Duo of Suede guitarist Richard Oakes & Alison Moyet cohort Sean McGhee return in May on their first UK tour in seven years. They also released a new EP, I Won’t Change You, on 3rd May 2019. It features two singles – album highlight and title track “I Won’t Change You” and the brand new song “Jealous Eros”. Two other unreleased songs from the album sessions (“A Strange Kind Of Safety” and “Don’t Look Up, “Don’t Look Down”) are also included. The EP highlights the brasher, more troubled side of the duo’s work without losing their grip on the melodic melancholy that defines them best.
Following the release of their 2012 debut album, Artmagic returned to base. Guitarist Richard Oakes regrouped with Suede, re-establishing them with a trilogy of UK top 10 albums – Bloodsports, Night Thoughts and The Blue Hour. Meanwhile, producer & vocalist Sean McGhee joined Alison Moyet as backing singer and musical director, participating in two world tours and co-writing the two singles from her 2017 top 20 album Other.
However, Artmagic always planned to press on with their partnership, and after a 6 year silence, the duo returned with their second album, 2018’s The Songs Of Other England. Atmospheric and crepuscular, the album blended Oakes’ urgent guitars with McGhee’s folk-inflected character sketches and wide melodies, and was received with acclaim.
Both wanted a more direct sound – less detail, more focus. Richard’s guitars would be front and centre with Sean’s voice and analogue synths. Gone, too, would be the additional musicians. Drums would be provided by Alex Thomas (Anna Calvi, John Cale, Squarepusher) but the duo would play everything else themselves. Sean explains, “On our first album, there’s a lot of electronic texture, a lot of watercolour washing over the songs. This time, I was determined to make everything more upfront. We had to work fast, so a direct approach fitted perfectly.”
Sean had developed a keen interest in English folk music. The album’s title track “The Songs Of Other England” is a joyful paean to these ancient songs and their singers. Soon, the narratives of these traditional lyrics proved to be a useful influence. He found himself writing about lonely fishermen, about elderly women abandoning their religious faith, about Muslim birdwatchers. These characters stepped from the wings as avatars of Other English voices that are rarely heard in modern pop. A lyrical direction for the album was in place.
Musically, however, an adoption of folk aesthetics was never on the cards. Richard took his cues from Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, Talk Talk, Thee Oh Sees and Field Music. Crucially, Sean was determined that Richard’s own unique style should drive their songwriting, and that there was no attempt made to fit into anyone’s agenda but their own. It’s all very well to look back but pushing forward is, in the end, the most important thing. Nostalgia has no place in Artmagic’s work.
The sound of the record might best be described as crepuscular – a distinct feeling of twilight seen through dense trees. And, as the album progresses, you find yourself walking amongst those trees, becoming surrounded, losing all sense of a world outside, as dusk becomes dawn and the occasional shaft of sun penetrates the half-light.
After playing just a single sold out London show in 2018, Artmagic finally return to stages across the UK including a date at Liverpool’s own Outpost on Renshaw street with The Buffalo Riot and Mike West supporting.
9th May – Wild Hare Club at De Koffie Pot, Hereford
10th May – The Railway Inn, Winchester
11th May – Sorm Studios, Bradford
12th May – Outpost, Liverpool
14th May – The Big Top, Cardiff
16th May – Birdcage, Norwich
17th May – Old Cinema Launderette, Durham
18th May – Electric Church Club, Blackburn
19th May – The Florists at Bunkers Hill, Nottingham
21st May – Paper Dress Vintage, London
29th May – Mono, Glasgow (supporting Gwenno)