22 February 2009

Three Little Words: Life As A Magazine

"I wish everybody could see your faces
I wish everybody could see mine."

Mix ironic ego, misanthropy and some funky architect glasses and you have Howard Devoto, who lately starred as a toilet attendant but is otherwise completely preoccupied with filing photographs. Once upon a time he fronted a group named Magazine. They were good. Fucking amazing, actually.

The first Magazine record I heard was not until two years on in their career. It was called Play and was a live LP. I hated live records, thanks to Peter Frampton. But this one was strange. Barry Adamson's bass played funk, but funk reimagined as a block of solid blue ice. Dave Formula's keyboards provided a demented version of prog rock conceived by a Butlins musician on acid (they were, you know). Robin Simon's guitar tried to pretend that the whole thing was still related to punk. John Doyle held down the fort with a solid back-beat. And the singer snarled in a way that recalled Johnny Rotten at a conference on land redevelopment.

I listened to the record and couldn't find any way into its labyrinth. It was so accomplished that it couldn't be a lark, so hermetically it's own thing that it couldn't be any other. It was cut off from antecedents. But the service was very, very good.

So I kept listening and eventually "got it". Then followed other records sporadically, first working forward in time to Magic, Murder And The Weather, the terminal vinyl. And then working back to Real Life, which wasn't real at all but was certainly alive in strange, unheard of ways.

Magazine never shot blanks but never took sides either. Were they the logical progression from the punk of Buzzcocks, whose debut Devoto had co-created and then fled? Were they something topically and typically Mancunian, a big joke about housing estates and existentialism? Were they James Bond fans in mufti? Were they would-be architects and photo archivists? Were they a sly expression of the worst in progressive rock tendencies? Were they so pretentious as to imagine they could be all these things at exactly the same point in time and space?

Last night I met Howard in a dream. And he said "Someday you will meet me in a dream and I will reveal to you the secrets of life." Immediately after that utterance I woke up. David Lynch was in my face with a digital camera. So I kicked him in the kneecap and swore in Polish.

Everyone woke up pleased. Howard most of all.

-- Second Chameleon

The most obscure item in the official Magazine catalogue is a live album recorded at The Paris Theatre on 22 November 1978 and broadcast on the BBC six days later. Windsong International (er, who?) issued it on CD in 1993 as BBC Radio 1 In Concert. It's very short and must have only represented that part of the gig the BBC decided to carry on their airwaves. Undoubtedly the entire concert is in the can somewhere. It's not a patch on Play but is great to hear in any case. Five of the tracks are from the debut Real Life from earlier that year. "Back To Nature" would appear on the sophomore LP.

Enjoy this rarity, despite the small glitch on track 1.


BBC Radio 1 In Concert
01 Definitive Gaze (4:21)
02 Great Beautician In The Sky (5:16)
03 Give Me Everything (4:47)
04 My Tulpa (5:06)
05 Back To Nature (6:04)
06 Shot By Both Sides (5:12)
UK CD Windsong International [WIN CD 040] 1993


  1. what a nice choice; thank you

  2. Took me years to get this record. One copy used to sit unheralded, for some insanely inflated price, in Sam The Record Man (I think it was) on Yonge Street in Toronto. I never bought it.

    Glad it is appreciated now.

  3. Oh to have your entire output summarized by something so sublime as "Play". If anyone should be unfortunate enough not to own a copy then beg borrow or steal. After 28 years it still sends shivers where they ought to go.
    The 12" of "About The Weather" is a perfect companion piece.

  4. When punk kicked off the live stuff on the BBC was limited to 30 minutes for some reason though before that they were always an hour. They probably thought the average punks attention span didn't stretch to an hour. I remember there was an excellent 1/2 hour show from ACR around the same time so if you've got it.........

  5. thanx for this BBC In Concert!
    "Secondhand Daylight" & "Play" were true gems from the fall of the 70's.