Magazine - Biography
By Oliver Hall
Howard Devoto brought the concerns of a modernist poet and a smart, bored adult to punk when he formed the Buzzcocks with Pete Shelley in 1976. Devoto declared that he was abandoning punk in 1977 and formed Magazine, whose early singles resembled punk, though the band quickly developed a distinct style of its own that does not fit into any pop genre. Magazine set the dour tone of what was called “post-punk,” though the band’s dourness was not an identifying mark of a genre, but the tone of Devoto’s solitary preoccupations.
Early in 1976, Devoto and Pete Shelley traveled from Manchester to London to see the Sex Pistols, about whom Devoto had read in NME. “My life changed the moment that I saw the Sex Pistols,” Devoto says in England’s Dreaming, Jon Savage’s chronicle of English punk. Back in Manchester, Shelley and Devoto formed the Buzzcocks, one of the original English punk bands, with Devoto singing and Shelley playing guitar. The Buzzcocks made their live debut in July 1976, opening a Sex Pistols show Devoto and Shelley had set up in Manchester. The Buzzcocks’ original lineup released the 7” EP Spiral Scratch (1977 New Hormones) and the album-length demos collection Time’s Up (bootleg, Voto 1978; official, Mute 2000). Devoto quickly grew disenchanted with the punk movement and quit the Buzzcocks early in 1977, after 12 shows singing in the band, which has continued with Shelley as lead vocalist to the present day.
Shortly after leaving the Buzzcocks, Devoto assembled Magazine, his new band of Manchester musicians that included keyboardist Bob Dickinson, guitarist John McGeoch, bassist Barry Adamson and drummer Martin Jackson. Magazine played its first show in October 1977, and Virgin signed the band only days later, according to Savage. Keyboardist Dave Formula replaced Dickinson before the band’s first sessions. The following January, Magazine released the timeless, brilliant single “Shot by Both Sides / My Mind Ain’t So Open” (Virgin 1978). The A-side is a Devoto/Shelley tune that the post-Devoto Buzzcocks turned into the heartbreaker “Lipstick.” On “Shot by Both Sides,” Magazine’s Stooges-like arrangement of the ascending guitar figure provides the setting for Devoto’s riveting performance. Devoto’s lyrics seem to give a literary description of a moment of violence and anomie experienced in a crowd, and he delivers them as a refusal to get lost in the crowd, facing his own terror with contempt. Magazine’s first Virgin bio says that the song is about what happens “when the Kray twins meet the Buddha in the marketplace.”
Magazine recorded a John Peel session for BBC Radio in February, and the single “Touch and Go / Goldfinger” (1978 Virgin) followed in April. “Touch and Go” is not discernible from punk except that the musicians are skillful and Formula’s synthesizer keys are prominent. The B-side, a cover of Shirley Bassey’s theme to the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger, verges on camp, and suggests the band’s orchestral ambitions. Magazine’s debut album, Real Life (1978 Virgin), is the promised departure from punk forms; the songs are full of tricky time changes and often follow Formula’s Krautrock keys, and though “Shot by Both Sides” is softened slightly, Devoto gets inside the heart of a Samuel Beckett-type depression on “The Light Pours out of Me.” There was another Peel session in July, and the single “Give Me Everything / I Love You You Big Dummy” (1978 Virgin) came out in November, featuring new drummer John Doyle. The A-side is nearly a funk song and features gospel organ; “I Love You You Big Dummy” is a Captain Beefheart song that Devoto had sung with the Buzzcocks.
Magazine toured the United States in 1979 and released Secondhand Daylight (1979 Virgin), in which Devoto has visions of everyday atrocity. The Correct Use of Soap (Virgin 1980), simultaneously issued in a different version as An Alternative Use of Soap (Virgin 1980), included Magazine’s version of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”—incredibly, the song provides Devoto no relief from his obsessions—and the original grotesque love song “Because You’re Frightened.” The single “Upside Down” (Virgin 1980) sounds like a very depressed Madness; the B-side is an excruciating disco mix of “The Light Pours out of Me.” McGeoch, Formula and Adamson played in Visage, Midge Ure’s band between The Rich Kids and Ultravox, on the single “Tar” (Radar 1979) and LP Visage (Polydor 1980).
McGeoch quit Magazine in 1980. According to a December 2008 article about Magazine in The Guardian, McGeoch was frustrated by Devoto’s unwillingness to promote the band through press interviews. McGeoch joined Siouxsie and the Banshees that year, and later joined Public Image Ltd. Guitarist Robin Simon replaced McGeoch on the live album PLAY. (Virgin 1981) and the studio album Magic, Murder and the Weather (Virgin 1981). Devoto disbanded Magazine around the time of Magic’s release.
Formula continued to record with Visage, and Barry Adamson joined Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Devoto released a solo album, Jerky Versions of the Dream (Virgin 1983), which featured Penelope Houston of the Avengers on one song, and he and Noko formed the duo Luxuria in the late 80s. The book It Only Looks as if It Hurts (Black Spring 1990) collects Devoto’s lyrics to date. Devoto and Pete Shelley collaborated as shelleydevoto on the largely electronic album Buzzkunst (Cooking Vinyl 2002).
John McGeoch died in 2004. Magazine—Devoto, Adamson, Formula, Doyle and Noko from Luxuria—reunited for five UK shows in February 2009. The short, sold-out tour was advertised as the only reunion Magazine will play.