Although Colin Newman is most readily associated with Wire, like bandmates Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis he has undertaken numerous additional creative endeavors. Across a range of projects, the Wire guitarist/vocalist has consistently reinvented himself, venturing from post-punk art pop into ambient, electronic territory, along the way producing other artists and setting up his own label.
Newman was born in Salisbury, England, in 1954 and attended Watford School of Art, where he studied under Peter Schmidt. At Watford, he formed Wire with Bruce Gilbert in 1976 and the band quickly emerged as one of British punk's more innovative, intelligent acts. Having evolved at a breathtaking pace over three albums that were among the period's most influential records (Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, and 154), the group went on hiatus in early 1980.
With Wire producer Mike Thorne, Newman immediately embarked on a solo album, A-Z, much of which had been written during the making of 154. Recognizing A-Z's commercial viability, Newman's U.S. label suggested extensive touring to break the album, but since he had already been through this process with Wire, and with little success, he declined. (The A-Z track "Alone" would later be heard by millions on the soundtrack to Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs.)
For the follow-up, Provisionally Entitled the Singing Fish, Newman and Thorne parted company. Thorne was convinced of Newman's chart potential but Newman wasn't interested in making purely commercial records. Inspired partly by Lewis and Gilbert's experiments as Dome, The Singing Fish was a moderately ambient, Eno-esque exercise. Although he re-adopted a more conventional, group-based rock approach for 1982's Not To, Newman had become increasingly frustrated with the music business and, after producing the Virgin Prunes' If I Die, I Die, disappeared to India for a year.
Following Newman's return to Britain in 1984, Wire resumed its activities, releasing The Ideal Copy in 1986. The next five years were especially productive as Newman kept his creative options open, recording and touring with Wire and also pursuing solo projects. Having produced Minimal Compact's Raging Souls, Newman moved to Brussels and, in collaboration with Minimal Compact's Malka Spigel, made two more albums, Commercial Suicide (1986) and the synthesizer-based It Seems (1988). Throughout this period, both Wire's and Newman's own recordings became increasingly computer-oriented. While advances in digital technology prompted Wire drummer Robert Gotobed's departure and temporarily ended the band's existence as a foursome, they also stimulated a new phase in Newman's work.
With Spigel, he relocated to London in the early '90s, founded the Swim label, and put out records by diverse electronic artists including Ronnie & Clyde, Lobe, dol-lop, and Pablo's Eye. Energized by the flourishing techno and electronica scenes, Newman collaborated with Spigel during the '90s on her Rosh Ballata (1993) and under various monikers: Oracle, Immersion, Earth, Oscillating, and Intens.
In 1996, as Immersion, the pair contributed a sound installation to a group show at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. The following year saw the release of Bastard, an album of instrumental, melodic electronica that was Newman's first self-credited record since It Seems. In addition to working on Spigel's second full-length record, My Pet Fish, co-producing Silo's Instar, and remixing such diverse bands as Bowery Electric, Hawkwind, and Gentle Giant, Newman returned to performance in 1998-1999, playing gigs in Europe and America with Spigel. Another Immersion album, the abstract, ambient Low Impact, followed, and 2000 found Newman and Spigel again playing live as Immersion, this time with more of a multimedia emphasis.
Just as Newman had recaptured some of punk's original D.I.Y. spirit with the foundation of the Swim label, in 2001 he continued in the same vein with the launch of PostEverything.com — a web-based store aimed at the distribution of independently released music.
Amid this flurry of millennial activity, Newman also regrouped with Wire for concerts in the U.K. and the U.S. in 2000 and the band eventually began recording again. The first entirely new Wire material in over a decade appeared on 2002's Read & Burn 01. Send, a full-length containing brand-new songs and material from the Read & Burn series, was released in May of 2003.
Wire remained a going concern throughout the 2000s and 2010s, and Newman divided his time between the band and his other projects. These included Githead, a collaboration with Spigel, Scanner's Robin Rimbaud, and Max Franken. The band debuted with 2004's Headgit EP, and released full-length albums such as 2005's Profile, 2007's Art Pop, 2009's Landing, and 2014's Waiting for a Sign. Newman also worked on Spigel's solo albums Every Day Is Like the First Day (2012) and Gliding (2014). Among Wire's highlights during this time were 2008's Object 47, their first album without Gilbert; 2013's Change Becomes Us, which reworked previously unrecorded songs from just before the band's first hiatus; and the moody, streamlined pop of 2015's self-titled effort. Late in 2016, Newman reissued A-Z, Provisionally Entitled the Singing Fish, and Not To on his own Sentient Sonics imprint. ~ Wilson Neate