For the first time ever, the former Tubeway Army frontman did an intimate acoustic tour comprising eight dates and two nights in London at the intimate Hackney Church following his new studio album’s ‘Intruder’ tour last year, for which he also showed an exclusive preview of a forthcoming DVD release of his Wembley Arena date. He said the tour had been experimental and was not sure how it would work out, so was grateful for the two sell-out shows that it manifested in.

Numan and his band opened on the brisk acoustic strumming of ‘When The World Comes Apart’ featuring a woody instrumental; throughout the evening, the musician provided commentary on his songs, such as for ‘Stories’ taken from his 1981 studio album, ‘Dance’; a tale about a woman who has an abortion and is speaking to a waiter who is actually her dead baby’s ghost, the song framed with playful piano keys.

Numan explained how the machine world had been influential on his writing as a young man aged 18/19-years-old with the trudge of the William S. Burroughs inspired 1978 ‘Tubeway Army’ track, ‘The Life Machine’, about a man on a life support machine, and then ‘Metal’, about a machine who is close to being human but tragically is not, also the B-side to his hit single ‘Cars’. These were themes that were futuristic yet imagined more than 40 years before their time, played with guttural acoustics and ascending classical piano.

Numan spoke about how he wrote lyrical jibberish to capture flashes of a time or feeling, before performing on guitar from 1979’s ‘Replicas’ for the upbeat ‘The Machman’. He later played from his 2017 studio album, ‘Savage (Songs From a Broken World)’, his vision of a post-apocalyptic society, with ‘Ghost Nation’, and performed again from ‘Tubeway Army’ with the piano cascades of ‘Everyday I Die’, a song he joked was about masturbation. Numan returned to machine talk with ‘Down in the Park’ – simply about machines programmed to harm humans that live in a park – which opened with a classical piano solo. There was also a rarity, ‘Crime of Passion’, from a Tubeway Army compilation called ‘Asylum’.

Although Numan was initially thinking of not playing his single ‘Cars’, it was not actually much of a feature when played acoustically; its sister track, ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’, however, was and the last song of the encore to finish his show on: he described how it had taken time to write and been a long track that you could not dance to or which did not have a catchy chorus, but ended up being a hit Number 1 single in 1979 and was one of the highlights of the set. The acoustic interpretation worked for some songs and not others and, as Numan admitted himself, he was struggling to play acoustic guitar due to it hurting his fingers, but the evening was successful in that it showcased an intimate portrait of the storyteller and inner imaginings of a man who dreamt about machines.

17/10/23: Gary Numan @ St John at Hackney, London.

Photos © E. Gabriel Edvy/Blackswitch Labs.

© Ayisha Khan.