Friday, 13 February 2009

"I am angry, I am ill and I'm as ugly as sin..."

I am still quivering with excitement. How can this be? I mean, it's only music, right? And I left the venue over 12 hours ago.

I've not written much about live music here and I know the prospect of me 'reviewing' gigs on my blog frankly fills you as well me with dread and ennui - or "On wee wee" as Robyn and I call it. But here's the thing, I went to see Magazine last night and it was the best show I've in seen in, well, years.

Now before you point out that I am, like so many 40 somethings, lowing myself into the Radox bath of nostalgia let me assure that it really wasn't about that. Sure, I loved Magazine when I was younger (although unlike the Buzzcocks, I never saw them live) and the reason I bought tickets for myself, my brother and my wife was largely fueled by nostalgic curiosity.

But by the time we got to the HMV Forum - Christ, when did HMV get into bed with the Forum? I have clearly not been paying enough attention. They are paying Mama Group, who own a whole load of venues (including Hammersmith Apollo where I saw the Buzzcocks - 31 years ago!) over £18million for a 50% stake - surely there is no greater indication of where the CD trade is going than a record shop getting into the live business...

Anyway, so we walked through snow to the HMV Forum and outside, as I expected, were many many men of a certain age. My brother met us there, he hadn't been to the venue for so long I'd had to describe it to him as the Town & Country Club and I suspect that many ticket holders last night were in the same boat. Odd then, that our means of entry were E tickets made on my printer at home - and it was fitting that the Dyson-sized scanner by the box office refused to work and they had to manually punch our ticket numbers in. Yes! Back to nature etc.

When I did a Front Row column about reunion gigs recently, I imagined what the Magazine crowd would look like and pictured the cover of the Curb Your Enthusiasm box set - a sea of shiny domed Larry Davids. That was exactly what it was like. Going to events like this should make me feel old but I felt young. Or younger than the rest of the crowd anyway. Maybe everyone feels like this and that's the reason why they go - they can look at everyone else and think - "ha! unlucky - look how badly they've aged and me, well, I've still got it. I am adorable compared to these chumps."

If it had been just myself and my brother we would have been dairnner front, I promise. Well, maybe. But I confess, we sat down upstairs, how very old of us. But we did this largely so Robyn could see; old punks in their late 40s and 50s seem to much bigger and rangier than younger music fans. I noticed this at a Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros gig years ago and my theory at the time was that they had been given free school milk when they were kids in the 60s. Even I would have struggled to see over their shoulders, so Robyn wouldn't have had a hope.

Placed on each seat upstairs was the first indication that this reunion show was decidedly not a run of the mill affair: a beautifully presented Malcolm Garrett-designed flyer illustrating the merchandise available in the venue and online. OK, so you could argue that the £50 man is being exploited - and indeed the posters cost exactly that amount of money. But the fact is, this merchandise was incredibly well thought-out and had no whiff of tack or tat about it. Being more of a 50p man these days, I bought a mug for a fiver with "I know the meaning of life" on one side and "it doesn't help me a bit" on the other in a Malcolm Garrett font. Genius. I'm drinking coffee out of it as I write this.

I won't give you a blow by blow account of the show - you'll be able to get those from the proper grown-up reviews. I'll put a link to Pete Paphides' review in The Times when it comes through, as he made use of my Devoto anal retention plus I suggested a little tweak for his final line which he was gracious enough to accept. Incidentally, earlier this week he asked me to write a piece in tomorrow's Saturday Review about the BRITs and the British music industry - I foolishly wrote it in the voice and style I use here so it needed some serious tweakage, which he did for me and still let me take the lion's share of the credit. What a chap.

What I will say about the Magazine show is this: Howard Devoto where have you been? For someone who has apparently been working in a picture library for the last 20 years or so, there is absolutely no rust on his performance and he moves like a dancer.

Before they come onstage, the lights go down and we hear his disembodied voice - serious and yet with an ironic lilt to it as if to say "I know this is a bit of fun but let's pretend it's really sombre and see what happens" - he explains Dave Formula's phone call which snowballed the reunion.

Then out of darkness we see a youthful skinny-tied John Doyle who picks up his sticks and begins the military tattoo of The Light Pours Out Of Me. Then more light on... fuck me Barry Adamson looks amazing! Rake thin, top hat, shades! Then another spotlight on Noko who manages to be dressed entirely in red and not look like a twat. "If I was his partner and he told me he planned to dress all in red" says Robyn, "I would have said, 'honey, don't do it to yourself' but he's rocking that look!" He also manages to completely nail every John McGeoch nuance. Then Formula - the man who put it all together - mounts his podium-full of analogue keyboards, wearing a trilby at a rakish angle, by which time we've noticed the amazing Linder-designed backdrop which recreates the Real Life artwork but adds many more faces. And then finally in three quarter-length black peddle pushers, sailing shoes and an enormous Bond villain white dinner jacket comes Devoto to deafening applause: "Time flies..." Indeed it does, Howard, 28 years.

The rest of the set is a proper selection of all the songs any fan would want bar an inexplicably missing Give Me Everything. They do a smattering of B sides (Twenty Years Ago, I Love You You Big Dummy) and Devoto is balletic and graceful visually and throws in several of his trademark asides ("Here's a song about anger, duplicity and frozen desserts").They get a standing ovation and bow with arms around one another like they've just played Madison Square Garden.

I never realised I knew every word of Model Worker, Song From Under The Floorboards or even the spoken word Kafka-lite b-side The Book off by heart. But I did and I sang along and whooped and realised a million things about Magazine and myself and the world. I never realised quite how funky they were, what good musical taste (the choices of cover - Sly Stone, Captain Beefheart...) how timeless, how timely, how many female backing vocals they used (and how perfect the Ipso Facto singer was for them), how great it is to see a bald man be so cool, and just how huge Morrissey's debt to them is.

Not Joy Division, not the Smiths, not the Stone Roses - beyond Manchester: it all starts and ends here.


  1. Ah, Magazine. They actually introduced me to Dostoevsky, when I read in NME that Song from Under the Floorboards was an alternative translation of Notes from Underground, which I went right out and bought.

    And just last week, asked for my favourite lyric, I plumped unhesitatingly not for the complete works of Bowie and Springsteen, but for that single line: "Time flies/Time crawls/Like an insect/Up and down the walls."

    It's the sub in me I guess!

    Sounds a great night, wish I'd been there.

  2. Dominic, don't get me started on what they got me reading - "I could have been Raskolnikov but Mother Nature ripped me off!"

    My hunch is if the mini tour goes as well as Thursday night then I think you may get your chance to see them in a field this summer. It would be a crime for them not to be seen by more people.

  3. Sounds fantastic. I remember being pretty knocked out by them myself back in the day.

    I think sometimes bands just have to get back together to remind people how it's really done.

    I saw The Magic Band a couple of years back, and believe me there is no other band on this planet who could play that stuff. It just made everything else look stupid.

  4. It wasn't all old gits like you and me there Ben. There were plently of student types where I was standing with my fifteen year old son (his second ever gig and he loved it I'm glad to say).

    I agree that they have to do the festival circuit this year, but I think they're going to have to go for a more crowd pleasing selection of songs - can't see The Book going down a storm at Glastonbury. On the other hand I Love You You Big Dummy could be the surprise live hit of the summer.

  5. Ben - I'm just too envious and was just too late to get tickets so have made do with replays on the ipod. The title to the blog was enough to send the shivers... Luke

  6. Andy, your son's second gig and he is 15 - get him out more! Thank you for introducing me to Fuck You, Penguin!

    Luke, I feel like I was showing off being there - but it was great!

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