Back in 1997 when Magic Arm was going about his daily business as Marc Rigelsford he decided to move to up from Worthing to study photography at Stockport College. Sixteen years later and a switch of art forms his love of the visual world still frames his love of the music world. Presumably photography gave him his stage name (a Magic Arm holds a camera or light fixture in place in variety of situations), film the new album title Images Rolling and painting the album cover. And, as he says on his website, he only got into making music in the first place to lend a hand to a film-maker friend who needed a soundtrack. If you take an hour off to lie down and properly listen to his music though, the connection between the two art worlds comes even more into focus – you can see his songs. They are the kind that get stuck in your head. They are the kind that make you see the world differently. In the medical world this sensory swap-shop is called synaesthesia, in the creative one – bingo time! He has captured imagination.
In a joint effort to increase his exposure Magic Arm is now signed to Switchflicker and Peacefrog. He is an independent artist in the truest sense of the word. Self-taught on his instruments – from drums to guitar to harmonica to keyboards and piano to pedal loops and Pro Tools – he’s also written, recorded and produced this latest album for two years in a hermit like vacuum at home. “I’m literally trying to write pop music but it never comes out that way, there’s always a dark edge to it,” he says on his website. Switchflicker label head Jayne Compton says she can see his journey being something akin to Swedish folk-pop labelmate Jose Gonzalez. “All he needs is a breakthrough song like Heartbeats on an advert and he’ll be off,” she said.
Although not a household name yet, his audience is widening. Musically nods go out to The Beatles (on a trippy day), the Beta Band, Elliott Smith, label-mate Jose Gonzalez, Grizzly Bear (on a melodic day), Hot Chip, Badly Drawn Boy and Bon Iver et al. While acolytes include 6Music’s Marc Riley, Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam and Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear who wrote on his blog of the first EP Outdoor Games in 2006, ‘Two things I love: my dog and Magic Arm’.
It’s been four years since the first album Make Lists, Do Something was released. Compared to Images Rolling it has an altogether more eclectic electronic core with the stand-out tracks being Widths and Heights, Bootsy Bootsy, Outdoor Games and the cute hidden track right at the end is a sonic harbinger. Since then he’s grown a beard, learnt some Spanish and cultivated a more rounded consistent natural sound under the listening influence of Yann Tiersen, Simon and Art Garfunkel and the soundtracks of Michael Galasso.
With a total running time at just over half an hour the ten tracks on the new album are best to listened to on loop. Repeatedly they come into their own on those kinds of days, you know, hangover days, comedown days, headphones at work days, tender post-coital shenanigan days, late night driving days, going on holiday days, beach days, dinner party days, any day with the word day in it really.
It might not be full of hits but the hook-laden opener Put Your Collar Up, Great Life and The Flood have the power to make any high street or a shopping mall a semi-religious experience. I know. It happened to me. Two months ago I was walking down Market Street in Manchester, stressed unhappy people trapped between baseball caps and trainees everywhere. They were squinting into the Saturday afternoon as if just come up from living underground when Put Your Collar Up and Great Life came pouring through my headphones back-to-back. The normal Dickensian atmosphere of the street was suddenly transformed into a bearable celebration of life. People looked human again. Pure pop sensation.
The songs beautifully document apathy ‘no-one tries at anything’, the age of over-information, pointless striving, ageing and in Tonight I Walk the chirpy power of finding your own way. In the last line on the last track The Flood (which also has the album title lyric in it) he laments ‘you don’t have to belong’. It shouldn’t take many listens for his sofa-comfy
voice to break through onto permanent rotation in your brain. If that doesn’t do the trick there’s always Ben Dumville’s glorious trumpet playing, the recurrent harpsichord-style piano peppered throughout or the infectious snake charm swing of Is History.
In these times of smash-and-grab culture it’s lucky for Magic Arm that his bag o’tunes sound even better live. At a secret gig in Kraak, Manchester, a friend of mine fell in love with him at first sound. A notoriously difficult man to please his on-the-spot review went something like this: ‘he’s a bit nervous isn’t he / the songs made me melt / the flipping between instruments and pedals is hypnotic’. This love at first sound is starting to happen a lot. Whenever I play this album ears attached to all kinds of heads prick up. Pierced ears. Drunk ears. Dirty ears. Friend’s at parties ears. Egotistical artist’s ears. My 4-year-old nephew’s easily distracted ears. People deep in conversation ears. My mother’s ears. Hipster ears. Janice Long’s ears. Chef ears. Keep an eye out for him.
Magic Arm’s Images Rolling is released 3 June 2013 in a collaboration between Peacefrog and Switchflicker. Pre-order limited edition vinyl for £13.99 inc P&P. Tour starts on Thursday 9 May at The Caves, Edinburgh.