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Gary Numan's Rebellious Jukebox (From Melody Maker 1994)
Simon Price , November 2nd, 2009 11:35

Gary Numan may well be fully critically rehabilitated now but this wasn't the case fifteen years ago. Simon Price recalls meeting the synth hero who, even at his lowest ebb, brilliantly had little or no interest in making himself look good . . .

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In the early Nineties, Melody Maker magazine used to run a regular Desert Island Discs-type section called Rebellious Jukebox, in which musicians would choose the twelve songs which had a special personal meaning for them, and explain their reasons. It was often used as a means of shoehorning people into the paper who weren’t necessarily considered relevant any more and couldn’t justify a full feature.

In 1994, I was sent to meet Gary Numan for a Rebellious Jukebox. The interview took place in the lobby of a posh private hotel in central London. (The loud buzzer noise I refer to in the text was another guest wanting to be let in.)

The results have since become legendary in Nume-loving circles. Sadly, due to house moves and general untidiness, I mislaid the cutting for many years, but recently managed to “do a J.R. Hartley” and buy the relevant copy of MM via the magic of eBay (June 11 1994, Therapy?/Henry Rollins cover, in case any other Numanoids wish to track it down.) Reading it again after all these years had me weeping and creasing up with laughter and happiness. I'd always remembered the Kenny Everett show and the Japan trip (and the fart gag), but the rest of it is so rich with pathos and poignancy too.

Gary was, and I'm sure still is, a really lovely bloke, and he was touchingly, disarmingly happy to open up and tell me stories which he didn't come out of sounding very cool at all (to say the least). I can never decide whether it's a genuine absence of self-awareness that's being shown here, or a complete couldn't-care-less-what-anyone-thinks attitude. Maybe both. In any case, I'll always love Gary Numan for giving me one of the high points of my journalistic career.


GARY NUMAN - the Aphex Twin of 1979 and the man who invented techno pop (allegedly) - talks about the records he plays here, in his car

1. THE MONKEES: 'I'm A Believer'

"We had a group, me and my friends, The Monkee Juniors. We used to go round people's houses for money. Two and six a time. We used a chair leg as a microphone. I had the bobble hat, and I had the same birthday as Mickey Dolenz. That made me a bit of a hero in my street. That's how I got started."

2. T. REX: 'Telegram Sam'

"The first pop star I saw where I understood the lifestyle, the money, the excitement, what it meant. From then on, I spent my whole life wanting to be a rock star. I went to see Born To Boogie a dozen times. There's a bit where Bolan's playing this outrageous guitar, and then this dwarf comes along and eats an amp which is made out of chocolate. Brilliant!"

3. DAVID BOWIE: 'Jean Genie'

"The thing I admired about Bowie, like a lot of stars from that period, was that he was larger than life. I'd have been scared shitless to meet him. What do you say? The man's from outer space! Later, I actually met him, but we didn't get on. Which is a great disappointment. I did a show for Kenny Everett years ago, and Bowie was on the same show. I was there, Geldof was there, it was a bit of a fan club convention, all watching. And Bowie spotted me, stopped everything, and made the guards come and throw me out. I was gutted. I mean, what was I to him? Just some little upstart who'd popped up with a quirky record. Fucking wanker."

4. QUEEN: 'Seven Seas Of Rhye'

"I once went to Japan, supposedly with the band Japan, to do some guest slots. It was a loose arrangement. Then I read that they were already in Tokyo! I thought we were mates, especially Mick Karn. So I flew to Tokyo to find them. To cut a long story short, they shot off in a car, and I had to get a cab to chase them. So I got this bullet train on my own to Osaka. I sat there waiting to be called on for the sound check, but the stadium starts filling up, and no-one calls me. Slimy little gits. So I'm in Tokyo, on my tod, with nothing to do, and I see this poster: Queen in concert. So I buy a ticket, and Roger Taylor recognises me in the crowd, and takes me backstage. They looked after me like a little lost lamb. I didn't like sushi, so Freddie said 'Don't worry, luvvie!' and sent a limo for some McDonald's."

5. ULTRAVOX: 'Slow Motion'

"I went into a really cheap studio in 1977, and found a mini-Moog someone had left behind, hooked up to a bass amp. I'd never seen a synth before. So I started playing, and I thought 'Monster! More power than 10 heavy metal guitars!' I tried to find out if anyone else was doing electronic music, and I found two records: Kraftwerk, and Ultravox's Systems Of Romance album. Suddenly, everything started to explode, and luckily I became the focal point. The Musicians' Union tried to ban me, and ban synthesizers, which is a bit like trying to stop a bulldozer with your hand. Then came The Human League, OMD, and Depeche Mode - who I tried to sign, but they'd already signed to Mute. Bummer! Every time I see them, my pocket weeps at the lack of money. But I'm having a great time selling all my old synthesizers. People are lapping 'em up. They don't know why I got rid of 'em in the first place! I think I'm more comfortable with guitars these days... but maybe I'm talking out of my arse. I've just done the soundtrack for an advert for a French range of make-up called The Original Sin. I'm doing it for free so that maybe I'll get a few more offers."

6. OMD: 'Messages'

"That record reminds me of the time I became famous. They supported me on my first tour. I used to hear it when I was in the dressing room, with my mum putting my white and blue make-up on me. You know this Take That-mania? It was like that. People jumping from balconies onto the PA, people stowing away in the boot of the coach, every bizarre offer you could imagine... At one show, people were climbing 80 feet up the side of the theatre to get in! Fucking hell! No-one's that good. I sure as fuck wasn't!" [Loud buzzer goes off in background. Numan waves hands between legs, as though he's farted.]

7. ROBERT PALMER: 'Addicted To Love'

"He used to do 'Cars' and 'Me, I Disconnect From You' in his live set. There's nothing guaranteed to make you more proud than someone else covering your song. We've co-written a few songs. On the sleeve of his Greatest Hits, he says that I'm painfully shy. And I am!"

8. PRINCE: 'Sign O' The Times'

"I was told that Prince used to do 'Cars' in his soundcheck, too. Yeah! And Chic, they did, too. Prince is the sort of bloke who sucks in like a sponge what's going on around him. What about 'Cream'? That's 'Get It On', isn't it? Have you noticed, everyone's slagging off Michael Jackson for turning white, but have you ever seen any early pictures of Prince? Now that was a very black man. These days he's a white man, with a laughably small beard. I really admire anyone who puts on a real spectacular show, without charging £250 a ticket like Barbra Streisand."

9. JANET JACKSON: 'Miss You Much'

"It's got a real attitude. The drum arrangements are exceptional. When I was going through a funky period, this really helped me. She's gone really sappy now."

10. JESUS JONES: 'The Devil You Know'

"They get a bad press? Hmm, I finally understand rock critics, actually, because I've been writing for Pilot magazine. I don't care if they call me a fat ugly bastard. It was when they said my mum and dad should've been doctored so as not to give birth to me - that's going too far. My mum is the loveliest person you could ever hope to meet. It's not like I've raped somebody. If they're jealous, say it: 'He's a cunt, but I would like his car, his house and probably his girlfriend.' D'you know, Elvis Costello's manager hit the man who signed me, for signing me?! Now, that is very unnecessary. Like you're so great, Elvis."

11. THE SISTERS OF MERCY: 'Vision Thing'

"This totally fired my interest in hard, heavy guitars again. I might not look like it today - these are my smart clothes. The Sisters are well cool. But did you find they have so much smoke you can't see the show? I said to my girlfriend, 'I'm a bit fucked with this, I can't see anything.' And this fan behind me says 'That's their way', a bit threatening. I was, 'Sorry, fair enough!'"

12. DEPECHE MODE: 'Never Let Me Down Again'

"Over the years, they've got harder. They look like they've been through some shit. Nothing against Take That, etc, but it's all become a bit safe. Pop stars should do things... drink, be scary, have attitude. What? No, I didn't nearly die in a plane crash! I hit a tree. But if a jumbo crashed and I was on board, the press would say it was my fault. The price of fame."

© Simon Price, 1994/2009

Mr Price runs Spellbound, the 80s night for people who hate 80s nights, and the new high-voltage electro, tecnno trash, synth rock night, Sound Of Silver. We cannot recommend of them highly enough, if you happen to be in Brighton.

Watch this space for Numan related articles in the coming weeks.

His nibs is touring Pleasure Principle on the following dates: Nov 17, Brighton Dome; 18 Southampton University; 19 Cardiff Sub 29; 20 Sheffield Corporation; 21 Manchester Academy; 23 Cork Pavillion; 24 Dublin Tripod; 25 Leeds Academy; 26 Edinburgh Picturehouse; 27 Glasgow ABC; 28 Sunderland The Campus; 29 Norwich UEA; 30 Wolverhampton Wulfren H; Dec 1. Cambridge Junction; 2 Nottingham Rock City; 3 London Indigo 02

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Nov 2, 2009 6:40pm

Simon, I've no opinion on Numan one way or the other, but I think your missing the mark a bit. His repsonses are funny and honest, and while no, they don't make him look very hip, why would anyone give a fuck?

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Lucia Lanigan
Nov 2, 2009 6:47pm

I love the idea of Bowie shouting, "Guards - sieze him!" It would be especially rich if it was the Nume-inous 'Ashes to Ashes' he interrupted to do so.

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John Doran
Nov 2, 2009 7:30pm

In reply to :

I think you've got the wrong end of the stick here; Pricey's a fan of Numan. But saying that his answers are "not hip" is missing the point by a mile.

His answers are so unguarded as to make them almost brilliant. This is the sort of thing that very rarely happens in today's 'The Thick Of It'-lite music industry.

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Nov 3, 2009 4:02am

In reply to John Doran:

John, Price says himself that Numan's answers don't make him sound very cool at all. His words, not mine. I agree with you about Numan's answers...I just think it's weird to belabor how uncool (or unhip) they are when they're so great.

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Rupert Oldham
Feb 12, 2010 4:32pm

Whether hip or not, his comments about the actions of other pop stars, bigger and smaller than him at the time, are very revealing about the fragility of the egos of people in the music business, even Elvis Costello who one always imagines would be a pretty okay guy. I mean by the time Gary Numan was hitting the charts David Bowie was a massive star, but for him to see Gary as a threat even then is a good insight into what dicks performers can be, the higher up they go.

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karl webb
Feb 5, 2011 1:16am

All these years on , top female and male artist , solo and groups , Top radios DJ,s , top club sceane DJ,s, mix and play GARY NUMAN/tubeway army , which still reach number 1 positions in the CHARTS of 2009 , NUMAN was never EASY to shove away as pop stars are , owned by others, NUMAN was IS the STAR born next TO the NORTh STAR too LEAD thea INTO fame AS thy LISTENED to NUMAN ///// AS a FACT into the inside of history of CHART MUSIC listed for the last 55 years ,, there AS been AND only BEEN 17 acts ~(group / solo ) which as had there first 2 releases go to no 1 and are friend GARY is one of thea ,,, THE jealous of FAME who never MADE THE life are LEFT wounded AS the rats in the gutter COMMENTS are good some are bad BUT as MR WEBB and me we still ROAM in THE GHOSTLY SOUNDS of SIR gary NUMAN ,,,,,,, nearly four GENERATIONS OF numan ,,, MY HONOUR OF MUSIC and to MUSIC always is lead by gary and his influances ,,, VIDEOES ,tv ,FILMS , radio EVERY ONE CAME ,,,,, THANKS GARY for a quality life of MUSIC thanks to all garys FAMILY for being there xxxxx the WEBBS are my friends and FAMILY ,,,,

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John Hearthe
Feb 18, 2014 6:57pm

In reply to Rupert Oldham:

Totally missing the point about his contemporary inspirational artists (as David Bowie, Ultravox, Human League,OMD,..Elvis Costello, Mick Jagger, Brian Eno..). These guys didn't like Gary Numan because they felt he ripped off David Bowie's Low album, and also started ripping off Ultravox stage sound and image, after taking quite a lot from Luman League..

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