Magnum are one of those bands that I've seen what seems like dozens of times. They were one of the first rock bands I got into as a teenager, mainly because of the “On A Storytellers Night” album, and as they've never been shy about touring I've been able to see them promoting just about every album since, including the two Hard Rain efforts (which I liked). One thing I have learned is that before any Magnum gig you are very likely to find some or all of the band in the nearest pub, and tonight is no exception: over the road from the venue is a nice pub that contains both Bob Catley and smiley bassist Al Barrow. There's not much time for a chat or anything else (just a quick photo and an attempt to jog Bob's memory as to who the hell I am), as support band Awake have already started their set. Okay, just a pint then...
Awake are a young band from Cambridge who have already released an album or two through Lion Music, so it's no surprise that their music is polished and well played. They go down pretty well, but most of the crowd seem content to hide at the back of the venue near the bar, so the amount of support on the floor is strangely sparse. The problem is that Awake are what I would call prog metal, meaning that whilst they play some excellent music it's not immediately accessible to a new listener. There's no verse, catchy chorus, verse structure here, but nonetheless they give a strong impression that they are well worth checking out. Personally, I have trouble not thinking of “My Name Is Earl” actor Ethan Suplee when I look at singer Simon Shedwell (brilliant British name, that), but even though I only see four songs I know that I'd like to hear more from this talented band. ( http://www.myspace.com/awakeuk)
With the thin crowd in for the support band, I was concerned that Magnum were going to start their “Wings Of Heaven” anniversary tour with a half full venue, but by the time they come on there's plenty of bodies swarming about, probably about the same as saw them last year. Magnum are a band that people will keep coming back to, because they're one of those bands that do exactly what they're expected to. Along with Thunder, they are reliable, talented, tight and entertaining, which is something you'd expect after 30 years plus. Those of us who own the live CD released a couple of months ago stand safe in the knowledge of the set list they're going to get, but are happily surprised when the band open with the brilliant but not often played “Back To Earth”, a lively song that hearkens back to the early eighties. They follow it up with “When We Were Younger” from the recent “Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow” album, then bring another welcome surprise with “We All Need To be Loved” (from “Rock Art”). It's quite refreshing to get songs that we haven't heard live for ages, and the crowd response is one of solid approval. After all, these are fans of the band who don't just expect singles to be played – hell, we'd even applaud if they played “Sweets For My Sweet”, the band's first ever release from 1975. It's also nice to hear “Midnight” again, another great track that seems to have slipped of the playlist since the Vigilante tour.
After the opening 7 tracks are done with, singer Bob Catley announces that the band are going to play through their biggest commercial success, the “Wings Of Heaven” album. This, of course, is why we're here. WOH was the peak of Magnum's career, earning them top ten singles and their first ever appearance at the NEC in Birmingham. Sure, “On A Storyteller's Night” is a meatier, more interesting effort in many ways, but WOH follows closely behind due to the fact it is stuffed with great songs. Eight songs follow, from the perfect pop rock of “Days Of No Trust” through to the pure genius of anti war epic “Don't Wake The Lion”. I look around and see many people singing along with every word, whilst on stage Bob sings with the same vigor and passion that he did twenty years ago. He may not say much to the crowd (a few “Alright”s usually being his limit), but Bob Catley remains a unique voice in rock music. His partner in crime Tony Clarkin follows suit, rooted to the spot for most of the gig, his hands effortlessly pulling out meaty riffs and some cool solos, his face eschewing the usual gurning facade of the guitar god. Bassist Al Barrow works his bottom off as usual, smiling all the while, whilst at the back Mark Stanway lurches Phantom-like over his keyboards and gurns enough for two guitarists. Guesting on the tour behind the drumkit (not for the first time) is Harry James, content to do his job without the showing off he enjoys so much with Thunder. The band are brought back on for an encore, throwing one last surprise with “All England's Eyes” before finishing the night with “Kingdom Of Madness” from their first album. It's been a good night with some interesting set choices, and I hope that next time we see them there's a few more oddities pulled out of the back catalogue for us to enjoy. One thing is for sure, I'll be there once more because the safe option can still be the best one.
Back To Earth; When We Were Younger; We All Need To Be Loved; You'll Never Sleep; Midnight; Vigilante: Days Of No Trust; Wild Swan; Start Talking Love; One Step Away; It Must Have Been Love; Different Worlds; Pray For The Day; Don't Wake the Lion; (encore) All England's Eyes; Kingdom Of Madness
Review & Photos by Alan Holloway, alan "at" rockunited.com