Magnum are magnificent. But they do need a gentle kick up their collective jacksy. They are as frustrating as they are brilliant, and they fail to do justice to their unique musical legacy.
This outrageous statement – from a long-term Magnum fan and supporter - can only be reinforced by a set that has changed little in recent times, and identical to what I saw at another small venue – The Tivoli in North Wales – last April. If they weren’t so magnificent, you would call it a tad lazy.
They are not alone, it does seem to be a trend with what you might term – and it’s an ugly term – “heritage” bands. That term smacks of bands going through the motions, sometimes allied to lack-lustre recent albums, and sticking to a setlist by rote. Only the latter might now apply to Magnum.
The highly-rated melodic rockers Vega opened the proceedings tonight and their brand of high energy AOR has found a growing audience. Frontman Nick Workman might be aptly named and keeps up the audience interaction whilst they pushed their well-received second album ‘Stereo Messiah’. I know our resident expert Andy Nathan highly rates this band so I will keep quiet and direct you to his own account (November 2014).
I was never aware there was a massive Liverpool following for Magnum, but, nevertheless, this one-off show (evidently a warm-up for their appearance at the Giants Of Rock the day after) drew a respectable crowd at an excellent venue, Liverpool Arts Club.
The band are still touring their current album – ‘Escape From The Shadow Garden’ – and that got overwhelmingly positive reviews and made some end of year ‘best of’ lists including this author’s. The first half majored on this and the previous ‘On The 13th Day’ and ‘The Visitation’, and that’s perfectly understandable, although I can’t help cringing when they crank out opener ‘(747) Strangers In The Night’ , sorry, “Live ’til You Die’.
It wasn’t until mid-set and ‘How Far Jerusalem’ that things started to move up the proverbial notch. Whether this is the pacing of the newer material, or perhaps being less familiar, I couldn’t help recalling Tony Clarkin’s comments in our last interview that the band do sometimes have difficulties with tempo.
As it turned out ‘How Far Jerusalem’ also emphasises that the band is never given a chance to have a really good blow and even this song has become a little sanitized. It used to be a vehicle for an extended Tony Clarkin wig-out and there was once variety in both the introduction and the content. Now – like the gig as a whole – it all seems a little too safe. But, maybe, we’ve all aged too much and wear rose-tinted headphones as we hear modern renditions?
This song – from the classic ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ (30 years young this year) – is always highlighted by Mark Stanway’s judicious if sumptuous keyboard flourishes, Harry James’ perfect kick drum, Al Barrow’s wonderfully metallic bass stabs, and of course Clarkin’s mesmerising guitar.
I can’t see how even a diehard Magnum fan would find this current set totally satisfying. We understand that a band will tour their current album, and in this case it’s a good ‘un, but for me they still omit the two killer tracks ‘Wisdom Has Its Day’ and ‘Crying In The Rain’. It’s a shame that these and maybe others hadn’t crept into the set by now, some have even been dropped (‘Too Many Clowns’).
And once the set turned on ‘Jerusalem’ we were in to a downward spiral to the finish line and were launched – too early for my taste – into the triple time-worn whammy of ‘All England’s Eyes’, ‘Vigilante’ and ‘Kingdom Of Madness’.
Surely the key to a great gig is where the band drop in a few surprises, a few obscurities and a few well remembered classics post-1986, if only to please the hardcore and maybe to get newcomers searching out the older stuff? That’s good marketing sense, if nothing else.
And, at just on an hour before that inevitable spiral, the gig came in far too short. Bob Catley is surely not ready for an early nightcap just yet – he was in fine form tonight. On this showing Magnum, in the live domain at any rate, are not maximizing their undoubted magnificence.
Review and photos by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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. All England’s Eyes 11. Vigilante 12. Kingdom Of Madness Encore: 13. The Spirit 14. Sacred Hour
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COLLATERAL Mr Big Shot (Roulette Media Records)
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EXPLORING BIRDSONG The River (indie)
MARISA AND THE MOTHS – Slave (indie)
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KING VOODOO Creep (indie)
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09:00-12:00 UNRULY CHILD Big Blue World (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 REDLINE Gods & Monsters (Escape Music)
14:00-16:00 WILDWOOD KIN (Silvertone/Sony)
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MAGNUM Sleepwalking (1992)
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