Could this be the magic at last?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Here we are at the Borderline club off Charing Cross Road on a Thursday night. Light hits the stage. The red curtain parts. A smartly dressed man appears. He moves towards the table at the front of the stage and slowly lifts the lid of a silver platter to reveal a disembodied head. Sporting an Elvis wig, the head begins to sing. The audience roars. David Devant And His Spirit Wife have arrived.

The crowd seems to know what to expect: we have shadow puppets, balloon shaping and levitation (well, sort of - it's actually a nightie on some poles). The 'magic' is more Tommy Cooper than Paul Daniels; strictly children's party stuff. Which fits the atmosphere. Invited to make spooky noises, the audience responds with moans and shrieks. The Elvis head shouts 'Jump in the air] Turn left] Turn right]' and everyone obliges. Gary and Nick, the Spectral Roadies, step forward and hold aloft placards inviting the audience to 'Dance Now'. The crowd dances. And dances. And dances. Another encore is called for. The placards go up once again, this time bearing the legend 'These boys can play]'

Indeed they can. How's the music? Think of The Beatles' 'Yellow Submarine' and Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, add a touch of Lloyd Cole and a hefty dollop of glam rock . . . and you're sort of getting there.

Yes, David Devant And His Spirit Wife are a band. Mikey, Jem, Foz and Graham are singer, bass player, lead guitarist and drummer respectively - ably assisted by the aforementioned Spectral Roadies, Gary and Nick.

There's no real precedent for us,' says Jem. 'People are always coming up to us after the show and saying how much they enjoyed it,' Mikey interrupts. 'Then they say, 'Oh yeah, the music was good too'. Maybe we've shot ourselves in the foot. But we never consciously set out to play down the music by presenting it as cabaret.'

In fact, they never intended to be anything but a pop group. But two weeks before their first gig the club told them all acts had to be cabaret. The band recruited a couple of friends to help with the magic. Hey presto . . .

It wasn't the first time fate played a hand. Even the band's formation seemed preordained. Mikey tells the story. 'I already knew Jem and Graham and I'd heard about a guy called Foz, who'd been in a band I liked called The Monogram Set. I had this really mad idea that I'd audition for him. Then one day I was in a photocopy shop and there he was. He ended up joining the band.'

That coincidence was part of a chain Mikey says with great seriousness. The first involved the band's name. David Devant was a real-life magician who was at the height of his career in 1912 when he was chosen for the first Royal Command Performance for King George V. He was known reverentially as 'The Master'. When Mikey decided to call the band David Devant And His Spirit Wife he didn't know there really was a Spirit Wife - so called because she levitated on stage.

That finding prompted one of the band's first songs, 'Everything Fits Into Place'. There's more: Like the time Mikey was reading Devant's autobiography in a cafe, and looked up to see a hand-painted plate by someone called Eggerton, which is Jem's surname. Oooh. Then there's the fact that one of Devant's first jobs was as a telephone operator on the London-Brighton line, and half the band lived in London and half in Brighton. Double oooh. And the weirdest coincidence of all - Devant's nickname at school was Monkey Face . . . so was Mikey's. Triple oooh.

Mikey wants to talk about his wig now. He wore it to a party one night and by the end of the evening found himself perched on a windowsill while an inebriated crowd stood below him chanting 'Elvis] Elvis]'

'I'd never had such adulation. From that moment, I knew the wig was part of me, It's like Laurence Olivier - I need a prop to get into the role.' Props like silver-heeled boots and skin-fight black plastic trousers.

'People talk about Peter Gabriel dressing up as a flower, but he wasn't taking the piss out of himself,' says Jem. 'It's such a cliche when bands say they're not about gimmicks, they're about records. Yeah, we do play songs, but we're a massive friggin' gimmick as well.'

The gimmick appears to be working. After little more than 40 gigs and high-profile appearances at clubs such as Smashing and Bass Clef, David Devant And His Spirit Wife's brand of peculiarly English silliness has developed a cult following. They're even Big in Japan, where tapes of their music are wowing Toyko clubbers. Now they're in the studio recording a first single, due this January. An album is in the offing. Then maybe a video of the stage act.

'There are great things in the wind,' Jem deadpans. 'I speak, of course, of the David Devant theme park. We've already secured a site outside Newport Pagnell. We're all very excited.' Everything fits into place.

David Devant And His Spirit Wife will be playing at Komedia in Brighton (0273 670030) on Sunday and at the Borderline (071-734 2095) on 27 October.

(Photograph omitted)

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