Live!

Furry Meek Brother

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 NumbersMornings 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 NumbersHurt 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 NumbersRoy 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.

 

Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – Romeo Stodart

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

magicnumbers0410press07(1)

Number 16 in a series:

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Eh, he’s on a London bus, actually.

When I call Romeo Stodart, singer, songwriter and guitarist with brother/sister 4 piece The Magic Numbers he’s making his way back from his second visit to the raved-about Bowie exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. It takes a wee bit for our voices to become attuned to one another; mine being the 90 miles an hour broad Ayrshire variety whilst his sits somewhere halfway between Honolulu and the Holloway Road. Like his singing voice, it’s very soothing and liberally peppered with “yeahs” and “mans“, like a caricature 60s San Franciscan hippy, except for real.

Laid-back and loquacious, Romeo is an excellent interviewee. We’re here ostensibly to talk about The Magic Numbers up and coming gig as headliners at the very first Freckfest in Irvine and pore over his favourite tracks of all-time, but we cover way more ground than that; Neil Young, death metal, South American audiences and the David Bowie exhibition all come up in conversation.

Romeo enthuses about one of the artifacts on display in the V&A – an invoice for a Hunky Dory recording session charging Bowie £40 for studio and musicians’ time.

Imagine recording an album as good and timeless as that for £40………mind you, two ninety-nine gets you Garage Band these days!”

Romeo lives and breathes music. Growing up firstly in Trinidad & Tobago and laterally in New York, before settling in London, he remembers as a small boy picking up his uncle’s 7″ singles and “running my fingers along the grooves of these strange objects, wondering how it all worked.” He first became aware of the power of song when one day, walking into his living room, he found his whole family sitting in floods of tears as Patsy Cline’s ‘I Fall To Pieces‘ spun infinitely on the turntable. He knew then, at that moment, that The Song, especially songs that told a story, had magical powers. He wanted more.

magic numbers studio

Younger readers take note. You, yeah, you can log on and download the entire back catalogue of the history of popular music and all its sub-genres anytime you like. Illegally. For free. Look hard enough and it’s all there for you, hanging from a virtual tree and waiting to be plundered like the next door neighbour’s apples. Back in our day, getting hold of music was a mythical quest, an adventure, something that actually cost you real money, perhaps more money than you maybe had. I spent so much money on records, I ended up having to sneak mine into the house, crammed into a not-quite-big-enough schoolbag so that my mum wouldn’t find out. To this day, I can look at any New Order 12″ and see the creases on the corners where my Rucanor hold-all damaged it. The fool that I am.

Romeo’s first musical purchase was Guns ‘n Roses Appetite For Destruction, although it wasn’t entirely his to own.

My friend and I put our money together and bought it – ‘I’ll have the record, you can have the sleeve’ – and we shared it like that until we had enough money between us to buy another copy.”

From Guns ‘n Roses it was but a denim ‘n leather clad hop, skip and jump to Metallica, Slayer and the very bowels of death metal. That Romeo had a bit of a metal phase is not up for debate. That he kept his beard in tribute to this chapter in his formative years perhaps is. Once he started buying music, the next logical step for Romeo was to go and see it played live. His first gig was at Madison Square Garden, to see all 3 nights of Guns ‘n Roses residency. He wasn’t impressed.

The first night, I’m like, ‘Yeah man!’ This is awesome!’ There’s smoke, lights, it’s loud, it’s super-exciting! They’re playing ‘Welcome To the Jungle’! The next night I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is good’, although it was much the same as the first night. By the third night, when Axl started ranting about the media at the same point in the set, and the roadie walked on to give Slash a cigarette after one of his solos, I realised it was just a show. Total theatre.

magic numbers buenos aires

There’ll be no media rants at Freckfest. No roadies participating in pantomime. No riots. The Magic Numbers recently played Brazil and Argentina and were bowled over by the crowd response. They like playing in off-the-beaten-track places, and for the last few years, nowhere has been more off the beaten musical track than Irvine.

Unlike the big city audiences in say, London, who can see any number of well-known bands in a  night, we love playing to provincial audiences who are starved of bands. We play better in front of a fervent crowd, a crowd not standing back, arms folded saying ‘Go on, impress us’. This is our last full band electric performance before our acoustic tour, and we want to tear the roof off the place.”

(Come back next year, Magic Numbers, and the council might just let you do that very thing. But that’s another story for another day…)

The Irvine crowd are in for a good gig. We’re playing really well just now, firing off one another. It’s great to get back out on the road and just play the songs we love.

And talking of songs we love…………

romeo 6otb

Romeo’s Six Of the Best is a cracker – a right good mixture of well-known obscurities and just plain old, eh, obscurities. Wonky 60s ballads…..roots reggae…..soulful singer/songwriters….ambient techno…..new bands….it’s like a microcosm of Plain Or Pan itself;

Please Stay – The Cryin’ Shames

A hauntingly beautiful song written by Burt Bacharach. This was the last ever record produced by the late great Joe Meek and it just sounds unlike anything else. I love the lead vocal. Guess if it’s a man or woman singing….. 

(Apologies for the interruption, but please take 10 minutes after reading this and acquaint yourself with the terrific Joe Meek piece I wrote here.)

You Don’t KnowBob Andy

 

Bob Andy’s a really important and influential songwriter from Jamaica. Apparently, upon having a huge hit with Young, Gifted & Black here in the UK under Bob & Marcia he didn’t like the weather and would get lost driving around London so basically couldn’t bother capitalising on pursuing his career abroad. Anyway, this song is a recent discovery. Again, there’s something really powerful in the vocal delivery. I can’t stop playing it.

 

Beak >   – Mono

I love Beak>

Pretty much everything Portishead’s Geoff Barrow has been involved in or put out I’ve loved. I went to see them play a killer show at The Lexington in London that was so rammed, yet mid show he left the stage and pushed through the crowd to go for a slash as the toilets were on the other side of the venue. ‘Talk amongst yourselves’!  I really like that kinda carry on. Anyway, this was on a recent 7 inch. I play this out when I DJ. I recommend you listen to it LOUD

 

It’ll Never Happen AgainTim Hardin

This is probably one of my favourite songs of all time, two minutes and thirty seven seconds of just pure confessional honest emotion. This and Speak Like A Child are up there with his best I think, they usually make it onto most mix tapes I make for people. Depresses the hell outta them ;0) 

 

Ordinary Joe Terry Callier

This has one of the best opening lines in a song ever…

‘And for my opening line…’

Just cool as! Terry Callier was someone who just oozed soul. Within every style of music he honed in on, it was there in abundance. Another favourite of mine to DJ, and a song we have covered a few times out on the road. 

 

Avril 14th Aphex Twin

 

This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever made. I love the prepared piano sound. Genius. It’s up there with Erik Satie, a simple but hugely affecting piano instrumental. We’ve used it as intro music many a time, and to be honest it would make perfect outro music, leaving this world behind to a true gem. A must hear. 

The Magic Numbers dust down their electric guitars for a full-on headline slot at Freckfest in Irvine this Saturday (17th August). They then head out on a nationwide acoustic tour. You should go and see them…..

mag num tour