Sunday, 6 November 2011

Magazine - Howard Devoto Knows Thyself

“Suicide has always been quite an important idea to me,” says Howard
Devoto, vocalist, lyricist and mouthpiece in chief of post-punk
fabulists, Magazine. Devoto is talking about Hello Mr Curtis (with
apologies), the band's recent single which trailed No Thyself, the
first album of new Magazine material for thirty years.

The Mr Curtis in question is one Ian Curtis, the former singer with
Magazine's Manchester scene contemporaries Joy Division, who hanged
himself on the eve of what should have been the band's first American
tour in 1980. Devoto's song also references a certain Mr Cobain, as in
the late Kurt, of 1990s grunge icons Nirvana, and another rock and roll
suicide.

By the end of an appositely jaunty number in which both of his forbears
are put on the couch and encouraged to explain what caused them pain
enough to take their own lives, Devoto is declaring his own intentions
to die like a king. Such a lofty pronouncement is up-ended somewhat
when the monarch of these aspirations is revealed to be Elvis Presley,
and that the said death will take place 'on some god-forsaken toilet'.
The outro of a song dedicated at recent live shows to author,
Alzheimer's sufferer and champion of assisted suicide Terry Pratchett
finds Devoto scatting the all too familiar line, 'I hope I die before I
get old'.

“In my mind,” Devoto explains, “I'm talking about assisted suicide, and
I'm talking about a subject I feel really quite strongly about. I'm not
someone who thinks about topping himself every six months or anything
like that. Far from it. I'm the happiest now that I've ever been. But
as a young man, I was very tense, and very intense, and suicide has
always been an idea to me. I'd go as far as to say that, when my time
comes, I'd like to die by my own hand. Some people might call me a
control freak, and in some respects that's probably quite
understandable.”

This weekend's Glasgow show will be the first chance for aficionados of
a band named partly after a coffee table accessory, part loaded gun, to
see how Hello Mr Curtis and other songs from No Thyself stand up next
to material from the band's first incarnation. Since reforming for
dates in 2009, Devoto, keyboardist Dave Formula, bass player Barry
Adamson and drummer John Doyle, with guitarist Noko replacing the late
John McGeogh, have reinvigorated Magazine's sophisticated melding of
post-punk, prog and glam.

Never a comfortable figure onstage, Devoto himself looked reborn in a
theatrically inclined live show that proved the magnificence of songs
like Shot By Both Sides and A Song From Under The Floorboards, both of
which had influenced the likes of Radiohead and Jarvis Cocker. After
such a triumphant second coming, then, writing new material was a
calculated risk

“When we first talked about getting together, I thought it would be
okay for a year or so,” Devoto explains of going out to play songs
largely from the first three Magazine albums, Real Life, Secondhand
Daylight and The Correct Use Of Soap, with one or two of the better
cuts from the original band's half-formed swan-song, Magic, Murder and
the Weather, thrown in. “After we'd played on Jools Holland and at the
Electric Proms, we had a meeting and talked about the possibility of
putting one or two new songs into the set. In due course, Dave, John
and Noko knocked out six backing tracks, and I started working on them.”

The songs that later became Holy Dotage and Happening in English, both
on No Thyself, were duly forwarded to Adamson, arguably the only member
of Magazine who'd carved out a significant solo career since the band's
demise.

“We waited a long, long time,” Devoto deadpans. “Barry had always been
the most resistant of all of us to doing new material, and we
eventually got the message that he was quitting to make his first film,
which is not a task I would want to take on.”

Adamson's replacement, Jon 'Stan' White, debuted with Magazine at the
hop farm festival in June this year, and, on record at least, retains
his predecessor's understated sense of John Barryesque noir. No Thyself
as a whole is what the follow-up to The Correct Use Of Soap might have
sounded like if McGeogh hadn't left the band to join Siouxsie and The
Banshees. Led by a largely upbeat mix of Formula's science-fiction
vintage synthesiser swirls and Noko's scratchy guitar riffs, matters of
life and death are as dramatically evident in Devoto's words as they
ever were. This is the case whether in the sexually explicit Other
Thematic Material or the knowingly self-referential Of Course Howard
(1979).

The words to the latter song are taken from an introduction Devoto
wrote to a collection of lyrics penned for the first two Magazine
albums, as well as during his brief tenure as vocalist for Buzzcocks,
whose debut EP, Spiral Scratch, arguably invented DIY indie-pop as we
know it. In both the introduction and the song, Devoto somewhat
portentously declares that 'I demand special consideration as the most
human'.

“I re-read it, and I just thought, 'Wow. You were really going for it,
weren't you, lad.' I felt I wanted to interrogate my old self, and I
wanted a dialogue.”

In this respect, such diary-like dissections have long-seen Devoto
regarded as the Marcel Proust of pop, with each record a very succinct
form of memoir.

“I keep notes, and I always have a special category for lyrics and song
ideas. Hello Mr Curtis actually goes back about ten years. But
mortality is a big theme on the record. I don't know how you can avoid
it.”

Now just shy of entering his sixth decade, Devoto remains teasingly
vague on the subject of just how long Magazine will continue beyond the
band's current reincarnation.

“Stop and smell the flowers,” he says. “I'm just living in the moment.”

Magazine, O2 ABC, Glasgow, Saturday November 5th. No Thyself is
available now.

http://www.livenation.co.uk/event/241003/magazine-tickets
http://www.wire-sound.com/shop/magazine/magazine--no-thyself-cd/

The Herald, November 2 2011

ends

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