Album review: MAGNUM – Live At The Symphony Hall

MAGNUM - Live At The Symphony Hall

SPV [Release date 18.01.19]

Magnum started 2018 in shaky form when we saw them at Giants Of Rock.  With great expectations that we’d hear a smidgeon of the new album, they appeared for a few songs and disappeared due to sound issues.

Fast forward to April and the band were back to their lovable old selves and a gig at the Symphony Hall in their home territory Birmingham sealed a series of dates promoting ‘Lost On The Road To Eternity’.

Over the festive period I wondered whether I should have rated the latest album more highly in my personal best of 2018.  The problem is this choice is also relative.  It’s a great album but then there will always be others baying for your attention.  And the truth – it has to be said – it is easy to take old stagers for granted when faced with fresher new faces.

With hindsight this “double” live release reiterates that it is indeed a great album.

With Lee Morris and Rick Benton now firmly embedded  we’ve noted before the band have been given another new breath of life.  This rejuvenation is also evident in the rendering of the time-worn core setlist.  Benton has gone to some lengths to replicate (and in some cases enhance) the original keyboard textures.  (‘Don’t Wake The Lion’ in particular sounds fresher than ever, and now with a Celtic infusion).

I always felt that with Mark Stanway in the band, the keyboards were too low in the mix.  Part of the reboot is that Benton is allowed more scope.  Tonally, Tony Clarkin has never been a particularly convincing soloist and now, more than ever, needs a proper counterpoint.  This is evident on ‘How Far Jerusalem’.

That other old mainstay ‘All England’s Eyes’ coupled with ‘Vigilante’ reinforces all that is good about Magnum and recalls past glories and reminds me of the number of times I have witnessed these tunes at Hammersmith Odeon, Birmingham Town Hall, and not forgetting memorable “club” gigs at The Tivoli in Buckley.  Happy days.

If Bob and Tony will understandably never recapture the sheer exhuberance of 1991′s live outing ‘The Spirit’ Lee and Rick will certainly keep them on their toes for the foreseeable future.

A real highlight is the guest appearance of  Tobias Sammet (Avantasia, Edguy) who reprises his duet with Catley on ‘Lost On The Road To Eternity’ and reappears for the finale, another excellent version of ‘When The World Comes Down’.  Rebecca Downes (from whose band Benton was “stolen”) adds vocals to ‘Without Love’ together with another Birmingham based “veteran” Lee Small (Shy/Phenomena).

Harsh words have sometimes been said about Catley’s ageing vocal style – especially in the live context – but here he’s on a roll with Al Barrow always supportive on backing vocals and bass.

Magnum are never a band to stand still – Bob Catley and Tony Clarkin will always see to that.  We’ve said before that they always seem to shun significant anniversaries.  Other bands (via management and labels) make sure we know about them, via album recycling and live shows.

This year marked the 40th anniversary of Magnum’s debut album (the title song ‘Kingdom Of Madness’ the only connection in this set) and don’t let’s forget Wings Of Heaven: thirty years young and recalled on ‘Don’t Wake The Lion’.

Let us celebrate, then, a band who – forty years on – can still deliver.  Perhaps Sammet gets it right when he hollers enthusiastically “Magnum – the greatest band in the world”.  On home turf, certainly, there’s really nothing better.  ****

Review by David Randall

Album review (Lost On The Road To Eternity)

David Randall plays a selection of new and classic rock in his weekly show first broadcast 14 June 2020 including reference to the Feature series “2020 Vision”.

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