Viva Howie! Magazine’s Far From Slight Return Reviewed

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You get the message ~ after three blogs in a week, you will have realised that I am a Magazine fan. Last night saw their first London date in 27 years or so and you might ask if someone who still knows every note and word of their five albums the best judge of a comeback? Middle-aged men in search of their youth at best; at worst a cynical cash-in?

I would argue that it is those who love them most who, in such cases, are the best judges. It is our memories that are in danger of being mangled into something best forgotten.

The word on the (Kentish Town) street was optimistic. The Oxford performance, their first in all this time, two nights ago, was by all accounts excellent. However, the Oxford show was not at the venue with the worst sound system in the world. Those who were at the Sonics gig last easter will never forget the appalling mess that destroyed what could have been a pretty good, if not great, show.

From what I hear of Ipso Facto, the support, it is worrying. Not the music, the sound. From the merch stand, it would appear that the band, maybe fifty metres away, sound like they are playing in an aircraft hangar somewhere in Euston. A soundproofed hangar at that.

We would have to get nearer to the front. We got ourselves stage right, maybe seven rows back. As it turned out, the sound although by no means great, could have been a hell of a lot worse.

As the lights went out, around about 9.15pm, The Thin Air, a brooding, ethereal, melancholy piece fills the room. Track one, side two of their Secondhand Daylight album, it’s one I always used to skip over as a fifteen year old, but now I can appreciate its beauty. Except that doesn’t quite come over, but I promise no more about the bloody sound system.

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A voice is heard off stage. We know the moment has arrived. An unmistakable voice speaks to us from offstage. Howard Devoto unarguably pop’s greatest librarian intones a cryptic, erudite welcome, a justification in wordy prose of this band’s need to play once more, ending with; “personally speaking, there’s a woman I need to impress”.

The Light Pours Out of Me, one of this band’s several mini-masterpiece’s opens the set, not one that I’d expected so early. Howard Devoto, particularly as he has been pretty reclusive this last quarter of a century, looked to be having a ball. He minced around the stage like a four-year-old at his birthday party with the world’s biggest scalextric. Dressed in collarless shirt and pale pink jacket, he waved his arms about as if at the Albert Hall, performed an impromptu ballet in Definitive Gaze, one moment a soaring seagull, the next a fully-clothed member of the Michael Clark Company. Why, I swear he even demonstrated Fleming’s Left-Hand Rule with outstretched arm at one point. He appeared fit, healthy and happy, he even announced that “I am Adam Faith”. This was clearly a man having a whale of a time and good for him.

This was a band with an important legacy. Not too many realised this back in 1982. There was too much else going on around the time they called it a day. They were even considered a little old-hat. Time, however, sorts these things out. Magazine were important. “We are still Magazine” Howard assured us, Magazine are important, despite the loss of guitarist John McGeoch, who died in 2004. He was poignantly remembered as you can see in the clip below.

Bassist Barry Adamson, did nothing to betray a reputation as one of the coolest dudes on the planet, with his distinctive brooding bass lines, top hat, waistcoat (with watch chain ~ it’s all in the detail) and open-necked shirt.

Dave Formula commanded his consul of Hammond, electric piano and various synthy things with deft mastery and all the ease of walking a dog. The unsung drummer John Doyle was spot-on. His style is not spectacular, to be so would not work in this band of virtuosi, but it wasn’t until last night that I realised just how good he was.

This leaves guitarist Noko who had a near-impossible task of covering for one of the Greats. It would be churlish to say he was no McGeoch; why, Devoto is no Sinatra, but I hope it isn’t damning with faint praise to say that he was more than adequate. He was very good; just not McGeoch, and that says more about the late guitarist than it does about Noko I hope.

I’ve said more than enough. Haven’t even told what songs they played. They played them all, as you’d expect, with perhaps Back to Nature and Give me Everything the only major omissions (I would also have loved About the Weather or I Wanted Your Heart).

So, was it worth it? You bet your ass it was worth it. “We are still Magazine.” And long may that be so. You were wonderful, darlings. Thanks.

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