Gary Numan

Gary Numan
Gary Numan

Gary Numan – Bestival – September 2008
Background information
Birth name Gary Anthony James Webb
Born 8 March 1958 (1958-03-08) (age 53)
Hammersmith, west London, United Kingdom
Genres 1977–1994:
New Wave, synthpop, electronic
industrial rock, gothic rock, darkwave
Occupations Singer-songwriter, musician, producer
Instruments Vocals, piano, synthesizer, guitar, bass, drums
Years active 1977–present
Labels Metropolis, Beggars Banquet, Numa, IRS, Eagle, Mortal, Atco
Associated acts Tubeway Army, Dramatis, Nine Inch Nails, Paul Gardiner, Bill Sharpe, Fear Factory
Notable instruments
Minimoog, Polymoog, ARP Odyssey

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 consisted of heavy synthesizer hooks fed through guitar effects pedals.

Numan is considered a pioneer of commercial electronic music.[1][2] His use of themes from science fiction, and his combination of aggressive punk energy with electronics, have since been widely imitated.



Early life

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[3] 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. A guitar was purchased for him at an early age and he began writing songs when he was about 15 years old. 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.[4] Later he picked the name "Numan" from an advert in the "Yellow Pages" for a plumber "A. Neumann".[5]


Tubeway Army

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, more importantly, synthesizers. 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 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

As Gary Numan

A few months later Numan found success in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with "Cars", which peaked at #1 in the UK in 1979 and #1 in Canada[6] and #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.[7][8] The Pleasure Principle was a rock album with no guitars; instead, Numan used synthesizers 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 #6 in the UK charts.

Personality and style

Numan bewildered the music press. He was a driven, creative, angst-ridden 21-year-old loner who still lived with his parents at the peak of his success. While angry like his punk contemporaries, Numan could not relate to the specific political issues they were singing about. Numan suppressed his anger and "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".[9]

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".[9] 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.[9]


Numan performing in February 1980.

In 1980 Numan 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,[10] Telekon reintroduced guitars to Numan's music and featured a wider range of synthesizers. 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 #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, 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.[9]

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.

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. 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 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 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 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, fetching high prices on auction sites.


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.[9]


Gary Numan performing in 2007

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.[11][12] 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, and at least one comedian, 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, 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 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 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" 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 Tour

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.[13] 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.[citation needed]

In July 2009, Gary Numan appeared as a special guest at the "Wave Goodbye" Nine Inch Nails concert at The O2 arena (London) 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.[14]


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 renowned Australian electronic band Severed Heads, coming out of retirement especially for the shows.[15]

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.[16] Numan's new album Dead Son Rising was released on 16 September 2011 which was also the first date of the Dead Son Rising U.K tour. A second phase of shows will follow in December 2011. The tour is supported by welsh soloist Jayce Lewis.[17]

Numan also provided narration for Voltaire's short film Odokuro in 2011.

Personal life

Numan is a positive atheist and has incorporated anti-religious motifs and images in his music.[18] Numan was an outspoken supporter of the Conservative Party and of Margaret Thatcher after her inauguration as Prime Minister.[19][20] He later expressed regret for giving his public support, calling it "a noose around my neck".[20] 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.[20] He also said, "I'm not socialist, I know that. I don't believe in sharing my money."[19]

Numan married a member of his fan club, Gemma O'Neill, a native of Sidcup.[21][22] 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 resides with his family in East Sussex.[23] 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"). He has owned several small aircraft. Numan was a member of the Air Training Corps. He is one of a very small handful of flyers with the credentials and qualifications to train aerobatic instructor pilots.[citation needed] He was once forced to emergency-land his light aircraft on a Southampton motorway.

Numan is referenced several times in the BBC TV series The Mighty Boosh as Vince Noir, one of the main characters, is a huge Gary Numan fan. Examples of this are in the episode "Tundra" where Numan gives Noir a lift to the Antarctic in his personal jet (a black jet with a red trim with "NUMAN" written in white), in the episode "Electro" Numan's influence is clear to see on Noir when he joins electro band "Kraftwork Orange". Along with making several other references to Numan (notably a scene where Noir states he's made some 'tapes' for a journey saying "This is the best of the 60s (holding one tape), this is the best of the 70s (holding another tape) and THIS (picks up a horde of tapes) is Gary Numan!"), Numan guest-starred in "The Power of the Crimp", being locked in a cupboard and is used (unsuccessfully) to cheer Vince up.[citation needed]

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.[9] Numan has stated he 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."[24].

Following the harassment of his wife while his family was walking on High Street and the 2011 England Riots Numan filed papers to immigrate 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".[25]

In late August 2011, in the Q&A section of NuWorld, 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."



  1. ^ Conmy, Mick (17 March 2008). "Gary Numan review". BBC online. Retrieved 4 July 2008. 
  2. ^ Rik (23 February 2003). "Review, Gary Numan's "Hybrid"". Fluxeuropa. Retrieved 31 January 2009. 
  3. ^ "Gary Numan: Best Music from the 1980s". 8 March 1958. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  4. ^ Steve Malins (1999). The Plan 1999 reissue liner notes
  5. ^ Synth Britannia at the BBC program aired October 2009 on BBC4
  6. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  7. ^ On this day in music. Retrieved 15 May 2007.
  8. ^ Premier Hits review. Retrieved 15 May 2007.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Paul Lester (3 December 2009). "When Gary Numan met Little Boots". Guardian. UK. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  10. ^ Gary Numan (1981). Living Ornaments '79/'80: LP Liner notes
  11. ^ CMJ New Music Monthly. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  12. ^ Sally Williams (16 November 2009). "Gary Numan: ‘Dave Grohl is very nice man’". WalesOnline. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  13. ^ "Gary Numan to perform album 'Replicas' live". 2 November 2007. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  14. ^ "Gary Numan And Trent Reznor To Collaborate". Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  15. ^ Nieva, Selenna (18 April 2011). "Gary Numan to tour Australia". Valleyarm. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  16. ^ "ATP Nightmare Before Christmas". Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ [dead link] POP: Review – Gary Numan. By Steve Hands. The Independent. Published 10 Mar 2004.
  19. ^ a b Gary Numan: Numan remains. The Independent. Published 27 January 2003.
  20. ^ a b c Gary Numan on Britain's new Tories. Published 7 February 2006.
  21. ^ Manchester Evening News[dead link] accessed 01/03/08
  22. ^ "HOW WE MET – An Interview with GARY NUMAN AND GEMMA WEBB". The Independent (UK). 21 September 1997. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  23. ^ NuWorld News. Retrieved 12 February 2007. Archived January 4, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ Buncombe, Andrew (8 January 2007). "Asperger's syndrome: The ballad of Nikki Bacharach". The Independent (London). Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  25. ^ Gary Numan moving to U.S. after riot Toronto Sun 20 August 2011
  • Paul Goodwin (2004). Electric Pioneer: An Armchair Guide To Gary Numan.
  • Guinness Book of British Hit Singles 7th Edition
  • Gary Numan Famous people with Asperger Syndrome

External links

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