Not for the first time, I spent a wee bit of time over the weekend with Romeo Stodart, the gentle and quietly-spoken lead vocalist with the Magic Numbers. He was over in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute to headline the first night of Butesong, a boutique singer/songwriter festival held in a grand old Victorian hotel which I was involved in promoting. After a set of solo and Magic Numbers’ material, where he discussed the genesis of each song played, encouraged the audience to fill in the missing harmonies normally provided by the other Magic Numbers and told amusing tales of life in one of our most consistently great bands, Romeo joined the audience in the bar where, by 3 in the morning, he’d whipped out his guitar and was taking requests for songs from the stragglers still determined to avoid bed for the night. The back catalogues of Neil Young, The Smiths and The Beatles, amongst others, got a good going over, much to the delight of those there. At one point he handed me his guitar – a beautiful old Martin acoustic that played like a dream – and, 5 sheets to the wind with a good 10 hours worth of gin in me, I regaled the stragglers with my greatest hit, A Wee Roll ‘n Slice (you should hear it – it’s a belter!) a bum note-filled bashing of McCartney’s Junk and sausage-fingered kickings of Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me and This Charming Man. “Great Johnny Marr riffing!” our new best pal lied kindly. “Play us another.” There was still time for a spirited go at the Trashcan Sinatras’ Hayfever – “I love those major 7ths, man!” before the relieved guitar was put back into its case. Not yer average Friday night then, and one to remember.
The event had me scurrying back to my Magic Numbers albums last night and as I sat to write the review of the weekend for the local paper, I fell back in love with songs that are as melodic as Teenage Fanclub’s, as harmonious as the Lovin Spoonful’s and as warm as The Mamas and Papas’ finest moments. I say ‘fell back in love with’ as I can’t remember the last time I properly sat and listened to the band. More fool me. Those songs have really stood the test of time. The debut album is suddenly 15 years old this year but the songs sound as fresh as they did on first listen. Many of them were played in Rothesay, occasionally more introspectively, now and again with more meander, sometimes with a little spoken interlude. “And this is the part,” laughed Romeo midway through a room-rousing Mornings Eleven, “when we’d really piss off the headline act who had expected us to finish our set by now.” Bah-bah-bah-bah-bah bah baaaah-ah goes the half-paced, mile-long outro, all false endings, a cake well (but not over) iced and we all sang along.
The Magic Numbers – Mornings Eleven
Magic Numbers’ albums all carry that great mix of melody, harmony and musicianship that sees them consistently put out terrific wee albums. Never quite flavour of the month, never anybody’s second-favourite group (the nation’s answer to that particular poser will always be Supergrass) they nonetheless have continued to plough a deeply rich furrow of well-crafted, expertly produced music.
2010’s The Runaway introduced anyone who was still listening to the womb-like Hurt So Good, a keening ambient swirl, the imagined results of Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross as produced by Phil Spector.
The Magic Numbers – Hurt So Good
It’s great, isn’t it? It’s the sound of heartbreak on wax, a heady flotation tank of syrupy-thick harmonies and Carole Kaye bassisms, out-there slide guitars, waterfalling riffs and that fantastic oh-oh-oh backing vocal. As far as melancholic music goes, this is up there with the best of it.
Likewise, 2014’s Alias includes the swooning Spector pop of Roy Orbison, a song written by Romeo that tells of getting through tough times by listening to the titular Big O. With softly beating Be My Baby drums, a cacophony of sweeping, weeping strings and a heart-breaking breakdown in the middle, it’s just about as perfect as you could wish for.
The Magic Numbers – Roy Orbison
Romeo is due to head out on a solo tour in the coming months. Your social media platform of choice will have all the info you require on that front. If he’s half as engaging, funny and groovy as he was on Bute at the weekend, you’d be a fool to miss him if he’s anywhere nearby. Parent band The Magic Numbers will head out later in the year in support of that 15 year anniversary. If only to catch the impressive sight of Romeo’s sister Michelle taming her wild Fender bass into submission, you should probably look out for them playing near you too. Perhaps, with renewed focus on and reappraisal of what are undeniably great songs, they’ll have replaced the ‘Grass as everybody’s second-favourite band.