Gary Numan released his seminal album The Pleasure Principle in 1979. More than 3 decades later, the softly spoken Londoner is making the Pleasure Principle, that previous UK No. 1 album, the centrepiece of a global tour set to hit Australia in May 2011.
Music Feeds spoke to Gary about the original album, the present tour, and whether Noel Fielding (from the Mighty Boosh) is taking the piss.
Music Feeds: You’re on The Pleasure Principle Tour at the moment. Let’s talk about The Pleasure Principle album. It was released in 1979 and you were 21 at the time. What are your recollections about creating and recording that album?
Gary Numan: It was actually quite a brilliant time. The album before that Replicas had come out in early 1979 and that had gone to No. 1. That was really terrific; to have two albums released in less than 12 months. It was my first record deal and everything seemed massively exciting because my number 1 first album had come out.
What was interesting was that the record company didn’t want it at the time. When I pitched the idea of (Replicas) being electronic they were horrified. So I really had to fight to get it released. Then the album went to number one. Just as that was happening I was getting ready to record The Pleasure Principle. So it was definitely the most amazing few months. I was having a great time anyway but then things accelerated exponentially. While I thought that was good I never thought that what I was doing was special from a musical point of view.
Nonetheless it did feel as though I had accidently stumbled upon something that was going to be massive. I thought at the time, and it was the correct view, that electronic music was going to be huge and I had those thoughts before I had really developed my music. I felt a desperate need to get the album finished, to put it out there and establish myself in a part of music that I felt was coming.
MF: So many people cite your work as paving the way for New Wave pop-synth bands like The Human League and Depeche Mode. Did you see yourself as part of an emerging movement at the time, or did that come later?
GN: What first happened was that there were a number of artists that I was unaware of. The Human League was in Sheffield, Depeche Mode was in Essex and there were a number of other people kind of jotted around and it was an underground movement but it hadn’t made it out of the cities. I was doing my thing in London.
So I didn’t become aware that there were these other people doing it until I had my first bit of success; then I started to become aware that there were these other electronic groups. Then I suddenly realised that there was this underground movement but it was weirdly fragmented. Not many people knew about anyone else.
MF: You mentioned that the record company was reluctant to go ahead with a synth album. Were there other people around you, peers and friends, saying things like : ‘Gary, don’t do this, electronic music will never be more than a flash in the pan’?
GN: I’m a relatively busy person and in those days I didn’t really have a big circle of friends. There was me, basically, and Paul who was base player in the band, and he was well up for it. But the only people I really had to convince was the record company. Because they signed us as a punk band they wanted a punk album.
They sent me into the studio with a collection of I think about six dirty punk songs which had been finalised which was what they wanted to see and had paid me for. I walked into the studio and there was a synthesiser in the corner waiting to be collected by a band that had just left the studio and the man that ran the studio let me use it.
So I went back to the record company and told them that I had used the synth in place of guitar, and that I had transformed the punk album we were going to make into a synth guitar electro punk album. They just didn’t get it at all. But the lucky thing for me, and one of the rare occasions that being with a small label was a good thing, was that they just didn’t have the money to send it back into the studio.
They wanted a punk album and I gave them something totally different. I really stood up for the album though. I was totally convinced that that was what I wanted to do. So they released the album, they put it out, and it didn’t flop like they were expecting to. It went to number one. So it became established and they began to see something in it. It very quickly worked out for all of us.
MF: I know that you’ve said that, while you’re proud of your previous work, you are not a fan of going over past works, and that you don’t particularly like ‘doing retro’. Why is this tour an exception to that rule?
GN: It’s one of things that kind of ran a bit without me, I have to say. When The Pleasure Principle show began I booked one show in Manchester, in the middle of England. That sold out really quickly so we added a few more shows. It picked up a little bit. It was only supposed to be Manchester but then we added London and it became four. Anyway, then it ended up being I think 15 or 16 shows something like that.
The record company got behind it and put out a special version of the album and did some promos for the tour and it really grew into something much bigger and it all sold out. I didn’t expect it, I really didn’t.
It started in Britain. Then it went to Scotland, Wales and to Ireland. Then we went to Canada, America and down to Mexico. We would have done South America but that would have meant being away from home for much longer and I didn’t want that.
Then we spoke to the promoter who did the last tour I did in Australia and he really wanted us to come and do The Pleasure Principle there. I have a huge amount of fun in Australia. The last Australian tour we did was arguably the best I’ve ever done, certainly the best organised tour I’ve ever done. It was amazing and I had a lot of faith in that promoter so I said ‘OK, we’ll do the tour there’.
The other thing about The Pleasure Principle tour that makes it more acceptable to me with all my fears and trepidations about retro is that the first half of the tour is that only the first 40 minutes of the show is The Pleasure Principle. It’s quite a short album, you know, back in the days of vinyl. The second half is very different. Its new stuff, stuff that hasn’t been released yet and so on, so it’s nice to show the evolution; that’s what I was doing then, this is what I’m doing now. It kind of bookmarks the career and it shows how very much more powerful the current stuff is compared to The Pleasure Principle. It really does show that transition from one area to another. It actually feels quite positive and it makes the new stuff sound all the better for it in a really perceptible way.
It’s really worked out for me but I think once I’ve done the Australian and New Zealand tour I’m really done with it and I’ll focus on my new album coming out this year called Splinter.
MF: To go back to what you were saying about the tour acting as a kind of showcase of the evolution of your music, I’m interested to as to how many younger faces you see in the shows you’ve done.
GN: In America it’s fabulous. Not so much (in the UK). When we do a normal tour here we really have a good cross-section. One of the things I’ve been encouraged by, and I also attribute to some of the great bands who have done cover versions of my work, is that they have introduced a younger element to my audience.
When I did The Pleasure Principle stuff at home that shifted back to an older audience. I really think it was the original kids coming out to see it again, and I kind expected that to happen as well when I got to America but it didn’t. It did not happen at all. In America there was an increase if anything to the younger element. I would say there was about 60-65% of the audience in America was 25 or younger which was amazing to me.
MF: How much of your popularity with your younger audience these days do you think is attributable to the references to you in, and your cameo appearance on, the TV series The Mighty Boosh?
GN: I think a lot of it to be honest.
MF: How did all come about?
GN: When the TV series started a mate of mine rung up and said ‘Are you watching this Mighty Boosh? They keep mentioning you’. So I turned over to watch and came in about halfway through the episode (where character Vince Noir is flown to the Arctic tundra in a black plane with the words ‘Gary Numan’ written on the side), and sure enough there it was.
I thought initially they were taking the piss, you know. I thought they were going to humiliate me in one way or another. But they didn’t and I watched it and watched it.
MF: It’s very sincere flattery.
GN: It’s been great. They had a Mighty Boosh Festival that they asked me to play at and I see Noel ( Fielding) quite a lot, out and about…Noel, as it turns out, is genuinely a fan. He has an old Tubeway Army badge. It’s genuine and I was really surprised.
I always thought it was humiliation in the making but it’s genuine; he knows the names of the albums, he knows the names of the songs. It was actually just a really cool experience for me, it really was.
MF: In the minute or so we have left is there anything you’d like to say about the tour or the album that you haven’t mentioned?
GN: Well firstly, The Pleasure Principle shows I have done so far I have genuinely enjoyed. Whether that’s because of a mixture of new and old I really don’t know.
Second, I don’t want people to think that I’m just standing up and going through the motions and just getting through it. It’s not that at all. I’ve learnt to be really proud if the album in a way that I really wasn’t when it first came out. In the course of the shows I have come to realise that the songs on the album really are quite strong and quiet unusual; I’ve learnt to enjoy the album in a way that I didn’t really expect. And it is fun and I’ve really enjoyed doing it but I think there can only be so much nostalgia so when this is done for me it’s just full on for me with new stuff, new albums, new recordings. Quite contemplative new albums. I’m really looking forward to the next few years.
If you want to catch Gary Numan and the Pleasure Principle tour check out the dates below:
Thursday May 12, Brisbane – Tivoli. 18+.
Tickets from here
Friday May 13, Sydney – Enmore Theatre. All ages.
Tickets from here
Saturday May 14, Melbourne – Forum. 18+.
Proudly supported by Triple R
Tickets from here
Monday May 16, Adelaide – HQ. 18+.
Tickets from here
Tuesday May 17, Perth – Astor Theatre. 18+.
Tickets from here
Saturday May 21, Auckland – Auckland Town Hall.
Tickets from here