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In-depth Feature:  Gary Numan Artist Profile
Dark synth-pop, with a genius for the synth riff.
Simon Power writes: .

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1979. As Britain hurtles towards a new decade Gary Numan’s dystopian* viewpoint broad sided New Wave and Punk with considerable force. Despite haemorrhaging Bowie/Kraftwerk/Ultravox homage’s the single Down in The Park managed to signal that something very unique was about to happen to pop music.

After leaving Slough Grammar School in 1978, Gary Anthony James Webb began recording a series of punk meets electro demos with his band Tubeway Army. They were quickly snapped up by Beggar’s Banquet and two singles followed, That’s Too Bad and Bombers neither of which charted. (These recordings were released in 1984 as The Plan)

Eager to propagate his interest in synthesizers and electronic music and with the backing of Beggar’s Banquet, Tubeway Army released their debut album Tubeway Army towards the end of 1978.

Although also failing to chart, the single Down in the Park sparked a great deal of interest and further electro-tinged arias were eagerly anticipated.

The second album Replicas (released as Gary Numan & Tubeway Army) appeared early in 1979 and the single Are Friends Electric was an instant UK hit. Its towering synthesizer riff and haunting vocal performance ensured that the album was catapulted to the top of the charts in its wake.

Gary avec Mini

Numan was an overnight success and disbanded Tubeway Army (keeping bass player Paul Gardiner) before releasing The Pleasure Principal in the autumn of 1979. The single Cars parked itself at number one in the UK and scored a first Stateside hit reaching the Top Ten in the Billboard Chart.

Despite obvious influences, this album was an iconoclastic masterstroke. Synthesizers fed through guitar effects pedals created a rock face of sound into which Numan’s voice nestled comfortably as he sneered at the World from his driver’s seat on tracks like M.E., Airplane and of course Cars.

An expensive tour followed on which the androgynous Numan scowled and flirted from between two huge towers housing his shadowy keyboard players. With support from the fledgling OMD, this 1979 tour signified the beginning of Synth Pop and the acceptance of the synthesizer into mainstream music.

Numan became the first synth superstar and enjoying the trappings that came with international stardom such as his passion for flying light aircraft. The newspapers however were not so keen to indulge the new star’s follies and some embarrassing flying incidents were mocked and ridiculed by the press.

1980’s Telekon album continued his earlier success with two hit singles, We Are Glass and I Die, You Die. However the singles peaked at lower positions and the album only charted for 6 weeks.

An expensive tour followed, but feeling the pressure Numan retired from live performances for the remainder of the decade.

Turning his back on Electro music he released the album Dance in 1981. By this time bands like Depeche Mode, Duran Duran and the Human League were enjoying international success and Numan’s initial groundbreaking influence was beginning to falter.

An album a year followed throughout the 1980’s and Numan’s career was kept afloat largely by hoards of loyal fans, the Numanoids.

By the mid 90’s the dark industrial style release, Sacrifice began to show a new promise relying on stronger songwriting and instrumentation. Interestingly, Numan’s earlier influence was beginning to gain respect from contemporary artists. Marilyn Manson recorded a version of Down in the Park and M.E. from Pleasure Principle was sampled on Basement Jaxx Where’s Your Head At. Nine Inch Nails, Hole, Foo Fighters, Fear Factory, Smashing Pumpkins and Afrika Bambaataa all covered Numan songs live and on record and Cars saw chart success again in 1997 after being featured on a Carling beer commercial on UK television.

Numan continued to release albums with mixed results culminating in Jagged in 2004 for his own Mortal Records which commanded much critical acclaim and heralded a successful UK, European and Stateside tour.

His sanctification as God of Synth Pop continues to this day and the Sugarbabes recent Freak Like Me which samples Are Friends Electric is a good indication of his enduring influence on modern day pop music.

* Dystopian (wikipedia) - A totally or near-totally socially privatized world without a democratic republican state or with a state that only serves the business sector - business and private contractors own and control all of society and social organization, as in the movie Blade Runner, The Fifth Element and most Cyberpunk literature

More Resources              Articles - full listing
  • Official Gary Numan WWW
  • BBC Gary Numan microsite

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