Music Features

Magazine: Live at The Academy, Manchester

Let’s stop before we begin. If you’re unfamiliar with the works of Magazine, then I really recommend you go buy their first three albums immediately. Or at least a compilation if you’re skint. See, if you know little of them (or maybe only the Shot By Both Sides single) then you’re missing out.

Or you can chose you read on with the rest of us, it’s up to you. Really, though, you're missing out. Take it from someone who spent the first 25-odd years of his life missing out.

To recap: Magazine, formed in 1977 by Howard Devoto, recorded three albums of absolute genius. This wasn’t as difficult as it sounds, because alongside the enigmatic frontman, there were three other geniuses in the band: guitarist John McGeogh, bassist Barry Adamson and keyboard whiz Dave Formula. Real Life, Secondhand Daylight and The Correct Use of Soap poured with the kind of songwriting and playing wizardry the rest of us would kill for, but seemed effortless to this bunch. You’d almost hate them for it if they hadn’t been so bloody good.

Yet the public didn’t quite take them for their hearts at the time. Like Gang of Four, their singles never reached the lofty heights of the top 40 and it’s taken nearly 30 years for the momentum to swing back in their favour. That they’ve chosen now to make their reappearance is apparently down to Formula having everyone guest on his album. Perhaps the appraisal of them in Simon Reynold’s Rip It Up and Start Again helped; maybe they just need the money? Does it matter? Even if it was the latter, if anyone deserves a decent payday, it’s these guys.

And that’s why I paid £23 to jaunt on down to the Academy. A quick scan around the bar pre-gig seems to give the feel of 80/20 split between those who were there first time round and those of us hoping for a taste of a time before ours. It’s a sell out – this is a homecoming gig, after all – and further dates have been added. My friend is buzzing, as he was 16 in 1980 and he tells me that Magazine, for some reason, had a strict policy of "over 18s" for their live shows back in the day.

Support band Ipso Facto play the standard half hour support slot. Armed with a striking look (all in similar black dresses and haircuts that remind me of the singer from Swing Out Sister), they’ve still to back it up with songs that linger in the memory. However, two of them will go on to play a role in the main attraction by providing backing vocals sporadically through the set.

In the minutes leading up to 9.15, there is a sense of anticipation I’ve not felt at a gig for a long time. Maybe ever. And as the lights go down and the PA fades into The Thin Air, the applause begins.

Devoto’s voice appears over the PA. He informs us that he’s involved in all this in an attempt to impress a woman. Fair enough. Whether she’d be taken with his outfit – a pink jacket and trousers cut halfway between knee and foot – is another issue altogether. The others, somewhat mercifully, have taken on a far more stylish approach: Adamson in top hat, shades and waistcoat, drummer John Doyle in shirt and tie, Formula in a nice hat and guitarist Noko in a fetching red suit.

It’s Noko who has the hardest job of the night, that of filling the boots of John McGeogh. One of the finest guitarists of his time (on leaving Magazine in 1980, he played with Visage, Sioxuse and the Banshees and Public Image Limited), his death in 2004 has left a tint of sadness in the show. Noko, to his immense credit, does the man’s memory proud, nailing the riffs with great skill and passion.

From the opening beats of The Light Pours Out of Me, the whole band sounds incredibly tight. Devoto’s vocals sound as energetic as they did in 1978 and the whole room grooves as one. Adamson barely stands still throughout and Formula switches between his numerous keyboards with the energy of a kid.
Somewhat naturally, this is a ‘greatest hits’ show, with the odd rarity thrown in. Most notable of this is an appearance of the b-side The Book, which Devoto performs whilst stood behind his own pulpit, before the band slides into 20 Years Ago with absolute gusto. It’s a genuine joy to watch a group really getting into their performance: there’s no posing, no effort to take things too seriously. Each of the five men in front of us has a wide smile on their faces.

So, we move through The Great Beautician In The Sky, Definitive Gaze, Rhythm of Cruelty, I Want To Burn Again etc etc. We sing the words and scream our appreciation until we’re hoarse. To pick out highlights would be to neglect the show as a whole.

We can ask questions as to what will happen after this tour. More shows? New songs? For now, it doesn't matter. I'm just happy I was there. We can argue over the value of such nostalgic affairs - and there's more to come with the Specials, Comsat Angels and Wild Swans all making a return to action - but for us young 'uns, it's just a pleasure to see our heroes do their thing.

Alright, so we can feel a little peeved that some of our personal favourites didn’t get an airing (My Tupla, Back to Nature and I’m A Party being my own) but when they take their bow after finishing with I Love You, You Dummy, an appropriate choice for Valentine’s Day, and we fall out in the Manchester night, nobody's complaining. We were just glad to be there.