On Wednesday the 9th of October, on a rainy evening with only David Lynch for company I took a trip up the M1 to see Magazine at the Plug in Sheffield. The Plug is a good live venue that seems to attract some of the scarcer bands. I’ve seen Patti Smith & Richard Thompson there in the last year or so. The venue isn’t so large that the band gets lost or it gets uncomfortable (a definite problem given my advancing years). Hawkwind are on in December. It’s probably a good job they have disabled access.
Magazine started at the beginning of the punk years in 1977 after singer Howard Devoto left the Buzzcocks, the band he started with Pete Shelly.
Magazine stood apart from the main names of the punk movement by being more of art school band and referencing predecessors like David Bowie, Roxy Music & Steve Harley and contemporaries like Talking Heads & Television. They also had the added ingredients of some really talented musicians. Bass player Barry Adamson went on to work with Nick Cave and then made a career in film soundtracks and solo work. Guitarist John McGeoch wrote some of the best riffs and received critical acclaim as the Jimmy Page of Punk. He went on to work with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Visage and Public Image Ltd, The Skids & The Armoury Show. Keyboard player Dave Formula bough a melodic, jazz element and it’s largely his sound that defines the band.
The first three Magazine albums are classics Real Life (1978), Secondhand Daylight (1979), and The Correct Use of Soap (1980) and on seeing that the band was gigging and giving these a quick re-listen was it wasn’t a difficult decision to make the journey.
They made four albums and released one live album between 1977 – 1981. Devoto went on to record with current guitarist Noko and produced two albums under the Luxuria. They did a great cover of Bob’s ‘She’s Your Lover Now’ which is worth looking out for.
Magazine reconvened in 2009 for one of the Meltdown festivals and have played on and off since then, also releasing an album of new material ‘No Thyself’ in October of this year. Howard may have lost a bit of his snarl but it’s good sounding record. It also uses a drawing by French symbolist Odilon Redon on the cover that I’m kind of fond of.
The Sheffield gig included all of the songs you would want (well, except Back to Nature maybe). We had Shot By Both Sides, The Light Pours Out Of Me, Permafrost (introduced as a song about unorthodox sex), Motorcade & Definitive Gaze. They also played some of the tracks from the new record whose names I haven’t registered yet.
Magazine always had a sound beyond the yelp of punk and on occasion suffered comparison to some of the prog rock bands. Maybe this is because the songs lasted more than three minutes or the subjects matter of the songs was in some cases couched in mystery. Maybe it was the skilful keyboard playing. Who knows, I still see the influences of the early seventies. Besides, they wrote great songs.
The band still has its signature sound including the snaky, funky bass of Adamson played by new bassist ‘Stan’. Noko is a proper rock guitarist with jumps and all and gives McGeochs choppy riffy lines an authentic rendition. ‘Shot’ & ‘Light’ are two of the best punk/pop tunes and went down with lots of appreciation and slightly aged pogoing from the not as young as it was audience.
Howard Devoto still cuts a strange and eccentric figure. Dressed in kimono shirt and occasionally wielding placards, he has lost some of the sarcastic snarl of the past but still performs with commitment to the songs. His voice (especially on the new album) has lost a bit of range but given that I can’t flick rubber bands with same accuracy that I once did I’ll let him off. Lyrically the new album is interesting. One song is an homage to the agony of Mr Curtis & Mr Cobain whilst ‘Other Thematic Material’ sounds the like the thoughts of a distracted man at a dull dinner party. He might no longer be ‘angry and ill and ugly as sin’ but his ‘irritability keeps him alive & kicking’. The track ‘Holy Dotage’ still packs a few volts of power chords and the album is definitely worth a listen.
I can only see that they are doing three gigs on this session but if they add more dates and you want to see a really talented group and hear some amazing songs get a ticket.
Here’s the band back in 1977 on TOTP doing ‘Shot by Both Sides’. I would have been 13 I guess and quite impressed.
….and this is more now-ish from Jool’s and Later. The Light Pours Out of Me…..
Check out ‘De Dum, De Dum’ on You Tube for a slightly cut up but watchable documentary by Tony Wilson including interviews with Pete Shelly and Howard Devoto. ‘Time flies, time crawls… ‘