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Words by: Dave Ling

The incredible partnership between Tony Clarkin and Bob Catley was born when singer Catley turned up unexpectedly at the guitarist’s front door. “It was Bob and Kex [Gorin] and they asked me to join Magnum and play at the Rum Runner,” guitarist Clarkin recalls, referring to the legendary night club on Birmingham’s Broad Street at which Magnum and Duran Duran became house bands.

“It was like being in a dance band,” Clarkin groans. “I thought: ‘Oh my God, what have I got myself into?!’ We were paid thirty pounds a week, but I think Bob earned more than me…”

With a smile and a mischievous chuckle, Catley confirms this theory: “That’s because I was also the DJ in the breaks between our sets.”

Clarkin recalls those long-gone dance floor days in a song called ‘Remember’ from Magnum’s new album ‘The Monster Roars’. “But being on a weekly wage was cool,” he continues, picking up the tale. “It was the first money I’d earned as a musician. Kex was the drummer and the bass player was a guy called Bob Doyle. I went out and bought some purple trousers to join the band.”

“I used to wear green satin trousers,” grimaces Catley. “All of this is all so long ago; I didn’t even know that Tony wrote songs. All we wanted at the time was a guitar player.”

Fast forward five decades: the Rum Runner is musical history, demolished in 1987. Kex Gorin died of kidney cancer in 2007 and nobody really knows what happened to Bob Doyle. But still Clarkin and Catley, the Morecambe & Wise of Pomp-Rock, remain firm friends and work colleagues after five decades.

“Of course it’s shocking,” Clarkin nods, “but that’s not something we think about too much. It’s only when a journalist like you says: ‘Did you realise that you’ve been together for, like, a gazillion years?’ that we take a moment to consider the fact.”

Told in their own words, this, then, is the rags-to-riches-to-rags-again story of Magnum from formation in 1972 to dissolution in 1995 (their post-reunion era is a subject for another day): 24 years, eleven studio albums, a crucial live record and a whole lot of memories.


Kingdom Of Madness

‘KINGDOM OF MADNESS’ (Jet Records, 1978)

As a backdrop to Magnum’s first album, it was a random slice of good fortune that led to a deal with Jet Records, and the eventual release of ‘Kingdom Of Madness’ some six years later. Tony, you were invited to help build Nest Studio, the facility at which the band would record their first demos?

Clarkin (enthusiastically): “Yeah, yeah, that was me and Dave Morgan [the bassist that replaced Doyle]. Dave knew that I had done woodwork at school and he roped me in. [Laughs] Imagine me working on your house? Instead of being paid I requested studio time, we did demos, sent ‘em off to Jet Records and that was it.”

The album’s birth was neither simple nor comfortable. When Magnum arrived at De Lane Lea Studios in London, Jet had forgotten to book hotel rooms.

Clarkin: “The way I remember it, they did book a hotel but when we got there it was like a halfway house. It was full of drunks.”

Bob Catley: “Just as we were checking in, this tramp checked out.”

It felt better to sleep at the studio?

Clarkin: “Yeah, for a few nights… in the foyer. Then we went to another, better hotel. At reception we said: ‘Hello, we have a reservation paid by Jet Records.’ The woman screwed up the bill into a ball, threw it at my head and it bounced off. Jet already owed them so much money.”

The type of music you sought to play – a Pomp-infused, highly melodic strand of Hard Rock, with occasional bursts of flute courtesy of keyboardist Richard Bailey – was not exactly in vogue.

Clarkin: “It’s never really been in vogue, has it? When we put out ‘Kingdom Of Madness’ people just laughed at us. Sham 69 and Punk were what was popular. Our stuff was so overblown [Laughs], but it actually sold a few copies.”

Amazingly, it made No. 58 in the charts.

Catley (scratching his head): “I thought it reached 48, but none of us believed that it stood a chance of doing so well – no way.”

There was a priceless support slot with Judas Priest in ‘77, also another outing with Whitesnake but the catch with Priest was that they wanted you to roadie for them?

Catley: “That was instead of buying onto the Priest tour. In the end we paid other people to roadie for us. But that’s what the original deal was, yeah.”

How do you look back at ‘Kingdom Of Madness’ all these years later?

Clarkin: “I really couldn’t tell you. I haven’t heard it for decades.”

Catley: “I thought the music was quite involved, very intricate for the time. It was everything that Punk Rock was trying to get rid of.”


Magnum II

‘MAGNUM II’ (Jet Records, 1979)

How did you enjoy working with Ten Years After bassist Leo Lyons on the second album?

Catley: “Leo was great.”

Clarkin: “Yeah. He was a nice guy. But he never got paid for his work [by Jet]. It’s sad and completely wrong. Years later I did some more stuff with Leo and he told me that. He didn’t even bother chasing it up because those sort of things happened all the time.”

Compared to its predecessor, ‘Magnum II’ represented a giant leap forwards, lyrically, musically and sonically.

Clarkin: “Did it really? [He shrugs shoulders]. I honesty couldn’t tell you. I haven’t listened to those records for forty-odd years. I know other people’s records better than I know my own.”

You once told me that there was a big lyrical change. Whilst the words for ‘Kingdom Of Madness’ were fantasy-based, second time around there was more of an attempt to embrace being commercial.

Clarkin: “That’s true. Obviously, it didn’t really work, did it?” [They laugh]

That’s right. ‘Magnum II’ failed to chart, as did its singles ‘Changes’ and ‘Foolish Heart’. Given the success of the debut, it must have been bewildering?

Clarkin: “That sounds like the story of our lives.”

Catley: “I’ve got to be honest; I haven’t listened to ‘Magnum II’ for years, either.”

Nevertheless, it contains some all-time great Magnum songs – the flamboyant ‘The Great Adventure’, for instance.

Clarkin: “I wrote that one on a family caravan holiday in Weymouth – very flamboyant. Funnily enough, I’ve never been back.”

Was its underperformance the fault of Jet?

Clarkin: “A lot of things went wrong thanks to Jet. Almost every record we made for that label, they would keep us waiting for two years before they released it.”

Catley: “It happened with the first one, and then ‘Chase The Dragon’, the third one, also took two years.”

When something like that happens, how do you put aside the disappointment?

Catley: “It was a very, very tough time. We had put our hearts and souls into making that album.”

Clarkin: “I kept making all these phone calls to America; it was soul-destroying. The only positive I could draw was thing things couldn’t get any worse.”


Maurader

‘MARAUDER’ (Jet Records, 1980)

Like so many others before them that sought a break, Magnum encapsulated their wares with a live album, ‘Marauder’, recorded at London’s Marquee Club on December 15, 1979. And the plan worked…

Catley: “Yeah, it did quite well for a live album. It had the power that had sometimes been missing from our studio records.”

Before ‘Marauder’ hit the racks a four-song EP that retailed for the then-bargain price of £1.15 became a Top 50 hit for Magnum. Tony, you once said it was “the most unlikely record I can imagine in the British charts”.

Clarkin: “It’s true. Though I do recall being down in Hastings for the mixing with Chris Tsangarides [the recordings were handled by Leo Lyons], I don’t remember very much of the gig except that somebody had hired a dry ice machine which sucked all of the oxygen out of the atmosphere – as if the Marquee wasn’t already hot enough. By the time we came offstage we were almost dead.”

Did it throw Magnum a lifeline at a pivotal moment?

Clarkin: “Yeah, it did, definitely. Looking back, I suspect that Jet might have given up on us had ‘Marauder’ failed to take off the way it did.”


Chase The Dragon

‘CHASE THE DRAGON’ (Jet, 1982)

No disrespect to keyboardist Richard Bailey, who departed the band at this point, but the arrival Mark Stanway was an important development.

Clarkin: “I suppose it was. He was with us for a very long time. We used a fill-in [Grenville Harding] for a while, but in a band everybody has to fit in. Grenville was a bit strange… to say the least. So when Maurice Jones, the promoter from the Midlands [best known for establishing the Monsters Of Rock festival at Donington Park] told us about Mark, we clicked right away. We were actually letting off bombs [pyro stage effects] when Mark auditioned for us… and still he wanted to join!”

Does anyone recall why Richard Bailey left?

Clarkin: “Oh, now you’re asking. No… I really don’t remember.”

Presumably Magnum were big fans of Kansas, hence the introduction of Jeff Glixman as producer?

Clarkin (enthusiastically): “I always liked Kansas – I still do. It was very exciting to work with Jeff and we got on very well together. He taught me a lot about production, he was great at things that were really overblown. Jeff used to work at incredible volume, and I mean five billion watts.”

Once again, ‘Chase The Dragon’ confirmed a creative growth.

Clarkin: “I don’t go back to anything we’ve done in the past and play it again. I’m more about looking to the future than the past. But at the time I was going: ‘This is fantastic’. Years later I went to a funeral where somebody played the version of ‘The Spirit’ from ‘Chase The Dragon’ and I noticed that the drums speed up and slow down.”

But Glixman was able to get the sounds you’d heard in your head?

Clarkin: “That’s it, yeah. And I think I was starting to write better songs by that point.”

Jeff took the tapes back to Atlanta, and you went with him Tony… 

Clarkin: “Yeah. I wanted to be there for the mix, and I still had some guitar overdubs to finish. When we finished that album there was a great vibe in the studio. We knew that this was by far the best record we’d made so far.”

…But then Jet played silly buggers once more, leaving Magnum’s handiwork to gather dust on the shelf. Two more years!

Catley: “I think that Jet was suffering some cash flow problems at the time, but nobody told us what was going on. We just had to sit tight and wait.”

Clarkin: “We honestly couldn’t believe it – the same situation all over again.”

When finally released in March ‘82, ‘Chase The Dragon’ saw Rodney Matthews supply cover art, and also for the first time the distinctive Magnum logo was used.

Clarkin: “Yeah. The records were starting to look like they were supposed to.”

The album went Top 20…

Clarkin (interrupting): “We were on tour supporting Krokus at the time and our album charted higher than theirs did.” [In ‘82, Krokus were promoting ‘One Vice At A Time’.]

Catley: “When we heard we were jumping around the room like crazy.”

For ‘Chase The Dragon’, Magnum toured the United States for the first – and so far only – time, supporting Jet label-mate Ozzy Osbourne.

Catley: “That was such a great experience. Ozzy was playing these 20,000-capacity arenas, which were sold out. To be honest, nobody in the crowd had the faintest idea who Magnum was, but we got a pretty decent reception. That we never got to go back again is one of my life’s biggest regrets.”


The Eleventh Hour

‘THE ELEVENTH HOUR!’ (Jet Records, 1983)

Things were going a little too well but band morale was pierced and tension would ratchet when Magnum began their all-important next record. Jet refused point blank to open the chequebook and pay for an outside producer.

Clarkin: “I wasn’t ready to become a producer but it was the only way we could afford to make another album. The subject was cleverly engineered by David [Arden, son of label boss Don] who told me grandly: ‘Now I think it’s time for you to go in there and produce your own record’. I fell for it, but there was very little choice. I enjoyed it. We were at Portland Studio, just opposite the BBC [in central London]. I’ll never forget that one morning at 3am I was recording a guitar solo and without warning this little old lady stormed in, shaking her fist and yelling: ‘Please stop this noise!’ She lived in a flat that co-joined the place.”

Catley (laughing): “That doesn’t happen every day of the week.”

How problematic was the process of writing, engineering, producing and playing the guitar?

Clarkin: “It was extremely tough because I really didn’t know what I was doing. Some days I was ecstatic, and others my head was in my hands in sheer desperation. The one positive was that Jet Records own Portland Studios, so we were not being rushed.”

Disappointingly, it fared less well than ‘Chase The Dragon’, peaking at Number 38. That must have caused problems?

Clarkin: “Yeah, for sure. We put a lot of heart and soul into that record, and when the record was cut, that’s when there was a bit of a technical issue.”

Catley: “Tony had worked so hard on ‘The Eleventh Hour!’, and done it all alone, and when the album came out there was no tour. All we were offered was something with the Tygers Of Pan Tang, who we’d played with before a few times. We ended up taking it, reluctantly.”

How did it all end with Jet? Didn’t you pretend to break up to get away from them?

Clarkin (nodding): “We were trying to pull a fast one. When we did the Reading Festival in 1983 it was supposed to have been our final show ever.”

Catley: “We were just trying to get out of a crap situation, basically.”

I’ve read that the contract just expired anyway – odd given that Jet had spent a lot of money on Magnum.

Catley: “Really? Spent a lot of money?!” [They both roar with laughter].

Clarkin (slightly indignantly): “I don’t even remember signing a contract with them. This is a good one. Right at the start, David Arden told me: ‘I must give you a publishing deal’. I thought: ‘Fabulous’. He set up a big meeting at a hotel and as I walked in he said: ‘I’ve got the details here’ but there were no details; instead he handed me a screwed-up envelope that contained five hundred quid. Now that’s how to do business.” [Once again they collapse in hysterics].

Bob, things became so bad that you called your friend, the late Malcolm Dome, at Kerrang! to ask whether he knew of bands that might need a singer?

Catley: “That’s true. Reluctantly I was considering my future. I still loved Magnum but I just couldn’t see a way forward. Kex was very unhappy, too. It had become a bit of a wilderness, so I looked around to see what other openings there might be. All of that stopped pretty suddenly when Keith Baker became our manager. He had some good ideas and Magnum began to roll again.”


On A Storytellers Night

‘ON A STORYTELLER’S NIGHT’ (FM Revolver, 1985 – UK) (Polydor, 1985 – Germany)

Until ‘Storyteller…’, when viewed on a graph, Magnum’s career was an unpredictable terrain of peaks and valleys. How easy was it to get your heads around that?

Clarkin: “When you’re in a band, sometimes a little spark [of hope] is all you need. It makes you go: ‘Come on guys, we can do this’. And that’s why bands get screwed all the time. All you want to do is make a record, you don’t really care if you get paid or not. Maybe younger musicians are a bit more clued-up, but we were like lambs to the slaughter.”

Catley: “Being on the road, going into the studio – it’s so exciting to do all of that, you can lose track of reality.”

At this point, a period of rebuilding was required. Kex and Stanway both departed. Years later Tony told me that Magnum had become a “no-hope” band…

Clarkin: “Did I really? I suppose that was true.”

So did ‘…Storyteller…’ feel like a last throw of the dice?

Clarkin: “Yeah, quite possibly.”

Catley: “I wasn’t so down about everything. I knew how strong the material we had lined up for that next album was. I had a feeling it would do okay.”

Clarkin: “I’d written some songs and we took them on the road for about six weeks all over the country. Bob’s right, the fans loved them – even though they were brand new. Instead of splitting up the money made from the tour we used it to make ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’.”

How did you enjoy working with its producer Kit Woolven (who passed away shortly after this interview)?

Clarkin: “Kit was great, I just wished we’d had a little more time but it was an enjoyable album to make. I remember being in a record shop somewhere when we got the call saying we’d gone into the chart at Number 24. I mean, wow… what a feat for an album we’d paid for ourselves. I was very proud of that.”

Catley: “Yeah, you bloody well should be. It was a brilliant album.”

Its quality was such that Polydor released ‘…Storyteller…’ in Germany, signing the band up globally for their following album.

Catley: “Yeah, we signed that deal [with Polydor] at Monsters Of Rock [when Magnum appeared as part of a 1985 bill headlined by ZZ Top]. It was a case of: ‘Here we go’ [Catley rubs his hands]. We were in business.”


 Vigilante

‘VIGILANTE’ (Polydor, 1986)

Was life on a major label a fairly corporate experience? Did people wearing suits suddenly expect to hear demos of the songs?

Clarkin: “Actually, it wasn’t like that at all. The guy who signed us, Michael Golla, worked wonders for this band. He found budgets to make videos and we were never told: ‘Oh, you can’t do this or that’. With ‘Vigilante’ we went to Queen’s studio in Montreux.”

How much did Queen drummer Roger Taylor, listed as a co-producer, have to do with the nuts and bolts of ‘Vigilante’?

Clarkin: “Roger came up with a lot of ideas for the album. He was very involved, but Roger was part of a team with his engineer Dave Richards.”

Catley: “Queen were quite busy at the time, so Roger was often called away to do other things, but whenever he was around he’d listen to what we’d done and always came up with good suggestions for improvement.”

Clarkin: “One of the first days we were there Roger asked: ‘Do you want to hear the new Queen record?’ It was ‘A Kind Of Magic’ but without Freddie’s vocals. He played it to us at two-thousand watts, our ears were fried but it blew us all away. When Roger told us there were 80,000 pre-sales for that album, our jaws dropped. It was a really enjoyable experience.”

In the UK ‘Vigilante’ repeated the performance of ‘…Storyteller…’, peaking at Number 24, its singles ‘Lonely Night’, ‘Need A Lot Of Love’, ‘Midnight (You Won’t Be Sleeping)’ and ‘Vigilante’ laying the groundwork for what would happen next. But the ‘Vigilante’ album is also notable for introducing the band to new territories; it was Magnum’s first chart album in Germany.

Catley: “That’s quite right. It was a very important album for us.”

Is there any truth in the rumour that Polydor wouldn’t allow the use of a Rodney Matthews sleeve?

Clarkin: “It’s completely true. I had talked to Rodney who did some artwork that was really good but the label had got hold of this other guy [Chris Moore] who’d done some very nice stuff. In a meeting I took a real slagging from this guy, I don’t know why…”

Catley (incredulous): “…That’s right! He reckoned you didn’t know what you were talking about? The things he said were terrible.”

Clarkin: “He’s probably really famous, isn’t he? And I don’t know him. [Laughs] But anyway, in the end Polydor got their way.”


Wings Of Heaven

WINGS OF HEAVEN’ (Polydor, 1988)

Studio album number seven took Magnum to a whole other level of popularity. Did you know from the beginning that it would be something very special?

Clarkin: “Not at all. At the start it was like something that we hated.”

Catley (sternly): “No. That’s not true.”

Clarkin: “Okay, but there were so many problems making that record. We made it in a great studio in Holland, Wisseloord. That place was just fantastic. But this time we didn’t have a Roger Taylor or a Jeff Glixman. We’d been looking for somebody as a producer and I don’t remember who came up with the guy that we used, I don’t even want to say his name [Albert Boekholt].”

So what was the problem?

Clarkin: “It was just so time-consuming. We’d been there for about three months and Malcolm Dome came over to do an interview. We went out for a few drinks and Malcolm said: ‘It’s sounding good’ but I think he was being kind. None of us were really happy. In the end we came back…”

Catley (interrupting): “…We came back home for Christmas and none of us could believe we had nothing. We couldn’t listen to what we’d done. It was rubbish.”

Clarkin: “Yeah. It was that bad. In the end we went into Sarm West Studios [in London] and we sort of rescued it – to a certain degree. But even to this day I have reservations about the sound.”

Catley: “For me, it was all about the songs. I adore those songs. ‘Days Of No Trust’, ‘Pray For The Day’. They all had meaningful words.”

Do you now appreciate the irony that ‘Don’t Wake The Lion (Too Old To Die Young)’, which was more than ten minutes long, and also the epic ‘Wild Swan’, were part of the band’s biggest selling record?

Clarkin: “When you make that point, yeah it’s true. When I think of ‘Wings Of Heaven’, it’s always as us trying to be a Pop band… almost. It had a Pop sound, and I didn’t like it.”

Catley: “Me? I don’t listen to ‘Start Talking Love’ [the album’s biggest hit, which took them into the UK’s Top 30]; I prefer the good stuff that Tony came up with. The reason that record became so important to so many people is because its musical and lyrical content really stood for something.”

The band’s image was… shall we say ‘tidied up’?

Catley: “I think that began with the previous album, really.”

But suddenly Magnum had stylists.

Clarkin: “Yeah. That came from Keith Baker, the manager.”

Catley: “Those stylists had some strange ideas. They made me dress up in ski pants.”

Clarkin: “You looked alright in those, to be fair.”

Catley: “On the front cover of the album I’m wearing Tony’s bird’s coat.”

How did it feel to be on Top Of The Pops?

Catley: “That’s a Marmite question. I loved every second of it, Tony not so much. It’s what we had worked all of our lives for. I’m no good at miming so we played live and I threw myself into it so much that I lost my voice.”

For five crazily surreal minutes Magnum were Pop stars.

Catley: (brightly): “Yes we were, thank you for reminding me. We were even in the teenage magazines. We were centrespreads and everything.”

Clarkin: (frowning): “Imagine that.”

The best bit of all was that Magnum got to headline venues such as Wembley Arena in London and the NEC in Brum. 

Catley: “Our dreams paid off, one by one. We did three nights at Hammersmith Odeon. We played the NEC three times. Crikey.”

Clarkin: “I have very fond memories from those times.”

So here’s the million dollar question: Is ‘Wings Of Heaven’ the definitive Magnum album?

Catley (cautiously): “It’s definitely one of the best.”

Clarkin: “Personally I consider the band’s best albums to be the last four or five [2014’s ‘Escape From The Shadow Garden’ to the current ‘The Monster Roars’] the best. That’s from a song point of view, also from a lyrical perspective. I’ve got a nice feeling about ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ though the production now sounds rather dated. ‘Wings Of Heaven’ has good songs, but the reasons I’ve stated spoil it for me. The technology was so new back then that the guitars sound horrible. The snare drum drives me insane.”


Goodnight LA

‘GOODNIGHT L.A.’ (Polydor, 1990)

Polydor decided that it was time for Magnum to break into America, despatching the band to California to work with Keith Olsen, the producer who was red-hot after working on Whitesnake’s ‘1987’. For the first time, Clarkin worked with outside writers, Russ Ballard, Jim Vallance and David Cassidy’s wife Sue Shifrin.

Catley: “Initially I didn’t like the idea of Tony working with others because we were being pushed into more commercial areas. To be honest, I felt a bit insulted. There was nothing wrong with what Tony did on his own – his songs were what had got us that far. I’d heard the songs we had demoed, things like ‘Only A Memory’, ‘Heartbroke & Busted’ and ‘Born To Be King’, and didn’t see the point. He didn’t need help. But with hindsight I was wrong. Good stuff came from that arrangement.”

How did you feel about it all, Tony? Were you insulted too?

Clarkin: “Not really. I really enjoyed working with Russ Ballard… all of those people. But in doing so, things were changed. I definitely learned from it.”

What are your thoughts on Keith Olsen’s production?

Clarkin (after a long pause): “I wasn’t really bowled over with it, being truthful. And it had been my idea to work with him because I owned a Rick Springfield album he’d worked on the year before [‘Rock Of Life’]. Put it this way: I expected 24-karat gold and what we got was… just like any other album, really.”

The biggest injustice was that not only did Magnum ‘bend in the breeze’, so to speak, to accommodate Polydor’s wishes, a reported £350,000 was spent on the creating of ‘Goodnight LA’, only for the American leg of the company to decline releasing it. You couldn’t make it up.

Clarkin (astonished): “How much?!”

£350K is a figure that I’ve seen.

Clarkin: “It might have been more, I really don’t know.”

Let’s just say ‘a lot of money’.

Clarkin: “Yeah, but I wasn’t trying to make an album that would do well in America. I wanted to make a great album.”


Sleepwalking

‘SLEEPWALKING’ (Music For Nations, 1992)

Unsurprisingly, ‘Goodnight L.A.’ was the final Magnum studio album released by Polydor, though the double-live set ‘The Spirit’ arrived the following year. Whose decision was it to part, Magnum or the label?

Clarkin: “It came from us. The final straw was that they wouldn’t pay for artwork. Rodney Matthews had done a brilliant piece of art [for ‘Goodnight L.A.] and when they found out how much it cost, the plan changed very quickly.” [Hugh Syme provided the eventual cover].

And was it a relief to leave?

Clarkin: “We had to pay, but it was worth it. There’s no point in being with a big label if they don’t understand the band.”

Tony, you took the helm to produce ‘Sleepwalking’. So by this time you were now comfortable in that role?

Clarkin: “Well, kind of. I didn’t feel really comfortable as a producer ‘til a little later on.”

‘Sleepwalking’ is perhaps an underrated album in the Magnum canon. ‘Only In America’, ‘Stormy Weather’ and ‘Broken Wheel’ were all great tunes. Despite appearing on an independent label, Music For Nations, in the UK it was a Top Thirty album, too. 

Clarkin: “Yeah, it did okay. But I found that era quite difficult.”

Difficult in what way?

Clarkin: “I started to feel like I had to push everybody. Wally [Lowe, bassist] was alright, he was always into it all, but Mickey [Barker], the drummer, and Stambo [Mark Stanway]… It’s hard to explain. I found it quite difficult working with people who didn’t really seem into what we were doing.”

Catley: “Shall I leave the room?” [They both laugh].

Clarkin: “No need, Bob, you did great on that one. I can tell you that Mark Stanway played very little keyboards on that album.”

Catley (perhaps sensing that things are getting a little deep): “There are some great songs on ‘Sleepwalking’. I really love the vocal sound.”


Rock Art

‘ROCK ART’ (EMI Electrola Germany, 1994)

Magnum’s last studio album for eight years is another hidden gem of the catalogue.

Catley: “I agree.”

Clarkin: “Me too, I felt that we had started to get it right. There was a bit of a cock-up at Abbey Road when it was cut, but just about everything was right with that album. It had some really good songs.”

Tony, is it true that the album was named after some Stone Age cave paintings?

Clarkin: “Yeah. Rock art – not Rock music that was arty. Some North American Indians had carved stuff into a mountain; I think that I saw it a book and a light bulb went off.”

Were you concerned that things were running out of steam? ‘Rock Art’ came out via a German arm of EMI, charting at 57, the lowest spot since ‘Magnum II’, and the band was back playing theatres and clubs again. Keith Baker was also out of the picture.

Clarkin: “We really were not too bothered. I still recall you coming to my house for an interview and painting a very gloomy picture; you thought everything was going down the pan. I told you that if necessary we would play in a pub down the road.”

What you actually said was that Magnum would continue for as long as it was financially viable. And less than a year later, with the 20th anniversary in sight, the band was over.

Clarkin: “A lot of arguments were going on…”

Catley (interjecting): “I knew that Tony had been unhappy for quite some time. If I’m truthful I can’t really blame him.”

Clarkin: “I reached the point where I thought: ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’. Magnum takes up 24 hours of my life, every day of the week. I just wanted to do other things. I decided to write some songs that were a little different.”

Catley: “I said: ‘I’ll sing ’em for you’. What else was I going to do? That was the start of Hard Rain.”

After the announcement of the break-up I came to Brum to interview you all, except Wally who was absent. It was rather awkward. The wounds were still fresh.

Catley: “Tony was just going to leave, to end it right there and I said: ‘Hang on, there’s got to be a farewell tour.’ That’s what we did. There was a live album, ‘The Last Dance’ [1996].”

On that final tour, tears flowed on the stage and in the audience.

Catley: “I definitely got emotional looking out at all of those faces. Some of them were quite upset and it set me off. It’s very hard to sing when you’re choking up.”

How was the final night at Wolverhampton in December 1995?

Catley: “There were two nights, actually, and it was a real party atmosphere. And afterwards: ‘What are we going to do now?’ We knew what was coming next, Hard Rain, but for a while we kept that to ourselves.”

Few would have realistically thought that Magnum could ever exist again…

Clarkin: “The reunion came out of nowhere actually. But I’m so glad that it did.”

Catley: “C’mon, Tony and I are just like Gloria Gaynor – we will survive.”


 MY MAGNUM YEARS

Richard Bailey

 “I DIDN’T WANT TO END UP WEARING A CODPIECE AND TIGHTS” By Richard Bailey (1973-1974, 1976-1980)

I first joined in June 1973 and spent around seven years with Magnum, though there was a sabbatical when I went to South Africa. After I was brought in to play some keys and flute on some very early recordings, Tony asked me to join the band for their residence at the Rum Runner nightclub.

I will never forget recording ‘Kingdom Of Madness’, there was an open-ended arrangement between Jet and the studio. It must have cost a fortune but that didn’t matter as Jet had no intention of paying the bill. I still recall recording my flute intro to the title track, but as time went by we probably used the flute a bit less. That was probably my fault because I didn’t want to end up wearing a codpiece and tights like Ian Anderson.

The record company kept us waiting to release the album so we did lots of gigs at the Railway Inn in Birmingham to keep the wolf from the door, and Tony had plenty of time to write ‘Magnum II’. We employed quite a different approach on that one; we wanted to sound more polished and a bit less raw, like the big American Rock bands. Tony was a big fan of Styx and Kansas. Producer Leo Lyons fulfilled that brief.

It was disappointing when ‘Magnum II’ didn’t make the chart, but a great tour with Blue Öyster Cult softened the blow. I’m not sure they forgave us for going to the wrong dressing room and eating all of their food and drinking all their beer – it was a mistake, honestly! 

The live album, ‘Marauder’, was not too far behind. I don’t mind admitting that we went to a studio in Battle, Sussex, to doctor it a little. I think I might have left the band by then, but I was a part of the touching up of that album.

My musical taste was changing. While the others liked it heavy I was more into bands like Steely Dan. So I decided to move on. There was a stupid story about me leaving the band to join my father’s firm, that’s rubbish.

When I rang Tony to explain I said: ‘I’m sure you know why I’m calling’, he replied: ‘No’. He was really racked off: ‘Oh, bloody hell. Call me some time’. And he hung up. But I’ve seen him many times since and I think we’re okay.

Though there was a bit of a bad patch in the middle, my time spent in Magnum was mostly good. It wasn’t all brilliant because everybody except Wally liked a drink and that was sometimes difficult. Wherever we were and whatever time it was, just as we were leaving Kex had always got himself another pint.


Mark Stanway

“THE SUCCESS OF ‘…STORYTELLER…’ FELT SO SWEET” By Mark Stanway (1980–1984, 1985–1995, 2001–2016)

I knew all about Magnum long before I joined them. My band Rainmaker had a Wednesday night residency at the Railway in Birmingham and Magnum also used to play there every Thursday. I was alw ays impressed by the quality of the band’s songs and their professionalism, plus there were plenty of keyboards in the music.

My live debut was at the Reading Festival in 1980 – no pressure there! – and my first album with the band was ‘Chase The Dragon’ though Jet Records didn’t release it for two years, which was maddening. I knew that I was joining a band where one guy wrote all the songs, and Tony could certainly conjure up some great ones. Among my favourites were ‘Vigilante’, ‘Kingdom Of Madness’, ‘Les Morts Dansant’, ‘How Far Jerusalem’, ‘Don’t Wake The Lion’ and ‘Sacred Hour’, the list goes on and on.

Having said that there were a couple I didn’t like. For instance, I never really got on with ‘Heartbroke & Busted’, probably because it was so un-keyboard-friendly.

After the many problems we had with Jet Records, I was incredibly proud of the way that Magnum came back stronger than ever with ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’. I had been part of a solo tour with Phil Lynott that evolved into the band Grand Slam because I had to earn a living. They used another keyboard player, Eddie George, for a six-week tour but when the deal came through to make the album I returned to play on the record; I had already routined and demoed my parts of the songs.

The success of ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ felt so sweet. That whole album was recorded and mixed in a fortnight for just £9,000 and much of the credit for that goes to Kit Woolven, who died recently. He was a great producer and a lovely man. 

Headlining at Hammersmith Odeon for the first time on ‘Vigilante’ was another big moment because we knew we were getting somewhere. I will never forget that night at the Odeon. Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman introduced us and during the show Roger Taylor got up and sang backing vocals with us – it doesn’t get much better than that!

The success of ‘Vigilante’ led to those big arena shows we did for ‘Wings Of Heaven’ and ‘Goodnight L.A.’. Some people saw using outside writers on ‘Goodnight L.A.’ as a bit of a kick in the teeth for Tony, but c’mon… we’re taking about Russ Ballard, that can only help any Rock album. I like all of the songs on ‘Goodnight L.A.’ – except ‘Heartbroke & Busted’ – and then Polydor US didn’t release it. That baffled me, and it caused a slow, downward spiral. Having said that, if you put a gun to my head I would probably choose ‘Rock Art’ as my favourite Magnum album…

Anyway, Tony decided to end the band in ‘95, and to go off and work with Bob in Hard Rain. That caused some controversy. I’ve even been blamed directly for the break-up of Magnum, but if that’s so then why the fuck did the band bring me back when they reunited in 2001?


Barker

“WE WERE FAR HEAVIER THAN A DRY LETTUCE LEAF” By Mickey Barker (1985–1995)

I look back with great affection on my decade with Magnum. It was never dull. I had considered throwing my hat into the ring when Kex left to join Robin George in 1984 but decided against it. I visited them in the studio when they recorded ‘…Storyteller…’ with Jim Simpson and was surprised to get a call before the tour saying they were stuck for a drummer as Jim was headed to UFO, so I agreed to help out.

When I played the completed ‘…Storyteller…’ album I thought: ‘Wow’. And then I started to worry. At my first gig, in St Austell, I decided to keep eye contact with the guys as the music is very complex, but then the stage filled with dry ice and I couldn’t see a thing. Anyway, it worked out well and I stayed. I loved those bigger gigs like Donington in 1985, but all the while I couldn’t help thinking I was keeping Kex’s seat warm. Eventually that went away and I felt like a real member of the band.

We did most of the demos for ‘Vigilante’ in my flat in Moseley and then jetted to Switzerland to record them with Roger Taylor and Dave Richards. Keith Baker, our manager, had made us promise not to go skiing but one day Roger asked: ‘Who wants to join me?’ and that rule went out the window. I got to sit and have lunch with Roger Taylor which was amazing.

Although ‘Wings Of Heaven’ gave us our big breakthrough, it wasn’t a particularly happy time for the band. It had some great songs, but the recording process was very difficult. When those big shows started happening we had to pinch ourselves to remain levelled out. When we did the NEC in Birmingham I rode in on my pushbike, played the show and rode the 15 miles back home. Not too many people can say that, eh?

I had a great time in Los Angeles making ‘Goodnight L.A.’, hanging out on Venice Beach, but the album was one push too far. Tony was under pressure in every direction. The record company threw money at the project – it was the same old story. And unfortunately that album alienated some people who’d only just got on board with Magnum.

We took things back under our control with ‘Sleepwalking’, which is an album I really like. Maybe it could have been harder; maybe that’s why somebody accused us of sounding about as heavy as a dry lettuce leaf. That cut me hard because I could understand the criticism, but I always considered us more of a moderately thick slice of cucumber.

Some believe that the band went downhill the day Tony shaved his beard off; the whole Samson effect. There’s always a grain of truth in humour. One day Tony turned up at a rehearsal and I didn’t recognise him. I thought he was one of Mark Stanway’s gay Hell’s Angels friends. I wondered: ‘Why is this guy wearing Tony’s clothes?’ and then then penny dropped.

The band was getting better and better and I still pick up ‘Rock Art’ and realise what a great album it was. It’s probably my favourite of ours, even though I still have really strong feelings for ‘Vigilante’. I was shocked when Tony pulled the plug, though by the end there was a lot of tension.

For me, one of the best things about being in Magnum was the fans. Their support was incredible. Whenever things got tough, they always pulled us through.


George

“TONY WANTED A ROCK-SOLID RHYTHM PLAYER” By Robin George (1986)

I played rhythm guitar on the tour for ‘The Eleventh Hour!’ in 1983. I really enjoyed the experience. Mark Stanway and his wife Mo Birch were good friends of my missus and I, and Mo appeared on my first single ‘Too Late’, along with Dave Holland, who became the drummer of Judas Priest, and The Who’s bassist Pino Palladino. When Tony Clarkin wanted to bring in a second guitarist for the tour, Mark put my name forward.

My first gig was a warm-up for the tour at the Cavendish Arms just outside of Wolverhampton and despite the power cutting in and out during the show; it couldn’t have gone any better. I played the entire set every night, not just the songs from ‘The Eleventh Hour!’.

What Tony wanted was a rock-solid rhythm player, but also someone who could harmonise to most of his solos. Occasionally I also played some acoustic guitar. Besides the tour I also played with the band on a four-song session for Radio 1’s Friday Rock Show, which appeared as bonus tracks on a 2005 re-issue of ‘The Eleventh Hour!’. My favourite track was ‘Road To Paradise’, which is pure-Pop and very un-Magnum-like. 

The combination of Bob’s great voice and Tony’s fantastic writing has made Magnum such a force. It’s great that those guys stayed together for 50 years – it’s longer than most marriages.

When the tour was over the guys asked whether I would like to join the band, but the studio was booked for my own album, ‘Dangerous Music’, so I had to decline. Otherwise I’d definitely have said yes.

In the end, Kex Gorin came with me to play on ‘Dangerous Music’ and he also did my tour. Kex actually left Magnum to join my band, which amazed me. I told him he was crazy but he did it anyway.

Vocal Point