Suede gui­tarist and pop pro­ducer team up for Al­bion-in­spired folk.

Prog - - Intro -


There’s some­Thing of a good cop/bad cop di­chotomy with Art­magic. Gui­tarist Richard Oakes, who was plucked from West Coun­try ob­scu­rity by indie ti­tans Suede in the early 90s, is cooler than a cu­cum­ber just out of the fridge. Vo­cal­ist Sean McGhee, whose writ­ing and pro­duc­tion cred­its in­clude Brit­ney Spears, Ala­nis Moris­sette and Robyn, is the con­cep­tual ar­chi­tect, and he’s the more se­ri­ous of the two.

Art­magic came to­gether in 2008 thanks to a serendip­i­tous Doc­tor Who con­nec­tion which in­volved Sean and a friend of Richard’s meet­ing reg­u­larly down the pub to dis­cuss all things Gal­lifreyan. The singer doesn’t feel this story is rel­e­vant to our tête-à-tête to­day, even if a Venn di­a­gram of Prog read­ers and fans of the Time Lord would prob­a­bly gen­er­ate an am­ple in­ter­sec­tion. Art­magic have re­leased two al­bums six years apart, and the lat­est – The Songs Of Other Eng­land – is a work of sump­tu­ous, un­der­stated beauty (The Farmer And The Field fea­tured on the Prog 88 CD).

The ti­tle track of the al­bum in par­tic­u­lar is a di­vine trib­ute to the ar­cane folk tra­di­tions of Al­bion, and a nod to the se­cret mu­si­cal his­tory of our once proud na­tion. There are nar­ra­tives through­out writ­ten from the per­spec­tives of the un­der­rep­re­sented and the dis­en­fran­chised. Film di­rec­tor Derek Jar­man pro­vides in­spi­ra­tion, not so much for his out­put as his method­ol­ogy: “His whole thing at the be­gin­ning when he didn’t have money to shoot in 35mm or af­ford proper sets and pro­fes­sional ac­tors was to al­low the bud­get to de­fine the aes­thetic,” says McGhee.

Thwarted by work com­mit­ments, in­clud­ing Suede, the pair wrote songs from scratch in McGhee’s Tot­ten­ham stu­dio in 2014, work­ing quickly.

“Richard used to be very ret­i­cent to do any­thing off the cuff like that and over the years he’s re­ally warmed to it,” says McGhee. “He’s re­ally good at it.” Oakes learned to im­pro­vise in front of mem­bers of the re­formed Suede when the old method of bring­ing songs to the stu­dio stopped work­ing for them. “You’ve got Ed Bueller, Brett An­der­son and Neil Codling all stand­ing over you giv­ing you live pun­ditry on what you’re play­ing,” says Oakes, laugh­ing. “‘Oh that’s good; play that again. Don’t like that, do what you were do­ing be­fore.’ You have to get used to that and put your artis­tic ego aside.”

As a duo, Oakes shares an equal foot­ing with McGhee. De­spite more than two decades of play­ing gui­tar with Suede, he’ll al­ways be the new boy to many.“It used to re­ally irk me and Neil but now we just ac­cept it,” he says philo­soph­i­cally. “Sean’s hus­band Phil is a big Marillion fan, and peo­ple still talk about Fish. He hasn’t been in the band for 30 years! It’s just ab­surd, but there we are.”

McGhee’s anx­i­eties in­clude peo­ple think­ing the al­bum’s ti­tle might be in some way a ref­er­ence to a cer­tain ref­er­en­dum: “We wrote these songs be­fore the Brexit vote, which I think is a ter­ri­ble thing for this coun­try. There was a mo­ment a few years ago where the idea of English­ness was be­ing slightly re­ha­bil­i­tated, but now we’re back to this two World Wars one World Cup lit­tle Eng­lan­der jin­go­is­tic Em­pire bull­shit that I have no in­ter­est in.” JA


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