1958 – Gary Numan is born in Hammersmith, England.
Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
Its the only way to live
Here in my car
I can only receive
I can listen to you
It keeps me stable for ( nights )
– this is the only wrong word you put days
Here in my car
Where the image breaks down
Will you visit me please?
If I open my door
Here in my car
I know Ive started to think
About leaving tonight
Although nothing seems right
Gary Numan (born Gary Anthony James Webb on 8 March 1958) is an English singer, composer, and musician. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of commercial electronic music Numan is widely known for his chart-topping 1979 hits “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and “Cars”. His signature style combines gloomy themes of depersonalisation and alienation accompanied by energetic synthesizer work.
Born in Hammersmith, West London, Gary Webb’s father was an airline driver based at Heathrow Airport. Webb was educated at Town Farm Junior School Stanwell, Ashford County Grammar School, Middlesex, Slough Grammar School Later he picked the name “Numan” from an advert in the “Yellow Pages”.
Numan rose to prominence at the tail 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, more importantly, synthesizers. Tubeway Army’s third single, the cinematic “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; a live version of it can also be seen in the movie Urgh! A Music War. After 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 it finally reached #1 at the end of June; the parent album Replicas simultaneously climbing to #1 in the album charts.
A few months later he repeated the feat with “Cars”, which peaked at #1 in UK and #9 in US in 1980 as well, and the 1979 album The Pleasure Principle, both released under Numan’s own (assumed) name. 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 phased, metallic tone. Self-produced in a fortnight for very little money, The Pleasure Principle sounded like nothing else, and remains one of Numan’s most highly-regarded efforts today. A second single from the album “Complex” made it to #6 in the UK charts.
Numan was one of pop music’s first successful synthesizer stars. He wore costumes and make-up and openly proclaimed his influences: David Bowie, Marc Bolan and contemporary electronic acts such as John Foxx’s Ultravox. On stage his persona came across as aloof, alien and androgynous; in interviews, however, his disarmingly open manner caught many by surprise. Numan’s great popularity and unabashed admiration of wealth alienated critics and even some fellow musicians; Yes recorded a sardonic song about him, “White Car,” for their 1980 album Drama, a reaction to his habit of tearing around London in the white Chevrolet Corvette given to him by Beggars Banquet.
Numan bewildered the music press. He was a driven, creative, troubled 21-year-old loner who still lived with his parents. He was not punk. He was not quite New Romantic either, and retrospectives of the period tended to ignore him and his influence. Yet, during this period, Numan generated an army of fans calling themselves Numanoids, enough of whom would remain loyal to carry him through the latter half of the 1980s, when his fortunes began to fall precipitously (even before this time, and throughout his commercial peak, Numan was constantly vilified and ridiculed by the UK music press).
In 1980 Numan again topped the album charts with Telekon, although the concurrent singles “We Are Glass”, “I Die: You Die” and “This Wreckage” reached #5, #6 and #20, respectively. The final studio album of what Numan retrospectively termed the “Machine” section of his career, Telekon 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. Although considered a success, Numan claimed the tour actually lost him a great deal of money because of the vast expense in mounting it. By this time he was weary of the pressures of fame and announced his retirement from touring with a series of sell-out concerts at Wembley Arena in April 1981, supported by Alternative musician Nash the Slash and Shock, a rock/mime/burlesque/music troupe whose members included Barbie Wilde, Tik and Tok and Carole Caplin. The decision to retire would be short-lived – in his autobiography he recalls walking out onto an empty stage after his final concerts and thinking, “What the fuck have I done?” – but it would have a fateful effect on his career, as Numan found the fickle pop audience quickly turned its attention to other artists.
Moving away from the pure electropop that he had made his name with, Numan then experimented with jazz, funk and ethereal, rhythmic pop. His first album after his 1981 farewell concerts was the bleak, atmospheric and experimental Dance (1981). The album charted as high as #3 on the UK charts, but it only produced one hit single (“She’s Got Claws”) and then dropped out of the charts after only eight weeks. 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, 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 the late 1970s.
The more upbeat and danceable I, Assassin (1982) fared less well than Dance. Despite spawning three Top 20 singles, the album peaked at No.8 and dropped out of the charts after six weeks. 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 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’s look for the album artwork and tour was a Mad Max-influenced black leather costume against a post-apocalyptic backdrop, but this latest image change was scorned by the music press despite the sell-out tour and aggressive vibrancy of his newer sound.
Now battling against the increasing public perception that he was a spent force, Numan issued a series of albums and singles on his own record label, Numa. As the decade continued, he experienced a creative malaise, trying 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 blue-and-white visual image, a tour and a live album/video, but it divided critics and fans and commercially was Numan’s least successful release to that date. 1984 also saw the death of Paul Gardiner, who was Numan’s bassist and friend since his Tubeway Army days.
Numan’s next album, The Fury (1985), charted slightly higher than Berserker, and featured another new image of white suit and red bow tie. To date, The Fury is the last Numan album to crack the British Top 30.
Collaborations with Bill Sharpe of Shakatak helped little, though one single the duo recorded, “Change Your Mind”, did see chart action, reaching No.17 in Britain. Numa Records, which had been launched in a flurry of idealistic excitement, folded after the release of Numan’s Strange Charm album (1986). In addition to Numa’s commercial failure, a lack of radio play (his records were removed from the BBC Radio 1 playlist) and sales drained the fortune (he estimated £4.5 million) Numan had amassed in the late 1970s. Numan signed to IRS Records and his final studio album of the 80s, the edgy, industrial-funk Metal Rhythm (1988) found favour with fans and scored some positive reviews in the UK music press, but it sold poorly. Metal Rhythm’s sales were arguably confounded by the lack of strong promotion and IRS’s inappropriate choices of singles (the record label also changed the album’s title to New Anger, changed the album colour shade from black to blue, and remixed several of its tracks for its American release against Numan’s wishes). 1989 saw the release of the Sharpe + Numan album Automatic. A more lightweight-pop effort than Numan’s solo albums, Automatic fared less well than Metal Rhythm (and has been out of print since its initial release).
In 1991, 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 even toured the U.S. in support of Exile, his first stateside concerts since the early 1980s.
Gary Numan performing in 2007
After years of ridicule in the press, Numan found himself cited as “the godfather of electronic music” and an artist 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 #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 who have sung Numan’s praises in recent years include Beck, Grant Nicholas, Tricky, Damon Albarn & Matt Sharp, Jarvis Cocker, Queens of the Stone Age, David Bowie, and Afrika Bambaataa has also talked about the influence of Numan’s music 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.” “Cars” was also 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 #29 in the UK chart and in 2003 with the Gary Numan vs Rico single “Crazier” which reached #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. 2003 also saw Gary Numan performing the vocals on a track named “Pray For You” on the Plump DJs album “Eargasm” which was very 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” 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, primarily to appease his more nostalgic fans and also to reserve his regular tours for more contemporary material.
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 the 8th of 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. This concert will be released on DVD under the title “Replicas Live” on 16 February 2009.
In November 2007, Numan confirmed via his website that a new album, with the working title of Splinter, will be worked on 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 December 1, 2008 via official mailing list message). He wrote that Splinter was likely to be released in early 2009.
Numan is a positive atheist and has incorporated anti-religious motifs and images in his music.
Numan married a member of his own fan club, Gemma O’Neill. He published his autobiography, Praying to the Aliens, in 1997 (updated edition 1998), in collaboration with Steve Malins (Malins also wrote the liner notes for most of the CD reissues of Numan’s albums in the late 1990s, as well as executive producing the Hybrid album in 2003). Numan has recently moved to East Sussex from Essex.
Numan is also known for his love of flying, a passion which has featured in some of his music videos (“Warriors”, “I Can’t Stop”). He has owned several small aircraft. He is one of a very small handful of flyers with the credentials and qualifications to train aerobatic instructor pilots. Numan has guest-starred on the BBC TV series “The Mighty Boosh”, where a main character, Vince Noir, is a huge Numan fan. Numan recently stated that he likes to go sailing from time to time. Numan was also a member of the Air Training Corps. Numan’s brother is also an accomplished pilot.
Numan has Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder which causes restricted social and communication skills. In a 2001 interview, he said: “Polite conversation has never been one of my strong points. Just recently I actually found out that I’d got a mild form of Asperger’s syndrome which basically means I have trouble interacting with people. For years, I couldn’t understand why people thought I was arrogant, but now it all makes more sense.”
Main article: Gary Numan discography
* The Plan (1978) (under Tubeway Army)
* Replicas (1979) (with Tubeway Army)
* The Pleasure Principle (1979) (Numan’s first album under his own name)
* Telekon (1980)
* Dance (1981)
* I, Assassin (1982)
* Warriors (1983)
* Berserker (1984)
* The Fury (1985)
* Strange Charm (1986)
* Metal Rhythm (1988) (New Anger in the United States)
* Outland (1991)
* Machine + Soul (1992)
* Sacrifice (1994) (Dawn in the US)
* Exile (1997)
* Pure (2000)
* Jagged (2006)