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The Complete John Peel Sessions Mick Middles , November 5th, 2008 15:24

Magazine - The Complete Peel Sessions

Magazine; the kick-back band. It seems difficult to place in context now, as Magazine’s place seems so firmly cemented within the celebrated post-punk era, but this was a band who had deliberately stepped away from the rush and push of those heady times. It had started with Howard Devoto’s sudden departure from Buzzcocks following the recording of just one ep, the legendary ‘Spiral Scratch’. There had been something beautiful about that departure…something paradoxically close to the spirit that had fired the band -all the bands- in the first place.

But Devoto’s muse would never allow him to remain silent, however nihilistic such a thing might be, This became obvious the moment his advertisement appeared on the notice board of the very Bohemian Virgin Records store in Manchester in 1977.


That was the birth statement of Magazine. A band who would move away from the pulsebeat and take on board the most experimental aspects of pre-punk Britain. As such they immediately embraced a number of lovely and diverse influences. Roxy Music, obviously in the grooves, alongside Can, Faust, Bowie and Buzzcocks, When they debuted, with the Buzzcockian tune, ‘Shot From Both Sides’, you could have been forgiven for wondering if this would be just another slice of the same band. Not so. Fast and slow music, remember. And soul too…just a hint.

However, such was the reliance on production within Magazine’s exceptional run of albums, that – perhaps- something of that initial Maverick spirit did become lost. Hence the importance of this CD. John Peel sessions, at their finest, freed band’s from the record-company led constraints of over-production. They would be quick, raw and honest.

Such is the case here. Magazine in the raw is a strange concept and you might expect it not to work. For, surely, the majestic sound that rose behind the Beefheartian drawl of Devoto…surely that needed polish? Perhaps not. There are moments here, most notably on the ploddingly glorious ‘Burst’ when the speed of the ‘almost live’ take captures a latent energy that would never survive the attentions of a Hannett or a Rushent. Many of the favourites are here although no ‘Shot By Both Sides’…well, why would they re-record it for a Peel session. The band’s album opener, ‘Real Life’, setting out the stall.

“So this is real life... you’re tellin’ me…” sings Devoto, another hint that he had moved away from the myriad naiveté’s of punk. There are times here, undoubtedly, where the affectation within his voice sways from endearing to rather detached. Especially true as the lyricism waivers towards the faintly absurd. “I aaam an eeeenseeectttt!” is a line delivered in a manner that few could get away with in the current climate. However, such moments are now useful as they instantly tug back to days spent in a shabby bedsit glory, pouring over every pretentious rant within the pages of the NME, long overcoats, short haircuts, appalling wine. Magazine came from this now isolated era and, if Devoto’s lyrics fail to take you straight back there, then the dated technology of Dave Formula’s truly adventurous keyboards, will provide a secondary key.

This is no put down. Magazine haven’t aged badly…they have just aged and the current furore and sell out concerts suggests that there are many, like myself, who are extremely grateful for this return journey.

Some of the most beautiful moments remain the most obvious. ‘Song From Under The Floorboards’, in this BBC context, still holds one of the most fluid and infectious bass lines of any era and Devoto’s lovely Dostoyevsky twist “ I am angry, I am ill and I’m as ugly as sin’ remains a delight. Even the much maligned ‘Permafrost’, from Magazine’s critically slapped second album, Second-hand Daylight, seems brighter than the original.

As an added bonus, there is even a mischievous version of the Devoto-penned Buzzcocks classic, ‘Boredom’, which begins as a crawl before picking up the pace of the original. All this and - another Buzzockian moment – a fittingly insane version of Beefheat’s 'I Love You Big Dummy’.