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The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
MAGNUM BOB CATLEY INTERVIEW 2014

HARD ROCK INTERVIEWS 2014 - MAGNUM VOCALIST - BOB CATLEY

MAGNUM

BOB CATLEY

Magnum is a band that has always had a legion of loyal fans in the UK and growing numbers in Europe. Their new album 'Escape from the Shadow Garden' is so good it could take them to new heights a mere 19 albums and 42 years into a wonderful career...

Mark talks to Bob Catley

MARCH 2014

CHECK OUT OUR REVIEW OF 'ESCAPE FROM THE SHADOW GARDEN' HERE

Most people know Magnum for their classic album 'On a Storyteller's Night' but since reforming in 2001 the band has just been getting better and better. We talk to Bob Catley about the latest album 'Escape from the Shadow Garden': an album so good it might just well bring them a whole new legion of fans...


Mark: Hi, Bob, how are you?


Bob: I’m not too bad thanks, how you doing yourself?


Mark:  Good, thanks. The first thing I have to say is the new album is wonderful! I think over the last few years Magnum has just got better and better, and “Escape from the Shadow Garden” is the one to top them all! Were you pleased when you first heard it?


Bob: I thought when we were doing it, this is shaping up to be a brilliant album. I think this is the combination of everything we’ve done since we got back together in 2001. Tony is not just a great song writer; he’s now become a brilliant producer as well. I think you can tell when you listen to the sound of the guitar on the album, there’s a better, harder sound, he’s getting heavier and “rockier” the older he gets, I think!! The songs are so strong and the production is so strong, and the lyrical content really  gets me going, and makes me sit up and take notice, and really push myself and I think you can tell the singing gets better and better on this album. The whole album is a superb package. I think it’s a great album, and I’m very proud of it, it’s our nineteenth album, and I think we’re getting stronger and stronger! I’m very proud of the band and we have Harry James playing great drums, we have a great bass player, Al Barrow, and we still have Mark Stanway on keyboards, and he’s playing some brilliant keyboards on this one I tell ya!! With wonderful stuff on the guitars, and the voice, you put it all together; I think it’s the strongest album we’ve ever made! I can’t believe it, I’m really pleased with it, and then you put it together with the artwork, and the packaging and it’s a good collector album to have out there. The last one charted all around Europe and we’re hoping for the same success on this one.


Mark: You are right, I think it’s amazing that a band that formed right back in 1972 can be making the most important and most amazing music of its career, a few years later!!!


Bob: Yeah, 1972, that’s when me and Tony started working together, all those years ago, and we’re still here! If somebody had said, you’ll be doing eighteen, nineteen albums together, I’d have said, “What are you talking about, nobody does that!!” But we do it, I think our fan base is one of the reasons we’ve been doing it for all these years, without them we wouldn’t still be here. Our fans are great people.

Mark: Music has changed immeasurably, and the music industry itself since 1972, it must be a completely different landscape, but it’s great to see you out there playing such big tours still. Seemingly better than ever! It’s been a while since I’ve seen Magnum; the last time was the “Wings of Heaven” tour!


Bob: That long ago?


Mark: Yeah!! My wife saw you on the “Chase the Dragon” tour back in 1982, and we’ve followed you all the way!


Bob: Great! A lot of people come up and say I’ve got all your records, started out with you on “Chase the Dragon”, I think that’s where most people came in on us. And, yes the music has changed a lot over the years. We used to be quite a bit self-indulgent, especially on the album “The Eleventh Hour”, which wasn’t a big seller, I think we were too self-indulged and not open to people, and we were going round in circles, really. That’s why “Storyteller’s Night” happened, we realised if the band was going to survive at all in the rock business, we had to start selling a few more records, and make ourselves available to the majority of rock fans, not just the few in to that sort of music we did at that time. So, I think the band had to change musically, and a lot of the songs went more straight ahead, more acceptable rock, not the can’t understand what they’re playing type! I think we had to make that move, and it was important that we did it, and that brought us a lot more people, and we started doing bigger places, bigger tours and bigger support tours, and then we ended up doing our own bigger tours from albums like “Storyteller’s Night”, “Vigilante”, “Wings of Heaven”. We ended up playing arena’s in the late eighties! Starting off in little clubs with hardly anybody there, to sold out 12,000 capacity arenas! It was brilliant; we did that for a couple of albums, and then it sort of went a little bit downhill after that! But, we were very successful for about a five year period. We’ve had to keep relevant to the times and lyrically, to what is happening in the world, and Tony makes observations as to what’s going on around him and the world on TV, relationships, anti-war stuff, we’ve always had at least one anti-war song on the albums. Politics too, he’s not too happy with politicians, so we have an anti-politician song on the album, called “Too Many Clowns”! I think we’ve changed over the years; we’ve become more acceptable to most people now, that is what has to happen, and that’s why we’re still here, I believe.


Mark: It must be great to go back to places like the Robin 2, and return to your roots, and play the launch party as well.


Bob: I love doing the small clubs, packed out and sweat rolling down the walls!! Fantastic! I like playing in theatres as well; the atmosphere can be quite different to a club. But, I think the songs can shine a bit more on a big stage. We do a mixture of both now, and I love them both, they each have their own attractions.

Mark: Does the feeling you get playing live, change over the years?


Bob: No!! I’m still mad for it, still gagging for the next tour, the next bunch of dates! The feeling remains the same, I think if you lose that feeling of you can’t wait to go on stage, and be with your fans, then there’s something wrong with you and you shouldn’t be there! You can’t afford to get jaded, it’s got to be like your first tour, that’s what it feels like to me, what’s going to happen, is it going to be as good as last time, is it going to be like the old days, and it always is! It’s like going on tour again for the first time, and the anticipation of the fans turning up in their millions!! You never lose that feeling, and you shouldn’t do because that’s what being in a band is all about. There’s nothing better than being on stage in front of your fans, and I welcome that, and I love it, and love singing into people’s eyes, and they think I’m singing to them, which I am, I sing personally to some people in the audience, and they relate to that, and Tony’s words can be related to by the majority of the fans, it is something that can happen in all our lives. It’s like “Escape from the Shadow Garden”, we’ve all had a shadow garden to get away from in the past, I know I have.


Mark: There’s something, wonderfully English or British about Magnum, as well, that I’ve never been able to put my finger on, what do you think that comes down to? You are one of those great English bands!

Bob: Yeah, I think we are a typically English band, whatever that is! We have a front man, strutting his stuff, singing up in the heavens, a great guitar player, a great bass player and drummer, that are the standard of a British rock band, and that’s how it should be. There’s no messing about, and you know exactly what you are going to get from Magnum, there’s no hidden agendas! I think that’s what makes British rock bands great.


Mark: Yeah, I think it’s the no nonsense aspect, like with Magnum, that appeals to a lot of people. You have such a huge underground following in lots of places around the world, is there anywhere you have never toured, where you would love to go?


Bob: We toured America with Ozzy Osbourne back in the eighties, and we’d love to go back and play in America, of course, but it hasn’t happened just yet, maybe in the future. We did have an offer recently, but we couldn’t really do it, it didn’t work out for us. We’d love to play in Australia, of course and South America, there are lots of countries we’d love to go and play, but we need a kindly promoter to make us an offer! It is ongoing, and there’s always offers coming in, and if the right one comes, we’ll be off like a shot! Europe will have to do for now, we are working on the rest I’m afraid, but one day we will tour more countries.

Mark: You have a massive UK and Europe tour coming up in April and May, and you also have a double header coming up, playing with Saga, have you played with those guys before, over the years?


Bob: No, we haven’t. We know them from years ago when we recorded the “Goodnight LA” album, with Keith Olsen in 1990, a couple of his friends came in Michael Sadler and Jim Crichton, from Saga, and he introduced us. Michael then did some backing vocals for us, and we used his house to do some keyboard recording whilst Tony was recording the guitars in the studio. So, we knew them from then, and then it was put forward to us, the idea of doing a co-headline tour with Saga in Canada, and we thought, yeah, that would be great! It will be a proper co-headline tour, we’ll get an hour and a quarter each, and one of us will go on first and then go on second the next night. It will give fans chance to see both bands shine in a club, or theatre, so I’m looking forward to that one. Both bands have both sets of fans, and we can cross over to Saga’s fans, and Saga can cross over to Magnum fans, and so it should do us both the world of good! I think it’s a great idea, I don’t know why we haven’t done it before, really looking forward to it.


Mark: Sounds great. If we can turn our attention back to the new album again which comes out between the 19-24th of March around Europe, and April fool’s Day, in the USA, I’m reading some great previews already, and I’ve had the album 2 or 3 days to listen to, have you read some of the reviews?


Bob: No! I’ve been doing interviews! People have told me it’s got 9 out of 10’s, 10 out of 10’s, 7 out of 10 in Classic Rock, which is pretty good for them! It seems to be going down very well, everyone seems to be reading in to the album, the sound, the songs, the performance and the production, the artwork and the whole package. Put it all together, and there’s some very nice things being said about the music so far, so I hope that keeps going and we can have another successful album.


Mark: I read somewhere that Tony started this as soon as the last album came out, was it a long process to get this one out there?


Bob:  Yeah, well we came back from a tour and he already had some ideas for some of the songs, from being on tour. He’ll take a few weeks off after the tour, like anybody would, and then he’d go in to the studio and put on his guitar and start recording, trying to put a song together on his guitar with his drum machine and demo the whole album musically. Then he’ll come in and say I need some words now, and he’ll write some words for me to sing, maybe not the finished lyrics, but something so we can go away and write a chorus for four or five songs, usually half the album. Then we’ll come back and I’ll sing the proper words and then he’ll say, ok, I know the direction of the album now, and he’ll go away and finish the rest of the songs, musically, lyrically, he’ll demo it all up, and come back in some weeks later, I’ll do the vocals, and then we play it to the rest of the guys. They then come in and do their parts, and Tony will sit with each one in turn and say ok, this is how I see it, what about you, and come up with something that I hadn’t thought of, so we have a template and take it on from there. Then it takes about another six months to polish it and put it out! Then off we go on tour again!! It takes about a year and a half between albums, to do all that stuff.


Mark: It’s funny that you mention that Tony has a couple of themes that he always comes back to, the politics of “Too Many Clowns”, which is a great  riff based rocker, you have a video teaser up there for that one, so everyone should check it out, but also the anti-war songs as well. It’s hard to pick out stand out songs on the album, but “Live Till You Die” is a fantastic opener, are you going to open the show up with that one when you go out live?


Bob: It’s going to be part of the show, of course, but it will be further down the list. We’ll be opening up with three songs that we did on previous tours, two from “Visitation”, “Black Skies” and “Freedom Days” and another song from the last album called “Dance of the Black Tattoo”. So, we have a heavy hard hitting start to the show, and the first twenty minutes, is like what the hell was all that about?!! Then we’ll settle in to the new songs, “Live Till You Die” and “Unwritten Sacrifice”, we do four songs from the new album, plus all the glorious older songs, which our fans would never let us drop anyway! It’ll be a good, strong show, different to last time, we’ve dropped a lot of the songs we did last time. We’ve got new lights and a new backdrop, so it will be a visually entertaining show this time around.

Mark: If you could tell us a little bit about a couple of the songs, “Midnight Angel”, we loved that one!

Bob: “Walking slowly down the street!” It’s about a young girl in the swamplands of southern America, and she’s got mixed up with the wrong crowd, she turns to prostitution, and she comes a cropper with some famous politician who’s had his wicked way with her! He’s afraid she’s going to spill the beans, and drop him in the crap, so she ends up being knifed, and dumped in the river!! It’s an awful subject matter, but great lyrics, and quite emotional singing them, and it’s a lovely song. Wonderful song, I love it!

Mark: Great storytelling and I’d encourage everyone to check out the album. Another one that stood out, was “The Art of Compromise” can you tell us a little bit about that one?


Bob: An up tempo, straight out rocker! Great song, it’s basically, having to make a relationship work, you have to compromise sometimes in your own way, it’s knowing how to compromise and keep the relationship going, that’s what it’s about.


Mark: Was any of that about the Magnum relationship, over the years?


Bob: I don’t know, it depends what you read in it. The songs are quite ambiguous, so it’s what you read in to it. They could be about anybody really, yeah, they could be about us, I suppose!! But, it could be about any band, working together for all these years, there is give and take, you can’t just have it all your own way! Any relationship, really, especially me and Tony as well! Tony hates the word compromise, but it has to be done on occasion!!


Mark: I was just going to take you back to your earliest memories of music, what was it that made you decide you wanted to be in a rock and roll band?


Bob: Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones! When I saw The Rolling Stones, bloody hell, that’s it, it’s all over, I’m leaving!! That’s what made me sit up and take notice, and want to be in a band. I’ve always been a bit of a singer at parties, it’s in my nature, I think you’ve got to be big headed to go on stage, I can sing, I can be in a band, and that’s how I started someone said you can be the singer, and somebody else had a van!! My first band was called The Smoke Stacks, what a laugh! 1965 I joined my first band; I was a big fan of The Rolling Stones, that’s what made me want to be in a band, I wanted to be better, I wanted to drag myself out of the normality, and the mundane stuff of being in local bands, I thought, I want to do better than this! I met Tony Clarkin in 1972, and the rest is history! That man made me what I am today, a proper singer, singing proper songs, on a proper stage all around the world. So, thank you, Tony.

Mark: Has your inspiration changed over the years? You started off with Mick Jagger, what inspires you today?


Bob: Tony’s songs! Haha! Magnum fans inspire me, the distance they travel to see us, especially in Europe, and they’re always there. Tony’s songs, lyrics, and the emotion we capture between us the band, and the fans, that gives me faith in human nature, and that totally inspires me. What’s happening musically as well, the way Tony’s going with the songs and the production, and the band inspires me. Also the touring with Avantasia, it’s inspiring to be on a stage in South America and places, and to go on stage and give me a totally brilliant warm reception, never having played there, but they know me from Magnum, it upsets me it’s so fantastic! And to think that people can be that lovely towards you because you’re a singer in a band, it’s a great thing!


Mark: You have done some great stuff with them, I loved “The Mystery of Time” that was the last one that come out with Avantasia.


Bob: Yeah, I’ll have to do it again in the future, if I’m ever invited again!


Mark: It’s been a while since your last solo album, are we ever likely to see anything else in the next few years?


Bob: No, I find it difficult to think of doing anything else outside of Magnum, apart from Avantasia, I think it would be disruptive if I went off and did another solo album! I’ve done six in the past, and that’s great, I’ve worked with some very good song writers, but now is not the time to keep that going. I think it would divide me and Tony and the band, and I’m not going to upset the boat at this point in my career.


Mark: Our final couple of questions to close are, if you could have been a fly on the wall for the recording of any great album, at any point in time, what would it have been for you and why?


Bob: I would have loved to be there for the creation of the Small Faces album, “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake”. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when Stanley Unwin was in the studio, and he came out with all that tripe, he came out with!! It’s hilarious; I would have loved to have been there! I would have loved to have seen Steve Marriott when he was alive, sing his vocals, bless him; I’m a big fan of the Small Faces, almost as much as the Rolling Stones really. Steve Marriott also made me want to be a great singer, what a great voice that man had!


Mark: You are the first person to mention that album that would be my choice too; Steve Marriott is my absolute hero! Finally, what is the meaning of life?


Bob: What is the meaning of life? Be happy with whatever is around you, your family, your friends, and whatever you do in life, be happy! Don’t be miserable, be happy! There’s a song on the album called “The Valley of Tears”, about, don’t look too far ahead, look at your feet and you’ve probably got everything you need right there! People around you, everything you love doing, keep doing it, have a full and happy life, that’s my meaning of life.


Mark: I think you’re right! Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.


Bob: I hope you can make sense of all that!


Mark: It’s been great, and one day I hope to get back to the UK, and catch up with you guys live again! It’s a great album, and I think it’s possibly your best to date.


Bob: I agree, and it’s been a long time coming. Thank you for the interview, it’s been nice to chat to you, and hi to everyone in Australia.


Mark: Thanks mate, cheers!

 

Bob spoke to Mark Diggins 11 March 2014

 

 

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