Fireworks, Rocktopia and Uber Rock

Regular readers may have noticed the relative paucity of new interviews and articles on this site recently, for which I apologise. This is partly due to general busy-ness (work and play) but mainly due to the increase in time I’ve devoted to reviews and interviews for other publications, most notably Fireworks Magazine and Über Röck.

Uber Rock logoWith regards to Über Röck, it’s a pleasure writing for a magazine which prides itself on devoting column inches to bands who fly below the radar, as it were, bringing great new music to your attention without pandering to PR companies and major record labels. Better still is working with a group of writers who do it purely and simply for the love of the music. If you want to know more, joint-founder of Über Röck, Gaz, tells it like it is here:
https://wordsandmusicbook.wordpress.com/?s=Gaz+Uber+Rock

Those interested can read my Über Röck reviews here:
http://www.uberrock.co.uk/component/search/?searchword=Michael+Anthony&ordering=&searchphrase=all

Recent reviews include (among others) albums by Yes, Vertica, Dead Shed Jokers, Neal Morse Band, Agent Philby and the Funtans, Jouis, Amberjacks, Lande and Holter, Beardfish, Corvus Stone, Pain of Salvation and Martin Barre. You can also check out interviews with the likes of Neal Morse, Adrian Belew, Graham Bonnet, Robbie Cavanagh and Michael Schenker.

Fireworks Magazine CoverFireworks Magazine is published every other month and is available in the UK in all high street branches of W.H.Smiths. it is also now available in the United States and Canada. Most Fireworks reviews and interviews are subsequently made available on the Rocktopia website. You  can access the site here: http://www.rocktopia.co.uk/

My recent contributions include reviews of albums by Von Hertzen Brothers, Anathema, Curved Air, Voyager, Perfect Beings, The Answer, Starset, Blitzkrieg, Meat Loaf, Arcane, Man and Melissa Etheridge (to name a few), and interviews with Cormac Neeson of The Answer and Brian Ross of Blitkzkrieg.

Prog fans might also have noticed Michael Anthony’s Prog Magazine article on Twelfth Night’s excellent ‘Fact and Fiction’ album (in ‘The Albums That Saved Prog’ series) a while back. More information about that is available on the Twelfth Night official website.

Look out too for Michael Anthony’s occasional appearances on BBC Radio Wales on The Alan Thompson Show. Recent chat and music has included features on AC/DC, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, Prog Rock, Bob Dylan and Jon Lord.

Rock ‘n ‘Roll!

Prog Magazine Cover July 2013

Read Über Röck’s review of Words and Music

Read Fireworks/Rocktopia’s review of Words and Music

Read Prog Magazine’s review of Words and Music

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Deep ?urp!e

Deep Purple - Now What?! chart action

Unlike, say, Black Sabbath (who have faced different sorts of challenges), since their 1980’s reformation Deep Purple have kept going as a creative force, keeping their core line-up pretty much intact, or, at least, allowing it to evolve in a way that has ensured stability and continuity.

I made my peace a long time ago with the Steve Morse and, more recently, Morse/Airey line-ups. Indeed, for me, the Purpendicular album (1996) was an extraordinary creative rebirth which has had me on tenterhooks in anticipation of each new release since.

Deep Purple - Now What?! album coverWhile there’s not been a bad album with Steve Morse in the band, 2013’s Now What?! is probably the strongest since the aforementioned Purpendicular. It is undoubtedly their most experimental and progressive album for quite some time – certainly since Purpendicular and probably since Fireball (1971). It has a looser, fresher feel, as producer Bob Ezrin encouraged the band to jam, have fun and just play. Sometimes in the past, the band seems to have felt constrained by what they take to be popular notions of what ‘Deep Purple’ stand for and what they should sound like. In contrast, most fans I know (admittedly a very small subset) would agree that what made Deep Purple great was their desire to be exciting, to follow their instincts, to experiment, and to push at musical boundaries. For those of us who feel like that, Now What?! is a very, very pleasing album.

So, what of the songs? The quiet and beautifully sung opening to  ‘A Simple Song’ doesn’t so much lull you into a false sense of security as set the tone for the unpredictable nature of what follows. I hear hints of ‘Black and White’ (from the House of Blue Light album) in the melody – possibly and playfully deliberate given Gillan’s use of the phrase in the lyrics.

The next two tracks pick up the baton and drive us deeply into the album. ‘Weirdistan’ has an understated eastern-flavoured riff and features a wonderful spacey keyboard solo from Don Airey. (“Oh yes, it’s beautiful”!) ‘Out of Hand’ has an atmospheric opening, with Airey’s prodding keys yielding to a trademark big riff, more eastern stylings and a stand out Morse solo.

First single ‘Hell to Pay’ initially appears to be standard fare until we’re treated to some sublime guitar/keyboard soloing and interplay that has always been a feature of Deep Purple (whether we’re talking Blackmore and Lord, Lord and Morse, or Morse and Airey) and that no one, but no one,  has ever done better. Of course, it’s all wonderfully underpinned by Glover and Paice. This is some band!

‘Bodyline’ has a funky opening and rolls along nicely. But surely I’m not the only listener disappointed that lyrically it turns out to be a vehicle for an oversexed Ian Gillan to indulge his whims again. I was hoping for a song about cricket and past Ashes intrigue!

Deep Purple - Above and Beyond coverAs good as it’s been up to this point, the heart of the album is the run of three tracks spanning the ever so proggy ‘Above and Beyond’, the cool and sometimes laid back ‘Blood from a Stone’, and ‘Uncommon Man’. The latter features a wonderful extended guitar-led prelude with orchestral arrangements (a fanfare?) before Paice’s drums usher the band effortlessly into the verse. Again, there aren’t many bands who could, who would, write something like this. (The Enid, perhaps?)

‘Après Vous’ is a more standard rocker, which picks up the pace before settling into a nice bass groove and featuring yet more cool Morse/Airey interplay. “C’mon man. Fill your boots,” sings Gillan, with thoughts of “another life, another world.” His ‘Woman from Tokyo’, and other women from other places, clearly still make him sing.

‘All the Time in the World’ is a gentle and touching ballad – the kind this incarnation of Purple do so well (think ‘Clearly Quite Absurd’ from the Rapture of the Deep album). Morse’s solo is sublime. He can shred with the best of them, but when he wants to go for the heart he just reaches right in there and grabs you. Gillan recycles and adapts a lyric from Purpendicular‘s ‘Soon Forgotten’: “Sometimes, on a good day, I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit.”

The closing track on the standard version, ‘Vincent Price’, is loads of fun, featuring a church organ, a crash of thunder, an operatic intro, a mock-horror riff, multi-tracked vocal effects and a lyrical run-through of every horror film cliché Gillan can summon. “It feels so good to be afraid,” he sings, “Vincent Price is back again.” The video is a lot of fun too – haunted castles, wax-work dummies, roaming monsters and a pole-dancing nun! Really! Don’t take it too seriously but check it out:

Vincent Price promo shot

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BEWYRRaxFhU

As you can see from the picture at the top of this piece, the album charted all over Europe, reaching number 1 in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Norway, and entering the top 10 or top 20 in numerous other countries. (I don’t wish to pitch Black Sabbath and Deep Purple against each other, but there was a feeling in some quarters that while Sabbath worked hard to rediscover their mojo – turning in a decent album, 13,  which incredibly achieved number 1 chart success in the UK and the USA – Purple were, with Ezrin’s help, able to give free expression to theirs, raising the creative bar a notch or two in the process.)

It must be very gratifying for the band, and, indeed, for long-term fans and supporters, that the album has been so well received. The music deserves it, but it’s also been better promoted than previous albums. It even got the band an interview appearance on Jools Holland’s BBC television show (Tuesday 14 May 2013). At their age as well. Who do they think they are?!

The success of the album was tinged with sadness, of course, given the passing of former keyboard player Jon Lord. While the whole album is dedicated to Jon, the track ‘Above and Beyond’, is a poignant and more direct tribute. It includes the following beautiful lyric …

Souls, having touched, are forever entwined

Now What?! is a fitting tribute both to the memory of Jon Lord and to the musical legacy that he and his Deep Purple bandmates have bequeathed to us. Highly recommended!

Deep Purple promo poster

Related posts

Black Sabbath 13

An Interview with Simon Robinson (Deep Purple Appreciation Society)

About Words and Music

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Fifteen Songs That Rocked My World in 2013

2. Evie and the Essence of Rock and RollAt this time of year everyone and his dog is publishing a list of something.  It’s dreamtime for those who like to catalogue, rank and review.

I had a lot of fun pulling out and revisiting the 2013 releases in my collection (and trying to remember the gigs I’d been to) for the  Über Röck website and Fireworks magazine end of term exercises.

Those interested can check out collective and individual lists in the January/February 2014 edition of Fireworks (Issue 61) and the Albums of the Year and Gigs of the Year features on the Über Röck website.

Rather than simply reproduce those exercises here, I thought I’d do something different. It’s true that in the introduction to Words and Music, I note that rock fans generally buck the modern trend for downloading single tracks and prefer to experience music through bands and albums. However, in thinking about my favourite albums of 2013 for the aforementioned exercises, I was troubled by the huge amount of good music I’d had to omit. It’s also true that you can cast some light on bands and albums by drawing attention to particular songs. I thought, therefore, that I’d compile a list of fifteen tracks that made a particular impression on me last year – an entirely arbitrary number, of course, but I guess you have to stop somewhere!

So, in no particular order, here are some tracks that rocked my world in 2013. Some are from my top twenty albums of the year, and some aren’t. Where I can I’ve added links to the music. Obviously (it almost goes without saying) I don’t own the copyright to any of the material, but I direct you to it in the hope that you’ll find something you’ll enjoy and will want to add it to your own collection. Here goes …

1. Deep Purple – ‘Above and Beyond’ (from Now What?!)
As a long-term fan of the Steve Morse-era, I was absolutely delighted that Purple came up trumps with what most commentators agree is their best album since 1996’s excellent Purpendicular. The quality and success of the album was tinged with sadness, though, as the band paid tribute to friend and former bandmate, the great Jon Lord. The album as a whole was dedicated to Jon, though ‘Above and Beyond’ is a very poignant and more direct tribute.

Rest on your sadness
And tomorrow we’ll find
That souls, having touched, are forever entwined

You Tube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyNDlr-u6U0

Deep Purple Now What?! cover

2. Von Hertzen Brothers – ‘Flowers and Rust’ (from Nine Lives)
Here’s a great band who really should be as big all over the world as they are in their native Finland. The flip side of their crawl to international recognition is that it’s still possible to see them ‘up close and personal’ in small venues in the UK.  ‘Flowers and Rust’ is one of the stand out tracks from their magnificient 2013 album Nine Lives and earned them the ‘Anthem of the Year’ accolade at the 2013 Prog Awards. Check it out people. Hopefully 2014 will be their year!

You Tube link to official video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tAYCTZt6bA

VHB -Nine Lives cover

3. Riverside – ‘We Got Used to Us’ (from Shrine of New Generation Slaves)
Gutsy, modern prog rock from Poland. Riverside are a band I already loved, and they didn’t disappoint with 2013’s Shrine of New Generation Slaves. In amongst the now customary psycho-drama and the intense and compelling musical passages, Mariusz Duda sure knows how to pen a great melody and strong lyrical hooks. I’ve gone here with ‘We Got Used to Us’ (with an honorary mention to ‘The Depth of Self-Delusion’) but could really have picked any of the album’s eight tracks to illustrate the quality of the band and the pull of the album.

Hear it on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuBvF3fZUi4

Riverside - Shrine of New Generation Slaves cover

4. Steven Wilson – ‘Drive Home’ (from The Raven That Refused To Sing And Other Stories)
Considered by many to be the master of modern progressive rock, Steven Wilson was on fire in 2013. He released the astonishing The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), having assembled an all-star band who proved as effective live as they were in the studio. He followed up the album and tour with the Drive Home video EP, which came complete with live and previously unreleased bonus tracks.  ‘Drive Home’, the track, was a compelling tear jerker and benefitted from a quite superb animated video, directed by Jess Cope. (Honorary mentions too, to ‘The Raven …’ itself – another stunning video – and the acerbic and punchy ‘The Holy Drinker’.)

Here’s a link to the official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycYewhiaVBk

You can hear Jess speaking about the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUUaAV_4lgs

You can read my own Über Röck review of the Drive Home video EP here:
http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/31-november-cd/9937-steven-wilson-drive-home-kscope.html

Steven Wilson - Drive Home cover

5. Spaceport Union – ‘Minnow’ (from Flirting With The Queen)
‘Minnow’ is a superb piece from the debut album of a Canadian band who will be unknown to most in the UK.  One of the pleasures and privileges of writing for Über Röck is that you do sometimes come across rare gems from talented emerging artists . In my review I said:

“Checking in at a cool 14 minutes and eight seconds, ‘Minnow’ is a modern prog classic in the making. Ethereal and dreamy, edgy and experimental, and “recorded live off the floor,” its emotional weight is carried by Spence’s haunting vocal. “Do not go gentle into that dark night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” says the Dylan Thomas quote in the album credits. ‘Minnow’ is not always gentle and does not always rage, but it does induce a sense of melancholy and quiet torment throughout. It’s beautifully sad. It’s how things might turn out if Wilson and Åkerfeldt in Storm Corrosion mode ever collaborated with Kate Bush. But there’s still room for the guitar dominated final section to pick up the pace and really drive the track home.”

I stand by those words – and by my overall review of the album. It made my top twenty!

Check out the track and the album here: http://www.spaceportunion.com/

And here’s my full Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/27-july-cd/8720-spaceport-union-flirting-with-the-queen-groove-riot.html

Spaceport Union cover

6. Blitzkrieg – ‘V’ (from Back From Hell)
I reviewed the new Blitzkrieg album in Fireworks (Issue 61) and regarded it as a qualified success. Why “qualified”? Well, because it largely plays to an old-school NWOBHM audience and in that sense pigeonholes itself. ‘V’, however, has a great blend of power, drama and melody and had me reaching for the repeat play button. (An honourable mention too to ‘Complicated Issues’ – the other stand-out track on the album.) “An idea cannot be killed by bullets.” Great stuff!

Check out ‘V’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPyCGkteyPw

Blitzkrieg cover

7. The Lidocaine – ‘Life is Beautiful’ (from The Road To Miero)
Another Finnish band, and probably one of the more obscure artists to make an impression on me last year. The Road to Miero is their second album. It’s not bad at all, and despite some of the album’s relatively grim lyrical themes, opener  ‘Life is Beautiful’ struck me as a reaffirmation of the beauty of life despite hardship and struggle. This track has stayed with me all year.

There’s a ropey recording of ‘Life is Beautiful’ on You Tube that doesn’t really do it justice, so you might be better advised to check them out via their website: http://www.thelidocaine.com/

Here’s my Über Röck review of the album: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/25-may-cd/8031–the-lidocaine-on-the-road-to-miero-inverse-records.html

The Lidocaine Road to Miero cover

8. Gate 6 – ‘God Machines’ (from God Machines)
Top notch stuff from a Dutch band I hadn’t heard of before 2013. Although I was sent God Machines to review in 2013, it was actually released in 2012 – otherwise it would certainly have made my top 20 albums of the year. The title track is one of its stand out moments, and again, has stayed with me since the review. (An honorary mention to ‘Casualties of War’ too.)

Track samples are available on the Gate 6 website: http://www.gate6.nl/album/

Über Röck review here: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/29-september-cd/9327-gate-6-god-machines-self-released.html

Gate 6 album cover

9. Tipsy Road – ‘Wraith’ (from Somewhere Alive)
Tipsy Road are a young Swiss band with a less than convincing name but an album full of heavy rocking tracks that just keep comin’ atcha. ‘Wraith’ is one of the tracks that pulled me into their Somewhere Alive album and made me think that these guys have something special.

There’s a very nice four minute album preview on the band’s website: http://www.tipsyroad.com/tipsyroad.com/Home.html

And here’s my Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/32-december-cd/10076-tipsy-road-somewhere-alive-rockarchive.html

Tipsy Road cover

10. Split Sofa – ‘She Really Moved Me’ (from Coloured Dream)
Split Sofa, led by frontman and songwriter Lewie Docksey, are a band with a recording history. (Coloured Dream was, in fact, their sixth album.) They play a slightly anachronistic and very English brand of psychedelic rock, of which ‘She Really Moved Me’, with its early Pink Floyd and Satanic Majesties-era Stones vibe, is a prime example. I fell in love with this track on first play.

You can hear it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jae_cMgriSg

And here’s my Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/30-october-cd/9512-split-sofa-coloured-dream-self-released.html

Split Sofa cover

11. This Devastated Fan – ‘Contingency Plan’ (from Plot and Debauchery)
TDF are a young band from the North West of England who in 2013 decided to “reboot” their debut album. It’s a good, solid, well thought-out affair that boasts some great tunes and deserves some attention. ‘Contingency Plan’ was one of the catchiest tracks I heard all year. I’ve been walking around singing it for months!

I can’t find a decent, available version online, but please do check out the band’s website: http://www.tdfhq.co.uk/

This is what I wrote about them at the time: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/29-september-cd/9123-this-devastated-fan-plot-and-debauchery-tired-eyes-productions.html

This Devestated Fan cover

12. Primitive Instinct – ‘Solitary Man’ (from One Man’s Refuge)
Primitive Instinct are a somewhat older band, who produced a thoughtful ‘Sort of Rock’ album likely to provide comfort and succour to those of a certain vintage in particular. It didn’t make it to my top twenty list, but there are some very classy tracks here, of which ‘Solitary Man’ has become my favourite.

Check out the band via song samples available on their website: http://www.primitive-instinct.com/

Here’s my Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/26-june-cd/8404-primitive-instinct-one-mans-refuge-hidden-charm-records.html

Primitive Instinct - cover

13. Dyscordia – ‘Ache of Hearts’ (from Twin Symbiosis)
“And here come the Belgians …” with their loud heavy metal guitars and their growling vocals! Twin Symbiosis was another album I reviewed for Über Röck, and yet another album that was a very pleasant surprise. About ‘Ache of Hearts’ I said: “Stand out track for me is the beautifully sung ‘Ache of Hearts’, the album’s ‘resting point’ and a chance to come up for air after a storming run from the creepy ‘Dreamcatcher Tree’, through ‘The Empty Room’, ‘From Sight to Black’ and “the meanest motherfucker on the album” (it sez ‘ere) ‘Rise to Perception’. In a perfect world, ‘Ache of Hearts’ would win the Eurovision Song Contest every year, and everyone would have progressive metal for breakfast.”

You can hear it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4wAEd-kmTg

Here’s my full Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/30-october-cd/9698-dyscordia-twin-symbiosis-road-mark-productions.html

Dyscordia - Twin Symbiosis cover

14. Inner Odyssey – ‘Light Years Away’ (from Have a Seat)
Have a Seat was the very strong debut album from a young Canadian progressive rock/metal band with bags of talent and seemingly unlimited potential. ‘Light Years Away’ is a 3 part suite that, for fans of the genre, has everything.

When I reviewed this album, I wrote: “The band set out their stall early with the three part epic ‘Light Years Away’. Part I (‘Tides of Fate’) is dominated by the atmospheric keys of Mathiau Chamberland. Part II (‘Shades of Heaven’) showcases Leboeuf-Gadreau’s precision soloing and the smooth vocals of Pier-Luc Garand Dion. The raging riffola and occasional full band thrashes of Part III (‘Distant Illusion’) show the band’s modern metal influences and put drummer Étienne Doyon and bassist Simon Gourdeau in the shop window before reaching a wonderfully melodic conclusion.”

You can read my full Über Röck review here: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/27-july-cd/8662-inner-odyssey-have-a-seat-unicorn-records.html

Expect to hear more from this band in 2014. In the meantime, the band has made the full album available online and I most heartily recommend that you check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgztcvjfGE0 ( ‘Light Years Away’ is the opening track.)

You might also like to know that Have a Seat made former Fireworks Reviews Editor Paul Jerome-Smith’s 2013 top five albums of the year!

Inner Odyssey - Have A Seat cover

15. Karelia – ‘Bill For The Ride’ (from Golden Decadence)
Karelia’s album Golden Decadence was another surprise. I know you can’t always judge a disc by its cover, but having seen the ‘bling’ and the ‘chicks’ I was expecting an album full of grimy sleaze rock. Having said that, I knew that they had supported the Scorpions and Michael Schenker, so on reflection probably should have expected a band with a bit more class. I was on my way to Wolverhampton to see Marillion when I first played it, and album opener ‘Bill For The Ride’ blew me away. It ‘benefits’, I’d say, from a misheard lyric – something about a “mother-loving Mars Bars”. I call it the ‘Mars Bar song’ now.

Hear the track (and mishear the lyric) here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-Op0qU2koo

Über Röck review here: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/24-april-cd/7961-karelia-golden-decadence-rocksector-records.html

Karelia - album cover

So there you are. I’ll still probably agonise about the bands and good music I’ve still not managed to represent on any of my lists … Solstice, Legend, Corvus Stone, Mindwork, Nik Turner, Hammerforce. But hey, you have to draw the line somewhere! It’s a new musical year now and there’s already so much to look forward to.

Onwards and upwards, eh?!

Home

Mark Kelly (Marillion)

Mark Kelly - keyboard player with Marillion

Photo by Joe del Tufo

Despite a lengthy hiatus somewhere between Holidays in Eden (1991) and Marbles (2004), I regard myself as a longstanding Marillion fan. Their music meant a good deal to me as a teenager, and, since rediscovering their back catalogue just prior to the release of the aforementioned Marbles, some of their music has come to mean a great deal to me as an adult. No surprise then, that Marillion feature heavily in Words and Music, which attempts to explore the kind of significance that rock music can have for people.

It was great to see Marillion picking up the ‘Band of the Year’ award at the 2013 Progressive Music Awards – an accolade, which, from whatever source, many fans will argue is long overdue. It was also an absolute pleasure to  speak with keyboard player Mark Kelly recently about demons and wizards, notable gigs, sympathy for the devil and meaningful music. Read on to find out more …

Hi Mark, congratulations on the award, it must be nice to get the recognition?
Yeah, though it’s funny because we’d sort of got used to never winning anything! Even when we were in the charts, when ‘Kayleigh’ was a big hit and we were considered to be a big band, we never used to get invited to any of those award things like the Brits, so we just felt like we were not part of that thing, you know. Marillion picking up their Band of the Year at the Progressive Music Awards 2013Not that it ever bothered us much, but to finally win something was like, “Oh, we’ve actually won”. We were up for four awards and we won the band of the year, which was great because it’s nice to be recognised by your peers. And it was a good night out!

And, of course, it was a Prog Award, the ‘P-word’. It’s a perennial discussion among fans isn’t it, the extent to which Marillion are a prog band?
Well, things have sort of changed over the last few years, the fact that there is the Prog Awards for a start. This is the second year they’ve done it now, and I think Jerry Ewing with his idea of having a prog magazine … I think that was a stroke of genius because, you know, it sells well, there’s a lot of people out there who for years have been listening to progressive music, whether it’s the old stuff or more modern stuff, and there’s been no outlet or recognition of the fact that people do listen to this music. I don’t know what’s happened over the last ten years or so, but gradually … prog’s not such a dirty word anymore. People are happy to come out and say, “I’m a prog fan.”  I mean, even pop musicians or indie musicians or whatever will come out and say, “Oh yeah, I like Genesis” or Pink Floyd or whoever. And there’s no stigma attached to it anymore, which is great.

Yeah, I remember the Manic Street Preachers making public the fact that they were Rush fans.
[Laughs] There you go, yeah! And I think it’s a good thing.

There was a time, wasn’t there, when the band were a bit wary of the prog label?
Well, only because of what it stood for really, which was, you know, dinosaurs and stuck in the past and all the rest of it, but we didn’t see ourselves like that. What’s weird, I suppose, is the association with demons and wizards and fantasy and fiction. I think part of the blame for that has to lie with some of the very early prog bands, the innovators , like King Crimson – their lyrics were quite demons and wizards weren’t they? And then you’ve Yes, whose lyrics you can’t make head or tail of, and, you know, even Genesis had a kind of fantasy slant to their lyrics, so you can see why that association is there. Of course, calling ourselves Marillion … [Laughs].

But because we came along after punk had happened, and, you know, lyrically bands were being much more down to earth and gritty, and singing about real life, that was part of our heritage, if you like. Fish’s lyrics tended to be more like that and less … well, apart from ‘Grendel’ I can’t think of anything else that he ever wrote in that sort of vein really.

So is it a sensible question to ask how you do view what you do as a band?
Well, I’d like people to approach our music with an open mind, obviously. Personally I think we’re definitely in that area – prog, if you like, or progressive music – though there’s a lot of cross-over with pop music for some of our songs and heavy rock for some of the others. I’d just like to think that we’re covering new ground with the stuff that we do and that we’re not just churning out rehashed chord progressions from other songs, and that we’re moving on in what we say, musically and lyrically. But it’s not a good thing to pigeon-hole things, that’s what I’d say.

How about your own route into music, then?  Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
I started off listening to music when I was about nine or ten, and the stuff I listened to was, I suppose, what you’d expect a pre-teen to listen to in the early ʾ70s – Slade, Sweet, T-Rex and stuff like that. So I was a bit of a music fan but not really into it, you know, and it was only when I heard Yes for the first time, and Rick Wakeman in particular, that I was suddenly hooked on music in a way that I hadn’t been before and decided that I wanted to learn to play the keyboards. So I suppose that was the turning point for me, where I went “I’m really into this”, and then from there I discovered all the other bands that were playing in the same genre like Pink Floyd and Genesis and so on,  so that was what I grew up listening to in the ʾ70s.

Mark Kelly - Marillion keyboard player

Photo by Joe del Tufo

You were self-taught weren’t you? I always think that’s impressive with a keyboard player.
Yes I was, yeah. But like I said, it was just because I heard Rick Wakeman playing and thought, you know, that’s what I want to do … and I’ve never had the same feeling about the guitar or the drums or whatever. I suppose everyone has their own reason for starting playing and for me it was that.

I had a keyboard for my eighteenth birthday, and the inspiration for that was the Script for a Jester’s Tear album and Jon Lord’s playing with Deep Purple but … I didn’t get quite as far as you!
Funnily enough, I was having this conversation when I met Rick Wakeman. I have met Rick before, but I was chatting with him and his son Adam at a Travis gig. Adam was playing keyboards with Travis and Rick was there backstage. And because I’ve never really spoken to him properly I went up to him and I said, “Look, I just wanted to say that you’re the reason I started playing keyboards.” And Adam, his son, said to me, “You’re the reason I started playing keyboards; I didn’t listen to my dad at all!” [Laughs] That was quite cool.

Jon Lord? Yeah, again, for organ playing you couldn’t touch him really. The sort of bands that I started off playing in tended to be on the heavier side, and so you had to do that distorted organ thing to get heard, you know, up against the guitars. So Jon Lord definitely showed the way – how to play keyboards in a hard rock band.

Can you tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
Joni Mitchell - Blue album coverI suppose for lyrics it has to be Joni Mitchell and the album Blue. It’s purely about the lyrics really, and what she’s saying in those songs. The music’s quite simple and nothing gets in the way. They’re great songs.

But as a personal thing, funnily enough, the album Beautiful Freak by Eels. I was just getting together with my current partner, Angie, when it came out. We’ve got three kids together and have been together now for, what is it, about 14 years, so that album for me was quite a personally important album. I’m sure everyone’s got the same story – the album you were listening to when you first got together with your ‘significant other’. So, that’s the one I’d pick out for that reason. Though it’s an interesting album in itself, a bit retro sounding, and it’s got some interesting songs on it.

Beautiful Freak album cover -EelsI don’t know it actually.
Ah ! Well, they’ve done a few albums, but I think, sadly for them, that was probably the high point. It was their first album and I don’t think they managed to do anything that was as good as that.  And it did stand out at the time as being quite different from what else was going on. Yeah, check it out, it’s good.

Do you remember the first gig you went to?
Yes, I do. It was at the Marquee Club in London and it was a band called The Loving Awareness Band. I went to see them because Radio Caroline, the pirate radio station, were promoting the band and an album they’d put out which was very Beatle-esque sounding. They were just playing it to death! I’m not sure what the connection was between the band and the radio station, but it was one of those things where I got into the songs and heard they were playing at the Marquee. I’d never been to the Marquee Club before – I was about fifteen – and I went to see them play and they were great. But what I found out a few years later was that the entire band was The Blockheads. It was basically The Blockheads without Ian Dury, before they got together with him.

What’s the most memorable gig you’ve been to as a fan?
Well, probably, because at the time it had such a big impact on me, Pink Floyd, The Wall, 1980. I was still quite young, hadn’t been to many gigs, and that was a huge spectacle, really. Roger Waters has just been out with it recently. Ian [Mosley], our drummer, went to see it and said it was amazing. It sounds like it was exactly the same show as they put on 30 years ago. At that time it was just head and shoulders above everything else that was going on at gigs. And it really did make a big impression on me.

That links quite nicely with a question I have about the relationship that Marillion have with their fans. That whole ‘alienation’ thing with The Wall
Yeah, Pink Floyd went like that … I don’t know really what was going on with Roger Waters, but I did read that there was some horrible incident at one of their gigs where the fans were all fighting and some people were killed and it made him not want to play gigs anymore. And of course, his whole life story about his father being killed in the war, and growing up with an ‘over-smothering mother’, which seems to be what comes across in the lyrics as the inspiration for that album.

Marillion and fans

Photo by Joe del Tufo

But yeah, our relationship with our fans obviously is totally different to that. Some bands just have that thing where they go, “We don’t want anything to do with our fans.” I’ve spoken to quite a few people about that. Rush, for example – they get up there, they do the gigs, and they don’t really want to have any social interaction or talk to their fans, you know. Pink Floyd are the same. Tony Hadley, from Spandau Ballet, I was talking to him a couple of months ago and he said, “I don’t ever spend time with my fans.” He said, “I was with Fish and he invited loads of fans back to his hotel. I couldn’t believe it! ” [Laughs]

So it’s just, you know, that people are different. I can respect the fact that if you’re a musician or an artist, and you just want to make music, you might not want to deal with everything that goes with it. That’s your choice, but for us … we’ve got great fans, so why wouldn’t you want to get to know some of them? Why wouldn’t you want to hear what they’ve got to say? Why wouldn’t you want to interact with them? And the internet has made it so easy for that to happen. Surprisingly, we don’t get hassled by people. I don’t think we do, anyway. I think we’re at the stage or the size where it’s not such a problem. I can understand if you’re Madonna or Robbie Williams or somebody like that, there’s no way you can just open your doors to people or let people get access to your phone number or your e-mail address or whatever, because there would just be too many. But for us it’s not such an issue.

Mind you, I can’t think of any other group of people in their forties and fifties who are so fanatical and so attached to a band as people are to Marillion.
I know, and I’m very grateful for it. We all are. We all think it’s amazing and we never take it for granted. But on the other hand, it’s really hard to explain. We don’t know the reason. We just write the best music and lyrics that we can and we just go out there and play it as best we can and everything seems to follow on from that, you know. But to be able to say okay, if you’re a band this is what you need to do to have a fan base like Marillion … I wouldn’t know what to tell you. It’s something for which we’re very grateful. We’ve got a cult following, we’re a cult band if you like, and we’ve managed to maintain a level where it’s still working for us and our fans are still there coming to see us play, which is great.

Have you had any particularly strange encounters with fans?
[Laughs] I’m trying to think of something and I can’t think of anything to tell you … um, no … there’s nothing that springs to mind … no. There’s probably something, but right now I can’t think of anything.

What’s the best or most notable gig you’ve played as an artist?
That’s quite tricky, actually. I suppose the stuff that sticks in my head would be when we did South America for the first time and we were playing football stadiums. It wasn’t just us, it was a huge line-up. We were second on the bill to Bon Jovi when they were really huge, and Bob Dylan, and just because of the sheer size of the gigs, they were really memorable. And the audiences were really enthusiastic as well – they tend to be in Latin countries, quite hot blooded! Mexico City, we’ve done some really great gigs there as well. Closer to home, from the early days, I always loved doing the Hammersmith Odeon, as it was then. When Fish was in the band we used to play there quite often, and the early Marquee gigs were great as well. So, you know, throughout our careers really there have been so many really good ones. We’ve played probably a few thousand, so I suppose there’s going to be some in there. Although most of the time we come off stage going, “Aw, that was terrible.” [Laughs]  It’s quite rare for it all to come together, but when it does, when we all feel that we’re on top of it, when we’re all playing well and working well together, and the audience is great, you know, then it’s really special.

Marillion on stage, Montreal 2011

Marillion on stage, Montreal 2011 – Photo by Joe del Tufo

Gabriel or Collins?
Gabriel, definitely. There’s just something more interesting about Gabriel. Collins? I dunno. As a drummer he was great – it’s a bit sad he can’t play anymore – but as a singer he never really moves me, you know. There’s something about the quality of a voice that’s really important to me, even more than the words, actually.

Schenker or Rothery?
Schenker or Rothery? [Laughs] I used to think UFO were … did Schenker even play on that live album, Strangers in the Night?

Yeah, he did
Yeah? Then I’d have to say Schenker! [Much laughter] I do love playing with Steve because he is a really great guitarist. But they’re totally different to be honest, as players, so that’s how I’d put that one.

That was a ruse really. In the back of my mind I remember you saying something once before about Michael Schenker or Strangers in the Night.
Well, funnily enough I listened to that album again recently on Spotify. And that’s why I mentioned it again. Not that I’m listening to it constantly, but it’s one of those albums you come back to now and again and think, “That’s a bloody great album!”

Mark and Steve on stage -not exactly Strangers in the Night Photo by Joe del Tufo

Mark Kelly and Steve Rothery – not exactly Strangers in the Night!
Photo by Joe del Tufo

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Who was it who said, “Well, I could do without the rock ‘n’ roll!” [Laughs] I think it is a bit of a jaded stereotype. It was Ian Dury who said it originally. Or maybe it wasn’t him, but he wrote the song. For some people I suppose it is the meaning of life, but maybe not all three, and maybe not all at once. Next question!

I don’t know if you’ve seen these documentaries that the BBC roll out about progressive rock every now and then, but they trot out a few generalisations, you know, that it’s all about dragons and wizards, and that progressive rock musicians are frustrated jazz musos who should have kept away from rock and roll. What do you say to that?
Well, I think I know what you’re talking about, where they get a few people on to be talking heads going on about it, and, you know … Ian Anderson talking about how he wore a cod piece and all that. And yeah, it’s all a bit too … I dunno … prog rock for people who know absolutely nothing about music! I have to disagree with the “frustrated jazz muso” thing though, because, well, for me certainly, jazz was never anything that interested me. I think it’s probably people that get bored with your standard pop songs, or even your standard rock songs, people that have a low attention span or people who don’t like repetition too much, you know. So you sort of go, that’s fine, we can do these three chords again and again, but why don’t we try some others, you know, or we can do it in 4/4 but it would be good if we switched the time signature half way through. I mean I’m definitely of that side of things rather than being into jazz at all. Steve Hogarth takes the mickey out of me if I mention that we need to put a change in there. He goes, “You get bored with things so quickly, why do I have to change it?” [Laughs] So there’s definitely a bit of that, certainly for me anyway. I just think it’s about making music that interests you really, and, you know, for some people the music can be just about the feel, so they can just play the same thing over and over again, and do stuff that’s very repetitive and, you know, dancey or trancey or druggy or reggae, whatever it might be. Personally I can’t understand why people would want to play, you know, boogie woogie piano, for example … because isn’t it just the same thing over and over again, variations on the same thing? So whilst it’s clever and probably fun to play, it doesn’t really interest me, you know.

I’ve got a question here – rock music: a force for good or the spawn of the devil? That’s more relevant really to the kind of rock music where you sometimes get supernatural or devilish themes. It wasn’t something I was going to ask you at all until I noticed that someone had got to my website via the search term ‘Marillion devil’s music’.
Funnily enough, I saw that question on your sheet, and I entered that search term into Google just before this interview. It took me to a website that had an interview with Richard Stanley, who was the director of our Brave movie. I didn’t know this, but apparently he basically said, “I disown that piece of work because they took what was a short piece of film and turned it into something much longer.” I suppose there is some truth in that, in the sense that he was working with a very small budget – I say “small budget”, it was about £100k – to try to make a movie that covered 70 minutes, which is the Brave album. It was more than the budget could cope with, if you know what I mean. But anyway, I think working with Richard Stanley is probably the closest we’ve ever come to devil’s music [Laughs] – he’s definitely got a bit of the devil in him, cos he’s made some really dark films. He did a movie called Dust Devil – that’s probably why the search took me to that site, actually, the word connection there – which is just horrible. And he did another one called Hardware, which again is horrible. So yeah, quite a dark person and that’s the closest I think we’ve come to the devil … we’ve got nothing to do with devil’s music …

… No! Actually, there was a book in the ʾ80s, called Paint It Black, I think, that was written about rock and roll being the devil’s music, and there’s a whole chapter dedicated to Marillion, because around about the same time – it was when we were on tour in America in about 1986 – there was a case in the UK. They called it ‘The Vicarage Rape’.

Oh yeah, yeah, I remember!
The story was, from memory, some guys broke into a vicarage, tied up the vicar and raped his daughter in front of him and her boyfriend. What happened was that the daughter who was raped said that one of the guys had a tattoo on his hand with the letters ‘MAR’ and a web between his thumb and his index finger. Some bright spark journalist put two and two together, came up with five, and said, “Ah, it’s probably something to do with Marillion.” So, the papers ran a whole story about it. We were contacted by the police and they said, “Look, we don’t think it’s anything to do with Marillion, but if the press contact you and ask you about it please talk to them because the more it gets written about, the more likely it is for somebody to read this who knows who the tattoo belongs to.”

So that was what happened, and obviously because of that story the guy who was writing this ‘devil’s music’ book said it was something to do with Marillion, and they’ve got a song called ‘Assassing’, and all that sort of thing. We got a whole chapter because of that very weak connection to that terrible case, which of course was nothing to do with us or our music. It was just bad journalism, basically, scraping together some stories that they could use. They’ve got this premise and then they try to find evidence to back it up, you know.

Mark Kelly - Marillion

Photo by Joe del Tufo

Is the rock era dead? A lot of people have said that, including Paul Gambaccini quite recently.
Um … and then punk came along and turned everything on its head for a few years. No, seriously, I can remember having discussions when I was a teenager, you know, when I was 14 or 15, with other kids at school, me saying rock music’s sort of at the end, and then what’s happened, you know, is you had all these different changes. I think it’s certainly quite stagnated at the moment. Whether it’s dead or not, who can say? When you look at it, music, especially Western music, looks pretty unpromising in terms of what you can do with it, if you just break it down and look at the number of notes which are available and the instruments that are available. You’d think that you’d soon run out of things to do – and quite a lot of people have run out of things to do but haven’t said that. But actually, the possibilities are almost infinite, so who’s to say what’s round the corner? Rock music could quite possibly end up in the same niche area as, say, jazz is now, or even classical music to a certain extent, where it’s a historic thing rather than an evolving and modern thing. But right now it’s difficult to say how it’s going to go. There’s definitely some merit in saying that rock music is dead.

I guess the whole way people are consuming music is different. That’s a change I think a lot of traditional rock fans have found it difficult to adapt to.
Yeah, although while I’m sceptical about whether or not we’ll be able to make a living from streaming services like Spotify, as a listener, as a punter, I think I listen to more music than I used to, and I listen to more new music as well because it’s very easy to do so, and you go exploring … “Oh, let’s just check out this guy” … and that leads to that album … “Oh, I’ve never heard them before, let’s have a listen to them”, you know. It’s all so easy to do. Of course, the downside to that is that back in the old days when you bought an album and you spent all your money on it, all your pocket money or whatever, then even if you didn’t like it the first listen, you were gonna give it a bloody good go, because that was all you had for the week you know. So stuff that you might have gone, “Nah, don’t like that” on first listen, by listen 10 you’re going, “This is the best thing I’ve ever heard!” So there’s something to be said for that investment in it making you give it a proper try, whereas if it’s all free and freely available the tendency is just to jump from one thing to the next thing and not really delve in deeply to anything.

And I suppose music that’s more in the progressive area does benefit from repeated listens?
You’re going to benefit from listening to any good music more than a few times because there’s got to be hidden depths that’ll reveal themselves to you after you become familiar with the more obvious parts of it. And that’s not going to happen instantly, because anything that appeals to you instantly is going to get old fairly quickly because it’ll be fairly simple, generally.

Of everything you’ve done so far, is there anything you’re particularly proud of – a song, an album, a particular performance?
Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made coverAt the risk of being clichéd, I have to say that the most recent album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made, I’m particularly happy with that. And that’s not my standard answer. I don’t usually say that whatever album we’ve just made is the best thing we’ve ever done, because we have made albums and I’ve gone, “I don’t really this album” or, “I don’t really like this song”. [Laughs] And ‘Gaza’, the song … I’m very pleased with how well that’s turned out. If you go back previously, the Brave album, I think, has got something going for it, and while I think it might have lost us quite a lot fans because it was quite “dark and impenetrable”, as it was described by one journalist, the ones who did get it have been more inclined to stay with us. So, yeah, I’m very pleased with what we’ve just done … I say “just”, but I mean the most recent album. It seems like “just” because we’re so slow these days at making albums that if an album’s a year old it’s still quite new. [Laughs]

When I first got into music, albums did seem to be annual, you know, tour … album … tour … album …
Well, for a short period we were making one a year, round about the late ʾ90s. But even back in our early days, it was still two or three years between albums for us. We just tend not to work at a very fast pace. And that might be a good thing, because we’re still here!

I suppose the end justifies the means, as it were?
As long as people like what we do at the end of it. I suppose if it takes two or three years rather than a year, then as long as people are still there after two to three years has elapsed, I don’t think we should complain.

And finally, what next?
Well, probably another Marillion album in the next two or three years! [Laughs] Outside of Marillion I started a little project a few weeks back with a couple of guys, a bass player called Steve Lawson and a drummer called Roy Dodds. You probably haven’t heard of either of them, but Steve is a solo bass player – he plays a six string bass and uses a lot of different loops and effects and stuff like that – and Roy was the drummer in Fairground Attraction years ago and plays quite jazzy, with a really nice feel to his drumming. The three of us have never worked together before. It was a chance meeting and we said let’s do something together. We just jammed for three days, came up with a load of material, and so between the three of us and Mike Hunter, our producer, we’re going to put together an album from it which, because of other things, we haven’t looked at since. It’s instrumental stuff – it’s not pop music, that’s for sure. Some of it’s a bit weird [chuckle] but some of it is very musical as well. So we’ll see what happens with that.

It was quite nice to do something that was quite instant, more improvising rather than constructing songs, which is where most Marillion music starts off anyway, so I felt quite at home doing that. But rather than going, “Ok, we’re gonna turn this into songs”, it’ll sound more like a soundtrack than a bunch of songs.

On the Marillion front we’ve got some gigs coming up in November [2013]. Just a few shows, about eight or nine shows around Europe … one in Manchester and one in Aylesbury, which is sold out. And then next year we’re doing a cruise with Yes – the ‘Cruise to the Edge’ – which will be interesting, with some other bands as well. It’s like a progressive rock cruise around the Caribbean next spring. In between these things we’ll be starting writing the next Marillion album, but I’ve no idea when it’ll be ready. We might be doing some summer shows and we’re probably going to go to South America in May as well for a few weeks. So yeah, it’s just business as usual in a way, getting out there, doing some gigs, and looking towards writing the next Marillion album while everybody is doing other things on the side.

Mark Kelly - Marillion

Photo by Joe del Tufo

CHEERS, MARK!

For up-to-date information on Marillion gigs and releases, please visit the official Marillion website.

All live shots of Mark Kelly and Marillion courtesy of Joe del Tufo. Please visit Joe’s photography website.

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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

CHEERS MARK!

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