The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: Looking Through Gary Numan’s Eyes
Gary Numan was the gloomy Brit who married the influences of Bowie, Ultravox, and even Jobriath, hitting huge with 'Are "Friends" Electric?' Now lauded as an electronic godfather, he plays England's Bestival tonight (Sept 6), so we we're taking you down memory lane with this great Paul Morley NME profile published June 9, 1979——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
The list went something like: 2.00pm — Jackie, 2.30pm — My Guy, 3.15pm — Patches, 4.00pm — Record Mirror, 4.45pm — Smash Hits, 5.30pm — Paul Morley.
I am part of someone else's blur. For Gary Numan — who is Tubeway Army — the last few days have been a blur of brand new excitement and confusion. His song 'Are "Friends" Electric?' has surprisingly sneaked into the Top 30.
The success went something like this:
The first few singles are pressed as an attractive picture disc, which pushes the single into the lower part of the chart. The single then receives some airplay and, not being especially repulsive, slides a little deeper into the charts. There then comes the invitation to appear on Top Of The Pops, which coincides with an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test. The single then strolls into the Top 30. For Gary Numan all this has happened within a month.
Three weeks ago no one wanted to talk to him. Except me. Now there's a queue. And I'm at the end of it.
"I'm enjoying it," Numan admits limply, coughing from the strain of the day's interviews, "and I'm making the most of it in case the single bombs next week. Two weeks ago I was nothing. For two years it's been like that, exactly the same, and then bang! I've been on the telly twice and done half a dozen interviews in a day. It's like being blinded by your own dream really..."
We talk in a noisy pub just off Wardour Street in the centre of London. In such surroundings Numan flinches a lot and looks a little worried, Numan dislikes pubs. He's teetotal, and the smoke that wafts all around us doesn't help his cough. He also confesses a dislike for crowds of people.
"I'm over the top paranoid," he explains. Wary, weary eyes set deep into a forlorn face seem to confirm this. His hair is black and threatens to recede. Clothes are black and tight, his boots are button up high heels. He's 21.
Gary Numan has been Tubeway Army for two years. His backing personnel has constantly switched and changed: "I'm very intolerant and I get fed up with people easily."
Prior to conceiving Tubeway he spent time with groups on the British Legion circuit, and four or five months in Meanstreet, who appeared on the lamentable Live At The Vortex album — by which time Numan had been thrown out. It's a period he looks back on with distaste.
"Some of the songs from that period I used on my first album. I was attracted to them like old photographs and I just wanted those songs out to show them, if nothing else. There's a lot of that in it, a lot of revenge motives all over the place. There's a lot of people who I haven't forgotten who were unkind to me. Now when I'm in the charts and on the telly I sort of smile inside, that they're watching. I'm waiting for them to ring up — 'Oh do you remember me, I used to go around with you'."
I ask Numan what his ambitions were during those Meanstreet days, expecting him to say "I wanted to make my own music". Instead his answer comes quick and wistful: "I want to start my own airplane business. I'm going to buy two Dakotas, paint them up in war colors and do, er, nostalgia trips to Arnhem — you know, where the old paratroopers used to go — and charge them about twenty quid a time. I'd go on the same route as they used during the war. I'm more interested in this than keeping the music going. I don't want to stay in music for too many years.