Magic Numbers Interview - Magic Numbers: smiles and heartaches

EMMA LEE Their chirpy, upbeat songs led to the Magic Numbers being dubbed the band that got Britain smiling again. But they stormed off of Top of the Pops after a jibe about their weight. Michele Stodart told EMMA LEE what happened.


When I speak to Magic Numbers singer Michele Stodart, the band has unexpectedly found itself in the middle of a media frenzy. A few days before our interview the Nationwide Mercury Prize-nominated quartet, which is made up of two sets of siblings, walked out of their debut appearance on Top of the Pops after presenter Richard Bacon made a jibe about their weight.

Introducing them he said: “What do you get when you put two brothers and two sisters in a band? A big fat melting pot.”

Michele, brother Romeo and band-mates Angela and Sean Gannon were so upset by the comment they refused to perform, and the story made the tabloids, the broadsheets and was even a discussion topic on BBC Radio Five Live.

Bacon was said to be “mortified” by their reaction and a BBC spokesman claimed it was a reference to their “big” status not their size.

The band admit they don't exactly fit the conventional pop star mould but, in a recent interview with music paper NME, Michele's older brother, Romeo, said that she and fellow singer Angela in particular get upset at jibes about their weight.

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Speaking about what happened, Michele says: “We were invited to perform the new single. The presenter said something really derogatory. It was not needed and we just felt really uncomfortable and could not go back on stage and we just walked out, in the nicest possible way, and said we do not want to do your programme.

“We were sorry for the fans who were looking forward to it, and put a statement on our website.”

As for their image, she says: “I think that people like us because we're natural and don't try to follow the trends.”

It has been an amazing year for the foursome, who have been dubbed the band that got Britain smiling again.

Their combination of country soul, west-coast harmonies and melancholy lyrics has proved a hit with music critics and fans alike.

Their self-titled debut album was nominated for the Nationwide Mercury Prize, Mojo magazine named them the best new band and they've been a highlight of the summer festivals.

The quartet had been friends for years before they formed a band. Michele and Romeo lived in Trinidad and New York before settling in London where the Gannons were the first friends they made.

Michele's accent has picked up influences from the different places she's lived in. One moment she sounds like a cockney, the next a Yankee twang creeps in.

And the conversation is punctuated by one of the cheekiest chuckles I've ever heard.

Did she ever expect things to take off in the way they did?

“Not at all. The way it has come together and the reaction we have had for the album is just amazing. I never expected to be nominated for the Mercury Prize. It's a huge honour.”

Explaining how the band got together, she says: “I was always completely in awe of Romeo's song-writing. I was a huge fan of the music he was singing. I was writing my own music but we never really crossed paths. Each of us was egging the other on to keep writing. It came together by accident.

“My aim was to be a student for as long as possible. Romeo was concentrating on his music and working in record shops. Sean was a waiter at some point and Angela was working as well.

“We gave up our jobs when we knew the band was taking off - we were playing gigs every day and it was impossible to keep it up. If I could do any job in the world I would definitely do this one. It's really good doing something you have wanted to do for years.”

She says she discovered music at an early age. “I was always singing along to records and my Mum used to sing in Trinidad as well. I know I picked that up from her. I can remember her singing Bert Bacharach songs. That stuff never really leaves you.

“I think that the four of us do have our musical differences, but I think the main thread is singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Nick Cave. As a harmony group we learn from other harmony bands. We're all into Guns N Roses too - it's deep down there in a few guitar licks,” she laughs, also confessing that her favourite karaoke songs include cheesy '80s rock hit Final Countdown by Europe and Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive.

The Magic Numbers' songs are bittersweet. The happy melodies are deceptive and the lyrics reveal heartbreak, loss and alienation.

For example the song Forever Lost has the refrain: “Looks like it all went wrong. What am I to do?”

“It's pretty depressing actually,” Michele chortles, sounding anything but. “A happy sad medium. For the band I think it's like finding positivity through the music. The lyrics are about going through a huge heartache and the music lifts you and carries you through the ups and downs. Everyone goes through the worst of times and heartaches. I think that's why the four of us clicked and put our emotions into it. When you go to your guitar you go when you are vulnerable and reflective.

“You need that heartache,” she says.

t This month the Magic Numbers play sold-out shows The Junction in Cambridge (October 12) and the UEA in Norwich (October 16). Their album, also called The Magic Numbers, is out now on Heavenly Recordings/EMI.