Mark Stanway (Magnum)

 Mark Stanway - Magnum keyboard player

Introduction and interview by Paul Monkhouse

Magnum  have long been a band that I’ve loved. Since first seeing them in the very early 1980s I was hooked, and their superb musicianship and the brilliant songwriting skills of guitarist Tony Clarkin have elevated them to one of THE best English rock bands this country has ever produced. With the mix of Clarkin’s gritty yet highly melodic guitar and partner in crime Bob Catley’s distinctive and mellifluous vocals they have stamped their mark on the hearts of anyone who’s ever heard or witnessed them. Another vital element to the band’s success is the outstanding keyboard work of Mark Stanway, a man who’s shared the stage with Messrs Clarkin and Catley since 1980 and whose addition saw the (already great) band step up a notch or two sonically.

One of the nicest and most talented guys you could hope to meet, I got to know Mark a bit better through our mutual friend Pat McManus and caught up with him for a chat on the last night of their On The Thirteenth Day tour over a drink in the relative peace and quiet of the Magnum tour bus.

So Mark, what does rock music mean to you?
Good and bad really … because there is both. It’s a bit of a general term but I think it will last forever … it certainly seems that way as we’ve been doing it an awfully long time! There’s a lot of new bands who’ve learnt to pull the shapes but haven’t really learnt how to play. I feel we continue to get better at it and this [On The Thirteenth Day] is as rocky an album as we’ve done. Rock to me is something that’s done well … especially if there’s keyboards in it! (Laughing.)

Who was the first artist to make a real impression on you?
Well my father, God rest his soul, was a big band swing drummer so I was brought up with swing music so Count Basie had a huge influence on me. But with regards to what I’m doing now, when I found out you could buy an electric piano and be in a band John Mayall was the biggest influence because I could sort of copy, playing blues and to this day I still love playing blues, rock ‘n’ roll and blues. John Mayall was the biggest influence on me from the piano playing/keyboard point of view.

Is there a particular band or album or song which means a lot to you?
Good question. Yeah, Booker T & The MGs because of that organ sound. Early Whitesnake: Jon Lord that was a huge influence, especially when I got asked to do the Moody/Marsden/Murray classic Whitesnake (as) it was my first chance to play raw organ. I had to listen to what Jon Lord was playing and I’d really underestimated him … what a phenomenal organ player and THE best rock organ player in my opinion. Oh, so many! The Beatles … I don’t think any of us would have a job without them and I still listen to The Beatles today.

You mentioned Booker T. Are they someone who’ve really stayed with you over time?
Oh yes, yes … it’s one of those special things. That rhythm section was sent from Heaven and they just groove. There’s no reason why rock music can’t groove either, it’s got to have a good feel … it’s not all thump and bash. I’ve had the chance to play with many great players, drummers included, and it makes all the difference when you can lock into a really solid groove. I’ve been really fortunate with drummers too and have played with some of the best.

As a well-respected musician yourself what do you say to a fellow musician or someone you admire (who may be considered a ‘rock star’) after you say “hello”?

Mark Stanway and Phil Lynott

Mark with Phil Lynott

Obviously I work with Robert Plant but I’ve known Robert for so many years he’s a friend before I look at him as a ‘Rock God’. It’s only when people start gathering round him wherever we are that you realise what a ‘giant of music’ he is. For me to go up and actually be in awe of somebody it’s got to be something that’s poignant to me. I’ll give you an example, say someone like David Paich, the keyboard player with Toto. I went out of my way to say hello to him two months ago when we were doing a show together in Switzerland. I knew Steve Lukather anyway, known him for many years, great guitarist, but I especially wanted to say hello to David Paich because I love his keyboard playing. Jeff Beck … when I did one of The Honeydrippers gigs we had a special surprise guest open for us and it was Jeff Beck and I went “Ooh!” because he’s my favourite guitarist and he’s such a nice guy and we’ve remained friends since … and he’s opening for ME … well, for Robert obviously with the Honeydrippers (laughs). That was a phenomenal moment for me to meet an absolute idol because I play a bit of guitar at home myself and I’ve loved Jeff Beck ever since day one, so that was a special thing. It was an enormous privilege meeting Buddy Rich. I’ve met Paul McCartney, that was when he was in Wings in the late 70s. I was a bit in awe of him but hell, he was a Beatle!  So yeah, sometimes I am a little in awe. Stevie Wonder is another one, absolute idol, I just think he’s touched by God that man musically and he’s just a massive world-wide global star. Phil Lynott was another one but again, I was so close with Phil that that was another mate. It’s only when you put your ‘rock star’ head on and walk onstage or you’re out in public do you realise ‘oh yeah, that’s Phil Lynott’ as opposed to ‘Phil, my mate’. There’s a few anyway.

Have you had any strange encounters with fans yourself?
Mark Stanway - '80s pin-upWhen we were at our peak, say ’87 to ’92 we used to get a few fans who were totally obsessed and it was a bit scary sometimes. I don’t miss that side of it because we were much younger and there were a lot of screaming girls which was nice at the time. I had some mail death threats and all sorts, there’s been some strange stuff but that’s a long time ago. It’s just when people have been obsessed and you find out their entire room is covered with pictures of you and you say “Oh … is it?” So, I don’t envy some of these big stars who have stalkers. One or two ‘uncomfortable’ situations but I’m still here.

So, what to you makes a gig special?
Audience response obviously, that’s first and foremost. Even if we’re struggling with a bad sound or monitor or equipment problems a good audience will always overcome that so it doesn’t matter how big the gig is, it’s down to the audience and if they’re really going for it that brings the best out of you.

What’s the most notable gig you’ve played as an artist in your career thus far?

Mark Stanway in jester outfit

“So here he is once more …”

The most notable has to be either the NEC or Wembley I guess because you’re playing to 10,000 people which is a big buzz … but it’s very impersonal because you can’t see anybody. Hammersmith is special to me because you’ve got a nice wide stage and about 3,700 people in there but you could see faces so you could have a bit of interaction in there. I mean, we did one gig in Madrid to 500 people and they stopped us playing for fifteen minutes because they were singing “Way-oh-way-oh-way!” because they were so happy to see us. Things like that really touch you more than the size or prestige of what you do. Glasgow audiences are unbelievable because they stop you playing. When an hour and fifty show goes way past two hours because of the applause, that’s when it’s all worthwhile.

What’s the best gig you’ve attended as a member of the audience?
Stevie Wonder. I saw him ‘in the round’ at the NEC and it was phenomenal. My old keyboard tech is his keyboard tech so I got VIP passes, I was front row, I had my wife sitting next to me, who’s a phenomenal singer, and Jaki Graham, who’s another phenomenal singer, so for the whole show I got three part harmonies. Unbelievable! It still sends shivers up my spine just thinking about it now. Stevie Wonder is a god.

Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll: is it a jaded stereotype or the Meaning of Life?
Well, I don’t think there’s much life if you get into the drugs side. I’ve lost too many friends to heroin and stuff like that and that’s something that nobody in this band has ever touched. We haven’t been angels in our time but we’re still all here kicking. Drugs to me are an evil that comes along with a lot of it and youngsters can get taken along with it. But the best gig you’ll play is without them.

Do you think rock music is for everyone or is it more tribal?
Well, it depends what you mean. If you take someone like Motörhead, for instance, then no, it’s not for everybody. But then if you look at a band like Magnum, our audience is so varied. We’ve got 12/13 year olds coming with their parents and loving it and we’ve still got people from the ’70s coming to see us so it depends. ‘Rock’ is too open an expression, really. I think anything with a good melody can appeal to anybody and I believe that there’s no limit to who can enjoy  the songs Magnum have done over the years. We’re only limited by the amount of exposure we get these days. (Laughs.)

How do you view what you do as an artist?
There’s a lot of pride involved. When we record an album there’s never any “that will do”. And we rehearse intensely: not because we can’t remember what we’re doing but just in case we can better something live. The songs change from the album version to live. We’re doing ‘Dance of the Black Tattoo’ live tonight and I suggested we put the melody hook in again towards the end and I’ve changed the ending of it. It’s once you’ve played the song live, or at least in the rehearsal studio for a few weeks, that you say “Hey, why don’t we try THIS live?” We haven’t got the luxury of being able to track things live as you do in the studio, so in there you’ll hear a guitar behind Tony doing a solo but that doesn’t happen live so you have to adapt things. There’s a lot of pride going into making things as good as we possibly can because we’re a live band.

How are Magnum most often labelled as a band?
‘Classic rock’, I guess.

Mark Stanway - Laurel and HardyAre labels helpful or limiting?
I don’t really mind the ‘classic rock’ label. I think they can be good or bad…you’ve got to be in a category unfortunately. In Germany ‘rock’ is ‘rock’, they don’t care. The same audience will watch Metallica and come along to watch Magnum. It makes me scratch my head a little … but ‘rock’ means more than one word in Germany than, say, in England or the UK.

Is there a piece of music you’d most like to be remembered for, again, thus far in your career?
Well, I was very proud of doing ‘Sacred Hour’ because that intro was an adaptation of something my wife wrote in actual fact, so it was actually something I tailored for keyboards personally and tagged it onto Tony’s ‘Sacred Hour’ which obviously inspired it. I’m very proud to have played with Robert Plant. Just so many things. Grand Slam with Phil Lynott. It doesn’t all have to be with big names. I’m really proud to have played with Pat McManus who’s a FANTASTIC musician and the likes of drummers like Jimmy Copley – I played on his solo album – and  ‘Classic Whitesnake’ with Mickey Moody, Bernie Marsden and Neil Murray, I like to listen to those once in a while and I’m proud of that. Quite a lot really. It’s really hard to narrow it down to one thing … but from the Magnum point of view I’m very proud of my first effort on ‘Chase The Dragon’.

Mark Stanway - Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise – delighted to finally meet his rock idol.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
I’ve heard that every decade for the past four decades! I remember Kevin Rowland (Dexy’s Midnight Runners) saying it to me in the very early ’80s that “rock is dead” but we’re still playing. Hope you’re listening Kevin! (Much laughter ensues!)

Finally, what have you got coming up?
I’ve nearly finished a book that I’ve been writing for a couple of years that I’ve tentatively entitled ‘Close to the Mark’ which is just about all the behind the scenes stuff – nothing derogative but just some of the funniest things that have happened to me in the 35 years I’ve been a musician that the punters have never even known about. There’s so many things I can’t mention but there have been some really, really funny things … stories with Robert and stories with Phil Lynott, not just limited to Magnum. I’ll hopefully have that ready for the next time we tour in Spring 2014. I’ve been asked to put Grand Slam back together with Laurence Archer and original guitarist Doish Nagle, which is a firm possibility but it’s down to the logistics. It’s got to have an Irish drawl fronting it though because it wouldn’t work otherwise and if I can do [organise] that properly I will. I also have another album with Magnum to do.

Mark Stanway and Paul Monkhouse


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Magnum at the Muni: The Thirteenth Gig

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