Mainstays of British rock, Magnum are true survivors. With early record company problems behind them, success at the end of the 1980s was followed by leaner times, which finally say the Birmingham-based band splitting up, seemingly for good in 1995. Reforming six years later to the surprise of all, including main men guitarist / song writer Tony Clarkin and singer Bob Catley, they’ve been here ever since, releasing some of their most acclaimed material to date. Readying their 20th release - the very Magnum-esque titled ‘Lost On The Road To Eternity’, we caught up with Tony and Bob for a chat about their career. Heartbroke and busted; Eamon O’Neill.
How are you today?
Bob Catley: We’re good, really good.
Tony Clarkin: We played in Wolverhampton, last night; a place called Bilston, The Robin. It was great. Packed out, sold out, lovely audience. We had a great time.
Is it nice to be playing back not far from your home town area?
Bob: Yeah. We normally finish up our tours at Wolverhampton Wulfern Hall, but it’s not open at the moment, so next time we play next year, it will be somewhere else in the Midlands.
Magnum has been consistently busy since you got back together for ‘Breath Of Life’ in 2001.
Bob: There was a six year gap. I think it’s better the second time around; the band’s better, I think the songs are better, and the albums are better. It’s a lot more enjoyable to play. There was a pretty crappy period at the end of the eighties where there was so much junk around, I thought.
Magnum went from being a cult band, to achieving huge arena success in the late 1980s; how was that period for you?
Tony: For me, I didn’t particularly like it that much. We were being pushed in a direction we didn’t want to go. I certainly didn’t want to go there; “You’ve got to write a song like this, you’ve got to write a song like that, you’ve got to write a song like David Coverdale!”- that wasn’t what Magnum was about.
Was it like starting again all over again, when you got the band back together?
TC: Well, I just called Bob up. Our agent had called me up and said; “Why don’t you put Magnum back together?” And I went; “Who remembers Magnum?!”, I said; “You tell me!” And he said he kept having calls, and that people want to book the band. So I called Bob up, and I said; “What do you think, Bob, would you be interested in putting it back together?”, and he went; “YES, YES, YES!”
So you missed it, in particular, Bob?
Bob: Yeah, I never thought we’d do this again. I thought it was over, so it was a complete shock.
Tony: I didn’t think anybody would be interested in Magnum anymore. That’s the impression we were led to believe.
Bob: We thought we’d had our time, and that was it.
Tony: But we still had to work really hard to put it back together. I mean, I thought to myself; “I can write a Magnum album – it’s easy, it’s like falling off a log!”, and I wrote the first album [‘Breath Of Life’], and it’s not a particularly good album. There’s probably a couple of songs on it that are okay, and the rest of it, I look back on it like; “Oh my god!”
Was it was difficult to adjust back into life in Magnum?
Tony: Yeah, but I thought I could do it really easily, and I couldn’t. I really had to concentrate on what I was doing. And then it got better and better and better, and as we are today, two guys have recently joined us [Lee Morris, drums, and Rick Benton, keyboards], and it’s absolutely great; fun to play, and a really, really good vibe on stage.
Since then, you’ve released albums and toured consistently.
Tony: It’s one album every two years. Also, there are live releases. We’re up to twenty albums with the new one.
Does that make choosing the set list difficult?
Tony: [Pointing to Bob Catley] He comes up with that.
Bob: I try my best, yeah. I try and keep things in proportion; new stuff, old stuff, in between stuff, stuff to please fans who have been with us forever, stuff to please newer people, stuff to please ourselves, so it’s quite difficult. I love singing them all, to be honest with you. I’d go right back to when we first started, but you can’t do them all, as you’d be rehearsing for ever, and you’d never do anything else. You’d never go forward; you’d be looking back all the time, and we don’t want to do that. There’s too much coming now for our future.
Tony: Yeah, that’s one thing we’ve never ever done, is looking back and going; “Oh, let’s do that or that”; I’m into the next album. We’re just almost finishing off a new album, and when that’s completed, straight away, I’ll start to write songs again. I mean, it might be junk that I write, but I’m onto another phase, if you like.
So you’ve almost completed work on recording the new Magnum album?
Tony: We’re about three quarters of the way through it. It comes out on January 19th, I think. It’s called ‘Lost On The Road To Eternity’.
Magnum have had some superbly fantastically-titled albums.
Tony: I like things that conjure up images in your brain. It’s what I like, and luckily, Bob also likes that sort of thing.
Bob: *Adopting gruff cockney accent* I like a proper title!
That must be why your partnership has endured for so long.
Tony: Yeah, I guess so.
Bob: Yeah, we’ve been sharing all these years, so there is similar views on a lot of subjects.
Finally, with Magnum’s continued success, I’m guessing there are no plans to resurrect Hard Rain.
Tony: I mean, that was just a crazy idea. There was a bit of a set to, with the afore-mentioned keyboard player, which is why Magnum broke up before. I just wrote some songs, and Bob said; “Do you want me to sing them?”, and I went; “Yeah, yeah”, and I went to send them off to a German guy, and he said; “I want to put this out as an album”, and that was Hard Rain.
So it was a simple process?
Tony: I played everything on the tracks, and Bob had sung everything, and it was just the two of us, and he said; “Oh yea, we’ve got a record deal for you, there you go”, and it came out as Hard Rain. And then we met Alan [Barrow, bass], and he joined for the next album [‘When The Good Times Come’, 1999], and we then recorded that as a band. So that was the dalliance with another band!
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Magnum kick off their 'Long Road To Eternity' tour in January 2018. For a full list of dates, visit the band's official site.