Mick Middles September 2 2009
Just like Len Brown! Well, he blogged in this arena….admitting to feeling strange to be watching Magazine, in Manchester, in 2009.
Odd indeed and odder still, to catch them again, six months later in the same city. Different venue this time thou…profoundly so. On Saturday it was Manchester’s dignified, musicianly Bridgewater Hall. If Paul Morley’s recent diversion onto contemporary orchestral music is to be taken as a serious post-rock diversion – and, having suffered the wails and strains of Snape Maltings, I’m not convinced – then The Bridgewater Hall would be the perfect venue for a post-rock vision.
In February, the band seemed refreshingly vigorous and outrageously joyful….at The Bridgewater Hall they were one step beyond blindingly unique. How so?
It was impossible not to be affected by the ghosts of Manchester. Impossible not to hurtle back to the band’s initial stirrings, down in the elongated cellar of Rafters, deep in the post-punk fug. So this was Howard Devoto’s fast and slow music? So this was some kind of future? It didn’t appear so, even then. I do recall, and word for word, enjoying an exchange with the aforementioned Mr Morley – actually at a Crass gig at The Factory Club, I recall correctly – during which the NME man proclaimed Magazine to be ‘treading into the past’. I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or not. After all, we were lost in a rather dizzying mess of messy, pseudo avant garde, whether fizzed up electronic darlings or jagged white boy funk. The edge, or lack of musicality parading as the edge, seemed all consuming in that moment. Why should we respect a man – Howard Devoto – who leapt from the fray and scrambled back to warming pre punk base? This band had drifted back to the shadows of Roxy Music…Be Bop Deluxe perhaps. Pr Dr Feelgood, let alone pre Sex Pistols. Sounded good though. Sounded pretty. Sounded literate and fun.
Oddly…most oddly, it sounds even more powerful here, now, in an unfolding 2009. The Bridgewater Hall set was spiced by an ancient and stupid war. The silvered ex punks, 50 something’s staging a puerile we-have-a-right-to-dance battle against those who, having paid to sit and enjoy the Bridgewater comforts, did not wish to retreat to the pogoing frenzy of 1978. I felt rather embarrassed at that. Lumpen Mancs dancing and mouthing…
But the band…astonished by the welcome afforded them in Britain, in Spain and beyond, seem to have attained a new and welcome level, where Howard Devoto, once rather lost in seriousness, now seemed to relish a new humorous stance. It was a joy…more so, because ‘Shot by Both Sides’ was hauntingly conspicuous by it’s absence.
“That was the first time we have played a show and have not played ‘Shot’,” stated keyboardist Dave Formula, in the Bridgewater’s sterile backstage bar area.
“We just decided not to play it today, just to see how it felt.”
And just how does it feel, we enquired, to be so WANTED again?
“Just utterly bewildering,” he replied.
“We only really got together for those two initial gigs…but we are rolling towards…towards…I don’t know.”
Initially, at least, Magazine are rolling towards a Dave Formula solo album, due in the spring. But beyond that, and perhaps because of it, the inevitability of a new and original Magazine album now seems so temptingly in view.
“Maybe…we haven’t really spoken. But Howard has worked with me on my album and, well, if he were to write songs for a new Magazine album…well..I don’t know.”
Howard Devoto himself was, as one would expect, somewhat more cryptic, preferring to reply questions with polite and smiling detachment.
“I may ring you yet,” he answered, when I informed in that, in 1977, he had promised me an interview. (For popzine ‘Ghast Up’, I think.
Barry Adamson, oikish and fun, confessed to “,,,being really nervous before this gig in particular…scary hall,” although memories of his own triumphant ‘evening’ at Salford’s equally elegant Lowry Theatre, three years ago, bubbled in my memory. And it was the lush, dense sensuality of Adamson’s separate career – Manchester’s silent genius – that perhaps holds the true key to Magazine’s curious relevance in 2009. With the entire band, it seems, there is now an unforced air…with nothing to prove, with nowhere to go perhaps, and freed from pressure of expectation, they have relaxed into style. They have found themselves.
I remind myself of just how distant this band – Devoto in particular – have seemed in the past. I also remain fully aware that the welcoming air in the ‘aftershow’ was more the result of the old friendships they share with my companion of the evening, Lindsay Reade, than with myself. But it didn’t matter.
Magazine are relevant. More so, than ever…and certainly much more fun. Who would have thought? Who would have thought?