By Jacqueline Grima
In 1979, a virtually unknown singer and songwriter called Gary Numan appeared on the British music scene, his remote and android-like image and electronic sound unlike anything music fans had ever seen or heard before. Numan went on to become one of the world’s biggest selling artists, his innovative style influencing bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Foo Fighters and his worldwide fan base remaining loyal to the present day.
Gary Numan: Android in La La Land, directed by Steve Read and Rob Alexander, follows Numan during the recording of his 2013 album Splinter, produced after a six year lull in his music career. The film, recently shown at Home, Manchester, shows the singer’s anxiety as he hopes to revive the chart success he enjoyed early in his career, whilst also dealing with his family’s imminent move to America. Only 21 when he started out, Numan has experienced huge peaks and troughs in both his career and public life, the negative press he has often been subjected to (one newspaper suggested his mother should have been doctored for giving birth to him) often having a massive impact on his confidence and leaving him isolated and vulnerable.
In La La Land, Numan talks openly about the emotional battles he has experienced during his almost forty year career, personal challenges having included Asperger’s Syndrome, anxiety, depression and a series of miscarried children. His frank and honest approach, as he allows Steve and Rob access to all corners of his life over two years, shows him to be as far from the cold, distant, robot-like figure he has publicly portrayed as it’s possible to be. As director Steve pointed out in a Q&A session after the event, “He’s really engaging and interesting and really funny. I never had him down as a funny bloke.”
Indeed, at the core of this film, showing in cinemas nationwide over the next few weeks, is Numan’s role as a family man. Now a father to three daughters, he met his wife Gemma when she became one of his biggest fans, telephoning her to check on her welfare after she missed a tour when her mother died. Here, their relationship is shown to be close and affectionate, a shared sense of humour seeming to bind the two together and Gemma obviously the backbone of Numan’s revived singing career and newfound confidence. As he says in the film, “She’s my buffer between me and the rest of the world.”
Steve agrees that the film is more about Numan’s family relationships than his music: “I don’t think it’s a music documentary. I think it’s a love story. I think it’s a documentary about an amazing family.”
Also evident in the film is Numan’s love of music, his demonstration of his song writing process every bit as enthusiastic and passionate as it was in his early days with punk band Tubeway Army. As he says, “What I’ve learnt over the past 30 years or so is that you have to love what you do.”
To Numan’s delight, Splinter, produced by acclaimed record producer Ade Fenton, became his most successful commercial album in over 25 years, his subsequent tour attracting thousands of so-called Numanoids from all over the world and snaking queues at his gigs for the first time in many years. Indeed, the fans’ loyalty seems barely to have wavered in the years that their idol was quiet, a fact that clearly means a lot to Numan, his obvious love of touring possibly set to keep him on the road for many years to come. As he says in the film, “If I could keep it going for another hundred years, I would.”
It seems the fans would like that too, Gary.
For more information about Android in La La Land, see the film’s Facebook page.
For more information about Gary Numan tour dates and releases, see Numan’s website.
For more information about films and other events at HOME, Manchester, see the HOME website.