11.20.2008

Magazine Reforming/Howard Devoto Backstory

howard_devoto

If you are a fan of the band Magazine, then you can probably relate to my mix of excitement and disappointment upon hearing that they are getting back together for the first time since their 1980 breakup. Excitement, at the thought of one of the most important and influential bands of all time reforming. Disappointment, at the realization that, like so much seemingly good news, there is a down side. There will be only two reunion shows. Both shows will take place in the UK. Magazine will be playing The Forum in London on February 13th, and the next night, February 14th, at The Academy in Manchester. If anyone out there has a secret crush on me, you are encouraged and implored to send me a plane ticket and a concert ticket for either night in lieu of a Valentine, flowers, or chocolates.

The story of Magazine founder, Howard Devoto, or at least the part of the story that matters in this context, begins with a show that has often been referred to as "The Gig That Changed The World." The gig in question; the June 1976 Sex Pistols show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall. The most generous estimates have the turnout at 35-40 people. However, amongst the attendees were an all-star line-up of future punk, post-punk, and new wave giants, including Devoto and soon-to-be Buzzcocks bandmate Pete Shelley, future Smiths vocalist/lyricist, Morrissey, the men who would become Joy Division (and later New Order), and Mark E Smith, who would soon start The Fall. All of them have cited this show as one of their greatest motivations to form bands.

Devoto and Shelley started The Buzzcocks almost immediately after the show. They were, without a doubt, a punk band. But, they brought a certain melodicism and songcraft to their pieces that still had it's feet firmly planted in pop. As such, they are often cited as the first pop-punk band ever. Though one would be hard pressed to draw much of a comparison to most of the garbage that gets tagged with that label anymore. Devoto only stuck with The Buzzcocks for one (very good) EP, Spiral Scratch, and, in 1977 he left the band.

He sought to expand on the rather limited punk format by adding new instruments, such as saxophone and keyboards, without abandoning the punch and immediacy of the genre. The result was his teaming up with John McGeoch (guitar/sax), Barry Adamson (bass), Dave Formula (keyboards), and Martin Jackson (drums), to form Magazine. Their output includes a handful of singles and EPs, three essential LPs (Real Life, Second Hand Daylight, and The Correct Use of Soap), a live album that suffers from shoddy production value, and a very unessential LP (Magic, Murder and the Weather) that prefaced their demise.

The tracks contained on these recordings document the experimentation and discoveries of a band on the early edge of the post-punk and art-rock movements. Lyrically, they are biting, witty, and poetic. Musically, they feature the dark, paranoid, angular guitar work that is still associated with the post-punk of today, and a wash of keys that was predictive of the 80s new wave craze that was just around the bend.

Devoto went on to a spotty solo career, and the so-so (at best) Luxuria, after Magazine disbanded. And, while his former Buzzcocks mates have reformed to renewed success, he has been markedly absent from the music scene for some time now, adding that much more anticipation to the Magazine reunion shows. Here's to hoping that these shows go well enough that the boys decide to stick around for a bit longer and maybe (keeping my fingers crossed) play a few dates on this side of the pond.

Here are YouTube links to videos of Magazine performing some of their classic songs:

"Shot By Both Sides" on Top of the Pops.


"Definitive Gaze" on Old Grey Whistle Test.


"Permafrost" in concert.
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7 comments:

  1. I agree about Magazine but disagree strongly regarding Luxuria. The first Luxuria album is a masterpiece and took up where Correct Use of Soap left off...the second album was more the equivalent of Magic, Murder and the Weather, although there are some excellent songs on both of those lesser efforts. Both Luxuria and Magazine were remarkable live.

    xo Jessina

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  2. Thanks for the comment Jessina. Sounds like I'll have to give that first Luxuria album another shot. It's been years since I heard it and what I wrote was based on how I remembered it. But things change with time. So, there's always a chance my opinion will be different.

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  3. I agree with Jessina. Luxuria may be a little uneven but albums have spots of brilliance every bit as good as Magazine. Definitely worth a listen. - Andrew in Florida

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  4. Andrew in Florida/Jessina-
    I gave Luxuria another try today, for the first time in years. I have to say that while those albums aren't as poor as I remembered them to be, I'm still not a big fan at all. It must just be a matter of personal taste, which makes sense if you note in my write-up that I'm much more partial to the earlier Devoto-related projects. Oh well, that's the great thing about music though, and art in general. Everybody walks away from a piece with their own unique perspective!

    Thanks for taking the time to visit this site.

    -ChrisD

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  5. Hi,

    Went to the forum gig last night - absolutely brilliant - the boys sounded very tight, professional, and looked like they were enjoying themselves immensely.

    Played a mixture of early and later stuff, but not to my recollection, anything from magic, murder etc.

    So blown away with last nights gig, my mate and i are going to try to buy a scalp ticket for tonight's gig!

    Juleski

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  6. Hi Chris - pretty much agreed with everything you had to say except the disparaging comment re Magic, Murder and the Weather. Just to let you know, I was at he Magazine gig on Friday (Feb 13) in London and This Poison (from MM&TW) was simply stunning. By the way, the rest of the gig showed that if Magazine were ahead of their time...then their time is now. An astounding concert.

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  7. I have been a fan for more than 25 years and I find myself continually going back to Magazine for an inspiring mix of lyrics and musicianship. Barry Adamson's bass lines are stunning, John McGeoch guitar work is innovative (listen to the end of Philadephia), and Barry Formula is the icing. I recently download from a blog demos for the Real Life album and they blew me away. If you love Magazine, try to track these demos down. Fascinating, especially the song "Sandwiches" which became My Mind Ain't So Open. Their sounds have brought me countless hours of enjoyment ( and I have bought all of their releases including the great boxed set Maybe It's Right to Be Nervous Now from Sister Ray in London.)

    Harold
    San Jose, CA

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