An Interview with Steven Reid
Back in 1995 after an illustrious career that spanned an impressive 23 years and included numerous chart hits and headlining at Wembley Arena, Magnum finally, it seemed, called it a day. However as we all know even though the band's two main protagonists, guitarist Tony Clarkin and singer Bob Catley continued to work together under the name Hard Rain, Magnum returned seven years later with the aptly named if rather under par Breath Of Life album. Two years later Brand New Morning gave a better account of the new line up that still contained the heart of Clarkin, Catley and keyboard player Mark Stanway, alongside new members Al Barrow on bass and ex Thunder drummer Harry James. According to band leader and songwriter Clarkin those new boys have made a big impact on Magnum, "Al and Harry are massively important to the sound of the band" Tony asserts "And both bring a lot to the Magnum table".
2007 saw the band really hit their stride with the Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow album, before the excellent Into The Valley Of The Moonking which came out in 2009, built the momentum further. However with their new release The Visitation, it would be fair to suggest that Magnum have released one of the best albums of their career, "We were starting from scratch when we reformed", says Tony, "But we have grown with every album since then, and I felt very confident about this album and those feelings just got stronger and stronger as it neared completion". So far the media have given The Visitation a very favourable reception, with the album receiving a five star review on SoT which Tony was delighted with. "Thanks for those kind words Steven, it really is an album we are very pleased with and are delighted it has been so well received and I have to say that I agree it is one of the strongest things we've ever done".
Like all good albums The Visitation makes a very favourable initial impression, but it is repeated listens that really reveal what a strong set of songs it contains. "The album developed exactly the way I wanted to", says Tony, "It has an instant impact, but with every listen you find something new". As with all the best Magnum albums, this release sees Tony mix up the vibe and mood across the disc and within the songs. "It's not something I consciously set out to do, but I write songs over a long period of time", Tony continues, "Which gives me the chance to revisit the songs again and again to hopefully get nearer to what I hoped they would be. Ultimately I want to make an album that remains interesting to listen to".
Along with the excellent song writing, The Visitation also benefits from an excellent sound and while Tony produces the album (as he has since 1990 Keith Olsen produced Goodnight L.A.), they did do some things differently this time Tony explains. "We worked in the same studio as we usually do, but we used a different engineer this time, Sheena Seer who is great to work with, she's very fast and efficient". The other change the band made was in the backing vocals, "Normally Bob does all the vocals and backing vocals", continues Tony, "But this time I wanted to use Al in this role to give the finished album a different texture. I think it worked out really well".
One aspect that hasn't changed, but that has also turned out really well is the stunning artwork that accompanies the album from long term collaborator Rodney Matthews. Tony tells us "Myself and Rodney always spend time together discussing the artwork and the content which I would like to include. Then we sit down and Rodney does a basic sketch while I talk to him about the ideas in my head. This has been the way we have done it for years and it always seems to turn out really well. This time the artwork was inspired by the songs "Doors To Nowhere"".
Over the years Magnum have been criticised for some of their more fantasy based lyrics, but in recent times more serious topics have been covered, with the world's current environmental problems being discussed in "Mother Nature's Last Dance", while the sentiment behind "Freedom Day" is even more poignant now than when Tony started writing the song. "It seems like a good subject to write about when I started "Mother Nature's Last Dance"" says Tony. "With most songs every time the chorus comes round, it's the same lyrics that are sung, but with this song no lyric is repeated, so I must have quite a lot to say with this subject. "Freedom Day" is a title that really speaks for itself and you just have to look at what's happening in Egypt as we speak to see what this song is all about".
Going back to the artwork Tony explains why there is more than one version of The Visitation, with a standard CD, a CD + DVD set and a limited edition yellow vinyl edition available. "It's really important when releasing an album to consider the fact that they are expensive to buy and to try to give the best value for money that you can. We always look back to our archive to try to keep in mind the standards we have previously set with albums and tour merchandise and offer a few little gems. For the deluxe box set there is a different cover which is a piece that Al actually designed and is based on a broach I have had for years. He took it apart and rebuilt it in "photoshop" and after that added textures and lettering. It looks great and as I said it is something a little different for the deluxe version, although Rodney's artwork also features inside the box".
What is interesting about the DVD version is the inclusion of a song that Magnum played at last year's High Voltage Festival in the UK that never made the album. "High Voltage was a great festival, there was a lot of great bands, a lot of fans who may not have seen us at a UK festival before and I think we played pretty well on the day. "Eyes Like Fire" is a pretty good track", he continues, "but I thought the album was just right with ten songs, so we didn't want to include it on The Visitation, but we did want people to hear it".
During every era of Magnum, the band has been renowned for their extensive touring schedule and it would appear that 2011 will be no different. "We are just about to begin rehearsals for the tour that starts on the 9th of March and will see us play 38 dates across the UK and Europe. We are very excited to get out and play some new songs along with some Magnum favourites". The last time Magnum hit the road, they played a set that concentrated on the albums the band have recorded since they reformed. It was an idea that went down really well with the fans and was quite refreshing after all these years. "Yes" says Tony, "I think the fans liked the set we did on the "Moonking" tour and it was really good for s to play so much newer material, although saying that we always try to put in some Magnum favourites as well. This time we will be playing five songs from the new album, with the rest of the show coming from our back catalogue".
Speaking of that catalogue, not content with a new album there has also been a five CD retrospective box set of Magnum's career called "The Gathering" released recently, although this time Tony's involvement was minimal. "I contacted Rodney Matthews about putting something together for the cover and I came up with the title", he explains, "but so far as putting "The Gathering" together that was again down to Al Barrow, with everything else being handled by Universal Records". So how does it feel to have had a long enough and productive enough a career to deserve a five CD box set? "Well" laughs Tony, "it certainly gives us a lot of songs to choose from when we do a live set, which is always great!" and still laughing he adds "it really doesn't feel like we have been together for all that long. Time flies".
So after considering a lengthy and amazingly productive career, as well as a fantastic new album does Tony have any closing thoughts? "Yes", he says, "We really would like to thanks everyone who will go out and buy the new record and we really hope you enjoy it. We hope to see some of you on the tour and more importantly thanks for all your time and support over the years".
(Click here to read our reviews of The Visitation)