The late John McGeoch (25 August 1955 – 4 March 2004) was a key part of many important and successful bands of the post-punk era. His guitar work was, if you’ll pardon the pun, instrumental in the way the sound of Magazine and Siouxsie & The Banshees developed and evolved over successive albums. He was also at the heart of the early material from Visage and in later years he helped fill out, especially in the live setting, the songs of The Armoury Show and Public Image Ltd. It’s worth mentioning too that he guested in the studio for the likes of Generation X, Peter Murphy and The Sugarcubes.
McGeoch hailed from the blue-collar town of Greenock, some 20 miles west of Glasgow. At the age of 16, his family moved to London and upon leaving school he successfully applied to attend Manchester Polytechnic to study fine art. One of his best friends, and indeed flatmate, was Malcolm Garrett who was part of the Buzzcocks inner-circle. It was Garrett who had no hesitation in recommending McGeoch to Howard Devoto, firmly believing that his friend, notwithstanding his key influences were the blues and Eric Clapton, was an exceptional talent who would be perfect for Magazine.
He was part of that band from 1977 to 1980, playing on the first three albums, but leaving before the largely underwhelming Magic, Murder and the Weather was written and recorded. Within a matter of months, he had become a Banshee. He played on three LPs, and was also part of seven hit singles, all of which are considered to be among the best ever recorded by the band – Happy House, Israel, Spellbound, Arabian Knights, Fireworks, Slowdive and Melt!
It was this period in particular that led the likes of Johnny Marr and Jonny Greenwood to later proclaim him amongst their heroes, pointing out how his style of playing was unique, effortless and incredibly creative. It is particularly telling that they both cite his work on this song as being particularly ground-breaking and influential:-
Released in May 1981, Spellbound reached #22 in the UK charts. It was deserving of much more than that but then again, it is hard for something as distinctive and unworldly sounding to get much in the way of daytime radio play. It did spawn this Top of the Pops appearance:-
The full gothic majesty of the song is probably best appreciated in its 12” version, which lasts some 80 seconds longer:-
Here’s yer b-sides for completeness (the latter of which is among the strangest things the band ever did) :-
The saddest thing about John McGeoch’s time with the Banshees is the way it ended in that he suffered a nervous breakdown due to the stresses of touring and his increasing fight with alcoholism, both of which contributed to him collapsing on stage during a performance in Madrid in 1982.
He rebounded in some style, and one of the obituaries at the time of his death in 2004 said, “he transformed PiL from a left-field, experimental outfit into a provocative, marauding rock band, becoming their longest-serving member bar John Lydon, staying until the band dissipated in 1992.”
I’ve contemplated pulling together an ICA featuring songs to which John McGeogh has contributed. It’s something I will turn my attention to in the fullness of time, unless someone else fancies volunteering.