Gary Numan Biography
Numan is considered a pioneer of commercial electronic music.
Born in Hammersmith, England, Gary Anthony James Webb was the son of a British Airways bus driver based at Heathrow Airport. Webb was educated at Town Farm Junior School Stanwell, Ashford County Grammar School, Middlesex, Slough Grammar School and Brooklands Technical College. He joined the Air Training Corps as a teenager. He then briefly did various jobs including fork lift truck driver, air conditioning ventilator fitter and clerk in an accounts department. When Numan was 15 years old, his father bought him a Gibson Les Paul guitar, which he regards as his most treasured possession. He played in various bands, including Mean Street and The Lasers, before forming Tubeway Army with his uncle, Jess Lidyard, and Paul Gardiner. His initial pseudonym was "Valerian", probably in reference to the hero in French science fiction comic series Valérian and Laureline. Later he picked the name "Numan" from an advert in the Yellow Pages for a plumber named A. Neumann.
Numan rose to prominence at the end of the 1970s as front man, writer and producer for Tubeway Army. After recording an album's worth of punk-influenced demo tapes (released in 1984 as The Plan), he was signed by Beggars Banquet Records in 1978 and quickly released two singles, "That's Too Bad" and "Bombers", neither of which charted.
A self-titled, New Wave-oriented debut album later that same year sold out its limited run and introduced Numan's fascination with dystopian science fiction and synthesisers. Tubeway Army's third single, the dark-themed and slow-paced "Down in the Park" (1979), also failed to chart, but it would prove to be one of Numan's most enduring and oft-covered songs. It was featured with other contemporary hits on the soundtrack for the movie Times Square, and a live version of the song can be seen in the movie Urgh! A Music War. Following exposure in a television advertisement for Lee Cooper jeans with the jingle "Don't be a Dummy", Tubeway Army released the single "Are 'Friends' Electric?" in May 1979. The single took seven weeks before finally reaching No. 1 at the end of June; the parent album Replicas simultaneously reached No. 1.
As Gary Numan
A few months later Numan found success in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with "Cars", which peaked at No. 1 in the UK in 1979, No. 1 in Canada and No. 9 in the US in 1980. "Cars" and the 1979 album The Pleasure Principle were both released under Numan's own stage name. The album reached number one in the UK, and a sell-out tour ('The Touring Principle') followed; the concert video it spawned is often cited as the first full-length commercial music video release. The Pleasure Principle was a rock album with no guitars; instead, Numan used synthesisers fed through guitar effects pedals to achieve a distorted, phased, metallic tone. The Pleasure Principle remains one of Numan's most highly-regarded efforts to date. A second single from the album "Complex" made it to No. 6 in the UK charts.
Personality and style
Gary Numan "got really hung up with this whole thing of not feeling, being cold about everything, not letting emotions get to you, or presenting a front of not feeling".
Around this time, Numan also developed his style. According to Numan, this was an unintentional result of acne; before an appearance on Top of the Pops, he had "spots everywhere, so they slapped about half an inch of white makeup on me before I'd even walked in the door. And my eyes were like pissholes in the snow, so they put black on there. My so-called image fell into place an hour before going on the show". His "wooden" stage presence was, in his words, a result of extreme self-consciousness and lack of "showmanship". During this period, Numan generated an army of fans calling themselves "Numanoids", providing him with a fanbase which maintained their support through the latter half of the 1980s, when his fortunes began to fall precipitously.
In 1980, Gary Numan topped the album charts a third time with Telekon, with the concurrent singles "We Are Glass", "I Die: You Die" and "This Wreckage" reaching No. 5, No. 6 and No. 20, respectively. Telekon, the final studio album that Numan retrospectively termed the "Machine" section of his career, reintroduced guitars to Numan's music and featured a wider range of synthesisers. The same year he embarked on his second major tour ("The Teletour") with an even more elaborate stage show than The Touring Principle the previous year. He announced his retirement from touring with a series of sell-out concerts at Wembley Arena in April 1981, supported by experimental musician Nash the Slash and Shock, a rock/mime/burlesque troupe whose members included Barbie Wilde, Tik and Tok and Carole Caplin. The decision to retire would be short-lived.
Departing from the pure electro-pop that he had been associated with, Numan began experimenting with jazz, funk and ethereal, rhythmic pop. His first album after his 1981 farewell concerts was Dance (1981). The album charted as high as No. 3 on the UK charts, with an eight week chart run and produced one hit single ("She's Got Claws") reaching No. 6. The album featured several distinguished guest players; Mick Karn (bass, saxophone) and Rob Dean (guitar) of Japan, Roger Mason (keyboards) of Models and Roger Taylor (drums) of Queen.
With his former backing band, Chris John Payne (Keyboards, Viola) Russell Bell (Guitar) and Ced Sharpley (Drums) now reformed as Dramatis, Numan contributed vocals to the minor hit "Love Needs No Disguise" from the album For Future Reference. However, Numan's career had begun to experience a gradual decline, and he was eclipsed initially by acts such as Adam Ant, and later by The Human League, Duran Duran, and Depeche Mode. Each album also saw a new "image", none of which captured the public's imagination to nearly the same extent as the lonely android of 1979.
The album I, Assassin (1982) fared less well than Dance. Despite producing one Top 10 and two Top 20 singles, the album peaked at No. 8 with a six week chart run. Numan supported the album with a concert tour in America in late 1982 (where he was living as a tax exile), which were his first series of live shows since his farewell at Wembley.
Warriors (1983) further developed Numan's jazz-influenced style and featured contributions from avant-garde musician Bill Nelson (who fell out with Numan during recording and chose to be uncredited as the album's co-producer) and saxophonist Dick Morrissey (who would play on most of Numan's albums until 1991). The album peaked at No. 12, produced two hit singles including the Top 20 title track and, like I, Assassin, spent six weeks in the charts. Warriors was the last album Numan recorded for Beggars Banquet Records, and was supported by a 40-date UK tour (again with support from robotic mime and music duo Tik and Tok) – Numan's first live tour in the UK since his Wembley appearances in 1981.
Numan issued a series of albums and singles on his own record label, Numa. As the decade continued, he tried to recapture his former chart glory with less distinguished albums, some of which were stylistically derivative of artists like Robert Palmer and Prince.
The first album released on Numa, 1984’s Berserker was also notable for being Numan's first foray into music computers/samplers, in this case the PPG Wave. Berserker moved away from the fluid, fretless sound that characterised Numan's previous three albums, featuring instead harder-edged electric bass and drum sounds. The album was also accompanied by a striking new blue-and-white visual image (including Numan himself with blue hair), a tour, a live album/video/EP, and the title track reached the UK Top 40 when released as a single. Despite this, the album divided critics and fans and commercially it was Numan’s least successful release to that point. This year also saw the death of Paul Gardiner, who was Numan's bassist and friend since his Tubeway Army days, from a fatal heroin overdose on 4 February 1984. Numan's song "A Child With The Ghost" is about Paul Gardiner and also featured on Tik & Tok's album Intolerance (1984).
Numan's next album, The Fury (1985), charted slightly higher than Berserker and is, to date, his last studio album to crack the British Top 30. Again, the album heralded a change of image, this time featuring Numan in a white suit and red bow tie. Four singles were released from the album, though none of them reached the UK Top 40.
Collaborations with Bill Sharpe of Shakatak helped little, though two singles that the duo recorded did see chart action: "Change Your Mind", reached No. 17 in 1985, and "No More Lies" reached No. 35 in 1988. Numa Records, which had been launched in a flurry of idealistic excitement, folded after the release of Numan's 1986 album Strange Charm, though the album did contain two top 30 hits (Numan's highest singles chart placings since 1983). In addition to Numa Records' commercial failure, Numan's own fortune amassed since the late 1970s, which he estimated at £4.5 million, was drained. Numan then signed to IRS Records though his final studio album of the 1980s, Metal Rhythm (1988), also sold poorly. For its American release, the record label changed the album's title to New Anger after the album's lead single, changed the album colour from black to blue, and remixed several of its tracks against Numan's wishes. In 1989, the Sharpe and Numan album Automatic was released, though this too failed to garner any commercial success.
In 1991, Gary Numan ventured into film-scoring by co-composing the music for The Unborn with Michael R. Smith (the score was later released as an instrumental album in 1995, Human). After Outland (1991), another critical and commercial disappointment and his second and last studio album with IRS, Numan reactivated Numa Records, under which he would release his next two albums. However, even Numan considers his 1992 Machine + Soul, a misguided attempt at a purely commercial release recorded solely to pay off debts, a career low point. The album sold only a few thousand copies. By 1994, Numan decided to stop attempting to crack the pop market and concentrate instead on exploring more personal themes, including his vocal atheism. His future wife Gemma encouraged him to strip away the influences of the previous years. Numan re-evaluated his career and went in a harsher, more industrial direction with his songwriting on the album Sacrifice — for the first time he played almost all the instruments himself. The move was critically well-received, as Numan's harder and darker sound emerged just as Numan-influenced bands like Nine Inch Nails were enjoying their first rush of fame. The influence was two-way; Numan claimed that Nine Inch Nails' song "Closer" is his favourite hit single of all time, and influenced his music. Sacrifice was the last album Numan made before shutting down Numa Records permanently. His next two albums, Exile (1997) and Pure (2000), restored his critical reputation. Numan toured the U.S. in support of Exile, his first stateside concerts since the early 1980s.
Gary Numan has become acknowledged and respected by his peers, with such musicians as Dave Grohl (of Foo Fighters and Nirvana), Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails), and Marilyn Manson proclaiming his work an influence and recording cover versions of old Numan hits. The band Basement Jaxx had a huge hit in 2002 with "Where's Your Head At?", which relied on a sample of Numan's "M.E." – from The Pleasure Principle – for its hook. Fear Factory produced a cover of "Cars" (featuring a prominent guest appearance by Numan himself) for the digipak version of their album Obsolete. Nine Inch Nails covered the song "Metal" on The Fragile remix album Things Falling Apart as did Afrika Bambaataa (with Numan himself) on the album Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light. "Cars" remains Numan's most enduring song; it was a hit again in 1987 (remixed by Zeus B. Held) and 1996, in the latter case thanks to an appearance in an advert for Carling beer. In 2000 DJ Armand Van Helden sampled the track and mixed it up in his single "Koochy" which conquered the dancefloors. In 2002, UK pop trio Sugababes scored a No. 1 with "Freak Like Me" – a mashup of Adina Howard's "Freak Like Me" and "Are Friends Electric?" by Numan's Tubeway Army.
Other musicians, and at least one comedian, who have sung Numan's praises in recent years include Beck, Grant Nicholas, Tricky, Audio Antihero, Damon Albarn & Matt Sharp, Jarvis Cocker, Queens of the Stone Age, David Bowie, Noel Fielding and Afrika Bambaataa, who spoke of the influence Numan's music had on the fledgling American DJ scene: "In the late 70s and early 80s Gary had the rhythms that DJs wanted to get hold of and people waited for his records on the dance floor." "[this quote needs a citation] Cars" was featured on the soundtrack for the blockbuster 2002 videogame Grand Theft Auto: Vice City as part of the New Wave radio station Wave 103, although it did not appear on the soundtrack CD release for the game. "Are Friends Electric" appeared on EA's game Need For Speed: Carbon in 2006.
In 2002, Numan enjoyed chart success once again with the single "Rip", reaching No. 29 in the UK chart and in 2003 with the Gary Numan vs Rico single "Crazier", which reached No. 13 in the UK chart. Rico also worked on the remix album Hybrid which featured reworkings of older songs in a more contemporary industrial style as well as new material. Other artists and producers who contributed on these remixes included Curve, Flood, Andy Gray, Alan Moulder, New Disease and Sulpher. 2003 also saw Numan performing the vocals on a track named "Pray For You" on the Plump DJs album Eargasm, which was well received. In 2004 Numan took control of his own business affairs again, launching the label Mortal Records and releasing a series of live DVDs. In late 2006, Numan announced on his website that recording would begin on his new album in January 2007, with Ade Fenton co-producing. Numan stated "think of Jagged and Pure, but faster, with bigger choruses, more energy, and more aggression"[this quote needs a citation] to describe the album's intended sound. The album, Jagged, was duly released on 13 March 2006. An album launch gig took place at The Forum, London on 18 March followed by UK, European and US tours in support of the release. Numan also launched a Jagged website to showcase the new album, and made plans to have his 1981 farewell concert (previously released as Micromusic on VHS) issued on DVD by November 2006 as well as releasing the DVD version of the Jagged album launch gig. Numan undertook a Telekon 'Classic Album' tour in the UK in December 2006.
On 6 November 2006, Numan took part in the Sky1 reality show The Race. It pitted ten celebrities (five male, five female) against each other in a series of Formula One-style car races. These races were held at Silverstone over the next five days, and varied in racing styles, ultimately culminating in one final Grand Prix race on Sunday, 12 November. Numan did win on the overall leaderboard, though he lost the final race to AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson.
Numan contributed vocals to four tracks on the April 2007 release of Fenton's debut solo album Artificial Perfect on his new industrial/electronic label Submission, including songs "The Leather Sea", "Slide Away", "Recall" and the first single to be taken from the album, "Healing". The second single to be released in the UK was "The Leather Sea" on 30 July 2007.
He sold out a fifteen-date UK tour in Spring 2008 during which he performed his 1979 number one album Replicas in full, and all the Replicas-era music including B-sides. The highly successful tour also raised Numan's profile in the media again due to the fact that it coincided with his 30th anniversary in the music business. The tour was also notable for the Manchester gig on 8 March 2008 which also happened to fall on his 50th birthday. The band, along with wife Gemma, helped Numan celebrate by bringing a large cake onstage. A recording of the concert was released on DVD under the title "Replicas Live".
In November 2007, Numan confirmed via his website that work on a new album, with the working title of Splinter, would be under way throughout 2008, after finishing an alternate version of Jagged (called Jagged Edge) and the CD of unreleased songs from his previous three albums (confirmed to be titled Dead Son Rising on 1 December 2008 via official mailing list message). He wrote that Splinter was likely to be released in early 2010. Numan has recently completed a four-date run of gigs in Australia and will be touring the UK in the coming months.
In July 2009, Numan appeared as a special guest at the "Wave Goodbye" Nine Inch Nails concert at The O2 Arena in London. Before coming on stage, Trent Reznor explained how Numan was "vitally important and a huge inspiration" to him during the past 20 years. Numan then went on to play two songs with Nine Inch Nails; "Cars" and "Metal". Numan appeared once again at the final run of the "Wave Goodbye" shows in Los Angeles, CA. In August 2009 he played at the Hevy Music Festival in Folkestone, UK. On 2 September 2009 at the Hollywood Palladium, Numan joined Reznor on stage to perform "Metal" and "Cars" near the end of the Nine Inch Nails set. He then joined the band onstage a third time at the Echoplex in Los Angeles, CA, this time performing "Metal" and "I Die: You Die" from the album Telekon. He then joined them a fourth time at the Henry Fonda Theater, performing "Down In The Park", "Metal" and "Cars". Mike Garson initially played "Down In The Park (Piano Version)" before they started the song. He then joined them for the final show at the Wiltern Theater.
In a September 2009 interview with The Quietus, Numan says that he and Trent Reznor plan to make music together.
Gary Numan was set to perform a small number of American live dates in April 2010, including a Coachella Festival appearance in California, but had to cancel because air travel in Europe was halted by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud. As a result, the tour was not only postponed but expanded, and his Pleasure Principle 30th Anniversary Tour's American and Mexican dates began on 17 October 2010, at Firestone Live in Orlando, Florida.
Numan toured Australia in May 2011 performing his seminal album The Pleasure Principle in its entirety to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary. Joining him on tour was Australian electronic band Severed Heads, coming out of retirement especially for the shows.
Numan lent his vocals to the track "My Machines" off Battles's 2011 album "Gloss Drop". He has been chosen by Battles to perform at the ATP Nightmare Before Christmas festival that they co-curate in December 2011 in Minehead, England. Numan's new album Dead Son Rising was released on 16 September 2011 which had a full U.K tour split in two halves, 15–21 September and 7–11 December, Both parts were supported by Welsh soloist Jayce Lewis in an interview during the tour; Gary praised the Welshman to being the best supporting act ever in his 30 years of touring, later documenting the tour in a Tour diary and publicly inviting Jayce to join him for an American tour in 2012.
Numan also provided narration for Voltaire's short film Odokuro in 2011.
Numan is currently working on a new album due for release in 2013. He has said “The one I’m working on now which I’m trying to get out in the middle of next year. It’s very heavy, very aggressive and very dark. There are elements of Dead Son Rising in that, but it’s much further along that particular road.”
Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) will be released worldwide on October 14, 2013.