His inventive guitar playing was the soundtrack to the post-punk generation’s lives; jangling melodies and addictive riffs that left them ‘spellbound’.

Greenock-born John McGeoch was responsible for some of the catchiest sounds of the era. But while he paved the way for New Wave and grunge, and influenced a long list of guitarists, his name tended to be overshadowed by the singers he performed beside.

As Siouxsie Sioux, ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon and Magazine’s Howard Devoto grabbed the spotlight, it was ‘unsung hero’ McGeoch’s ingenious guitarwork that provided the distinctive sound.

Now the crucial role the Scots musician played in creating the sound of the 1980s and 1990s, his complex character and the mental and physical toll the cut-throat music industry took on his personal and family life is to be told in a new feature length documentary.

The Herald: Magazine's Howard Devoto and John McGeoch Magazine's Howard Devoto and John McGeoch (Image: Contributed)

McGeoch laid down an innovative guitar style that has survived the passing of time in classic songs like Siouxsie and The Banshees hits ‘Happy House’, ‘Spellbound’ and ‘Christine’.

Prior to that, his distinctive Yamaha guitar work forged the sound of acclaimed Manchester post-punk band Magazine and later set the tone for new wave bands; with Visage, he joined Midge Ure on one of the biggest songs of the Eighties, Fade to Grey.

Read more: Scotland: Crumbling castle being revived by owner with a grand design

But drugs, alcohol and the trials of being on the road with the likes of Public Image Ltd – including a particularly horrific incident when he was hit in the face by a bottle thrown on stage by a ‘fan’ – saw him dropping out to focus on a new life, shunning the macho world of the music industry to raise his daughter, Emily, and retrain as a nurse.

Tragically, he was dabbling with new material when he died in Cornwall in 2004, aged just 48.

The Herald: John McGeoch pictured while on tour in 1979 John McGeoch pictured while on tour in 1979 (Image: Dave Formula)

The new docu-film, co-directed by Scottish filmmakers Paul Sng and Nicola Black, will reflect on his musical genius, personal challenges and legacy. It has also been described as a film about loss, contextualised by his daughter as she unravels the key moments in his glittering career in an industry often insensitive to his gentle spirit.

It will also include elements of his childhood in Greenock, where he first picked up a guitar and stayed until he was 16, when he moved first to London and then to art school in Manchester and into the music industry.

Entitled ‘The Light Pours Out of Me’ – a reference to a Magazine song - the docu-film is also expected to provide new insight into the legendary bands he played with, while at the same time finally propelling his name from the shadows.

The film is to be based on the best-selling biography, 'John McGeoch: The Light Pours Out of Me' by Rory Sullivan-Burke. Published last year, it includes original interviews with Siouxsie Sioux, Howard Devoto, Johnny Marr and Billy Idol.

While among those extolling McGeoch’s prowess is a rollcall of global artists including Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante, Keith Levene of the Clash, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, producer Nick Launay, and Peter Hook.

Read more: Is time finally running out for Orkney's unique dialect?

The film’s co-director Paul Sng, whose past work has included the award-winning documentary ‘Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché’, says he hopes the new work will help cement McGeogh’s name once as for all at the forefront of minds when people recall music from that era.

The Herald: John McGeogh pictured on tour in 1979 John McGeogh pictured on tour in 1979 (Image: Dave Formula)

“Because he was not the focal point for the audience, he didn’t necessarily generate as much recognition,” says Sng.

“He has one of those names that is vaguely familiar. But as soon as I read Rory’s book, I knew I had been listening to his playing without knowing much about him.

“His story needs telling and bringing to a wider audience so that he gets the recognition that he deserves.”

McGeoch has been described as a“brilliant, contradictory, and complex” man whose confident, funny and full of life touring persona masked his insecurities.

He wrestled with addiction, stage fright, and the loneliness of being on the road at a time when there was little support within the music business.

He was at the height of his fame when he unexpectedly opted to quit to spend time with his daughter and become a nurse working with Alzheimer’s patients.

An underlying theme of Sng and Black’s film is the exploration of masculinity and the gender stereotypes at the time, which made his move all the more extraordinary.

The film, being made with support from McGeoch’s family and authorised biographer Rory Sullivan-Burke, will also explore how the world has changed.


The Herald: Greenock-born John McGeogh on stage in 1978Greenock-born John McGeogh on stage in 1978 (Image: Phillipe Carly)

“This is an analogue film framed from a digital age, employing a wealth of archive material across multiple formats, including Super8 (70s), VHS (80s) and MiniDV (90s),” adds Edinburgh-based Sng, a 2022/23 BAFTA Breakthrough Artist whose latest film, Tish, a portrait of Tish Murtha whose photographs captured working-class life in Britain in the 70s and 80s, has just been released.

“The footage from now obsolete media enables the filmmakers to tell a story about a vanished world and explore what has been lost from decades past, juxtaposed with the loss felt by Emily in losing her father and the world in losing a genius guitarist.”

Co-director Nicola Black, a BAFTA winning Producer/Director, adds: “Universal questions, not just about music and creativity, but also about what an artist is willing to sacrifice on the path to recognition are embedded in this film.

“When success turns to pressure, pressure to addiction and fragility is masked by substance abuse, the effects can be devastating.


The Herald:

“Issues of mental health and addiction that are part of our contemporary conversation were not widely discussed when John was at the height of his fame.

Paul Sng and I have an absolute passion to make this film and bring John’s often unsung talents to the big screen. Having undertaken archive research of John playing guitar in Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Armoury Show and PiL, there are extraordinary performances showcasing the breadth and depth of his unique talent. We look forward to alerting a new generation of fans to John’s guitar genius.”

The Kickstarter fundraising campaign ends on Friday, December 8.