Gary Anthony James Webb (born 8 March 1958), better known by his stage name Gary Numan, is an English singer, songwriter, musician and record producer. Born in Hammersmith, London, he first entered the music industry as the lead singer of the new wave band Tubeway Army. After releasing two albums with the band, Numan released his debut solo album The Pleasure Principle in 1979. Most widely known for his chart-topping hits "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and "Cars", Numan achieved his peak of mainstream popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but maintains a loyal cult following.
Numan, whose signature sound consists of heavy synthesizer hooks fed through guitar effects pedals, 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 in Stanwell, Surrey and Ashford County Grammar School, then Slough Grammar School, Berkshire and Brooklands Technical College, Surrey. 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 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 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, 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 synthesizers fed through guitar effects pedals to achieve a distorted, phased, metallic tone. A second single from the album, "Complex", made it to No. 6 in the UK charts..
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.
He later said that he, "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"..
Numan performing in February 1980.
In 1980, Gary Numan topped the album charts for a third time with Telekon, with the singles "We Are Glass", "I Die: You Die" released prior to the album reaching No. 5 and No. 6. "This Wreckage" taken from the album in December also entered the Top 20. 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 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. 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. A live two album set from the 1979 and 1980 tours released at this time reached No. 2 in the charts. Both albums, also individually released as Living Ornaments '79 and Living Ornaments '80 also charted. The decision to retire would be short-lived.
Departing from the pure electropop 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 and lent vocals to the first single release by his long-term right-hand man Paul Gardiner, "Stormtrooper in Drag", which also made the charts. 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 subsequently issued a series of albums and singles on his own record label, Numa. 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.
Numan's next album, The Fury (1985), charted slightly higher than Berserker breaking the 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, all reaching the UK Top 50.
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 relatively 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 through Polydor Records, though this too failed to garner much commercial success, briefly entering the charts..
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. 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 more recent years. Numan re-evaluated his career and veered toward 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), were well received and significantly helped to restore his critical reputation. Numan toured the US in support of Exile, his first stateside concerts since the early 1980s.
Gary Numan performing in 2007
Gary Numan had 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 who have praised Numan's work include Tricky, and Audio Antihero. "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. In 2004, Numan took control of his own business affairs again, launching the label Mortal Records and releasing a series of live DVDs. On 13 March 2006, Numan's album, Jagged, was released. 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.
Gary Numan performing at Bestival in September 2008
Numan contributed vocals to four tracks on the April 2007 release of the debut solo album by Ade Fenton 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, which charted.
He sold out a fifteen-date UK & Ireland 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 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.
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.
In a September 2009 interview with The Quietus, Numan said 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" on Battles's 2011 album "Gloss Drop". He was chosen by Battles to perform at the ATP Nightmare Before Christmas festival that they co-curated in December 2011 in Minehead, England. Numan's new album Dead Son Rising was released on 16 September 2011 which had a full UK 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.
While working on a new album due for release in 2013, Numan 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."
The new album, Splinter, was released on 14 October 2013. The album reached the UK Top 20, his first album to do so for 30 years. It was promoted by an extensive US, Canada, UK & Ireland tour which continued in 2014 to include Israel, New Zealand, Australia and Europe. A further US leg took place in late 2014.
In June 2014, Numan collaborated with Welshman Jayce Lewis and his Protafield project on the track Redesign featured on Protafield's Nemesis Album. Numan also provided vocals for the song "Long Way Down" composed by Masafumi Takada and Rich Dickerson for The Evil Within video game. The game was released on 14 October 2014. Select tracks from the soundtrack were in included on a CD as an Amazon exclusive pre-order bonus which featured "Long Way Down". Numan performed a sold-out, one-off live show in London in November 2014 at the Hammersmith Apollo supported by Gang of Four.
On 29 April 2015, Numan announced via his Facebook page that he had begun writing songs for the follow-up album to Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind).
Gary Numan is a positive atheist and has incorporated anti-religious motifs and images in his music. He 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 previously said that he considers himself neither left-wing nor right-wing and that he does not support Tony Blair or David Cameron. Numan also said, "I'm not socialist, I know that. I don't believe in sharing my money."
In 1997, Numan married a member of his fan club, Gemma O'Neill, a native of Sidcup. 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.)
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; after reading about the syndrome and taking a series of online tests, he agreed. 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 apparent harassment of his wife while his family was walking on a High Street in his local area, and his feelings following the 2011 London riots Numan filed papers to emigrate to the United States 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 had "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 US 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."