The Magic Numbers heavenly melodies and west of Ireland connections

IN 2005 London group The Magic Numbers became instant radio favourites with the release of their eponymous debut album and its catchy singles ‘Love Me Like You’, ‘Forever Lost’, ‘Love’s A Game’ and ‘I See You, You See Me’.

The group is made up of two pairs of brothers and sisters. Trinidad-born Romeo (lead guitar/vocals ) and Michelle Stodart (bass/keyboard/vocals ) and London-Irish siblings Sean (drums ) and Angela Gannon (percussion/melodica/vocals ).

All attended the same Catholic secondary school in Ealing and bonded over a passionate interest in music, particularly to the dreamy, sun-kissed, American sounds of The Byrds and The Beach Boys.

The Magic Numbers were shortlisted for the Mercury Prize in 2005 and were nominated for Best Breakthrough Act at The Brit Awards the following year. They have been described in the music press as “a word-of-mouth phenomenon whose affable live shows have been compared to happy clappy religious experiences”.

With the release of Those the Brokes in 2006 and The Runaway earlier this year they have attracted many new fans and have illustrated that their sound is in almost constant development. In 2008 the band collaborated with West African group Amadou and Mariam and the resultant single ‘All I Believe In’ was included on the Twilight soundtrack.

The band will make a much-anticipated return to Galway on Saturday December 4 at 8pm when they play an intimate show at the Róisín Dubh as part of a special pre-Christmas Irish tour.

Rendezvous in Hanwell

West London comprises the boroughs of Brent, Ealing, Hammersmith/Fulham, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow, and Kensington/Chelsea. Over the years many people from the west of Ireland have made their homes there.

Sean and Angela Gannon are the children of Irish emigrants and spent their formative years in the area.

“My dad’s from Achill Island in Mayo and my mum is also originally from Mayo but she grew up in County Meath,” Angela says. “Both Sean and I consider ourselves Irish and in Hanwell, where we grew up, pretty much everyone else was Irish too. You were always very aware of your roots.”

Sean and Angela and their siblings attended the local comprehensive, Cardinal Wiseman Roman Catholic, alongside many other children with strong Irish backgrounds, including my own first cousins the Clearys.

“They were in the same year as my brother Anthony and my sister Eileen,” says Angela. “They would’ve been in Romeo’s year as well.”

Romeo and Michelle Stodart are the children of a Scottish father and Portuguese mother. They were born on the Caribbean Island of Trinidad and raised in New York until the mid-1990s. When they were 16 and 10, respectively, they moved to London and began attending Cardinal Wiseman School.

“They had quite strong American accents when they came over first,” Angela states. “I think a lot of people were slightly intrigued by them because they were a bit different. It was my brother Anthony who first became friends with Romeo and it was through Anthony that Romeo met Sean.

Anthony still plays a bit of music but he’s actually a professional chef these days, it’s great because we all get to go around to his house for Christmas dinner every year.”

The Gannons and Stodarts became fast friends. Sean and Romeo formed a band and would regularly meet at the Rendezvous Café in Hanwell to discuss their plans for world domination. They regularly gigged in the local area but there was something missing in their sound.

“I used to go see Sean and Romeo play together in the band when I was about 13,” Angela says. “Then Romeo asked if myself and his sister Michelle could do backing vocals for them. I always liked to sing, even when I was very little. It was my first time actually being in a band but after that first rehearsal with them I was totally hooked.”

Chart breakthrough

After a number of name changes the group eventually settled on The Magic Numbers and toured the London circuit. Even from their earliest days as a group they began garnering attention from established acts such as The Chemical Brothers and Travis.

“We had a show at The Barfly in 2004 and it was a big London show for us because there were quite a few music industry people at it,” Angela recalls. “We had no idea that Travis were there or that they were looking for a support act for their upcoming UK tour.

“The show went well and they approached us afterwards to see if we’d be interested in doing the support. It all kind of started from there and just got bigger and bigger as the year progressed.”

In late 2004 The Magic Numbers went into the Metropolis Studios in Chiswick to record their eponymous debut album. Upon its release in June the following year it received widespread radio play, went to No 7 in the British Albums Chart and produced four Top 30 singles

The band was compared to everyone from The Beach Boys to the Mamas and The Papas and was seen as genuine contenders to ‘break’ the American charts.

“Romeo is a big fan of The Byrds and The Beach Boys so when we were compared to them it made sense,” Angela admits. “Though the Mamas and The Papas’ comparisons made no sense to us at all because we’d never even listened to them. It was quite a vibrant time for British music because there was ourselves, Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party, Hard-Fi, Maximo Park, and Anthony and the Johnsons all emerging that year. It was kind of the last year that bands were able to make money out of selling records.”

The high point of the year came towards the end of 2005 when The Magic Numbers supported The Beach Boys leader and main songwriter Brian Wilson on his British tour. The pop music genius has battled mental illness for many years but in recent times has produced some of his best work.

“He’s a really nice guy but he’s not completely all there,” Angela points out. “Though I suppose we’ll all be like that eventually! It was amazing for us to get on stage and sing harmonies with his backing band. It happened around the time we had a whirlwind of stuff going on. It was only afterwards we sat down and took stock of the fact that we sang with him.”

In the years since their initial whirlwind success the group has silenced the naysayers and continues to be a huge live draw. They headlined the Arthur’s Day celebrations in September and then undertook an extensive European tour.

“We’ve always had really good shows in Scandinavia, especially in Stockholm and Malmö,” Angela says. “This time around we really connected with the audiences in Germany too. We love touring Ireland because it’s always absolutely mental.

“The last few times we played Galway my dad’s second cousins from Achill came to see us. All our cousins are either in Ireland, Canada, America, Australia or London. They’re spread out all over the place. So, it’s really cool for us when we’re touring.”

Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.



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