The Magic Numbers, Borderline, London <br></br> The Bravery, Roadhouse, Manchester

The softies are back - fancy a cuddle?

'Awww!" they say. "They're lovely!" they say. This, invariably, is how friends react when you tell them that you're going to see The Magic Numbers. Serious people go silly. Frowns turn upside-down. Hard faces melt.

The runaway success of Sean Rowley's Guilty Pleasures club night (and compilation series) - which has encouraged a whole generation to out themselves and shout, Spartacus-like, "Yes! I like mellow Seventies pop-rock!" - is merely a harbinger of a cultural shift which appears to be taking place. There's a New Softness at large, and there's never been a time riper for The Magic Numbers.

So far, there have been only tiny gigs like this one, and there has been only one seven-inch single, "Hymn For Her", of which 500 were pressed up by Heavenly, and when they're gone, they're gone. (I drunkenly left my copy in the Crobar next door afterwards, so if anyone found it, I'd like it back, please.)

The Magic Numbers make a sound which is straight out of Haight-Ashbury in the year of my birth (and a good decade before their own), and inspires immediate parallels with the Lovin' Spoonful, The Byrds and the Mamas And The Papas. This last comparison is echoed visually as well as musically: The Magic Numbers are nobody's idea of a styled, groomed band, and it's fair to say that Marjorie Dawes of Little Britain's Fat Fighters would have the quartet on a diet of "dust!". The foursome comprises two pairs of siblings: Romeo and Michele Stodart, Angela and Sean Gannon. This, to the best of my knowledge, is unprecedented in pop.

If you had to guess, blindfold, where The Magic Numbers came from, you'd hazard Glasgow. They chime with that specifically Scottish vision of perfect jangly pop (Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits). Maybe, as a second guess, you'd nominate Sweden. They evoke the same idealised, imagined Sixties, as The Cardigans (and indeed, Abba is another valid comparison).

In fact, they come neither from north of the border, nor east of the sea, but from west of the Circle Line. The two family units convened in west London (although the Stodarts grew up in Trinidad and New York), and didn't know one another until adulthood. This is counter-intuitive. They sound, in the best possible way, like a bedroom band: making music for the innocent, childlike, hands-on pleasure of making music (an impression which is heightened by their use of school orchestra staples such as the melodica, the xylophone and the tambourine).

There's an almost religious bliss present in the smiles of the converted. And, despite the lack of a commercially available catalogue, these converts can sing every word - and it makes sense. Like the Polyphonic Spree, The Magic Numbers inspire a secular devotion, and there's a redemptive joy in the purity of their harmonies, and their simple songs about falling in and out of love.

The gossip at the bar is of a £350,000 publishing deal with one of the megacorps, which they would need to sell over 100,000 albums to recoup. Everyone knows - and nobody cares - that they will probably never do that. Unless the whole world becomes their bedroom...

Sam Endicott sways with the swagger of a former prize fighter-turned-cabaret crooner, punch-drunk but still proud, hangdog but still handsome. Six foot plus plenty, he surveys the looming beams of the low ceiling, and sings with matinee-idol heroism that we shouldn't look at him that way, "it was an honest mistake". His bare knuckles are inked with the word "LION-IZED".

The Bravery are, if my pop stopwatch isn't telling me lies, bang on time to be this coming year's New Strokes/Killers. But there's a subtle chronological shift afoot. Whereas The Strokes were all about 1978, The Bravery are very 1981.

There are a couple of wind-tunnel quiffs here, one belonging to Endicott, the other to bassist Mike H (who endeavours to wear a different shade of eyeshadow at every gig). But they aren't the only reasons I keep thinking of half-forgotten New Romantic turns like Blancmange and Swansway.

You also have to factor in Endicott's rich baritone, the probing, Japan-like basslines, and the sweep and stutter of John Conway's keyboards. Debut single "Unconditional" even has one of those classic early Eighties breakdowns where it's only drums and vocals, just made for audiences to throw their hands high and make like the "Radio Ga Ga" video.

There's a lot of it about right now (see also The Departure and The Faint). This stuff - the music which was coming out of chic London discotheques when The Bravery were still in their cribs - is the current soundtrack of choice for the alienated-early twentysomething blues.

"This country fucking rules," says Endicott, overwhelmed by end-of-tour emotion, before adding the crowd-pleasing information that Conway's father was born in Manchester. The Bravery seem set to follow the increasingly frequent trend, among American bands, to crack Britain first, then return to the States as hip heroes, validated by our approval.

The feeling is mutual. Outside on the street, The Bravery are mobbed by Mancunian females, and their tour bus - the Black Snail - is defaced by mobile phone numbers scrawled on its window in lipstick. The fuss is not without cause. Even a writer as staunchly heterosexual as I must report that guitarist Michael Zakarin is so pretty you could weep.

The Bravery will be back here in February. I can't help wondering whether they'll wipe their windscreen before then.

s.price@independent.co.uk

The Magic Numbers: Concorde 2, Brighton (01273 673311), 30 Dec; Shepherd's Bush Empire, London W12 (0870 771 2000), 31 Dec

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