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Magic Johnston

Jonathan Schofield gets carried away by Manchester Confidential’s Daniel Johnston gig – tickets available for tonight’s show

Written by . Published on May 22nd 2007.

Magic Johnston

“Are you entertained by deep despair?” sang Daniel Johnston.
Five hundred people looked on spellbound.
“This is the most natural thing, I’ve ever seen,” said a man with a tea-cosy on his head. “The music just seems to be flowing through him, it’s very simple and yet totally effective.”

Damon Gough turned back to watch the strange shuffling figure on stage. You knew what he meant though. Daniel Johnston might seem naïve, his music might be pared down but that liberates him, allows his fancy to roam through sorrow, happiness, loneliness and love.

With anyone else this might sound like a tiresome cliché: an excuse for a lack of sophistication or talent. With Johnston that isn't the case, he has serious mental problems, in particular, manic depression. There is no cleverness in his naivety, no deception just a tortured mind on display. His personal story is a crazed reeling from one crisis to the next. This results in folk-tinged rock ballads right from the heart.

“This is the most natural thing, I’ve ever seen,” said a man with a tea-cosy on his head. “The music just seems to be flowing through him, it’s very simple and yet totally effective.”

This was a tale best told in the remarkable documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston but was plain to see on Monday night.

The main man was ably supported by Former Bullies, Jeffrey Lewis and the witty and talented Adem. Jeffrey Lewis turned in a thundering performance with the song ‘Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror’. All the acts at some point joined Johnston on stage. Former Bullies became the singer’s backing band towards the end of the night – and they’d only had an hour or so rehearsal in the afternoon.

Johnston finished with the anthem 'Devil Town' – and the audience joined in singing merrily along to: ‘I was living in a devil town, I didn't know it was a devil town, Oh lord it really brings me down about the devil town. All my friends were vampires, I didn't know they were vampires, it turns out I was a vampire myself.’

“Not so much a concert, as a happening,” said a member of the sell-out audience in the bar after the two and half hour show.

Exactly. One of those occasions which initially unpromising turns into something memorable. There are still tickets left for tonight, so if you’re free then make your way down to the Comedy Store for this special event.

The most poignant image doesn’t come from the performance though. The Comedy Store dressing rooms can be seen across Rochdale Canal from Whitworth Street West. The curtains were open prior to the show, and the 46 year old musician sat for an age staring into his light bulb fringed mirror in full view of passers-by. A penny for his thoughts indeed. To know the heights, maybe you have to plumb the depths.

Anna Greenwood of the Comedy Store and Badly Drawn Boy

Daniel Johnston’s second night is tonight, 22 May, the venue, The Comedy Store before the gig.

Tickets are £15. Please contact Ticketline: www.ticketline.co.uk

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