of Ultravox) – synthesizers (1979 Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops performances)
  • Cedric Sharpley – drums (1979 Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops performances)
  • Trevor Grant – guitar (1979 Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops performances)

Numan was the driving force of the band, writing the material and producing the recordings. Subsequent albums were issued under his own name once the album Replicas became successful. Gardiner, Sharpley, and Payne continued as his backing band for some years. Gardiner died from a drug overdose in February 1984. Numan's personal tribute to his former cohort was the song "A Child with the Ghost", on the album Berserker (1984).

Ced Sharpley born Cedric Sharpley, 31 December 1952; died from a heart attack on 13 March 2012.[1]

History[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Aged 19 years, Gary Webb had fronted London band Mean Street in 1976 (their song "Bunch of Stiffs" appeared on the Live at the Vortex compilation, and was the B-side of the Vortex 7"). Leaving this band acrimoniously, he auditioned as lead guitarist for another band called The Lasers, where he met bass-player Paul Gardiner. The pair left The Lasers soon after and formed Tubeway Army, initially with Webb's uncle Jess Lidyard on drums. Webb rechristened himself "Valerian", Gardiner "Scarlett" and Lidyard "Rael".

Webb was a prolific song-writer and ambitious for commercial success. The band began playing gigs on the punk scene in London and managed to secure a record deal with the independent Beggars Banquet label. They released two guitar-heavy, punk-style singles in the first half of 1978 ("That's Too Bad"/"Oh! Didn't I Say", and "Bombers"/"Blue Eyes"/"OD Receiver"). These failed to chart.

Soon afterwards, the Tubeway Army album was released on blue vinyl, at which point Webb adopted the name "Gary Numan". Allegedly, Numan actually took his new pseudonym from a local Yellow Pages where a plumber called "Arthur Neumann" was listed, the singer abandoning the German spelling, to become Numan. Whilst still largely guitar/bass/drums-based, the album saw his first tentative use of the Minimoog synthesizer, which he had come across by accident in the recording studio during the album sessions. Lyrically the record touched on dystopian and sci-fi themes similar to those employed by authors such as Philip K. Dick, of whom Numan was a fan (the opening lines of the song "Listen to the Sirens" are a direct lift from the title of Dick's book Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said). Whilst the album's modest initial pressing (which included a large batch of warped editions) sold out, it did not enter the album charts at that time, and no singles were lifted from it. By this time Tubeway Army had decided to abandon live shows – Numan was unhappy with pub-venue gigs on the often violent London punk scene (the only known recording of a Tubeway Army concert – a London show from February 1978 – was released as a bootleg album in the early 1980s. It was later officially included under the title Living Ornaments '78 as bonus tracks on the 1998 CD re-release of theTubeway Army album).

Following swiftly on in early 1979, excited by the possibilities of synthesizers, Numan took Tubeway Army back into the studio to record a follow-up album, Replicas. The result was more synth and science fiction orientated than the last album. The first single from the album, the bleak, slow-paced keyboard-driven song "Down in the Park", failed to chart. However, the next single, "Are 'Friends' Electric?" was more successful. A special picture-disc helped boost sales but what particularly grabbed the British public's imagination was Tubeway Army's appearance on the BBC show The Old Grey Whistle Test, followed soon after by a slot on Top of the Pops. The band appeared all dressed in black and near-motionless, Numan in particular giving a performance often referred to as being "like an android" (a style that was later reported to have been a means of covering stage nerves but which then became his trademark). The single climbed steadily to stay at number one in the UK charts for 4 weeks, with Replicas following suit in the album charts. With Tubeway Army still avoiding live shows, Numan recruited some additional musicians to make these television appearances (see above).

Numan became the first synth-based artist in Britain to break through into major commercial success. At this point, he dropped the Tubeway Army name and subsequent releases were made under the artist name Gary Numan.

Discography[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Albums[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Details Peak chart positions Certifications

(sales thresholds)

UK

[2][3]

NZL

[4]

SWE

[5]

US

[6]

1978 Tubeway Army 14
1979 Replicas
  • Released: April 1979
  • Label: Beggars Banquet, Atco
1 8 37 124
19841 The Plan
  • Released: October 1984
  • Label: Beggars Banquet
29

1 The demos were recorded in 1978 but not released until 1984. Beggars Banquet have re-released and re-mastered these recordings numerous times. Current CD editions supplement the original album tracks with all single A- and B-sides, 12" bonus tracks, studio out-takes, and recovered bootleg live material.

Singles[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Single Peak chart positions Certifications

(sales thresholds)

Album
UK

[2]

AUT

[8]

GER

[9]

IRE

[10]

NED

[11]

NZL

[4]

1978 "That's Too Bad" Single Only
"Bombers"
1979 "Down in the Park" 198 Replicas
"Are 'Friends' Electric?" 1 12 23 3 9 8 UK: Gold[7]
"—" denotes releases that did not chart
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