Ghost of a chance

This 1987 Gary Numan live album, Ghost, will always have a special place for me.  Growing up I had live musical heroes, Gary Numan, Prince and Julian Cope.  I’ve seen all three live and all hold treasured memories but this album is the souvenir that I cherish. not only because it’s a souvenir from a live tour but because it’s a keepsake from my first ever concert experience way back in 1987, Gary Numan’s Exhibition Tour (yes, I still have the programme).

I was a relatively acne-free 15-year-old in 1987, my later-in-life reclusiveness was already beginning to take hold and I’d known for a long time I wasn’t like other people, and I found comfort in those who I felt reflected the awkwardness I felt way back then.  I didn’t get out much, most of the time hanging out with my school friend David Critchley, who I’d known since moving to Newport and remained very close friends until his passing, but 15 was the year I’d get to go to a proper concert, and not being fobbed off with someone’s dad crucifying Elvis covers around the local social club.

I was staying with my brother at the time, my mother had left her partner (the horrible Noel), and we were in a kind of limbo state with her staying at a B&B around the corner and me on my brother’s sofa in the world’s grottiest basement flat with rising damp even Leonard Rossiter would have been proud of!

Suffice to say, everyone was concerned about me going to the concert, as I’d never been to one before and (not sure what people thought would happen at a Gary Numan concert!) so luckily I was chaperoned to Bristol by a friend called Andrew, who also happened to be a huge Numan fan.  He’d been regaling me with tales about what people were like and did at the shows, apparently, they all dressed up in his old costumes and looked serious until he came on stage and then would get into the show, so I decided I’d best join in, as didn’t want to look the odd one out.  Yes, there was a term for Numan fans, Numanoids, which I never liked as it really made us all sound like twats!

Now, I don’t know how many of you know Numan’s 1984 album, Berserker, (if not see pic below) with the white face and blue hair look?  Well, I decided that was the look for me, so off I went into town and picked up a pack of grease face paint and blue colour hair spray (sorry ozone) and off I went back to the basement to prepare.

Now, I thought I looked quite good, I’ve no idea what anyone else thought, but can imagine and I’m glad there aren’t any pictures but once seeing this blue and white glob that I suppose had a passing resemblance to what I was trying to look like, walking proudly down the street to the train station to that Cardiff and onwards to St David’s Hall.

We arrived, there wasn’t much of a queue as everyone was already inside propping up the bar.  I wasn’t allowed as still 15 years old and didn’t get up to such things at that age (honest!) but true to Andrew’s word, lo and behold we were surrounded by a plentitude of others also dressed up in Numan-like attire, although none with the white face, I was soon to find out why.

1987 was still in the good old days when people were allowed down the front at concert venues, some insisted on sitting only and no one in the aisles, which really spoiled the whole experience of going to a concert.  We were mingling around, edging closer to the front, and quickly realising that I was too short for pretty much to see much, and I was being brushed by people in black leather jackets and black suits who were quickly looking at me with the evilest of expressions on realising that my face paints were rapidly getting smeared over their jackets and suits and ruining their look!  It was everywhere and those serious expressions really looked a lot more serious, but I was 15, I had blue hair and really didn’t understand what the problem was, weren’t we all supposed to be as one in this experience?  Apparently not if you’re covered in face paint by a bewildered teenager!

Anyway, the lights dimmed, out pours the copious amounts of dry ice that gave me an asthma attack, the intro track (Ghost) thundering through the speakers, and on comes the band, followed by this evening’s hero, Gary Numan.  At last, I was seeing one of my heroes in the living flesh and my amazement in realising that they really do exist!  The band were loud and exciting, the stage was everything I’d dreamed it would be, as I’ve always liked a good light show, and Gary was even better than I’d seen him on video.

It was kind of a strange experience looking back, I’m picturing myself through my own eyes and it feels very other-worldly being so close and down the front in the (not exactly) mosh pit, it felt a very personal experience even being in the same room, even though knowing that this person wasn’t even aware of my existence it still made me feel like I was the most important person in the room, and that takes some doing for an autistic person who tends to prefer not even being in the same room as anyone, but this was different.  My whole building up to this evening, the new adventure, the new experience, getting out of Newport…all resulted in something completely different, and in many ways, it changed my world view, away from the insular child that I was to someone that understood it was ok to be different, that it was ok to copy others, and it was ok to be me.

A went to two shows during that tour and ventured as far as Bristol, and I carried on going to see Gary until 1992 when my tastes in music changed.  This year, all going well, I’m off to see Gary again in that Cardiff, it’ll be the first time in 30 years that I’ve seen him live and I’m really looking forward to it, but still, a bit terrified after two years of living with Covid and after working in a vaccine centre has left me exceedingly scared to venture into crowded spaces (but I will endure).  This time, however, I won’t be going with blue hair or white face paint, but I will be taking the spirit of that 15-year-old boy out on his first musical adventure.

I may even give Ghost a spin later.

Tom Stanger
Host at Supernatural People podcast, Editor/writer at The Pilgrim Magazine, curator of the Pontyddim archives, tea drinker, hat wearer and autism advocate. PhD researcher on Gothic Literature & religion also does book reviews bad photography and other bits and bobs

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