Feature: Call Collect – An introduction to MAGNUM

David Randall has followed Magnum since the 1990s when they consolidated their earlier successes.  They split in 1995, subsequently re-generating in 2001.  Since that time they have gone from strength to strength,  maintaining a consistency across several albums and touring regularly.  They released their 21st studio album in 2020.

Bob Catley - Magnum

Pomp rockers Magnum germinated from the band Bob Catley and Tony Clarkin put together when gigging in Birmingham in the early seventies. With Kex Gorin on drums and Dave Morgan on bass they recorded an early single for CBS ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ which failed to chart but led to a contract with Jet Records and their debut album ‘Kingdom Of Madness’ in 1978.

Regarded as a classic, many of the tunes were included in the band’s stage set in subsequent years. The band consolidated their growing fanbase with supporting slots on tours with Blue Oyster Cult, Tygers of Pan Tang and appearances at the Reading Festival.

Magnum, from 'The Eleventh Hour' 1983 tour programme

Magnum from the 1983 ‘The Eleventh Hour’ tour programme with the band’s early 1980s line-up (left to right) Kex Gorin (drums), Tony Clarkin (guitar), Bob Catley (vocals), Mark Stanway (keyboards) and Colin ‘Wally’ Lowe (bass).  On the tour Robin George substituted for Clarkin on guitar.

However, by the time of their fourth Jet album ‘The Eleventh Hour’, the band became disillusioned as they had not received the breakthrough they anticipated. The album title was ominous: At Reading Festival in 1983 they decided to give it a final try – in the face of adversity as drummer Jim Simpson had just quit.

‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ was released on local label FM Records in 1985 and is rightly regarded as a pomp rock classic. The album was the first to feature the classic Magnum line-up of Catley, Clarkin, Wally Lowe, Micky Barker and Mark Stanway who rejoined the band on keyboards after a spell with Phil Lynott.

Magnum 1985 'On A Storyteller's Night' programme

The band performed the album as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations in 2005 and a special expanded edition and DVD of the London gig was released called ‘Livin’ The Dream’.

The band made some demos for Polydor and were signed in late-1985. There followed their most successful period and with a bigger budget lending a sheen to the resulting albums ‘Vigilante’ (1986) and ‘Wings Of Heaven’ (1988). 1990′s ‘Goodbye LA’ failed to provide the band with the breakthrough they sought in the USA and they were then dropped by Polydor.

Magnum from the 1988 'Wings Of Heaven' tour programme

The classic line-up of the band pictured in the 1988 ‘Wings Of Heaven’ tour programme (left to right) Wally Lowe, Mark Stanway, Bob Catley, Micky Barker (drums), Tony Clarkin

For the next decade the band followed a somewhat precarious course, which saw them treading the boards in venues considerably smaller than those of the late-eighties. The albums were also lower-key, with 1992′s ‘Sleepwalking’ and 1994′s ‘Rock Art’. Magnum’s brand of quality rock was seemingly out of favour and they announced their split after a farewell tour in 1995. This was immortalised on the CD ‘Stronghold’ (titled ‘The Last Dance’ in Europe).

Bob Catley (Magnum) in 1995

Bob Catley photographed in 1995 by the author with a copy of the band’s first single ‘Sweets For My Sweet’

Bob Catley and Tony Clarkin then formed a Magnum spin-off with Al Barrow (bass) called Hard Rain but the band’s two albums provoked a mixed response. Many fans thought it was all but Magnum in name, but the songs and atmosphere had changed. At this time Bob Catley also had a burgeoning solo career and guested on several rock projects.

There were rumours in late-2001 of an impending Magnum reunion, but this time without Micky Barker (drums) and Colin ‘Wally’ Lowe on bass. The Hard Rain band came together again, added Stanway on keyboards and Jimmy Copley on drums, called themselves Magnum, and produced the album ‘Breath of Life’ in early 2002. This, and the subsequent tour, was well received and convinced the band they were back in favour.

‘Brand New Morning’ followed in 2004 with Harry James (ex-Thunder) now on the drum stool and in 2007 the band were confident enough to call their new album ‘Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow’ harking back to the dungeons/dragons-era of the early eighties. And to underline that, the Rodney Matthews artwork rounded things off.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of ‘Wings Of Heaven’ in 2008 the band played the album in its entirety on tour and a live album followed.

In 2011 Magnum marked their 10th anniversary with the German label SPV and at the instigation of the label boss revisited some previous material, adding new parts where necessary.  ‘Evolution’ was released in November 2011.

In 2012, to tie in with their 40th anniversary and Get Ready to ROCK!’s 10th, Magnum were nominated our ambassadors for that year.

Characterised by Bob Catley’s warm and expressive vocal skills, and Tony Clarkin’s consistently high-standard songwriting, Magnum have always evoked a passion in those that have closely followed their progress since the late-seventies. The Polydor-era pushed the band into the big-time stadium arena although some (including with hindsight, the band) thought their final studio album for that label was wrongly aimed at the American market.

Magnum 2020

Magnum in 2020 (left to right) Lee Morris, Rick Benton, Tony Clarkin, Dennis Ward, Bob Catley

In more recent times, the band’s line-up has changed.  Long-serving keyboard player Mark Stanway left the band in late-2016 in an acrimonious split during a winter tour.  Rick Benton (Rebecca Downes band) played out the remaining dates and became a full time replacement joining Lee Morris who replaced Harry James on drums.  They appeared on the album ‘Lost On The Road To Eternity’ released in early 2018.

In 2019 it was announced that bassist Al Barrow was to be replaced by noted producer Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69, Unisonic) due largely due to logistics as he is now domiciled in the USA.  The first album with this new line-up appeared in January 2020.

The band’s recorded output over the years is blighted somewhat by a large number of compilations for which they gain no financial benefit.

Collectors will relish the large number of special editions, especially during the Polydor period when there were any number of shaped and coloured discs (albums and singles) often with extended or bonus tracks.  A real rarity now is the band’s first 7″ single – ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ – released by CBS in 1975.

Recommended albums

For starters, listeners should try On A Storyteller’s Night (1985) for sheer consistency and then move on to Wings Of Heaven (1988). The 1990s albums Sleepwalking (1992) and Rock Art (1990) are often overlooked.  The live album The Spirit (1991), which covers all eras of their career up to the time of its release, shows the band at the top of their game.

Further reading

Album review (The Serpent Rings, 2020)
Archive (Ambassadors, 2012)

Audio:

Bob Catley interviewed for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio in December 2016.

Photography:
(i) Lee Millward

© 2007, 2011, 2020  David Randall/GRTR! All rights reserved.

2020 Vision - Rock. Reviewed. Revisited.



 

The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk was streamed on Sunday 22 November.

More about Josh: http://getreadytorock.me.uk/blog/?s=%22Josh+Taerk%22


David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 15 November 2020.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 17 November 2020


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