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GRTR!'s guide to the essential and the obscure...


Pomp rockers Magnum germinated from the band Bob Catley and Tony Clarkin put together when gigging in Birmingham in the early seventies. With Kex Gorin on drums and Dave Morgan on bass they recorded an early single for CBS 'Sweets For My Sweet' which failed to chart but led to a contract with Jet Records and their debut album 'Kingdom Of Madness' in 1978.

Regarded as a classic, many of the tunes were included in the band's stage set in subsequent years. The band consolidated their growing fanbase with supporting slots on tours with Blue Oyster Cult, Tygers of Pan Tang and appearances at the Reading Festival.

However, by the time of their fourth Jet album 'The Eleventh Hour', the band became disillusioned as they had not received the breakthrough they anticipated. The album title was ominous: At Reading Festival in 1983 they decided to give it a final try - in the face of adversity as drummer Jim Simpson had just quit.

'On A Storyteller's Night' was released on local label FM Records in 1985 and is rightly regarded as a pomp rock classic. The album was the first to feature the classic Magnum line-up of Catley, Clarkin, Wally Lowe, Mickey Barker and Mark Stanway who rejoined the band on keyboards after a spell with Phil Lynott.

The band performed the album as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations in 2005 and a special expanded edition and DVD of the London gig was released called 'Livin' The Dream'.

The band made some demos for Polydor and were signed in late-1985. There followed their most successful period and with a bigger budget lending a sheen to the resulting albums 'Vigilante' (1986) and 'Wings Of Heaven' (1988). 1990's 'Goodbye LA' failed to provide the band with the breakthrough they sought in the USA and they were then dropped by Polydor.

Photo: Lee Millward/GRTR!

For the next decade the band followed a somewhat precarious course, which saw them treading the boards in venues considerably smaller than those of the late-eighties. The albums were also lower-key, with 1992's 'Sleepwalking' and 1994's 'Rock Art'. Magnum's brand of quality rock was seemingly out of favour and they announced their split after a farewell tour in 1995. This was immortalised on the CD 'Stronghold' (titled 'The Last Dance' in Europe).

Bob Catley and Tony Clarkin then formed a Magnum spin-off with Al Barrow (bass) called Hard Rain but the band's two albums provoked a mixed response. Many fans thought it was all but Magnum in name, but the songs and atmosphere had changed. At this time Bob Catley also had a burgeoning solo career and guested on several rock projects.

Photo: Lee Millward/GRTR!

There were rumours in late-2001 of an impending Magnum reunion, but this time without Mickey Barker (drums) and Colin 'Wally' Lowe on bass. The Hard Rain band came together again, added Stanway on keyboards and Jimmy Copley on drums, called themselves Magnum, and produced the album 'Breath of Life' in early 2002. This, and the subsequent tour, was well received and convinced the band they were back in favour.

'Brand New Morning' followed in 2004 with Harry James (ex-Thunder) now on the drum stool and in 2007 the band were confident enough to call their new album 'Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow' harking back to the dungeons/dragons-era of the early eighties. And to underline that, the Rodney Matthews artwork rounded things off.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of 'Wings Of Heaven' in 2008 the band played the album in its entirety on tour and a live album followed.

In 2011 Magnum marked their 10th anniversary with the German label SPV and at the instigation of the label boss revisited some previous material, adding new parts where necessary.  'Evolution' was released in November 2011.

Characterised by Bob Catley's warm and expressive vocal skills, and Tony Clarkin's consistently high-standard songwriting, Magnum have always evoked a passion in those that have closely followed their progress since the late-seventies. The Polydor-era pushed the band into the big-time stadium arena although some (including with hindsight, the band) thought their final studio album for that label was wrongly aimed at the American market.

The band's recorded output over the years is blighted somewhat by a large number of compilations for which they gain no financial benefit.

Collectors wil relish the large number of special editions, especially during the Polydor period when there were any number of shaped and coloured discs (albums and singles) often with extended or bonus tracks.

For starters, listeners should try 'On A Storyteller's Night' for sheer consistency and then move on to 'Wings Of Heaven'. The 1990s albums 'Sleepwalking' and 'Rock Art' are often overlooked.  The live album 'The Spirit', which covers all eras of their career up to the time of its release in 1991, shows the band at the top of their game.

2007 David Randall/GRTR! All rights reserved.

Updated with corrections, November 2011

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