No sooner had Manchester’s Buzzcocks released their debut Spiral Scratch EP in January 1977 than singer/founder Howard Devoto quit. Twelve months later he launched Magazine in a debut gig at the closing night of the Electric Circus in Manchester in the autumn of 1977.
They were signed to Virgin but keyboard player Bob Dickinson left in November and, as a result, their brilliant debut single Shot By Both Sides was recorded by the four remaining members – owing its intense guitar ascent to ex-bandmate Pete Shelley (who later used the same riff on the Buzzcocks track, Lipstick).
The existentialist lyrics to Shot By Both Sides were Devoto’s reaction against punk’s dumb negativity. Its parent album, Real Life, went even further: synthesizers (courtesy of new member Dave Formula), saxophones and songs that dared to exceed the five-minute barrier.
They suffered for their ambition with humble sales and slurs from critics who called their ornate music ‘prog rock‘ and Devoto’s intellectualism an arty pretence. Others such as Morrissey and Thom Yorke (of Radiohead), both of whom have acknowledged Magazine’s influence, heard otherwise.
1979’s Secondhand Daylight is Devoto’s masterpiece, an absorbing nine-song suite given a glacial sheen by Colin Thurston, engineer of Bowie‘s Low. Always unpredictable, its follow-up, 1980’s The Correct Use Of Soap, featured a deft remake of Sly Stone‘s Thank You, while 1981’s polished if imperfect swansong Magic, Murder & The Weather even tipped its hat towards Motown.
Such was the eclecticism of a band who would cover Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger) and also reference Dostoevsky and Kafka.
Magazine called it a day in 1981 when the departure of Devoto signalled the death knell. They re-formed after 30 years for a series of concerts.