Gary Numan & The Skaparis Orchestra – When The Sky Came Down: Album Review

Gary Numan delivers the goods on orchestral live album.

Release Date: 12th December  2019

Label:  BMG

Formats: 2CD/DVD

We reckoned Gary Numan’s (R)Evolution tour at Manchester Albert Hall was one of our gigs of the year (review). Now we return not only to Manchester but to the grandeur of the Bridgewater Hall and an equally majestic and frankly monumental recording of the event.

Let’s make this one personal. The (R)Evolution tour was all about forty-year career. From a personal perspective, I recall those days in ’79 when the Top Of The Pops viewers were taken aback by his strange android presence, all cold and alien, matched with a sound that could have been the sound of the future.

Since the high profile chart presence, Numan has dropped off the personal radar, aside to say for the occasional mentions in dispatches…the “is he still going?” sort of thing. Finding out he’d gone down a heavier route retweaked the attention and the chance to finally catch him play live earlier this year and catch up on forty years of music, proved a (r)evelation.

And so, on a mission to find out on what I’d missed – the more recent Exile, Splinter, Jagged, Pure and Savage – we arrive at his last but one visit to Manchester with a record of his show at the Bridgewater Hall accompanied by The Skaparis Orchestra.

Rock bands recording and touring with an orchestra seems to be de rigeur these days. Lessons have been learned from the ELP experiences of 1977 with their financially disastrous attempts to do the same, so in the more recent past we’ve been witness to the likes of Rush, Yes, Steve Hackett, Hawkwind and even The Membranes making the successful transition to presenting their music with live orchestral backing.

When The Sky Came Down though is something else. You might struggle to find any rock band / orchestra collaboration with the same drama and passion, the same interaction with a partisan crowd and the same unabandoned delivery that you get with Numan and his army.

Walking on in costumes straight from extras in Karloff’s classic The Mummy, the striking presentation via the swathes of lights and lasers accompanying the dense and weighty soundtrack. Yes, it’s forceful and violent, played out by an animated band obviously thriving on the thrill of the wall of sound coming from behind them added to that of their own making. The orchestra, young and vibrant, decked out in Savage styled face markings are no slouches or just along for the paycheck. They are seriously into the music and add a massive presence to the Numan tip of the iceberg.

A single audience member is already standing, soon to be joined by the sell-out crowd who wallow in the heavy artillery; a high proportion from Savage making up the set that generally avoids ‘the hits’ – no Cars, but Are Friends Electric? Has to be in there and you could say Down In The Park is an early days fave, but to be frank, whatever made the setlist was a choice pick and suitably embellished by the orchestral patch. Talking of early days, Metal gets an even more positively savage than usual rendition – possibly the highlight of this (and any) modern Numan set, given the epic nature of the orchestral transformation.

Numan himself called the experience “one of the highlights of my career” as well as talking about how much he enjoyed the shows. It shows too, smiling, pointing and engaging with his loyal Numanoids. Forty years after the insular character we/I first encountered, he’s found a perfect home in his current setting where the Skaparis musicians have helped bring things to a glorious pinnacle.

Watch  the staggering Ghost Nation from the album here:

Gary Numan online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube

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