by Elliot Davies
The Magic Numbers played an instore gig at Nottingham’s Fopp store, but they took to the stage, as it were, some 40 minutes after the advertised time.
It would have been great had this been a tardy instore appearance by Travis. Not just because I really like Travis, and I’ve never seen them live, but also because I could have made a fantastic “invisible band” joke to accompany the above image.
I didn’t mind the delay, as it meant that I finally got a chance to have a look around the new Fopp.
A couple of months ago, it became apparent that Nottingham’s Fopp was to close. This resulted in an outcry so far reaching that it made it to the Nottingham Post sandwich boards.
Luckily, the store wasn’t so much closing as relocating, but the noise made by people over the whole matter was most encouraging.
Evidently, it seems that we are loath to see our record shops disappear. It’s such an issue for some people, that even a large chain such as Fopp is venerated.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Fopp is fantastic. Its range is unbeatable, its prices are unbelievable, and its staff are seemingly hired based on their knowledge, their passion, and their friendliness. Crucially, they never judge you; not even when you buy Coldplay and Swans at the same time.
The thing is, I would have assumed that all the affection for record shops – by which I mean, “shops that sell music in physical formats” – was reserved for the small, the independent, the dank, and the dusty. You know, those wonderful places that are honoured, once a year, on Record Store Day.
That even somewhere as “corporate” as Fopp (for want of a better word) is so beloved I think proves that there is still room on the high street for music, and that there is still a market for physical formats.
As gripes go, this one’s microscopic; but I have had just about enough with the general assumption that physical formats are dead. I don’t like the cheeky parenthetical “remember those?” quips whenever CDs are mentioned in articles, nor do I like the snarky dismissive tone that’s adopted whenever any major publication discusses developments in music distribution.
Yes, people still buy music on physical formats. Most likely, they do so for the same reasons that I do. I like to feel as though I own my music. I like to see it sitting on my shelves, and I like how the artwork catches the light. I like liner notes, and I like the idea that I have supported the artists I love through investing in things that exist, as opposed to data.
Also, streaming’s fine, but even with the finest headphones or speakers, I always feel as though something’s missing. Perhaps it’s because, when streaming music, I’m always doing something else at the same time. The music never gets the complete and undivided attention it deserves.
Conversely, when I put a CD on, it feels as though the music is filling the room. As a vital and welcoming physical presence, it can become my world. Even better, when you put a record on, you get such warmth, such depth. It’s unrivalled by absolutely every other format that ever was or will be.
It’s an argument that’s been made countless times before, but regrettably, I feel as though it’s an argument that will always have to be made: Just because something’s new, it doesn’t mean it’s better.
Anyway, I was supposed to be reviewing The Magic Numbers.
Eventually, they took to the stage, so to speak.
The guitars were quietly amplified, but apart from that, they were playing unplugged, as a stripped back trio. Because three is the magic number!
Romeo Stodart, a loveable biker wizard with a voice like honey-melted ice cream, took lead guitar duties. This meant that the women – Angela Gannon and sister Michele Stodart – were obliged to do that strange hands-in-pocket-eyes-closed thing that people do when singing without microphones.
Fresh from supporting Neil Young on his European tour, and loaded with wistful tales of the road, The Magic Numbers could be forgiven for treating this instore appearance as a disheartening step down. It’s to their credit, then, that they appeared to be actively enjoying themselves as they delivered such a touching performance.
Despite the fact that the band played under stark fluorescent lights, and despite the fact that their unplugged sound had to contend with the drone of the air conditioning and, at one point, the store alarm, there was a genuinely engaging intimacy to the performance. The crowd, obviously comprised of fans, was honestly one of the best crowds I’ve ever been a part of. They were hooked on every note and warmly appreciative of every song, just like I wish all crowds were.
The whole point of the appearance was to promote new album Alias, so it’s no surprise that the set was dominated by new songs. I’ve not heard the album yet, but based on the short, stripped down sample, it seems that they’ve crafted a collection of heartbroken drinking songs.
I seem to remember many a critic describing their double platinum debut as “psychedelic”, but The Magic Numbers have always been more than a little bit country. Unplugged, their sad cowboy side truly shines, especially when a crowd request forced Michelle to go solo.
An early evening acoustic set by The Magic Numbers was always going to be heartwarming. On what felt like the first day of what will certainly be a gloomy autumn, their bittersweet goodwill was especially welcome.
According to one of Julian Cope’s autobiographies, instore gigs are all the rage in Japan. It’s not uncommon to see bands such as The Teardrop Explodes play full sets in department stores in the middle of the afternoon. It’s just the way things are over there.
Perhaps the idea can catch on over here, and perhaps Fopp Nottingham could be the trailblazers.
How about a lunchtime set by Travis, Fopp?