Bristol Carling Academy 20th May 2007
A scary thought hits me on the way to the gig tonight: I've been trotting along to see Magnum live shows for over twenty years now. When I first saw them I was a teenager with hopes, dreams and a fringe, now I'm a bitter old git with a bald head and a denim jacket devoid of patches. A Kingdom Of Madness indeed...
Unfortunately I miss openers UXL due to the early Sunday starting time. Whilst those in Scandinavian countries can arrive at a gig close to midnight and still see all of it, we in England have to arrive just after breakfast, especially on a Sunday. Anyway, the two songs I manage to catch seem pretty good, so I vow to give their debut album a spin and will post a report on this very website.
It's been a few years since Magnum found their way to Bristol, and a sizeable crowd has gathered, the vast majority of the, ahem, older variety of metalhead. I can't imagine there's many here who are seeing the band for the first time, and it's always nice to see the competition for 'oldest band t-shirt' still rages at every gig. When the band take the stage at nine, the crowd go appropriately mental as they launch into "When We Were Younger" from the new album 'Princess Alice & The Broken Arrow'. Whilst Bob Catley holds court at the front of the stage, those with eagle eyes notice a certain Harry James from Thunder on the drum-stool, temporarily back in the fold as Jimmy Copley gets over illness. Naturally, all at RockUnited wish him well. On the left of the stage, bassist Al Barrow shows that the best way to look young is to hang about with a bunch of old gits, whilst Tony Clarkin looms on the right like a doorman who won't let you in wearing trainers.
These days it's rare that a band bothers with trappings such as backdrops or fancy rigs, and Magnum are no exception. It would have been nice to see a large scale replica of Rondey Matthews' excellent album cover, but those days are sadly gone. On the plus side, the addition of Harry James means that the lights go that little bit further as they bounce off his shiny, shiny head. To be honest, no one really minds as long as the band delivers the goods, and with Magnum that's pretty much guaranteed. "Backstreet Kid" comes out and has everyone singing along, and a massive roar of glee meets the likes of "On A Storytellers Night" and perennial favourite "Kingdom Of Madness".
As a band, Magnum can seem quite, well, functional. There's no acrobatics (I mean, they are getting on now) or guitars being wazzed around like unwieldy frisbees. What you get instead is four blokes demonstrating absolutely spotless musicianship, nailing every note like master carpenters. With this in mind, it's a good job they have a frontman like Bob Catley, whose voice is still as good as ever. He bobs (pun definitely intended) and weaves like a drunk directing traffic, every nuance a joy to behold, as without them it just wouldn't be a proper Magnum gig. I know we take the piss, Bob, but don't you dare stop dancing like an embarrassing uncle at a wedding. Mind you, a little chat wouldn't go amiss, as Bob's contribution to conversation amounts to little more than "Here we are. All Together. Tonight". A man of few words indeed.
As the gig goes on, they throw in a couple more from the new album, and it's gratifying to realise that "Out Of The Shadows", "Like Brothers We Stand" and the tongue in cheek "Dragons Are Real" fit in really well with the classic material. Mind you, it's a tough gig, as some of those old songs will never lose their power. "Vigilante", one of Bob's personal favourites, always sounds fresh, whilst "How Far Jerusalem" is a powerhouse of melody, riffs and drums. "The Spirit" allows Bob and Tony to duet for the most part, allowing the rest of the band to beef it up for a minute at the end, and "Les Morts Dansant" still manages to give me goosebumps after more than twenty five years.
After ninety minutes they finally call it a day with "Sacred Hour", a song that finally lets veteran keyboard player Mark Stanway shine as he plays that beautiful intro. Before the song starts properly, though, Tony Clarkin steps onto the stage and is finally allowed to let loose with some finger blistering solo work as Stanway pounds his keys, Phantom like , in the background. The song itself, an homage to the live experience, sums everything about Magnum up perfectly: "I hear the voice of the crowd" it will last forever". A great night.
SETLIST: When We Were Younger; Backstreet Kid; Out of The Shadows; On A Storytellers Night; Like Brothers We Stand; How Far Jerusalem; Dragons Are Real; Les Morts Dansant; We All Run; The Spirit; All England's Eyes; Vigilante; Kingdom Of Madness; Thank You For The Day; Sacred Hour
Review & Photos by Alan Holloway