It was some time in the mid eighties that I realized that I had every album that John McGeoch ever played on and furthermore, these were among my favorite records ever made. Scotland born, he moved to Manchester to attend the University there. It was there he was introduced to Howard Devoto and became the defining, first guitarist of the quintessential post-punk band, Magazine. He played the insinuating riff that made “The Light Pours Out Of Me” lodge in my brain and never leave and continued through the first three brilliant albums by that band: “Real Life,” “Secondhand Daylight” and “The Correct Use of Soap.”
His playing on 1980’s “Soap,” in particular, show him at the top of his form. With the album’s perfect blend of art and commerce, its relative failure in the marketplace spurred McGeoch on to seek greener pastures. He joined his partners in Magazine Barry Adamson and Dave Formula when they moonlit as part of the New Romantic supergroup Visage. There he got his wish for success when their classic single “Fade To Grey” topped the charts in the UK and in many other territories. His playing on the first Visage album gives it a taut rock edge missing in the more louche “Anvil” album of 1982. But McGeoch couldn’t make those sessions since by that time he had been invited to join Siouxsie & The Banshees.
He immediately gave that band the boost they needed to reach their true potential when he played on their breakthrough 1980 album “Kaliedoscope.” The next year’s incredible “Juju” album remains a fan favorite to this day with cuts like “Spellbound” and “Monitor” benefitting ferociously from his playing. Acoustic strumming informs the former while his Bo Diddley in Hell riffage on the latter all but defines the latter song. He managed to moonlight on a few other albums in 1981. He added a memorable intro to Tina Turner’s comeback single, “Ball Of Confusion” from B.E.F.’s “Music Of Quality And Distinction vol. 1” and he also contributed to the final Generation X album, “Kiss me Deadly,” which provided singer Billy Idol with the springboard to launch a solo career. Finally, he played on Ken Lockie’s “Impossible” album, which is, astonishingly not yet in my collection.
First of all, I have every other album Lockie made under the name Cowboys International and his single solo album is on my want list, but in all candor, until researching this post, I had no idea McGeoch was on this record! But it’s telling that he played on a record I want, but didn’t know he was on. That’s what makes him so compelling to me. That his playing is excellent is self-evident, but it’s his taste in picking projects (for whatever reasons) that make him such a captivating performer to me. That he is Scottish, goes without saying!
After playing on The Banshees noveau-psychedelic “A Kiss In The Dreamhouse,” McGeoch ended up hospitalized for a drinking problem and found that the band had moved on without him. By the time he’d sorted things out, Robert Smith of The Cure found himself in the guitarist’s seat in The Banshees. McGeoch’s next move was another smart one. He was asked to join Richard Jobson’s post-Skids band Armoury Show. McGeoch knew the Scot band from their earlier period in The Skids when he filled in on a Peel Session when their guitarist Stuart Adamson, was ill. When Adamson left to form Big Country, Jobson and company went forward with McGeoch under the new name Armoury Show. Their single album, 1985’s “Waiting For The Floods” shows that not all UK bands were floundering in 1985. Astute readers may remember when their “Castles In Spain” was a recent Song of the Day.
But Armoury Show imploded after the indifference of fools, and once again John found himself available for the right employer. When Peter Murphy covered “The Light Pours Out Of Me” for his excellent debut album “Should The World Fail To Fall Apart,” he was astute enough to secure the services to McGeoch to play once more on the track since none could better the originator. After that project, enter one John Lydon, who snapped up the available guitarist for the last trilogy of albums for P.I.L. This was the period of “Happy?” “9” and “That What Is Not.” It was during this time that I finally had the privilege of seeing McGeoch perform when I saw P.I.L. on their tours for the “Happy?” and “9” albums.
On the “Happy?” tour they were opening for INXS on their “Kick” tour in 1988 and while I was a fan of INXS and thought the “Kick” album deserved its popular success, I remember saying to friends after the show that a meteor could have wiped out the INXS dressing room before the show and I still would have gone home most happy! I enjoyed the opportunity to see P.I.L. headline on their next tour for “9” and it was great having another chance to see McGeoch’s awesome playing in a live setting. He eventually became the longest lasting member of P.I.L. save for Lydon.
After P.I.L. evaporated following their “That What Is Not” album of 1992, that was pretty much it for McGeoch, sadly. He managed to contribute guitar to the track “Gold” on the last Sugarcubes album, “Stick Around For Joy” in 1992 and that was all. He never played on another release and eventually trained and became a nurse. He was reputed to have played music furthermore only on some television soundtracks. His attempts at forming various bands with the likes of Glenn Gregory or John Keeble never having worked out.
Tragically, he died in his sleep on March 4, 2004, leaving behind a wide legacy of creative playing on a large number of albums in my core collections. Unfortunately, his absence is the fly in the ointment of the otherwise welcome reformation of Magazine that’s taken place during the last few years, but it speaks volumes that fill-in guitarist Noko [himself no slouch on the six strings – hear his incendiary playing on Luxuria’s magnificent “Unanswerable Lust” for proof] has taken great pains to replicate McGeoch’s gear and techniques; going so far as to not improvise a note or attack! When a great guitarist sublimates his creativity to honor another, that’s some real respect. And respect is what we’re serving here at PPM for a player who managed to never let us down in a 14 year career of only acmes and no nadirs.