With an unexplained delayed start it was a little like being back in the seventies. A crowd that snaked around the block and a cool nip that knived them. The support – or perhaps more accurately on this occasion “warm up” – had their work cut out.
Reviews Editor Jason is a big fan of Neonfly and I can see the attraction. I must admit it is a bit of a shock when singer Willy Norton springs on to the stage. The rest of the band look like a bunch of errant hardcore metallers but Norton could easily be taking time out from a West End musical.
The combination of his melodic and theatrical vocal and delivery with grinding if melodic heavy rock is infectious and the band played songs from their debut ‘Outshine The Sun’ and forthcoming album. At times touching on a less frenetic version of power metal, songs like ‘Ship With No Sails’ and ‘A Gift To Remember’ are impressive.
It is clearly evident chatting to Bob Catley or Tony Clarkin over the years that they don’t attach too much sentimentality to anniversaries. Although in November 2007 they were persuaded to tour the complete ‘Wings Of Heaven’. But, in a forty year lifespan, key years come and go and – with this apparent stubbornness – missed opportunities.
It was plainly evident, for example, chatting to Clarkin a couple of months back that – during this tour at any rate – the band wouldn’t be recognising the twentieth anniversary of ‘Rock Art’. Indeed the present setlist revolves around a handful of tried and tested faithfuls mixed with a small (and not the most obvious) slice off the new album.
That interview was an attempt to get behind the mask of Magnum in terms of the recording process and I am left with the conclusion that this is a band that very much plays to Clarkin’s tune both literally and metaphorically. With a songwriter who is known for his consistency this might not be perceived to be a problem but in terms of risk taking and adventure it may not be the best option.
The album ‘Escape From The Shadow Garden’ has received good press although no-one has laboured our Saxon-soundalike accusation which makes me think that reviewers these days are somewhat forgiving (or too young).
The set opening ‘Live ‘Til You Die’, as on the album, is tainted by the obvious association (close your eyes and the spirit of Biff and the Boys who appeared at this venue in February, is omnipresent). Of course any plagiarism appeared to be news to Clarkin’s ears when it was broached in our early album review.
The inclusion of some of the heavier songs from ‘On The 13th Day’ and ‘The Visitation’ was an obvious smart move as they are close in spirit to the new material, whilst the core staples such as ‘Jerusalem’ , ‘Les Morts Dansant’ – and ‘The Spirit’ – are present and correct.
For me the gig really started to come alive with a stellar rendition of ‘All England’s Eyes’ closely followed by a typically compulsive ‘Vigilante’. It can be no coincidence that in these songs you can actually hear Mark Stanway’s always splendid keyboard flourishes.
It is a great shame though that the band don’t use the opportunity to celebrate some of their hidden gems over the years (When The World Comes Down, One Step Away, Stormy Weather, Matter Of Survival…it’s a long list), and whilst personally I can’t get enough of one of the all time great hard rock songs – ‘Vigilante’ – I would also like to hear something less predictable.
Only the strength of the new album saw the band rise above a well trodden setlist although for some bizarre reason two of the standouts ‘Crying In The Rain’ and ‘Wisdom Had It’s Day’ weren’t played. Because of the late start it seemed that the set was a little short, with only one encore – the hardy perennial ‘Sacred Hour’.
Whatever, seeing the mighty Magnum twenty years after they played the Tiv in the same month as a nascent Oasis is quite poignant – soon after that gig the classic line-up split. Two decades on, they have picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and – anniversaries notwithstanding – always reiterate their durability in the face of adversity. Some more setlist surprises could only endear us more.
Review by David Randall
Photos and Gallery by Simon Dunkerley
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
Setlist: 1. Live ’til You Die 2. Black Skies 3. Freedom Day 4. Dance of the Black Tattoo 5. Blood Red Laughter 6. Unwritten Sacrifice 7. How Far Jerusalem 8. Les Morts Dansant 9. Falling For The Big Plan 10. The Spirit 11. All My Bridges 12. All England’s Eyes 13. Vigilante 14. Kingdom of Madness Encore: 15. Sacred Hour
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