Featuring Interviews with RRussell Bell, Chris Payne and Tim Dry
Lifelong Numan fan Stephen Roper has devoted the last three years to compiling ‘Back Stage – A Book Of Reflections’. The book focuses on the years 1979 – 81, when GARY NUMAN was at the peak of his fame and commercial success.
It features first-hand accounts of those who were closest to him at the time including band members, record company executives, friends such as JOHN FOXX, THE SKIDS and DEVO plus support acts OMD, SIMPLE MINDS and NASH THE SLASH. The foreword is provided by Numan himself while he also contributes a chapter.
The result is a fascinating and often humorous insight into the eye of the storm, during which Numan was making headlines and topping the charts worldwide.
Numan’s rapid ascent to stardom took him by surprise as much as anyone else, and by his own admission he wasn’t fully prepared for the consequences. As former band member Chris Payne recollects, while ‘Are Friends Electric?’ was still at No1 and the media frenzy was in full force, Gary invited Chris to come on holiday… to a caravan in Weymouth! Chris agreed to go because “it sounded like a bit of a laugh”, but inevitably they were mobbed by fans and the press, and ended up cutting the holiday short.
During this three year period Numan toured extensively, both in the UK and worldwide. The Numan tours were famous for their jaw-dropping stage sets, culminating in the spectacular farewell shows at Wembley in 1981. As sound engineer Alan Morrison says in the book, “Gary needed at least three forty foot lorries to get his point across… but what an emphatic way to do it!”
Also included are the original tour itineraries (all produced on a manual typewriter) and sketches of stage sets, together with handwritten estimates for the productions. It is this level of detail and authenticity that makes Back Stage a compelling read for anyone with an interest in Numan’s glory years.
The Back Stage launch party took place on a Saturday night in Westminster, and brought together several of the book’s key contributors including Chris Payne and RRussell Bell from the Numan band and latterly of DRAMATIS, Tim Dry of SHOCK / TIK & TOK, Steve Webbon from Beggars Banquet and of course Stephen Roper himself. There was a packed house of Numan fans all keen to meet these key figures and have their books signed.
All of the book’s contributors gave their time generously, signing books and chatting freely to guests. With a soundtrack of Synth Britannia classics playing, there really was a party atmosphere!
The only poignant note of the evening was the absence of Ced Sharpley, the legendary drummer from the Numan band who was sadly taken ill just days before the event. Many guests wrote personal messages on a drum skin to be presented to Ced, in the hope that he would make a speedy recovery.
Meanwhile, Ced’s bandmates RRussell Bell and Chris Payne took the opportunity to make a very special announcement – that DRAMATIS have reformed and that, after a gap of over 30 years, their second album is imminent.
This news should delight fans who still enjoy their first album For Future Reference. What will that creative partnership come up with? Watch this space!
Back Stage is a remarkable achievement and Stephen Roper should be commended, not only for tracking down the key characters involved, but for collating their contributions into a beautifully presented book that will delight many a Numan fan. Stephen’s enthusiasm for the project showed through at the launch party, as did the positive energy and goodwill of all involved.
Chris Payne and RRussell Bell kindly spared some time to talk to The Electricity Club about the Numan years, DRAMATIS and that big announcement…
RRussell, you were the last to join the band. So did the others put you through any initiations on ‘The Touring Principle’?
RRussell: No, I saw them on Old Grey Whistle Test and thought “what a brilliant band!” but I thought “that guitarist don’t look much”. I heard on the grapvine they needed one so I phoned up Beggars Banquet to see if they wanted another guitarist… but they said they knew nothing about it! Then I saw an advert in Melody Maker and I went along for the audition, there were four or five blokes there…in fact, Chris auditioned me although he says in the book that I was the only one to turn up! *laughs*
Chris: I’d like to jump in here…obviously, it was a bit of a joke but the reality is that there were twenty guitarists auditioned over a two day period and RRussell was by far the most interesting, innovative and outstanding. That’s what should have been in the book! *laughs*
RRussell: That’s what we like to hear! The first thing I did was this TV in Holland, we were staying in a ‘Boatel’. We got taken out by the record company and we were heading back in about five cars. I’d just nicked this big plastic lobster from the restaurant and got in this car with this Dutch bloke. After about a hundred yards, we crashed into a parked car! I’d smashed my face on the windscreen and was virtually unconscious when this guy shouted “QUICK, GET OUT! RUN!” because if you get caught for drunk driving in Holland, it’s mandatory prison for a week! So I jumped out and I’m running down the street with a lobster in my hand! From thence on, we used to nicked lobsters from everywhere…I’ve got a big collection of plastic lobsters! *laughs*
What’s the story behind you sabotaging OMD’s tape recorder Winston?
Chris: That was just a bit of fun! They were really good and had some great songs. But I just had this thing in my head that there’s a tape recorder there in place of musicians… that’s just Chris Payne being his altruistic self!
So I put the brake on it at the last show at Hammersmith Odeon. Andy McCluskey would come out and say “I’m Andy, this is Paul and this is Winston”…
RRussell: …me, Chris and Gary were behind the curtain tossing pennies at them and they went to turn the tape recorder on but because we’d put the brake on, nothing happened!
Chris: We were just p*ssing ourselves! At the end of a tour, there are always comedy moments… OMD were a really good support band, the best support act you could have got for the time actually! Fantastic!
RRussell: SIMPLE MINDS weren’t bad…
Chris: …yes, but that was later in Europe. They were phenomenal, one of the few bands to tour with us because we had people like NASH THE SLASH, HOHOKAM who were solo or two guys. Who else did we have? Oh yes, SHOCK!
Legend has it that GARY NUMAN only booked SHOCK for the Wembley shows because he fancied one of the girls… who was it?
Chris: Probably all three!!
RRussell: It was Carole Caplin funnily enough! To be honest, there was a line of people who fancied Carole… she was so fit! *laughs*
Ah, she wore that gold cone bikini during ‘Trois Gymnopedies’…
Chris: …she got on really well with my sister! *laughs*
RRussell: I don’t like the way this is going! *laughs*
RRussell, you got quite adept at multi-tasking with guitars, violin, synths, tambourine, electronic percussion…
RRussell: …bass pedals, saxophone! I could play violin already and I was ok on keyboards but sax, I had to learn and did a crash course. I can only play about four things on it! I had to do Mick Karn’s solo on ‘She’s Got Claws’ at Wembley… to this day, that’s about the only thing I can remember how to play. Funnily enough, I got booked to do a session with this jazz band and I walked in with my guitar, but they said they wanted me to play sax! Thankfully, it was a short little bit but I had to phone a mate who played sax to ask him how to play F# as I’d not done that before!
RRussell: That can happen…
Chris: …you’ll probably find that the backing track got out of synch with me!! *laughs*
RRussell: Basically, if you can’t hear the sequencer part… one of the problems at Wembley was there was a massive bounce back from the wall and it was an awkward delay. As you walked away from your monitor, you’re hearing almost half a second delay so you get slower and slower. But at the end of the day, we followed Ced cos he had cans usually.
Chris: You’ve got to bear in mind that monitors were absolutely crucial for the configuration, these days you have ear pieces but then, you were playing a wide stage…
RRussell: …it was 80 feet wide!
Chris: And I was completely cocooned from the other keyboard player and I couldn’t see the drummer or anything! So you were totally reliant on the monitor and if that went down, you were totally stung!
RRussell: …yes, the three of us were so tight. We were best mates for ten years, really close.
Chris: And we were the mainstay of DRAMATIS…
RRussell: …we were DRAMATIS!!! *laughs*
I understand you have an announcement?
RRussell: Yes, DRAMATIS is back together and releasing the second album, we’ve recorded most of it including tracks that we played live in 1982… ‘Sand & Stone’, ‘Every Night & Day’. The rest of it is new. It’s sounding really good.
Chris: This could be a Guinness Book of Records, the longest time taken for a second album release ever! 31 years!
RRussell: If we had, we’d have done it ourselves! *laughs*
Chris: Well, it doesn’t surprise because he’s a great percussionist and brought that to his drumming.
A lot of GARY NUMAN’s stuff was kind of mechanical, it had to be for the nature of the music but Ced brought that extra little thing because of the way he drums. He wouldn’t just play very KRAFTWERK type rhythms, he’d add something to the pieces.
When you were touring America, were you aware that the urban street kids were getting into GARY NUMAN?
Chris: Not at all…
RRussell: …not at that time. I remember Gary’s dad Tony came up to me and told me AFRIKA BAMBAATAA got in touch and wanted to do a collaboration with Gary and I said “BRILLIANT” and Tony said “who is he?”. I said “Tell Gary to do it” and Tony went “NAH!” *laughs*
Chris: How cool would that have been?
RRussell: It happened much later, but not then!
Were there any ‘Spinal Tap’ moments like getting lost trying to find your position on the massive stage sets or the crew playing practical jokes?
RRussell: There was one classic where the production was being built to Gary’s specs and there was supposed to be this square cage that came with him in from a truss…
But they done it in metres instead of feet so it was like the size of a shark cage! He went “I can get the whole f***ing band in this!” It was supposed to be two feet square, not two metres!
So it’s the opposite of ‘Stonehenge’?
RRussell: YES! EXACTLY! *laughs*
Chris: There was also things like you’d play Glasgow Barrowlands which had this roller skating rink and the stage was configured in such a way that you couldn’t get everything in. So me and the other keyboard player were hidden and all you could see was the top of my head!
RRussell: I had a platform and to get on it, I had to climb up a ladder and then crawl through this hole to get on stage… it was like potholing!
Chris: On ‘The Fury’ tour, we all came out in dry ice and this thing rose up and we all came on stage. Gary went “GO! GO!” and we were just covered in dry ice and I walked straight into a pole and smashed my head! I was totally disorientated, walked to wrong set of keyboards and for the first couple of numbers, I could barely play!
RRussell: We used to do this dance like THE SHADOWS on the last track of one shows and one of the crew taped my ankles together… and one of the crew, Archie came on stage in New Zealand with a tray of drinks completely naked!
The Teletour had those steep ramps? Did you ever go a*se over tit?
RRussell: Yeah, we used the same ramps at Wembley and we had diving boots on just to get some grip… but you had to take a run at it!
I usually used a radio pack but at this Wembley show, I was using a lead on my guitar so I came running down the ramp for this big guitar solo; Brian May and Jimmy Page were in the audience, and my roadie had put a short lead in the bloody guitar and it pulled out… I was looking round as if to say “can you plug me in again?” and he was sat there reading! *laughs*
You used to do this funny dance during ‘M.E.’
RRussell: I signed up as a guitarist and having to do all this other stuff… it wasn’t a dance, I was trying to destroy those bloody pie-tins! I had four Synare3 syndrums and used to break all of Ced’s drumsticks on them! I thought “If I break them, I won’t have to play them and they can put it on a sequence”… so I used to hit them as hard as I possibly could! It was hate really, pure emotion! God, they’re bloody tough things, they’re still working now I think! I thought I could either tap them and look like a w*nker or thrash the s*it out of them!
What keyboards were you using and how were you finding setting the sounds up, especially when the lights went down?
Chris: It was a nightmare, I think on one tour I had over eighteen keyboards, some were never used as they were back-ups… two Polymoogs, two Minimoogs, an ARP Odyssey…
RRussell: …I was the guitarist and I had five synths!! I had a Polymoog, two Minimoogs, Moog Taurus pedals, Synares and a Roland guitar synth!
Chris: Everything could breakdown, they’d go out of tune…
Chris: A bit later on, the Prophet5… nightmare!
RRussell: I had this thing called The Clap!! It made a sound like a bunch of people clapping and it had a foot pedal… I thought if I just stand there, everyone will think I look bored so I picked the pedal up and ‘clapped’ it…I hated that! *laughs*
Now for a trip down memory lane, we have the 1981 GARY NUMAN Yearbook! You’re all pin-ups here… RRussell, you look like the fifth member of KRAFTWERK. Can you remember what your ambition was?
RRussell: Yes, to play the first gig on the moon! What a memory eh?
Are you still working on that one?
RRussell: Yes, but it’s not going great! *laughs*
Can you remember who was your favourite female singer?
RRussell: In those days… KATE BUSH? LENE LOVICH? JULIE LONDON? Ah, PAT BENATAR!
Yes, PAT BENATAR…
RRussell: …she was quite hot as well!
Chris, can you remember who your favourite singer was at that time was?
Chris: KATE BUSH?
No, it was MARIE OSMOND!!! *everyone laughs*
Chris: I think I might have been making that one up!
RRussell: Nothing he says in this ‘Back Stage’ book is reliable, you’ve seen what he’s like! I rest my case! *laughs*
The Electricity Club also chatted to Tim Dry aka Tik, one half of TIK & TOK but also, a member of New Romantic dance troupe SHOCK who supported GARY NUMAN at the three farewell Wembley shows. He subsequently worked with him on the ‘Warriors’ tour and two tracks for TIK & TOK’s debut album ‘Intolerance’…
How did you get invited by GARY NUMAN to do the Wembley Shows?
Tim: SHOCK did a show at The Embassy Club in London and there’s GARY NUMAN, standing there on his own clutching a can of coke so we went up to say “Hi”. He said “I really love your show, I’ve got these gigs at Wembley, would you be my support act?” and we thought “Yeah! Right!”. But he was serious so we went down to Shepperton Studios to rehearse and that was the first time I actually felt the power of the music. It was monumentally loud.
One funny story was that Gary came along to see us later at this tiny gig in a horrible club out of town, somewhere going north. He’s watching us unrecognised doing our show. So we’re all in the dressing room afterwards and he’s sitting there with us when this fan bursts in and goes “HEY! I’ve heard GARY NUMAN’s in here” and he pans round the room, passes Gary and says to me “Are you Gary Numan?”, I said “no” so he walked off!
How was it at Wembley?
Tim: We’d come back from New York performing to maybe three hundred people in a club which was in your face. But coming out on stage in the blackout with the dry ice going and we started doing this weird movement, you couldn’t see the audience. It’s only later on in the show when the lights come up that bloody hell, there’s all these thousands of people! We did a forty minute set and the deal was that the three girls in SHOCK would do ‘Trois Gymnopedies’ when Gary went off to change his cossie while Sean and I would do our robotic thing to one of his numbers. But we came out on the wrong number cos we were so nervous! We said sorry to Gary but he said “Brilliant, do the same tomorrow night”.
You supported him on the’ Warriors’ tour as TIK & TOK…
Tim: Normally a major star support act gets short shrift… the audience normally go to the bar but for us, they were there. It was several weeks on the road and we always used to help his mum with her cases, she was such a sweetheart making sure we ate properly.
Tim: Gary is the most open, self effacing guy I’ve ever met. After the tour, we were making an album and asked Gary if he would play on a track called ‘Show Me Something Real’. He came to our studio with a Polymoog and Prophet5, plays these synth lines in one take, goes into the booth to do a backing vocal and then he’s off.
And then he said: “I’ve got this song ‘A Child With The Ghost’, would you like to record it?”… he’s giving us one of his songs to record!! So we did it. It was quite difficult for me to sing because Gary has a very kind of strange inflection timing wise but I managed to get it right and we had this girl Tessa Niles sing backing vocals who then went off to work with Gary as well. I remember thinking this was a profoundly beautiful song he written for Paul Gardiner. How generous is that? Not pretentious in any way, shape or form.
Dedicated to the memory of Ced Sharpley 1952 – 2012
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to RRussell Bell, Chris Payne, Tim Dry and Stephen Roper.
Additional thanks to Kit Vaughan and Amanda Roper
‘Back Stage – A Book Of Reflections’ is available now as a download book from www.thetouringprinciple.co.uk
Chris Payne’s solo CD ‘Between Betjeman, Bach & Numan’ which features classically influenced reworkings of ‘Down In The Park’ and ‘Fade To Grey’ is released by Coverdrive Records on 23rd April 2012
Text by Steve Gray
Interviews by Chi Ming Lai and Steve Gray
Launch Party photos by Richard Price
Archive photos courtesy of Melvin Hurd, RRussell Bell, Nick Robson and Stephen Roper
24th March 2012