Gary Numan & The Skaparis Orchestra at The Bridgewater Hall
Manchester musician and metalhead Simon Robertshaw conducts a historic evening in Gary Numan’s career before a rowdy Bridgewater Hall
Words: Phil Weller
Gary Numan and the Skaparis Orchestra, conducted by Manchester’s very own Simon Robertshaw united at a rowdy Bridgewater Hall for two hours of symphony-spiced electronic prestige last night. On paper, it was to be an elegant addition to a tour supporting the electro-goth pioneer’s latest album, Savage: Songs From A Broken World. In reality his loyal and passionate fanbase turned this stately venue, more used to hosting piano concertos and classical suites, turned the Bridgewater Hall into a boisterous home for the third date of a historic tour for Numan.
Playing his new album in its entirety across a two hour plus set which also took in a host of classics and more leftfield cuts from his back catalogue, Robertshaw’s orchestral arrangements added grandiosity to Numan’s fizzing and shadowy sound. Luscious, swaying strings and chilling choral embellishments added a heavenly juxtaposition to the dark lyrics and melancholic, haunted vibes that cast themselves over the new record that reflects upon a heavy political backdrop.
Ghost Nation proved a stunning introduction, the crunch of synths and guitars iced with deep, mournful cellos and the sheer size of the orchestra turning an already great song into something far larger and formidable. From the off Numan’s energy and stage presence was palpable as he cast strange shapes with his arms, twirling and twisting to the music. Soon the entire auditorium was stood up, dancing and enraptured.
“Tonight the blend of band and orchestra was a perfect union that added a ghostliness and a grace to Gary Numan’s iconic back catalogue.”
With the cameras rolling, the performance being filmed for a future DVD release, the duality between Numan’s brooding band, all dressed in desert gear and the Skaparis orchestra, dressed in all black with white cross painted onto their faces, created a fever and a fire in the air; from start to finish the imposing venue was ignited. The 60 year old looked half his age as he preached the skin-prickling lyrics of My Name Is Ruin, the orchestra quilting its crescendos with a cinematic gravity. Down In The Park’s timelessly nocturnal aesthetic, meanwhile, was revitalised by the orchestra’s thoughtful and respectful additional textures.
At times Numan left the stage to put the spotlight on the conductor – who also plays bass in local melodeath band Frozen In Shadows, featuring members of Footprints In The Custard, Impavidus and Prognosis – and his orchestra. Given the chance to spread his wings, playfully toying with some of Numan’s seminal melodies, Robertshaw showed his class whilst never over-indulging. Throughout too, the orchestra nestled perfectly in the mix. When the band was at their punchiest, like on the spacious When The World Comes Apart, they were emphatic, adding a cinematic force, but when the dynamics descended, they became an eerie sound in the breeze of the song.
We’ve seen many big name acts look to orchestras for special shows in the past with varying results. S&M is arguably Metallica’s opus while Steve Hackett under utilised his orchestra at this same venue only a month ago, but tonight the blend of band and orchestra was a perfect union that added a ghostliness and a grace to Gary Numan’s already iconic back catalogue.