Magnum: The Thirteenth Gig

Magnum 13

All the dreamers will come
And they bring heart and soul
‘Cause they’re all here to rock and roll

Words and Music has a whole chapter devoted to the gig experience. For me, personally, Magnum have always been an important part of that experience. Over the years I’ve seen them in a number of different venues and cities and their gigs have always been special. It seemed natural, therefore, to use the track ‘Sacred Hour’ (from the Chase the Dragon album) to illustrate the magic and power, and the short-lived and precarious nature, of the rock gig. Now that the book is ‘out there’, it also seems natural to check out the band again, just to make sure that they are still inhabinting that “powerful dream world” and creating that magic.

Muni Arts Centre PontypriddSo it is that I head off to the Muni Arts Centre, a converted church (how apt) in Pontypridd, South Wales. To be honest, the evening doesn’t start well. The babysitter cries off, which means my wife, who doesn’t drive, has to stay at home with the little one. I come off the A470 at the wrong junction and get lost. Eventually I swallow my pride and stop for directions. (It’s harder in the night, honestly.) I arrive late and miss the support band – Trillium – who I’ve been looking forward to seeing for ages. I try hard but can’t sell my wife’s ticket outside. Mind you, people seem strangely keen to show me their own tickets. Then I realise that when I ask “Have you got tickets?” they think I’m the doorman. When I finally decide to take the hit on the spare ticket and go in, I can’t find my wallet. I think I’ve lost it, but phone home to discover that I’ve left it in my jacket pocket. No beer for me, then. Luckily, I didn’t leave my ticket – number 13 – in it!

I meet some cool people outside the venue, including friends Paul and Neil, the latter of whom has seen Magnum 63 times! By the time I do get in, I’m psyched. And, as it turns out, for good reason. For the next couple of hours Magnum defy convention and produce such an engaging and spellbinding performance that you wonder why they’re not playing huge arenas. Of course, if they were, it’s unlikely their gigs would have that same sense of warmth and togetherness.

They kick off with ‘All The Dreamers’, the opening track of the new album, The Thirteenth Day. I’d played it in the car on the way up. “Great opener,” I thought, “I wonder if they’ll have the balls to open with it this evening.” As it turns out they have plenty of balls, showing a faith in their recent material that puts bigger and better known bands (mentioning no names) to shame.

Bob and FanHot on its heels comes the rousing ‘When We Were Younger’  from Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow (2007). When we were younger? I watch Bob Catley, the Peter Pan of heavy rock. Were you ever younger, Bob? And will you ever be older? You’ve looked the same to me for 25 years! Catley exudes an extraordinary youthful exuberance, aided by an onstage fan (of the electrial appliance variety) that blows his hair back and keeps him (looking) cool. Still there are those same extravagent hand gestures, which sometimes hint at a Dio-esque grandeur, but are always, always distinctively Bob.

No rest for the wicked. The band launch into another new track ‘Blood Red Laughter’, which rocks along like Uriah Heep’s ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ on speed. ‘Wild Angels’, from last year’s The Visitation, keeps up the pace, and I suddently realise I’m surrounded by smiling, dancing women. Infectious, inspiring. Who says you can’t dance to rock music? When ‘Brand New Morning’ kicks in (from the 2004 album of the same name), I’m left gasping. It hits home just how much quality material Magnum have in the bank. But if the crowd greets ‘Brand New Morning’ like a long lost friend, that’s nothing compared to the welcome given to ‘How Far Jerusalem’. This is the first real ‘oldie’ of the night and it draws an ecstatic response. I notice the ‘hard core’ in the first dozen rows or so singing along to every word. I notice later they are singing along to almost every word of every song … and that it’s not just them! This band generates so much affection and good will.

Magnum: Bob and Tony‘The Flood’ follows, from the criminally undervalued Sleepwalking album (1992). And here’s hoping that the reaction will encourage the band to dust down one or two other tracks from that era. Next, a couple more classics. First ‘Les Mort Dansant’ from the Storyteller’s Night album , then ‘The Spirit’ from Chase the Dragon. The latter includes a bit of a sing along as we’re treated to a largely guitar/vox rendition that only gets the full band treatment near the end.

Back to the future with ‘The Dance of the Black Tattoo’. This is one of the highlights of the new album, and although it rocks live, the keyboard subtleties of the generally magnificent Mark Stanway – which make the studio track such a joy – don’t quite come across in the live mix. Not to my ears anyway.

During ‘All My Bridges’ (from 2009’s Into the Valley of the Moonking) I notice a big guy, bang in the centre and just a couple of rows from the front, conducting the band for all he is worth. There’s always one, and it makes me chuckle. Then, ‘All England’s Eyes’. Man, I remember them playing this at Castle Donnington in front of thousands, but they play it with no less conviction in this small Valley’s church.

Tony Clarkin‘Vigilante’ (the title track of the 1986 album) is frenetic, with Tony Clarkin nailing the solo and Harry James thundering away – as he has all night – like a good ‘un. Hands are raised right to the back of the hall. We are ready for the ‘Kingdom of Madness’ … and the band deliver. Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes! Jesters, swaying arms and  pomp rock perfection. “O Kingdom of Madness, you’ve got me undone” was my parting shot when I dropped out of Southampton University, leaving my room empty and a sign on the door. No one’s leaving tonight though. The entire hall is baying for more.

More balls – the first encore is another track from the new album: ‘See How They Fall’. Bass player Al Barrow has a big grin on his face. He’s as cool and relaxed as they come.

Second encore track: ‘Rockin’ Chair’ from Goodnight LA (1990). Bob Catley’s ad libs are a joy: “I don’t need no rockin’ chair. I don’t need it, baby, baby.” You wouldn’t argue with a man this adamant!

The band finish with a rollocking version of ‘Days of No Trust’ – the lead single from Wings of Heaven (1988). It’s another one of those timeless Clarkin compositions, and a wonderful illustration of his ability to match a catchy tune with an insightful lyric. It’s fresh and punchy and gets everyone going – a great way to bring proceedings to an end. Magnum take a bow and they’re gone.

It’s truly impressive just how many albums the band has revisited while compiling this set list, but it’s also impressive how strong the new material sounds against a set of bona fide classics. The Thirteenth Day will be lucky for some (namely, all those who buy it). But that night in Ponty – luck didn’t really come into it. Another ‘sacred hour’, another happy crowd. A class act.

Harry's drums

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7 Comments

  1. Briliant review, good mix of storyline, continuity and humour – really enjoyed the read.

    Reply
  2. Michael – an excellent review and well written.

    Reply
  3. That’s a very entertaining review – and good to see Magnum can still cut it. Never any doubt.

    Reply
  4. Like the review. Pretty well fits the show when I saw them in Holmfirth recently. Tony Clarkin seemed to be a bit more to the fore than on other recent tours. Great stripped down rendition of ‘The Spirit’ was a highlight for me.

    Reply
    • Thanks Michael. Magnum are one of the most consistent bands I know, live and on disc/vinyl. (Consistently good that is!) I also really enjoyed ‘The Spirit’ – nice surprise. I’ve always enjoyed the band’s stripped down material, including the acoustic tracks on the bonus disc version of the new album.

      Michael

      Reply

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