Gary Numan (born Gary Anthony James Webb on 8 March 1958) is an English singer, composer and musician, most widely known for his chart-topping 1979 hits "Are 'Friends' Electric?" (as Tubeway Army) and "Cars". His signature sound consists of heavy synthesiser hooks fed through guitar effects pedals.
Numan is considered a pioneer of commercial electronic music. His use of themes from science fiction and his combination of aggressive punk energy with electronics have been widely imitated.
Born in Hammersmith, 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 "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.
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 and No. 1 in Canada and No. 9 in US in 1980. "Cars" and the 1979 album The Pleasure Principle were 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 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.
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 distinctive 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". He also wore costumes and openly proclaimed his influences: David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and contemporary electronic acts such as John Foxx's Ultravox. His persona was aloof, alien, and androgynous; Numan was not seen to be part of the punk or New Romantic movements. 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.
Numan performing in February 1980.In 1980 Numan topped the album charts 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. 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. 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.
Moving away from the pure electro-pop 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 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 more upbeat and danceable 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'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.
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, a live album/video and produced two hit singles, but it divided critics and fans and commercially was Numan’s least successful release to that date. 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, produced four hit singles 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 two singles the duo recorded, "Change Your Mind", did see chart action, reaching No. 17 and "No More Lies" reaching No. 35 in 1988 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 1980s, 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 despite two hit singles. 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.
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 toured the U.S. in support of Exile, his first stateside concerts since the early 1980s.
Gary Numan performing in 2007Numan 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 Carlingbeer. 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." " Cars" was featured on the soundtrack for the blockbuster 2002videogame 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.
Promoting the 2008 Replicas TourHe 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 ofJagged (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, Gary 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.
He 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.
Gary 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.”
Numan is a positive atheist and has incorporated anti-religious motifs and images in his music. Numan was an outspoken supporter of the Conservative Party and of Margaret Thatcher after her inauguration as Prime Minister. He later expressed regret for giving his public support, calling it "a noose around my neck". He has recently said that he considers himself neither left-wing nor right-wing and that he does not support Tony Blair or David Cameron.He also said, "I'm not socialist, I know that. I don't believe in sharing my money."
Numan married a member of his fan club, Gemma O'Neill, a native of Sidcup.In 2003, after some pregnancy difficulties, the couple had their first child, Raven. In 2005 they had a second daughter, Persia. In 2007 the couple had their third child, Echo. Numan used to reside with his family in East Sussex, until he moved to Los Angeles in October 2012. 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 is known for his love of flying, a passion which has featured in some of his music videos ("Warriors", "I Can't Stop").
At age 15, after a series of outbursts in which Numan would "smash things up, scream and shout, get in people's faces and break stuff", he was prescribed antidepressants and anxiolytics.Numan's wife later suggested he had Asperger syndrome. He has never been medically diagnosed.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".
Following the harassment of his wife while his family was walking on High Street and the 2011 England Riots Numan filed papers to emigrate to the United States. He plans to live in Santa Monica, California. Numan said "Every village and town in England has a bunch of thugs running around in it. The riots were the nail in the coffin".
In the September 2011 Q&A section of Numan's official web site, in answer to the question "Is it true you now hate England and want to leave?" he replied, "No, that’s utter rubbish." He explained that he'd "never been abused in my local high street," and has "made no firm decision about leaving the UK" but thugs are helping make such a decision, pointing out that the rioting "makes us look like a country of ignorant savages, beating up people already injured, pretending to help while stealing their things, hitting old men, killing them." He went on to explain that soundtracks may be a logical step, as he gets older and since "in the UK we have no meaningful film industry to speak of," a move to the U.S. might be more reasonable. He concluded by saying his family are highest priority and, "If I see somewhere that seems safer, happier and will give them a better life than the UK, I’ll take them there if I possibly can." Numan and family moved to Los Angeles in early October 2012.