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Tricks and treats from exmagician

Belfast duo set to play Camden Assembly

23 January, 2017 — By Allan Ledward

James Smith and Danny Todd of Belfast duo exmagician

DURING a memorable previous visit to play live in Camden Town, James Smith was joined on stage by German dancers and a gospel choir.

“It was kind of unusual,” says James – one half of Belfast duo exmagician – of the night at what was then the Barfly. “We had these two German dancer guys with us, and some gospel singers – it was bizarre. We had to involve these other people. It was really weird, but I think it went well. And I’m pretty sure we played there again after that – a more normal gig. But yeah, we’re looking forward to getting back. Obviously, Camden’s a great area, we’re big fans of it.”

When they return next Thursday (January 26) to play at the Assembly, Smith and longtime friend Danny Todd will, presumably, be without such flamboyant distractions. The focus will be squarely on performing tracks from debut album Scan the Blue, warmly welcomed last spring, after a recording process that James admits was “fussy”.

“I think it’s still being discovered by people,” he adds. “It had its initial flurry of interest. We don’t know how it’s sold – whether that even matters any more in this day and age – but it seems that quite a lot of people are still catching on to it. You kind of go by your social media – Facebook likes and stuff. We’ve had a lot of people in Europe, from Holland, Germany, Spain – a lot of Spanish people seem to be really into it – places that we’d love to go on tour, if we’ve got the money. It seems like a slow burn with us. It’s still out there, gaining fans.”

The ethereal, lightly melancholic groove of beaming ballad Smile To The Gallery – Scan the Blue’s most “Pavementy” track, says James – brought much of the attention to the band, even if it isn’t representative of the “frantic” indie-rock/synth flavour of the other tracks. Waspish single Kiss That Wealth Goodbye is a jagged opener to the album, while Place Your Bets and Job Done are among its other standout tracks.

The pair have welcomed comparisons to Beck, while other soundalike appraisals have been swiftly rejected.

“I know there have been a few, ‘oh, you sound like this’, and we haven’t been happy about it,” says James. “People saying that we sound like Kasabian – which we’d really not want to. There has been the odd compar­ison to Beck. We’re both huge fans of his.”

Exmagician emerged from the break-up of Cashier No.9, whose album To The Death of Fun – produced by David Holmes – won them acclaim, awards and arena support slots.

“We had a hard time splitting up Cashier No.9 and fell out with two of the guys, and had a load of grief with them for about a year,” says James. “I think there was a lot of, kind of, resentment and anger there, I suppose, and I think that’s come out. I definitely saw that in Danny’s lyrics on the album.

“With Cashier No.9 played we played some huge arenas. We supported Snow Patrol on three or four arena dates. We supported Noel Gallagher at Manchester Arena, which is something like 22,000 people. It was kind of ridiculous, and kind of nerve-racking. We seemed to suit it quite well.

“In terms of nerves, I get more nervous at the more intimate ones. The big arenas can be strangely easy to do.”

Exmagician’s UK tour will be followed by some dates a bit closer to home. And from Northern Ireland’s thriving music scene, James points Grooves readers towards acts such as Waldorf & Cannon, Girls Names, Sea Pinks, and the incredibly named Robocobra Quartet.

As for exmagician’s ambitions for 2017, James adds: “It would be nice to get to some festivals over the summer, and just play as much was we can, and get as far as we can.”


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