This year has seen the release of the first album of newly-recorded material by Manchester cult band Magazine in thirty years – an occasion which has been highly anticipated by fans and critics alike. Keyboard player Dave Formula spoke to Soundsphere about past times and present.
“If you had asked me in 2009 if we would have recorded a new album, I would have said, probably not.”
S] How does it feel to be back in the saddle with Magazine compared to the old days?
D] “It’s been a process since 2009, getting back together and the album are two different things, as you can imagine. Pulling it all together was really something and a lot of hard work. We had a great reception from the public and media with our first comeback tour finishing the year with Jools Holland and the BBC Electric Proms.
We had a meeting after we’d finished and Howard hinted that he’d like to write a few new songs to freshen the set up as a challenge if we were to continue. There was a backlog of stuff that needed to come out to make an album. It was hard to co ordinate but we were really pleased with what came out of it.
If you had asked me in 2009 if we would have recorded a new album, I would have said, probably not.”
S] How do you feel about Barry Adamson (original bassist) not being in the band now?
D] “We started to write five or six new songs with John Doyle and Noko our new guitarist. We’d then send them to Howard for his singing and lyrics and Barry for his bass lines. We put guide bass parts on them initially, but Barry was snowed under directing his new film so we ended up waiting for his parts for months. So Barry said, ‘I’ve been putting it off, so maybe I don’t feel right about doing it.”
He was very honest, you know what its like, you wonder after a certain amount of time if it’s going to happen or not. He was under lots of
pressure with his film and I was half expecting him to say he wanted to leave.
I’d worked on my own album with Stan (the new bass player) and for me he was a natural replacement. He’s a brilliant player like Noko who’s joined us, he puts his own personality into the band but understands what is required as he knows the original Magazine sound.”
S] Do you want the new guys to be autonomous and put their own spin on the new songs?
D] “To a great extent, yes, they have to put in their own musical personality too. We have made such a strong template for the new players to write parts, for there is a strong identity already in the band. Stan really likes blues and funk and blues stuff.”
S] Your old albums from thirty years ago have a very current sound. You were popular back, then weren’t you?
D] “Yes, but we didn’t sell huge amounts, we were always well regarded by audiences and the media, but we took a bit of stick from people because
of Howard’s background in the Buzzcocks and promoting the Sex Pistols. People were still into the whole three chord thrash of punk so they were a bit dubious of us when they saw me on a stage with four or five keyboards. Punk was reacting against the excesses of the early seventies and prog rock, so we were a bit of a target for those sorts of audiences.
S] Pioneers in music always have a hard time, don’t they?
D] “Yes, but enough people understood the band to sustain it for at least three years, and we went round the world Europe, Australia and America doing a lot of touring.”
S] How was the daily life of the band around that time? Was it a happy time and did you have a comfortable lifestyle?
D] “We used to live in Manchester in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, we used to practice five days a week and rehearse from 11am to 5-6pm at night then we’d record and do two or three tours each year. Then we moved to London and had a space in Chelsea where we would do the same thing. We were on a real cycle of write, record, tour for the four years of the bands life. It was totally full time and we never really stopped.”
S] Did the ideas flow in that time easily?
D] “Yes, It was actually sometimes hard to get your own ideas fitted in there as there was always lots of ideas from Barry and McGeoch every day. They would all say, “What about this? Let’s try this!”. There was always lots of material to have a go at.”
S] What were your influences back in those days?
D] “My influences came together in Magazine as I’d been playing for a while before. I was a jazz fan, Sly and the Family Stone, funk bands from the 60s and 70s came together in my piano, hammond organ and synth playing. All decent good bands are a sum of their influences. Barry was into funk and Motown such as myself and John (McGeoch).
Howard was into Iggy Pop And The Stooges, David Bowie and Dylan. McGeoch was also into the American punk bands and was into free jazz and had a really interesting approach to the scales he would play, he had quite a sophisticated idea of harmony and would always play solos that were totally unobvious. He had a great fine artist sensibillity in playing his music which was don’t waste a note, don’t waste a brush stroke with guitar playing – which was his philosophy.”
S] What was it like being signed to Virgin back in the old days was Richard Branson involved much then and did they treat you well?
D] “They were great. We used to deal with head of A&R called Simon Draper; he was a huge fan of the band and he really looked after us even though we didn’t sell as many records as they would have liked. When we were in the process of breaking up, they came in with an offer of a five album deal to try and dissuade us from breaking up. They really wanted us to stay with the label. It wasn’t like these days when if they don’t like the first album, its thanks and ‘bye.”
S] What advice would you give to bands starting out today and trying to become professional in playing music?
D] “Be obsessed doing it, you can’t mess about, I occasionally come across new bands who say they only rehearse once or twice a week but they might miss a couple (of practices) and they think their doing enough. You have to be lucky to get the right combination of people in the band too.
I recently read an article in a magazine which said don’t sack the weakest member of the band because it always goes wrong when you do. It said try to work with them and help them improve if the chemistry’s there. You don’t all advance at the same rate musically so don’t be too quick to get rid of people and help them improve. But of course it could be bollocks too.”
S] What do you like best about playing live?
D] “When it works, every time you play live your striving for a form of perfection, but it doesn’t exist. You are looking for that gig which is as good as you can get. With Magazine even though we played hundreds of gigs all over the world. The ones which hit that point which im trying to describe to you only really hit that point less than ten times. The worst thing that happens is when there is a short run of gigs and then a break, its much better when there is a long run of gigs then the machine gets really oiled.”
S] Did you reach that point in the last gigs in 2009?
D] “The Manchester ones were great, we stood there for two or three minutes at the beginning of the first gig and the audience were just reacting and it was a great feeling to be so appreciated after we finished playing our first song, ‘The Light Pours Out Of Me’.”
S] Who would you like to collaborate with if you could choose anyone in the industry?
D] “I think there are loads! My top two would be Miles Davis and Sly from the Family Stone, but I don’t think he is too well at the moment. I have
just collaborated on an album with Christine Hanson who is a Canadian cello player called ‘The Organ of Corti’ which has just been released on a Belgium record label, Off Records.”
S] What does the future hold for this magazine line up and will we see more albums in future?
D] “We’ve never sat down and planned out 18 months in advance even in the old days of Magazine. We always worked in chunks of a year and then had a meeting at the end to review how its gone. So far, it’s been great and the record has done really well; we’ve had some overwhelmingly positive reviews and online, it seems to be selling well.
We have a UK Tour coming up and we hope to do some festivals next summer as well as going out of the country. We plan to do five songs from the new album and then maybe substitute those new songs later in the year then mix and match with older tunes. Then we’ll take it from there.”
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