Interview: Magic Brothers
Published on September 20th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Magic Brothers are Madness drummer Daniel ‘Woody’ Woodgate and his younger brother Nick, who was sectioned under the mental health act at the age of 27 and was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia.
This led to them collaborating with the UK charity Rethink Mental Illness, for whom Woody acts as an ambassador alongside Dame Judi Dench and Alastair Campbell; and if the first song to be released from the album is anything to go by, we’ve got an absolute treat in store.
“You Don’t Have to Hide Your Love Away” is an instant classic, leading a distinctly Madness skank into the kind of string-swept beauty that The Beatles or ELO would have been proud to call their own.
With Magic Brothers’ debut album The Magic Line penned in for a September 30th release, we caught up with Woody to find out more about it…
…and, of course, we couldn’t resist asking him about Madness too…
Does “You Don’t Have to Hide Your Love Away” give a good indication of what we can expect from the album?
Very much so. The album is a little bit more eclectic, it’s got a few more changes in it, but it’s generally big and fantastic (laughs).
Is it you or Nick singing lead?
That’s Nick. He’s got sort of a cranky little voice and I made the decision to help the process along by getting my wife, who’s got a very sweet voice, to back him. So underneath most of his vocals is my wife just sweetening things a little bit.
Siobhan’s got a cracking voice and she’s in the household, so freely available to do vocals whenever I need (laughs). It’s very handy!
Do you take it in turns to do vocals across the album or is it mostly Nick and Siobhan?
It’s all Nick. I can’t sing a note; I’m like a howling hyena, I’m bloody dreadful. Thankfully I’ve got my brother and my wife to deal with that.
Who plays what on the album, in terms of instruments?
Nick plays most of the instruments. I’m a good programmer, so I’m able to program keyboards and stuff. Nick’s a great guitarist and keyboard player.
We’ve got a great bass player called Mike McEvoy who played with Steve Winwood for years, Soul II Soul, and Ian Dury back in the day. We’ve got Simon Hale who’s a wonderful keyboard player and plays piano on the album. He mixed up the piano-playing with my brother Nick.
Simon’s also a very good string arranger, although I didn’t get him to arrange the strings; I got Mike Kearsey, who’s a wonderful arranger and the trombone player with Madness at the moment, helped me out with all the strings and the brass and the woodwinds and stuff.
The Brass Monkeys, the Madness brass section, play on the album as well. There’s also a string quartet of lovely musicians. It’s quite a big old project, there are lots of people on it.
You and Nick have written a few songs together for Madness. Is a whole album something you’ve been planning to do together for a while?
It just naturally came because Nick started sending these songs just to say “what do you think?”, I told him and then he’d change it. I just went “this is ridiculous” so I bought the same software as him and we started collaborating on songs, sending them back and forth until we were happy with them.
We had enough songs to make an album and we made the decision to record it properly, as in me playing the drums and getting proper musicians in. It just kind of went from there.
In the meantime we chucked some songs over to Madness, they really liked them, and I think that’s the way it’ll be in the future; we’ve already got a second album of material that we’re just about to record, and there are a few that maybe Madness would like.
So we’ll chuck those across to see what the band think, and if they don’t like them then we’ll record it. Very simple, really!
We’re writing a lot together. Nick sends me a couple of songs a week, he’s really prolific, and I complete them by writing middle eights, writing lyrics, rearranging them, then I’ll send them back and he’ll continue the process.
We’ll send them backwards and forwards until we’re happy.
How does Nick’s schizophrenia affect him on a day-to-day basis?
He’s in trouble if he doesn’t take his medication, and he does have episodes; you know, voices, messages from inanimate objects. He can get rather ill when he’s stressed, but with his medication he manages and his life’s very well.
He’s got a partner called Yvonne who’s lovely and looks after him, and it’s been a very healthy and rewarding thing for him to do this project with me because he has a goal in life and he’s doing something he loves.
He’s tried for years to get jobs but he can’t hold them down because he gets ill as it’s just too stressful. But this he seems to thrive at, it’s wonderful.
It’s nice that your partners’ names rhyme!
Yes, it can get rather confusing at times!
Is there another Madness album in the offing?
There is. We’re hoping to start recording next year, so we’ll throw all the songs in a pot like we normally do… We’ve not heard anything yet from anyone, but that’s a process where when we normally get together we’ll say, “Who’s got a song?” and nine times out of ten everyone puts their hand up.
We chuck the songs in a pot and off we go, the process begins.
Woody, thank you.
The Magic Line will be released on September 30th through DWR.