Hi, today we have deep dive into the dark 80s with the backstory of my novel Numan Versus Numan, a dark comedy about two Gary Numan tribute artists. This will give you a flavour of the story and how it originated. It includes a free chapter and links to promo videos. You will get the joy of seeing me humiliate myself whilst attempting to act (It’s too embarrassing to tell you how many attempts it took to film these short clips). A good friend of mine is an actor and he’s always bending my ear about how difficult a job it is. I have a little more sympathy for him now. A little.
I’d like to start with a bit about where the idea for this book came about and, also, why I’m writing a series inspired by alternative musicians from the 1980s. As a teenager growing up in that decade, I soon became addicted to the alternative music scene. Bands like the Cure and Bauhaus never left my turntable. I always gravitated towards the most weird and wonderful people and spent my time going to see gigs and hanging out in alternative nightclubs. Inspired by Hazel O’Connor’s epic post- punk film, Breaking Glass, I formed a band of my own called Felo De Se — the bleakest phrase we could find in the dictionary and is Latin for ‘death of self’ (people rarely smiled in the eighties).
After a few years of writing songs and playing gigs around the south coast of England we decided we had to move to London to seek fame and fortune. So we did just that. But it didn’t quite pan out how we had envisaged. There were thousands of bands who all sounded similar to us and were all trying to do the same thing. It was a swamp of studded belts, black crimped hair and patchouli oil. In which we drowned. That’s not say we didn’t have the most amazing experience together. We spent our days being creative, writing poetry, songs and networking with other bands. The evenings were spent hanging out in the late ’80s London music scene. My girlfriend at the time, Alison, was a self-confessed Numanoid. She took me along to see Gary Numan play live. That night had a big impact on me and afterwards I was listening to any of his music that I could get my grubby little mitts on. This series will be based around five key bands that had a similar impact on me in that era. Gary Numan, being such a pioneer, had to be the start of the series.
The main character of this book, Five, is a tribute to a very dear friend of mine called Simon who is no longer with us. We played in Felo De Se together before he moved on to form another band called Children on Stun. They were a lot more successful than us and found a cult status in the early ’90s alternative scene. Just by virtue of who he was, Simon taught me the most valuable life lesson. Whatever difficulty he faced in life, however hard, he always reserved the right to laugh at it. Because of this, he never seemed all consumed by what was going on. Even when his struggles did start to get the better of him, he refused to stop telling jokes. That was the magic of Simon. I miss him dearly.
The chapter you are about to read, ‘Lunatic Fringe’, is a flashback scene. It sets up two of the main characters, Five and Pete, and shows their teenage passion for not only Numan, but all things alternative. I hope you enjoy it.
18th December, 7.30 a.m.
The growl from the industrial estate had crept into Five’s dreamscapes and dragged him back to Romford. That dip in the pond had left him with a man flu more severe than any known disease. He had tried to get up once already, but the world had turned kaleidoscopic and so he resigned himself to floating in and out of a Lemsip-induced delirium. Just before closing his eyes he noticed he still had a photo of Tina on his dressing table. It had been taken by Jenny next door, just after they got together all those years ago. That was in an entirely other world. A world that never failed to seduce him.
It was 24th May 1979, Gary Numan had just reached number 1 in the charts with ‘Are Friends Electric?’. Having just watched this monumental tune being performed on Top of the Pops, Five — then known as Bobby — ran upstairs to raid his mum’s makeup box and put on eyeliner for the first time. It was a seminal moment, a postmodern rite of passage which gave rise to a profound euphoria (and conjunctivitis). Five the rock star — formally known as Bobby — had never quite grasped the thinking behind his given name. Why, when there had been a profound tapestry of English poets, artists and explorers, had he been named after Bobby Moore the footballer? Even if he had been the captain of that 1966 England team. They could have, at most, made it his middle name.
After an enthusiastic application of foundation, lipstick and blusher, Bobby looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. What stared back at him was his distorted twin, a twisted alter ego who would be strong enough to overcome any obstacle in life, clever enough to subvert any restrictive societal code, a persona who would ultimately guide him to the promised land of fame, riches and happiness. Electricity ripped through his body. This kind of rhapsody could only come with having discovered his true purpose. His DNA had been engineered exactly to do this and nothing else. He knew his destiny was to be in the world’s leading Numan tribute band and nothing would stand in his way.
It was his seventeenth birthday and Mags had given him twenty quid to treat himself. Pete had come round and they were going to London to an alternative nightclub called Billy’s in Soho. They had read about in the New Musical Express and it seemed to be where the cutting edge of the post-punk vanguard were hanging out. They took an early train to London to give themselves a chance to soak up some of the city before the club opened at midnight.
‘I sense a good night coming on,’ said Pete, dumping his dirty DM’s on the seat opposite.
‘The bright lights… the glamour.’ Bobby was crouched forward trying to use his window reflection to do his hair.
Soho was insane, a circus of sex shops, spice bars and strip clubs. It was lit up like a Christmas tree and the air was saturated with fast food aromas — not the usual smell of fish batter — but exotic spices, a cacophony of brand new smells that set Bobby’s senses alive. To many, back then, Soho was the ringpiece of London; to these two it was a romantic wonderland that held an ocean of possibilities on every street corner. Even the reek of piss-drenched back alleys seemed in some way heady, bohemian and invigorating.
‘Let’s have Russian food… no Turkish… no Japanese!’ said Pete.
‘Whatever your heart desires,’ shouted back Bobby as they darted between the gridlocked traffic on Wardour Street. They were heading for the sanctuary of Otherworld Records, an indie record shop, where they spent three hours searching for any new bands that might have so far alluded them. Pete was mad into an experimental counter-culture band called Throbbing Gristle and worshipped their lead singer Genesis P-Orridge. It didn’t take him long to find a kindred spirit in the store’s proprietor. A young guy who was wearing a ripped Crass t-shirt and had a long line of connected safety pins dangling from his right ear lobe.
‘Did you see the performance art show they did?’ said the guy. ‘It was wild.’
No, I’m gutted I missed it,’ said Pete. ‘I’ve been trying to get hold of the soundtrack.’
‘I’ve got the bootleg out the back, I could do you a copy if you like?’
Pete ran over and threw his arm around Bobby who was busy trying to work out of he could afford to buy the new Bauhaus single and still get shit-faced that evening.
After a late dinner consisting of a shared bowl of MSG-laden stir-fry, it was time to find their way to the nightclub. Entering Dean Street, Bobby passed an open door leading to a stairway within. A sign pinned to the door frame read ‘Model Upstairs.’
‘Do you reckon there’s a prostitute up there?’
‘Why don’t you go up and see?’ said Pete
‘I’m not fucking desperate.’
‘But you so are,’ said Pete chuckling to himself.
Tuesday nights at Billy’s nightclub was Bowie night and it was the one stop shop for the artist, the dispossessed, the misfit, freak or anyone with any kind of radical agenda. It was a much needed refuge for those who dared to be different, including but not limited to: a six-foot body builder in army boots and a wedding dress; a lady in her sixties wearing flipflops and a bin liner; a bloke with a papier mâché teapot glued to the top of his head. For Bobby and Pete, it was filled with the bizarre and sympatico friends they had not yet had the pleasure of meeting. As they stood in the long queue of subterraneans waiting to get in, the pair discussed philosophical hot potatoes, such as: how do you know if you are having an existential crisis; and how long would the club’s transvestite bouncer last in Romford?
Naturally, the club was situated in a basement, beneath what some would refer to as a house of ill repute. It was like walking into Nosferatu’s underground lair. Dry ice was being pumped from a rickety old machine in the corner of the room and spider webs made from lace curtains had been stuck to the walls. The smell of nicotine, sweat and cheap hairspray hijacked what little oxygen there was in the club, and the only visibility to be found came from the network of strobe lights hanging from the ceiling. Bobby couldn’t believe what he was seeing — semi-naked bodies, clad only in fishnets writhing on the dance floor. The only response the boys could manage was to look at each other and dissolve into frenzied laughter.
It took a mere twenty minutes for Pete to disappear into the toilets with a Bhutanese fireman called Sally. Where’s the sense in delaying gratification when it can be found instantly? Bobby checked his makeup on a mirrored wall tile and bought himself a pint of snakebite and black. Scouting around in the dry ice, he managed to locate a seat with a strategic view of the dance floor. ‘The Staircase (Mystery)’ by Siouxsie and the Banshees was blasting out of the speakers, it’s haunting guitar riff sending goose pimples rippling up his arms. He took a long swig on his pint then sat back, trying to look cool, not realising he had just given himself a purple moustache.
That’s when he saw her for the first time. She was spiralling in and out of the spiderwebs, her arms splitting the billowing dry ice like a shadow puppet. Alone in the middle of the dance floor, her jet-black back-combed hair was like the crown of an alien goddess. She wore ripped tights and tatty Doc Martin boots with the words ‘lunatic fringe’ painted on the side in silver. Bobby could feel his pupils dilating; he had never seen a woman like this before, he didn’t even know they were physically possible. What struck him most of all, though, was the fact that she looked more depressed than anyone he had ever seen in his entire life. She was utter perfection. Having no way near the prerequisite degree of confidence needed to get within a metre of such a walking miracle, he decided instead to drink himself into an inadvisably blended lager/cider-induced stupor. What if he asked and she said no?
The song reached its blistering finale and she left the dancefloor, heading in the direction of the bar. This was his chance. Following close behind, he managed to jostle a prime position next to her as she tried to get the attention of the barman.
Bobby grinned and turned to the mysterious woman. ‘You first.’
‘Pint of lager please.’
‘That’ll be 50p.’
‘I’ve only got 40p.’
‘Well that’s not enough is it?’
‘Oh really? I didn’t know.’ She tutted and shook her head.
Bobby dug into his pocket and handed 10p to the barman, ‘There you go.’
‘Cheers mate,’ she smiled and leaned forward to take a sup from the frothy top of her drink so she could pick it up. It looked like she was going to walk away — he couldn’t let that happen. Not after getting this far. And forking out 10p. Say something! He noticed she was wearing a purple crystal tied tight around her neck by a leather cord. He pointed to it. ‘What’s it made of?’
‘Are you trying to pick me up?’
Shit, think fast
‘I saw you watching me, when I was dancing.’
‘Oh.’ He felt like he’d been kicked in the stomach.
‘Coz if you are, I’m no interested.’
‘Everyone tries to hit on you in this place.’
‘I’m not like that.’
‘That’s what they all say.’
Give me something!
‘I’m… looking for members for my new band, we do Tubeway Army covers.’
‘Aye, I’m interested in that.’
‘Do you play bass?’
‘No,’ — she shrugged her shoulders — ‘but how hard can it be?’
Bobby nodded not even caring what the answer was.
‘It’s amethyst,’ said Tina touching her necklace, ‘my dad gave it to me.’
At the end of the evening Bobby walked away with a precious phone number, neatly folded and secured in the zip compartment of his wallet. He felt as tall as Westminster Abbey. The band would be amazing with her in it and he’d get to… well, see her. He went off in search of Pete to tell him the exciting news, but despite looking under every coat and cobweb he was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t until they turned the lights on at the end of the night that Bobby found him fast asleep in a toilet cubical with his trousers round his ankles, clutching what appeared to be a string of Bhutanese prayer beads. Bless him, it had been an awfully long day.
Walking back along Dean Street, Pete stumbling in his wake and the strangeness of dawn above, Bobby felt certain of one thing. This night — and this phone number — were proof that the world could be different and he could be something new. But such a future was not going to happen to anyone called ‘Bobby’. As the memory faded, Five reluctantly opened his eyes to greet the dull horror of the here and now. He stared vacantly around his bedroom. His head spun like a washing machine but he had a to-do list twenty miles long. His first task would be the joy of wrestling his dad out of bed. But at least after organising everyone’s breakfast and medication he would be free to go and sit in sub-arctic temperatures whilst listening to Pete’s latest conspiracy theory. It wasn’t all doom and gloom.