By Jordan Mooney.
Proof reading by Rowan Jackson.
It is rare I find an album on the topic of love to be an interesting listen.
We’ve often bemoaned the influx of fop-haired tits with acoustic guitars crooning about a lass they saw on a bus, and this continues – in some form or another – to be a regular submission to the Webzine.
So when one sees a piece labelling itself as raising a glass for the ‘Old Romantics’, you can’t help but being drawn in a tad; the evocative title will attract any man who thinks he can carry such a label…
Magic Eight Ball are a group with some big names attached and an increasingly sizeable following to match. Having worked with bigwigs from the likes of Bullet For My Valentine and Enuff Z’nuff, Baz Francis and Robbie Holland are already ushering in a ten year anniversary with their community of billiard aficionados and rock fans alike.
Of course, the album has another ace up its sleeve; spoken words from the rather incredible cult figure, comedian and out-and-out legend to the alternative and beyond… the late, great Mr. Rik Mayall. Yes, Rik Mayall. Not through stock audio, not through stolen snippets from the Beeb’s cutting room; the actual man in the studio, approximately one month before he left this earthly plane far too soon, forcing your intrepid writer into darkness consisting of many beer bottles and a Young Ones binge. I’d remember it well if I wasn’t still hungover.
Many might shun this as a celebrity cameo from a series of begging letters; you couldn’t be more wrong. Mr. Mayall practically acts as a backbone for the lot; there couldn’t be an album more fitting for such a man to take part. Even so many years after his roles as rebellious, anarchic little bastards and smashing Edmonson over the head with fire extinguishers, he still makes an utterly marvellous voice for any embittered generation or soul in a sea of wankers, and he sets the stage beautifully for what is, ultimately, a very accessible, very easy listen with a good head on its shoulders, brilliant sense of humour, and a massive amount of talent. The album is an excellent symbol for just why we miss the man so bloody much.
“There were pitifully few of them to start with. Placed among the hordes of boss-eyed lovers, sat upon park benches, right through to the wordless man-monkeys, fixing themselves besides rows of body-length mirrors…”
The first thing that stands out to me about the record is just how clean it all sounds. There is a very real pop accessibility there, but it doesn’t feel neutered or over-restrictive; just well polished. The guitars still pack a bite and there’s no shortage of head-nodding or vocal range – it’s sort of like one of these huge teenage idols decided to grow some balls and made something proper; it feels chart worthy, capable of plastering itself all over the radio for two weeks or so.
The record seems to take a people-watching approach rather than being a self insert for the songwriter – it goes about its merry way with a whole host of colourful tales that are immensely relatable, but take the viewpoint of a retrospective observer, looking back on his love life and picking it apart bit-by-bit. It’s a little unusual for a record about love accepting how bloody stupid love can be; especially when you feel isolated and underappreciated – and rather than whining, going through two-tone runs of complaints and rather flawed logic about how a teenage romance could have lasted for life, it seems to pick flaws on the many rivalling concepts that make love such a challenging diversion for any man, woman or those between.
Everything is incredibly smooth flowing; tracks lead in and out of each other beautifully, like a particularly long guitar-driven waltz – Rik makes another appearance to split the record into two acts, making for a rather witty repertoire and evidence of the group’s self awareness. The first act, tracks one to five, start off on a more retrospective note, dashes of sentimentalism that slows down as it ebbs along, until we reach a melodious, even luxurious little ballad. The album has changed flight paths, it seems, and we’re now going to venture into softer, warmer, more emotional territory…
“Well?! Shall we…PRRRROCEED? HMM?!”
Rik Mayall acts as a rude, over-bearing jumper cable (and we love it) as the album suddenly kicks back into life with a tone of angrier, more cynical narratives – as if you’ve been at the Red Lion with the man himself, sipping brown ales a-plenty while he spends the evening telling you how much of a stupid prat you are for getting bogged down into so much emotion. With its energy reinvigorated, the album thunders along back at a heavier pace, once again flowing as smooth as butter, and steadily mellows out again. Rather like those damned emotions we all feel, the anger can’t keep up forever. We’re all only human, and following the initial anger is always sadness. You’re walking home from The Red Lion, and your confidence ebbs away. Suddenly you don’t want to punch things anymore, you don’t hate people – you don’t even hate the person responsible for hurting you. You just carry on walking.
By the final, softer, and perhaps most willingly sentimental track, On The Days That You Wish You Could End It All, Rik leaves us with a message that will doubtless carry the same emotional, introspective message…
“Ahh…well, they’re a nice enough bunch of guys; But that Baz really is a complete and utter cunt!”
Oh Rik. Why did you have to leave us?
It’s funny how much this record finds fit in Mayall’s contribution. It’s a fine, spearheaded album that acts as a fittingly raucous but amiable testament to those hurt and confused by the idea of modern romance and sentimentalism. It sets out in a stride, and despite the odd change in velocity here and there, continues to wade determinedly through a sea of bullshit from the world around it to provide a rather lovely glimpse of what an inoffensive but creatively fulfilled record can achieve.
It really does feel like it’s capable of painting the charts, without castrating itself
or aiming for a more popular viewpoint of non-stop moaning about a specific woman that wouldn’t share a taxi. It’s a very touching little piece that captures a very real, very relatable and very genuine emotional journey with a surprisingly deft accuracy.
It’s perhaps not one of the most complex or exotic of the LPs we’ve had pop up on our Webzine; but it’s certainly very easy to enjoy, has a lot of novelty, and perhaps most importantly, gives you a bit of time to think.
Don’t get drunk and try texting the ex. Just don’t.
We decided to chase down Mr. Baz Francis and interrogate him on relevant matters of state. You know you want to discover what will doubtless be known as the Mayall Odyssey…
Cat on the Wall: Hello there, and welcome to Cat on the Wall! Please, introduce yourself to our readers.
Baz: Hi Jordan! Thank you for having us on. My name is Baz Francis, and I’m the singer, guitarist and songwriter in the Surrey-based band Magic Eight Ball.
COTW: You are of course here to talk about Magic Eight Ball, your three piece rock outfit… how would you describe it to the uninitiated?
Baz: I’d say that we’re purveyors of powerpop rock n’ roll, with a squeeze of soul, and, these days, a twist of hard rock too!
COTW: Magic Eight Ball’s career has been… fruitful to say the least! You’ve done a lot of touring, have crossed the pond, are working on a third album, and the previous two have had some rather impressive guests. How has the journey been for you so far – and do you have any particular highlights?
Baz: Looking back on some things I’ve done with Magic Eight Ball (and by myself to promote the band) makes me so proud, especially when I forget something cool that we did 6 years ago or wh
enever! As for highlights; the collaborations with long-time inspirations of mine, kudos from such people, and playing in new countries or bigger stages have all been great, I must say. Another major thing is all the well wishing we’ve received for our efforts, and the new friends that we’ve made along the way.
COTW: How was it Magic Eight Ball first came to be? We understand this is the tenth year of the group’s existence…
Baz: Magic Eight Ball have indeed been going in its various formations for over 10 years now, and as the one constant member from its conception until now, it feels more like a marriage for me than just a band. Since 1999, I had been writing songs for my future band, and, then, I was gigging them every year by myself from 2001 onwards. In 2004, I spoke with an old friend about forming a band to play those songs, and, during our brief time together rehearsing with a drummer, I gave us the name Magic Eight Ball. The following year, I performed the first gig as Magic Eight Ball with our new bassist at the time, then, in 2006, we performed the first show as a full band – and began work on our first EP, ‘A Peacock’s Tale’. As you can see, it took a long time and hard work just to get to the first show (hence the name of our first album)!
COTW: Said first album had two rather eminent musical collaborators, of course, in the form of Jason Bowld (Bullet For My Valentine) and Donnie Vie (Enuff Z’nuff) – the latter of whom you’ve built what seems to be a considerable partnership! How was it these two first became conspired in your work – have they been influential in Magic Eight Ball’s foundation?
Baz: Jase and Donnie are both great guys, and talented players, but they’re fairly recent additions to the fold with me (and I to them) as I first worked with them in 2012 and 2011, respectively. Jase happened to be a friend of our producer Dave Draper, and he agreed to record on our first album at his studio – and, from then on, we just hit a great stride and working relationship. He really is an awesome drummer. Donnie and I, however, met when I shoved my foot in the door and got to eventually open for his solo band 5 years ago. Surprisingly to everyone concerned, we’ve gone on to record, tour and perform across Europe a bunch of times since. He refers to me as his little sister these days, which is a lot nicer than other things he’s called me!
COTW: Looking into the latest album, Last Of The Old Romantics, there’s a lot of commentary I find very relatable… Is the album built of personal experience, or from the rather cynical people-watching alluded to in the intro?!
Baz: I’m so glad you feel that way about it, as Last Of The Old Romantics was lived by me in full! It was such a personal record for me that, when I heard the final mix for the first time, I was overcome with pride that I could turn a load of shit in my life into something I found so beautiful.
COTW: Perhaps most immediately catching for me is comedy legend, alternative icon and veritable cult overlord Mr. Rik Mayall on the Romantics’ cast list. If you pardon our blunt methods.. how on Earth did you catch him?!
Baz: Be as blunt as you like, I still can’t quite get over it myself! Basically, I was still riding high on the momentum of our album, ‘Sorry We’re Late But We’re Worth The Wait’, and I figured we might as well ask all our heroes to be on our next record. There was only one narrator I wanted though, and that was Rik. I contacted his agent and began negotiations with her, which included sending them our first album. To my delight, they both loved it – so I was then asked to send a script to them (which I did after writing the poem the next day), and a date was finally cemented in the diary for the following month. We of course had no idea that a month after that he would be gone.
COTW: I bet it was a very eventful recording session. Any trademark humour, unusual stories?
Baz: It was a relatively short session that seemed like it gave us an eternity’s worth of anecdotes and great stories! The man was just so full of life and so much fun, and he really did speak in the filthy manner you’d hope that he would, but thought was probably just an act for TV! I wanted to use his gag of him going to call me a rude word at the end of the record and then cutting him off midway. Rik refused and said he would simply have to call me a cunt! I am genuinely honoured that I was probably the last person he ever called that on tape…
COTW: The rather wonderful introduction piece; was this written purely of your own hands, or did he provide some input too?
Baz: I wrote the poem myself and then Rik brought his inimitable inflections, style and class to it, which gave it a new life, and is poetry in itself. He had so much soul and really invested himself to contributing that to our record. It was something that you cannot explain with mere mathematics; it really was quite magical to behold him at work.
COTW: You are, I understand, currently working on your next album… anything you can tell us about it? Can we expect more in the way of unusual & impressive collaborations?
Baz: We are indeed! It’s well on its way to being out in April on Magic Cat Records. It’s very different, and a heavier record overall compared to the last two, but for people who’ve followed us over the years I think it might also seem like a natural progression. It’s still Magic Eight Ball, just with a harder edge. Jase Bowld is back on drums for the third time, and Dave Draper is once again producing and playing alongside me. We nearly had another special guest on the album who may still be coming down to the studio if schedules allow, but either way, the album’s out in April 2016!
COTW: How is the studio process with Magic Eight Ball? Is it a wild ride every step of the way, or do you prefer to stick to a regime?
Baz: Over the last 10 years with Magic Eight Ball (and the 9 years prior to that) I’ve recorded and worked with many people in studio. When I first met Dave (Draper) in early 2011 as we were completing our EP, ‘Mother Nature’s Candy’ however, we just clicked into what has been perhaps the most fruitful musical relationship of my life. I wouldn’t call it ‘a regime’, as we’re both willing to try new things and push our own creative envelopes in and around the studio, but we do have our methods that seem to work for us. In the studio, the core of Magic Eight Ball has been Dave Draper, Jason Bowld and myself on all three of our albums so far.
COTW: What else can we expect from you in the future? Big touring plans, etc…?
Baz: Well, with the new album out in April this year, I shall be kicking off mine and the band’s European touring plans with my first ever solo show in the Faroe Islands later that month. That will be amazing, and more dates will then follow for the band and I across the UK and mainland Europe.
Donnie Vie, Lewis John and I also have a new single out as V8 called ‘Mrs Vandevelde’ to download from 22nd February, and then it’ll be available on Limited Edition cream vinyl on Dharma Bucks Records on 7th March. I’m then making my first solo record with Lewis in the second half of the year, with some other surprises along the way too, so stay tuned!
COTW: And, finally, do you have any final words to give to your fans, friends, family…even us?! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and we hope we’ll see you soon!
Baz: Cat on the Wall rocks our boat in a sea of cream soda and electric sharks! For you and everyone else who supports what Magic Eight Ball and I do: big love.
Isn’t that lovely?! We disagree – that Baz isn’t a complete cunt at all!
Magic Eight Ball’s The Last Of The Old Romantics was released via Magic Cat Records in November 2014; and is still picking up the press (apparently!) We heartily recommend one of the following:
Order one direct here!
Don’t forget to keep up with Magic Eight Ball – particularly with their Facebook, where you’ll find lots of great offers for physical copies of every record they’ve released, all the latest news and a very personable method of communication with Baz himself.