Magazine – Devoto Devotees
The light etc etc
Magazine – Devoto Devotees

Howard Devoto left Buzzcocks in February 1977, already disillusioned with Punk Rock. “Spiral Scratch” (Mute – Scratch1CD) & the “Times Up” bootleg (Mute – Scratch2CD) were behind him by then. The blank pages that stared up at him from the future he christened: Magazine.

One of Devoto’s reasons for leaving Buzzcocks was cited as his desire to return to college to concentrate on his further education – though it soon became apparent that instead what he really wanted to do was intellectualise what he saw as a vaguely moronic scene with a new kind of rock & roll fired by the energy of Punk - but without the Neanderthal spittle it was fast drowning beneath.

A statement issued in February 1977 by Devoto read:

“I don’t like most of this new wave music. I don’t like music. I don’t like movements. Despite all that, things still have to be said. But I am not confident of Buzzcocks intention to get out of the dry land of new waveness to a place from which these things could be said. What was once unhealthily fresh is now a clean old hat”.

What more could one expect from the man who, on meeting Iggy Pop, presented him with a copy of “Spiral Scratch” with the words: “I’ve got all your records – now you’ve got all of mine”.

Devoto wasted little time & placed an advert (as he had done when forming Buzzcocks) seeking new musicians to play “fast & slow music”. Barry Adamson (bass), Bob Dickenson (keys), Martin Jackson (drums) & John McGeoch (gtr) – all relatively unknown & unconnected musicians – were duly recruited. Six months later Magazine made their live debut alongside Buzzcocks in October of 1977 at the last night of Manchester’s legendary Electric Circus.

Magazine’s early demo recordings were quickly picked up by a highly active Virgin Records (flushed by their Pistols success & signing anything with Punk pedigree) who signed the group in January 1978 & subsequently released Magazine’s debut 45, “Shot By Both Sides”/”My Mind Ain’t So Open”, a matter of weeks later (Rob Dickenson had already left Magazine prior to the recording of “Shot By Both Sides” & was duly replaced by Dave Formula).

“Shot By Both Sides” (co-written with Pete Shelley) – a snarling heart of darkness housed in a grimly illustrated picture cover that only added to the sense of mystery - peaked at number 41 in the charts (only a refusal to mime on TOTPs curtailed its upward trajectory). The record’s b-side, “My Mind Ain’t So Open”, a bass driven sax inflected gash, was as powerful as anything on “Times Up” & proved that the a-side was certainly no fluke (& introduced the mercurial writing talents of gtr-ist McGeoch). Magazine quickly established themselves at the head of what was to become the Post-Punk vanguard – ably supported by an ever-eager John Peel - who quickly booked the group for their 1st session for his show in February of 1978 (broadcast 14/02/78):

“Touch & Go”, “The Light Pours Out Of Me”, “Real Life” & “My Mind Ain’t So Open”

“Touch And Go” was released as the group’s 2nd 45 in April 1978 – slightly lighter in feel than “Shot By Both Sides” - the b-side featured a cover of John Barry’s theme from “Goldfinger” (from the James Bond film of the same name). The single failed to match the performance figures achieved by “Shot By Both Sides” but Magazine took no notice & set about nailing down their debut LP, “Real Life”.

“Real Life” was released in June 1978 housed in a sleeve decorated with a monoprint by the artist Linda Sterling. The LP swiftly stained the popular mannerist canvas of rock & roll with an altogether darker palate of colours than it was regularly accustomed to. A veritable cathedral of sound packed to the stained glass windows with charred melody, damaged sentiment & lyrical intrigue, “Real Life” was a stunning personal statement by a truly visionary artist. As Sterling herself attested: “The last great radical act of 20th Century art is to declare your own divinity”.

Commenting on his work at this time Devoto says: “I’m sure that I was speaking about the importance, to me, of paradox & contradiction. That there is some state of grace or point of ultimate knowledge in trying to come to an aesthetic understanding of these things”.

“Real Life” peaked at number 29 in the LP charts & by the close of its stay Magazine were filling concert halls the length & breadth of the country with their wiry take on skinny-tied existential modernism. After the crash & burn of the 1st wave of Punk Rock, Magazine’s sombre onstage approach added a level of atmosphere hither-to unseen in the live arenas of the UK – a film noire quality. Their extensive use of dry ice & dramatic lighting were just 2 of the effective tools of their performance trade (soon to be usurped by just about every proto-goth group lurking in the conceptual cupboard towards the end of 1978).

“Real Life” was greeted with a hail of praise by the British rock press – many a dictionary & thesaurus was run ragged in the chase for superlative prose to match the sounds within its grooves. This was the dawning of the age of pretentiousness, after all, & professional hacks relished the chance to euphemise at will with no fear of being labelled progressive. The surrounding musical landscape of 1978 was suddenly rife with possibility – it felt like a previously disaffected generation could fully realise the notion of substance over anger after all.

Martin Jackson quit Magazine shortly after the release of “Real Life” (he was quickly replaced by John Doyle) but the momentum of the group hardly missed a beat. Magazine returned to record a 2nd John Peel session towards the end of July 1978 (broadcast 24/07/78):

“Give Me Everything”, “Burst”, “I Love You, You Big Dummy” & “Boredom”

Magazine’s take on Buzzcocks’ “Boredom” was introduced by Devoto intoning: “You’re caressing me with hidden hands”. The song was slowed down somewhat for the first verse - the word ‘ennui’ replaced the 1st ‘boredom’ - & the pace quickened to something approaching the original. The later use of the word ‘lassitude’ in place of another ‘boredom’ illustrates just how far Devoto felt he’d come from “Spiral Scratch” by this time.

In November 1978 Magazine released “Give Me Everything”/”I Love You, You Big Dummy” (a Beefheart cover Devoto had carried around in reserve since his Buzzcocks days) as their next 45 – a demanding slice of psych-pop featuring the blistering faux-funk under-carriage of Adamson’s bass that was becoming such a strident component of Magazine’s sound. 1978 ended with Magazine arguably at the top of their game. The group featured well in the end of year polls – alongside Johnny Rotten’s (nee Lydon’s) PIL – another blossoming flower in the Post Punk dustbin.

February 1979 saw Magazine return with arguably their lushest 45 to date (including female backing vocals), “Rhythm Of Cruelty”. Ushered in by McGeochs melodic hook of fuzzed up gtr & swathed in Fomrmula’s futuristic keyboards, Devoto issued another stinging put down:

“I brought your face down on my head,
it was something I rehearsed in a dream.
You’re too good looking for your own damn good
& you don’t know what it could mean”

“Rhythm Of Cruelty” fared no better than it’s predecessor in the realms of chart land & the commercial venture vultures were already beginning to circle above Magazine (somewhat prematurely, I hear you shriek, but sadly record company short-sightedness, greed & a reluctance to properly develop an ‘artist’ over a sustained period is sadly NOT a phenomenon unique to the noughties).

Magazine’s 2nd LP, “Secondhand Daylight”, was released to universal critical acclaim (grandiose?) in March 1979 & sold well (projecting it to number 38 in the charts). Broader & deeper in texture than “Real Life”, “Secondhand Daylight” appeared in a lustrous pale-green gatefold sleeve (oh my God – now un-Punk Rock cried the dullards) – the kind of packaging the CD format can never replicate effectively. The LPs key moment, “Permafrost”, icily promised to: “drug you & fuck you on the permafrost”. The listener could only freeze in response – their spine tingling/hairs on the back of their neck standing to attention – alarmed by the spatial wonder of it all.

In May 1979 Magazine recorded their 3rd John Peel session (broadcast 08/05/79):

“TV Baby”, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” & “Permafrost”.

The remainder of 1979 was relatively quite for Magazine. The group enjoyed a well-earned break & some quality r&r before returning to write & rehearse new material toward the end of the year. A forth & final Peel session was recorded in January 1980 (broadcast 07/01/80):

“Song From Under The Floorboards”, “Twenty Years Ago”, “Look What Fear’s Done To My Body” & “Model Worker”

“Song From Under The Floorboards” – the best pop single Magazine ever recorded - was issued as a single in February 1980 but failed to chart. It was swiftly followed a cover of the Sly & The Family Stone Cover classic, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”, in March - & “Upside Down” in April. Neither made the charts.

Magazine’s 3rd LP, “The Correct Use Of Soap”, arrived in May 1980 & the group may well have heaved a collective sigh of relief when it subsequently charted at number 28 – their highest LP chart placing yet. Despite this relative success – cracks were beginning to appear in the glossy veneer of Magazine. John McGeoch departed for Siouxsie & The Banshees in the summer of 1980 & Magazine’s slow decline began with the appointment of former Ultravox gtr-ist, Robin Smith.

This new line up recorded the live LP “Play” in Australia – suffering from poor production & highlighting Smith’s failings in McGeochs shoes – “Play” was not well received. 12 month’s later Magazine issued their final LP – the hugely disappointing “Magic, Murder & The Weather”.

By this stage the writing was well & truly on the wall & 3 weeks prior to its release – Devoto, tired of the incessant touring & artistically compromised by the weaker new material – announced his unwillingness to tour in support of the LP (effectively ending the life of Magazine). It was a strangely muted & altogether unsatisfactory end to one of the most ground breaking & challenging groups to emerge from the maelstrom of Punk Rock.

Devoto re-emerged from retirement fronting Luxuria 4 years later but soon retired again to drift into the land of day jobs & responsibility. He recently re-united with his erstwhile Buzzcock Pete Shelley for the Buzzkunst project in 2002 – releasing a very enjoyable LP on Cooking Vinyl (Cook CD 230) & playing a handful of dates in support of the release (video clips of a few of these performances are enhanced features on the CD).

Magazine are best accessed via the “Maybe It’s Right To Be Nervous” 3CD Box set & its sister compilation, “Where The Power Is” (both available on Virgin Records).

To learn more about Howard Trafford & the history of the Buzzcocks/Magazine cjheck the links below.

Jean Encoule – tMx – 11/03

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