While Numan could easily be described as a veteran musician, with a career spanning an impressive four decades, he is far from over the hill and was given a contemporary seal of approval when he collaborated with hip US group Battles. After featuring on the song ‘My Machines’, the group invited him along to play ATP Festival in Minehead, Somerset, last Christmas. And he nailed it, proving one of the highlights of the whole weekend. (Read our review here).
The 54-year-old said: “I don’t think I would’ve been there otherwise. The rest of the line-up was very obscure and I felt out of place, I was walking around looking at the other bands and thought, I really don’t fit in here, but it actually went really well. I was quite relieved.”
He said: “My music is not radio-friendly. It’s too heavy for daytime radio, so it’s very difficult to reach out to new people and the only surefire way of doing that is to do festivals. Still, I’m a little bit careful and try to choose festivals where I’m confident that people listen to that sort of music. When you’ve been round for quite some time, people are keen to pigeon-hole you. I have turned down an awful lot of things because they have had an 80s connection – it’s the wrong kind of publicity for me.”
It’s not just Battles who’ve paid homage to Numan in their music. Other acts who’ve covered Numan songs or cited him as an influence include Nine Inch Nails, Foo Fighters, Queen’s of the Stone Age, Prince and even Lady Gaga.
“I’m in a very fortunate position in some ways, in that I’m name checked a lot by other bands; saying they were influenced by my music or they cover one of my songs,” he said. “When somebody does a cover, you normally get sent it. As a songwriter, to have other people cover your songs is incredibly flattering and I don’t take it for granted. It introduces me to a new generation and it gives you a new level of credibility. They stop you being a nostalgia act and I’m still considered contemporary and current to what’s going on.” He added: “Ninety-nine per cent of Lady Gaga fans wouldn’t have heard of me before she mentioned me to them!”
He said: “Most covers, I think, are better than my version – such as NIN’s cover of ‘Metal’ and Pop Will Eat Itself’s cover of ‘Friends’.” Which, bizarrely, Numan says he went onto cover – so Numan, instead of playing his original song outright, created a cover version of the Pop Will Eat Itself cover of his song. Wow. (Sorry folks, that’s about as simple as I could describe it!)
As well as being complimentary to other musicians, Numan is renowned for his warmth towards his fans (hell, he even ended up marrying one of them in a relationship he describes as the best ever). “For a long time, it was well known in the business that I was one of the very few people who would meet my fans,” he said. “Fans would line up by the tour bus and I would stand on the steps and meet with people til two or three in the morning, for 28 years. A few years ago, someone tried to have a go at me on the bus and it got really violent, I thought ‘wow’, and I don’t really do that anymore. I still sign things and have someone who goes and collects the items and I occasionally do meet and greets during sound checks.”
While he may not adhere to the customs from back in the day, Numan says he will carry on playing as long as he can, saying: “I don’t work because I have to, I work because I genuinely love it. When you think about it, I go into the studio and write songs, which is hardly demanding and then go on tour and play the songs to people. It’s a good life. I dread the day when I have to stop doing it. The only bad part of touring is that I really miss the children.” The father-of-three added: “I’m 54 now, it’s not long til I’m 60, then 70, but I feel the same as I did when I was 21. You look in the mirror and it’s shocking sometimes! There is going to come a time when touring isn’t the easy thing that it is now, but I still want to make music.”
With that in mind, and like a lot of artists these days, Numan is planning to leave the UK for the warmer climes of LA in a bid to crack the world of writing music for films…and he looks set to hit the ground running, with a couple of meetings with high profile film-makers under his belt already. But fear not Numan fans, he says he’ll be back and forth across the Atlantic! And to Bristol, which can count Numan among its fans. He said: “We always have good days in Bristol, the crowd is always great. It’s one of the best places to play.”