HOWARD DEVOTO AND MAGAZINE:
BACK ON THE STANDS!
As if thirty years had never even happened.
Howard Devoto and his band Magazine, reformed for live shows in 2009, and have just released their first new material since their last album in 1981.
Picking right up where things left off, Magazine have always been a band that sounded fresh, smart, relevant, and illustriously special.
Now with their new album No Thyself, the band has the ability to reinsert themselves into the current musical climate, which will hopefully garner them a new audience, new accolades, and acknowledgement that they are truly one of the great groups to come out of the U.K.
Magazine's origins begin with the background of the legendary and starkly original vocalist/songwriter Howard Devoto.
In 1976, Howard Devoto (originally Howard Trafford, he changed his name to that of a Cambridge bus driver), an aspiring electronic musician obsessed with the Velvet Underground song "Sister Ray" at Manchester's Bolton Institute of Technology, placed an ad up at the school looking for other musicians. The ad was answered by Pete Shelley (born Peter McNeish) a rock fan and musician. The two formed the band Buzzcocks after seeing the headline "it's the buzz, cocks!" for a tv show review in a magazine. "Buzz" meant the excitement of playing live, and "cocks" was Manchester slang for a mate, or friend.
|Early Buzzcocks with Howard Devoto
The name Buzzcocks (no "the" was ever a part of their name, just like there is no "the" for the band Talking Heads) had a ring of the frenzy and thrill that could align themselves with the nascent punk rock scene they were reading about in the N.M.E. music paper who had reviewed the first Sex Pistols show in London.
After traveling to London to see and meet the Sex Pistols, Devoto and Shelley arranged a concert for them back in their city of Manchester at the historical Lesser Free Trade Hall.
To an audience of less than 42 people, the concert would also become a concert of legend that would subsequently help to spurn on the punk rock movement in Manchester, the rest of England and be one of those apocryphal shows where most of the audience themselves went on to noteworthy musical careers based out of Manchester: Mark E. Smith (The Fall), Tony Wilson (founder of Factory Records), Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner (Joy Division, New Order), Morrisey (The Smiths), Martin Hannett (producer), Paul Morley (music journalist) and Mick Hucknall (Simply Red).
Devoto's time in Buzzcocks would include some live shows, writing and recording demos and the release of the Martin Hannett produced Spiral Scratch E.P. featuring the single "Boredom." Spiral Scratch became the first punk rock record to be released independently of a record label in the U.K and "Boredom" one of the early punk rock singles to help define a musical movement.
Devoto quit Buzzcocks and went back to college before forming another group in early 1977 that he namedMagazine along with guitarist John McGeoch. The intention of Magazine was to not be restricted by the narrow confines he saw and heard happening in punk rock.
Bassist Barry Adamson soon joined and the band singed with Virgin Records releasing their debut single "Shot By Both Sides" a punk fueled song which reached #41 on the British charts in 1978 and featured a guitar riff written by his old bandmate Pete Shelley (also the riff to the Buzzcocks' song "Lipstick").
By the time of their debut album Real Life (1978), Magazine had a new member in place that would forever color their sound.
Keyboardist Dave Formula, whose inimitable playing on his electric grand piano as well as utilizing a variety of other synths such as strings, would solidify the the band and enable Magazine to reach far beyond any punk, becoming one of the earlier purveyors of Post-Punk, with a fusion of Pop, Soundtracks, Goth, Funk, Progressive Rock and Avant Garde elements, as well as Devoto's atypical highly personalized lyric explorations and distinctive singing style.
All of Magazine's subsequent albums, Secondhand Daylight (1979), The Correct Use of Soap (1980) and Magic, Murder and The Weather (1981) continued to be stellar and are essential.
An appearance in the phenomenal music film Urgh! A Music War (released 1982, filmed in 1980) stuns as the band performs "Model Worker" from their The Correct Use Of Soap. For a time, at least, it seemed the band could only climb to higher levels of success and notoriety.
It didn't happen.
Original guitarist McGeogh's departure from the band after the third album (low sales and less guitar based songs caused him to join Souxie and the Banshees) had many fans disliking the final album "Magic.." He was temporarily replaced with former Ultravox guitarist Robin Simon. For myself, this final album stands equally among their others as another classic. Magazine's sound continued to expand and develope, encompassing Motown rhythms such as on the single "About The Weather" and even surf rock.
Nevertheless, the strain of finding the perfect replacement for McGeogh had Devoto calling it quits in 1981. For the the rest of the band, a Devoto-less Magazine, was unthinkable.
Devoto later made a wonderful solo album Jerky Versions Of The Dream (1983) and started up another band called Luxuria, while his bandmates all performed with other notable groups (Adamson with The Birthday Partyand Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Dave Formula with Visage) and worked on their own solo projects. Eventually, Devoto would leave the music business completely.
Meanwhile, for thirty years, Magazine has been coveted, covered and stated as a major influence on many acts such including Morrisey, Ministry and Peter Murphy plus the high profile championing from Radiohead, who covered Shot By Both Sides in concert and probably "lifted" a riff from Magazine's "A Song From Under The Floorboards" for their 1995 single "Just."
In 2008 Devoto and Magazine decided to reform for a few shows in 2009. These shows were sold out to huge acclaim and the band continued to perform at festivals an venues along with a series called The Soap Show were they played the entire third album as well as other material from their catalog. Taking the place of John McGeogh who passed away in 2004 was guitarist Noko from Luxuria.
Although Barry Adamson left to pursue his film soundtrack and solo work, this year the band recorded and released No Thyself, a collection of songs that leave no fan—past, present or future—unsatisfied.
No Thyself is yet another Magazine gem, a fifth album that continues the band's story as the next outstanding chapter, rather than having any hint of embarrassment, with the ongoing, highly personalized lyric writing that only belongs to Howard Devoto.
On "Hello Mr. Curtis (with apologies)" Devoto writes a letter of apology to the late Ian Curtis of Joy Division and the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, musing that perhaps they were the bravest ones to end it early, but realizing that he'll more than likely die like a King (Elvis that is) on "... some Godforsaken toilet." He's more than happy to be alive, but still wonders, as he sings a line from The Who's "My Generation" "Hope I die before I get old."
As it often is with the best art, the album is not especially an easy listen at first, but in time becomes something special and extremely varied, allowing Devoto to mock himself, others and analyze the riches, or more often, the shortcomings of his life to a funky, dark, brooding, sweet, post punk rock and elliptical black humor pop sound.
Magazine went away for a long time, but thankfully the subscription has been renewed for many years to come...