Gary Numan and his synthesiser moment

Gary Numan.
Gary Numan.
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Gary Numan secured his place in music history as the great electronic innovator at the end of the 1970s.

But it was something he stumbled into purely by chance, insists Gary who lines up as one of the stars at this year’s Guilfest.

Gary admits he is not “a massive fan of looking back. But it had its moments!

“When I came along in the 70s, the whole electronic thing was really interesting. I just tagged on to it. I was a massive T-Rex fan when I was a teenager and then punk came along.

“I felt punk was a great opportunity. The only punk record I bought was The Sex Pistols album. I loved the whole atmosphere of punk, but musically it didn’t offer me much at all. But there were opportunities there. There were new labels springing up. I joined a band initially and it became a three-piece punk band.

“We got a deal and we went in to do an album and there was a synthesiser there. When I arrived, it was sitting in a corner waiting to be picked up by a hire company. It certainly wasn’t mine. But I said to the studio man ‘Do you mind if I have a go at it?’ I am very geeky and like switches and buttons. I pressed one of the keys and just the hugest, biggest growling sound came out. I thought you could put ten guitarists together in the same room and you just wouldn’t get a sound as big as that.

“I was converted in that moment. Luckily the synthesiser was not collected.

They just let me use it. I was there three days, and I just converted the dozen punk songs into electro songs.”

Inevitably the record company weren’t terribly happy with getting an electro album when they had been expecting a punk one, but they put the album out - and the rest is history, helped on by the great, striking image/persona that Gary came up within.

“A synthesiser is not a particularly visual instrument in the way that a guitar is. If you are going to play it live, you need to wrap it in something, and that’s where the image came from.

“The second album all came from short stories that I had written, sci-fi, and so I dressed in black. It was just an extension of other things that were happening at the time.

“An image with no substance is quickly forgotten, but provided you have got the music package behind it, then the image helps a lot. If you don’t have that package, you just get your 15 minutes of fame.”

More than 30 years later, Gary is still going strong.

“The pleasure is just the same in many respects, and in many respects the music business is not really very different. It is still all about convincing people to buy your stuff. You do a festival now and it is not very different to doing a festival back then.

“The most different thing is the technology and the tendency to a sense of entitlement that comes with the internet now, this sense of entitlement to get something for free. But you have to work with that. In the recording studio there have been massive changes, but the basics are the same: you sing, you record it, you put it on a disc or a file and you hope that people listen to it!”

GuilFest - the award-winning family festival - celebrates its 21st anniversary from July 13-15 with the promise of a “wonderfully-eclectic line up.”

Friday, July 13 features Jools Holland with his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, featuring vocal talent from Fine Young Cannibals frontman, Roland Gift, the day also has performances from ABC, Heaven 17, The Straits, newly confirmed The Doors Alive, The South, and cult punk band Buzzcocks.

Saturday features Olly Murs, Tulisa, Jimmy Cliff, Cher Lloyd, Republica, Bjorn Again, Gary Numan, Tim Minchin, Bastille, The Beat, Skindred, Andy C, Brookes Brothers and many more. Tickets are available from www.guilfest.co.uk.

Phil Hewitt