IT’S three decades since Gary Numan topped the charts but he’s back on tour with a new album. He spoke to Duncan Seaman.
Thirty-five years after last cracking the top 10 in the UK Gary Numan could perhaps be forgiven a few frisson of excitement when hearing that based on early sales his latest album, Savage (Songs From a Broken World), was giving Foo Fighters, The Script, Ed Sheeran and Rag N Bone Man a run for their money in the upper reaches of the charts.
Yet instead of feeling “all happy” that midweek statistics showed Savage was Number Two, the 59-year-old singer says his reaction was “to just panic”, believing there was “no way it could just stay there” as probably all of his fanbase had gone out and bought it.
He had been here before. Splinter, Savage’s predecessor, looked set to a top 10 berth in 2013 only for it to “slowly slide down as the week progressed”.
“I thought, ‘Well, that’s probably what’s going to happen’ – everyone goes out and gets it on Day One and because I don’t get radio play there probably won’t be a hit single from it,” he says.
I started to think to myself how bizarre would it be in the history of the planet if the tipping point for its possible destruction was one stupid, ignorant man.Gary Numan
“Where other people have got those things out there, keeping those sales active, keeping people interested, that tends not to happen to me so I slide back on these midweeks, usually right out of the chart completely, but with this one it didn’t.”
As others fell by the wayside, Savage remained immovable. “The day of the actual chart position itself, that morning when I got the phone call, the relief was so huge, not just for that chart position but what it meant for the previous 35 years, to try to get back to that position, I properly cried like a baby,” he remembers.
“It was just me and my wife – she filmed it actually because she’s an evil person,” he laughs heartily, “but it was such a huge thing and I can honestly say that it meant far more to me than the Number Ones before that because now I appreciate what it means and I honestly didn’t before, it seemed to come so easily – three Number Ones in a row, bang, bang, bang – and I didn’t have the maturity to realise how enormous it was back then, but I absolutely realised what it meant this time. It was a massive thing for me.”
The concept behind Savage – of a world reeling from an environmental apocalypse – had begun life as a science-fiction novel that Numan had been attempting to write for a number of years. In the wake of his current homeland, the USA, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement Numan admits to wondering if he’d actually been writing about science fact.
“When the Paris Accord was signed it felt like global warming was being taken care of, that the world has come together in this really fantastic moment of unity and realised there was a problem and it was doing something about it, and although it wasn’t fixed by any means the process was under way and the danger was recognised globally.
“In my mind I started to think of climate change as an issue becoming almost yesterday’s news, so if that was the fundamental cause in my story I thought ‘it doesn’t feel that relevant any more’, but in a bizarre coincidence pretty much as I started to write the first few songs Donald Trump really emerges and begins to say all the things that he’s saying, talking about if he’s elected he’ll pull the US out of the Paris Accord, and suddenly there was this huge danger from a most unexpected direction suddenly roaring into view and saying the most ridiculous things.
“So all of a sudden, rather than becoming yesterday’s story, it had become hugely relevant again and it fuelled it. When I started to write I wasn’t intending the whole album to be about this, it really was just a few songs to get me going because I didn’t really have that much else to write about, life’s been pretty good the last few years.
“But with him it gave it such momentum it finally became much more important to me to write more and more about it, all of it drawn completely from this never ending book I’m trying to write.
“It’s not scientific, I’ve no idea whether there’s any likelihood that the world will become a desert planet, or sections of it, I’m not a scientist, the only things that I’ve seen about global warming tend to be the documentaries that everybody else has seen, so I’ve got no inside information, but as a subject it is fascinating.
“The thing that really bothered me about Trump was that you look back at certain key moments in history at times and you try to find the moment where it started, the moment where it became unavoidable, and I started to think to myself how bizarre would it be in the history of the planet if the tipping point for its possible destruction was one stupid, ignorant man, out of all the billions that there are, who suddenly found himself in a position through extraordinary ignorance to do unbelievable damage and potentially kill us all.
“What an incredible time to be alive – not a good time necessarily but what an incredible time to be alive when something of that magnitude could actually be under way and it just felt momentous to me.”
Despite having lived in California in recent years, Gary Numan recently admitted to feeling “British to the core”. He qualifies that today.
“I do feel British but that’s simply because I’ve been alive so long there’s nothing else I’m ever going to be, but I’m fully embraced in the American way. I’ve not gone to America as a small bastion of Britain, I don’t drive around with a Union Jack sticker on my bumper, I don’t go to British pubs, I don’t particularly hang out with British people.
“I see a lot of people who do that and it’s one of the things that annoys me about immigration in general. I think if you go to another country you should adopt that culture, you’ve made a decision. I don’t like to see areas that are devoted to one sort of people.
“I think if you go to a country you should speak the language, which is easy for me in America, you should adopt that culture as much as possible, that’s the place you’ve decided to make your home, they’re the people that have welcomed you in.
“It feels rude to me to be walking around still being British with my ignorant ways or my little sayings, but the truth is I am British and I’m always going to be, my accent’s never going to change, and I think as a British person thinks, but I live in America and I love living in America and I don’t want to be a one-man British island walking around in mid-America. I think it’s rude, actually.”
Gary Numan plays at Hull City Hall on March 20 and Sheffield Foundry on March 21. garynuman.com