The period when Trevor Grant was briefly in Gary Numan’s band set him up for a lifetime doing his favourite thing, playing guitar.
The Time Machine travels back with him to those years but finds there’s more to him than Are ‘Friends’ Electric?
Trevor was born in Bognor in 1960, but moved to Worthing aged 14. His first impression was how very ancient everyone was. He recalls chatting to his new 90-something neighbour, who told him that when he’d been Trevor’s age, he’d chatted to an old man who’d been at the Battle of Waterloo. Trevor’s father was in the building trade and his mother worked at Highdown School (closed 2004), teaching children with severe learning disabilities. Both would play a role in his professional life, as would Boundstone School (closed 2009).
“I’m dyslexic, so school was a bit of a bastard,” he laughs ruefully. “I went to Boundstone which had an awful academic reputation. It was often
in special measures, had a difficult catchment area and was quite violent at times, but there were these creative guys, Aiden Kerney, head of music, and Alan Strong, head of drama, enabling teachers who made people like me feel they could have careers.”
Back in Bognor, an older cousin had engendered an early love of Led Zeppelin. From age eleven, Trevor taught himself their fourth album on a “virtually unplayable acoustic guitar”. In Worthing he joined a band who played weddings and functions, and by 1976, with help from his dad who could read music, he’d learnt enough classical guitar to perform regularly in a Lancing restaurant (as well as doing the washing up!). When punk hit, however, he wasn’t happy.
“Suddenly being a bit crap was musically fashionable,” he sighs. “Now I get it completely, punk had some great songwriters and I love those three-minute pop songs, but I wasn’t keen back then.”
However, another Boundstone alumnus, Chris Payne, soon hauled Trevor into the post-punk milieu. The pair had been in a school band called Arthur Ha’penny and the Ten Bob Notes, a folk parody act. Payne, who played keyboards and electric violin, had answered an ad in weekly music mag Melody Maker and begun working with rising star Gary Numan, who, in late 1978, needed a guitarist.
Trevor was a few months into his first post-school job at the Inland Revenue, but walked out to join Numan. The singer was at a critical stage in his career. Signed to Beggars Banquet Records, he’d recently made waves with a punky debut album as Tubeway Army.
“I initially thought he was arrogant,” admits Trevor, “but I was only 19 and I was wrong. I remember we were sitting around this cafe in Ealing and he said he was going to release his second Tubeway Army album, and it would hit the Top 30; he’d release the single Are ‘Friends’ Electric? and that’d go Top 30 too; then he’d release an album as Gary Numan and the first single would go to No.1.
“I sat there thinking ‘What a twat!’ but, of course, what actually happened was Are ‘Friends’ Electric? and the second album both topped the charts. He was right all along, only it happened much faster than he predicted.”
Trevor was hired for touring and TV appearances, including Top of the Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test. He was witness to Numan’s rapid ascent to synth-pop superstardom, which defined the glacial electro-pop of the early 80s.
“The album Replicas, the song Down in the Park, just amazing,” he enthuses. “These were ground zero moments; there was nothing in the charts like that.
I wasn’t with Numan long. He replaced me with Rrussell Bell [sic], a much more charismatic guitarist, but I was there for the pre-production and early recording of his third album The Pleasure Principle. One day Numan came into the rehearsal room and said, ‘Here, I found this,’ and twiddled some knobs on a Minimoog. It went crack and deafened us, then he said ‘I’m going to put that in here,’ and played the riff from Cars.”
“He’s a smart man,” Trevor adds. “He was clear about his whole live look. At his first Top of the Pops he had BBC techs use just uplighters to give him this washed out look. I do remember him getting anxious once: due to Music Union rules, if a track had a string synthesizer on – and his did – it was supposed to be performed on the BBC by the Johnny Pearson Orchestra. It didn’t happen, of course, but imagine if he’d first performed Are ‘Friends’ Electric? on TV like that!”
Trevor’s time with Numan gave him kudos, and he became a player-for-hire. He also started helping his mum at Highdown School, which led to training as a specialist nurse in Reading. Afterwards, for the latter half of the 80s, he returned to music, forming a songwriting partnership with fellow musician Keith James. The pair made a good living. They spent their days writing “incredibly gentle songs that wouldn’t wake anybody up” for BBC Radio 2’s overnight programme Nightride, and their nights “gigging along the M4 corridor’s endless wine bars”. They even composed a song for Mike Nolan of Bucks Fizz to pitch as Britain’s Eurovision entry (nothing came of it). When the partnership petered out, Trevor did a couple of seasons at a holiday camp in Camber Sands.
“I was playing Agadoo and all that, seven nights a week,” he says. “You just don’t realise how different some people’s lifestyles are. The
entertainments manager was a National Front supporter, a genuinely scary man – welcome to the real world!”
In 1990, although still gigging, Trevor moved full time into the world of nursing, until 2000, when he started teaching at Northbrook College, co-founding the annual S’KoolFest which runs to this day and is one of the things he’s most proud of.
Now semi-retired, Trevor continues to teach guitar, and also has new music forthcoming, the Your Drug of Choice EP (featuring a song called Near Death Gin Experience!). Watch out for it!