Pretending To See The Future

Numan's 1979 Tour lends some inspiration

OMD

Between Thursday 20th September to Monday 8th October 1979, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark played as the opening act on Gary Numan's Touring Principle which took in UK cities as far and wide as Glasgow, London, Manchester, Bristol, Newcastle and of course Liverpool. In the space of a year, Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey had gone from playing small club venues like Eric's and The Factory to seated theatres such as Hammersmith Odeon and Manchester Apollo with capacities of around three thousand.

Gary Numan was undoubtedly the biggest star in Britain at this point. He had liked the Factory release of Electricity after hearing it at his label Beggars Banquet so checked Paul and Andy out when they played London's Nashville Rooms supporting Joy Division that August. Needing a support act with as streamlined a set-up as possible due to the immense stage show he was taking out himself, an act consisting of two men and a tape machine was ideal for Numan.

Paul and Andy had just signed to Virgin subsidiary Dindisc and the label wasted no time in re-releasing Electricity in the previously rejected Martin Zero version on 28th September to coincide with the tour. Showcasing material that included Almost, Julia's Song, Messages, Bunker Soldiers, Dancing and Red Frame/White Light, there was polite applause all round from Numanoids waiting eagerly to see their hero.

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After the tour, The Gramophone Suite studio was built on the second floor of a warehouse in Button Street, Liverpool with the first eponymous album recorded there in time for release on 22nd February 1980. But in addition to the increased exposure that was given to Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, the Touring Principle was significant for several other reasons.

Playing keyboards and violin in Numan's backing band was Billy Currie, chief instrumentalist of Ultravox. They were in hiatus following the departure of Numan's hero John Foxx to go solo earlier in the year. However, during this break, Currie was invited by The Blitz Club's DJ Rusty Egan to join a new project which was being led by former Rich Kids and Slik vocalist/guitarist Midge Ure to produce electronic dance music for the club. It was called Visage. The working relationship was a success and Ure eventually joined Ultravox. However, as they were short of equipment, Currie joined Numan's touring band to earn some cash while Ure was doing the same in a stint with Thin Lizzy!

But while on tour, Currie and his fellow synthesizer player Chris Payne started jamming around during soundchecks and the resultant track was christened Toot City. Returning after the tour to the as yet unfinished Visage album, Currie brought Toot City in to the sessions for Ure to work out a melody line and lyric. The song became Fade To Grey and was released in December 1980.

So it could be said that Gary Numan's 1979 tour was the catalyst for two eventual German No1s in Fade To Grey and Maid Of Orleans. Whatever, the success of Gary Numan opened doors for all manner of acts who were pioneering the use of synthesizers in popular music and for that, everyone should be thankful.


By Chi Ming Lai
2nd January 2010