Gary Numan: Rise of the Synthpop Legend

There is no denying the influence that synthpop and Gary Numan has had on the music scene.

He may be the most famous musician that many people have never heard of, for almost 50 years he has been in the music industry. He has devoted much time to his family and is one of the most humble famous people you are likely to meet. He has sparked controversy with his peers and to this day is still churning out music.

Gary Numan is a British musician and pioneer of the synth pop genre. He rose to fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s with his electronic music and unique style, influencing countless artists and shaping the sound of modern pop. In this blog post, we’ll explore the career of Gary Numan and the rise of synth pop.

From Hammersmith to guitar smith

Gary Numan was born Gary Anthony James Webb on March 8, 1958, in Hammersmith, London to his parents Tony and Beryl Webb. HIs father was a driver for British Airways based our of Heathrow and his mother worked in a soft drinks factory. By the age of seven, Numan went from being a single child to the new proud brother of his cousin, John Webb. Gary started school at Town Farm Junior School in Stanwell and went on to complete his education at Brooklands Technical College in Weybridge, Surrey. After school, Gary went on to serve in the Air Training Corps and has held various jobs, like forklift driver and an accounts clerk.

He started playing music at a young age, learning to play the piano and guitar. When Numan turned 15, his father bought him a Gibson Les Paul, this would become his most treasured possession. From here his music career started to rise. He played in various bands around the area, anywhere he could learn and play. He was also noted for flipping through Melody Maker looking for any bands he could sit in on. He landed in a band called Mean Street and the Lasers where he met Paul Gardnier. As their friendship grew, the Mean Street Lasers soon became the Tubeway Army/ They added his uncle Jess Lidyard to play drums and Gardiner on bass. They were quickly signed to the label Beggars Banquet Records and in 1978 released their first record. It would be their second album, Replicas, that would start their rise to success.

While Numan was in the Tubeway Army, he went under the pseudonym of Valerian. It would be some time later that he would change his name to his nom de plume, Numan. Numan once said that he chose the name from a plumber’s advertisement in the Yellow Pages. His name was Neumann and Gary chose Numan. For those of you born after 1999, the Yellow Pages was a book of yellow pages that listed advertisements for local businesses and their telephone numbers. 

Numan’s early music career

Numan’s music career began with Tubeway Army, a band he formed in 1977 with his uncle, Jess Lidyard, and his friend, Paul Gardiner. The band released their first album, “Tubeway Army,” in 1978. The album was a mix of punk rock and electronic music, featuring synthesizers and drum machines alongside guitars and bass. The album was not a commercial success, but it caught the attention of Beggars Banquet Records, who signed the band.

It was their second album, Replicas, that achieved their commercial success. Replicas featured Numan’s signature electronic sound, with synthesizers and drum machines creating a futuristic, robotic sound. The album’s lead single, “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”, became a hit, reaching the top of the UK charts. Numan’s unique style and sound caught the attention of music fans and critics, and he quickly became one of the most influential artists of the era.

In 1979, Numan released his first solo album, “The Pleasure Principle.” The album was recorded in just a few weeks and featured Numan playing all the instruments himself, including synthesizers, guitars, and drums. The album was a departure from Tubeway Army’s sound, focusing more on electronic music and featuring fewer live instruments. The album’s first single, “Cars,” became an instant hit and reached the top ten in both the UK and the US. The song’s distinctive synth riff and Numan’s deadpan vocals made it an instant classic and cemented Numan’s place in music history.

Throughout the early 1980s, Numan continued to release successful albums and singles. His music was a mix of electronic pop and rock, with themes of isolation, technology, and the future. Numan’s live shows were also highly theatrical, with elaborate costumes and stage sets adding to the futuristic atmosphere.

The rise of synthpop

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the music scene saw the emergence of a new genre that combined electronic and pop music – Synthpop. At the forefront of this movement was Gary Numan who paved the way for the genre’s success with his unique sound and style.

Synthpop is a genre of music that is characterized by its heavy use of synthesizers, electronic drums, and other electronic instruments. The genre emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s and is often associated with the New Romantic movement in the UK. Synthpop bands often incorporated elements of pop, new wave, and electronic music into their sound.

One of the defining features of synthpop is its use of technology to create music. Synthpop bands often used synthesizers, drum machines, and other electronic instruments to create their music. The use of technology allowed for a more precise and polished sound that was not possible with traditional instruments.

The breakthrough moment for synth pop came in 1981 with the release of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” The song, a cover of a little-known soul track from the 1960s, became a massive hit, reaching number one in the UK and charting in the top ten in several other countries. 

From that point on, synth pop exploded in popularity, with numerous acts achieving success both in the UK and internationally. Some of the most influential and successful bands of the era included Depeche Mode, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, and A-ha.

Numan’s influence on the synthpop genre cannot be overstated. His unique sound and style paved the way for the success of other synthpop bands like Depeche Mode, Erasure, and Pet Shop Boys. Numan’s music also influenced the rise of electronic music and the industrial genre.

Life imitates art

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the music scene saw the emergence of a new genre that combined electronic and pop music – Synthpop. At the forefront of this movement was Gary Numan, a British musician and singer-songwriter who paved the way for the genre’s success with his unique sound and style.

Numan’s live shows were also a big part of his success. He was known for his elaborate stage setups, featuring large screens, pyrotechnics, and even aircraft. Numan’s live shows were often compared to those of David Bowie, who was one of Numan’s biggest influences.

Numan’s music was heavily influenced by science fiction and the post-apocalyptic world. His lyrics often explored themes of isolation, loneliness, and the struggle to survive in a world dominated by machines. Numan’s unique sound and style quickly became synonymous with the synthpop movement.

The mid to late 80s witnessed the decline in popularity of synthpop and Gary Numan. Gary decided to take a break from music to focus on his family. However, he returned to the music scene in the 1990s with a new sound and style. His album “Sacrifice” was released in 1994 and was a critical success. Numan continued to release music throughout the 2000s and 2010s, with his latest album, “Intruder,” released in 2021. Numan has continued to release albums and tour regularly ever since. He has also become a respected figure in the world of electronic music, with many younger musicians citing him as an influence. Numan’s music has been sampled by artists as diverse as Nine Inch Nails, Basement Jaxx, and Sugababes.

Gary Numan’s music has been influenced by a variety of factors throughout his career. One of the most significant influences on his music was the electronic and experimental music of the 1970s and 80s, such as Kraftwerk and David Bowie. He was also heavily influenced by science fiction and dystopian literature, which is reflected in the dark, futuristic themes present in many of his songs. Numan’s personal life experiences, including his struggles with depression and Asperger’s syndrome, have also played a role in shaping his music. Additionally, he has been influenced by the changing music industry and technological advancements, as he has often experimented with new sounds and production techniques over the years. Overall, Numan’s music is a unique blend of electronic and rock elements, shaped by a wide range of personal and cultural influences.

From then till now

There is no denying the influence that synthpop and Gary Numan has had on the music scene. When you create a sound so varied that can be classified as Post Punk, synth, industrial, pop, goth, and more there is no way that you cant influence an entire industry. To this day Numan is still heavily focused on his family and his music. You can catch him on his American tour with Ministry and Front Line Assembly this year. He will be playing with them at the Agora in Cleveland, Ohio on May 5th. If you haven’t already, get your tickets for what will be an amazing show.

Did you listen to Gary Numan growing up or just found him recently? Perhaps his name has never been in your collection and you are now tempted to give him a try. If you like sci-fi inspired music and open to any new creator of it, let me know in the comments below. Be sure to check out Gary Numan and the synthpop era. Thanks for reading.


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