Magnum Overlooked by Glee Again..

Magnum are one of Britain’s finest AOR rock bands. I saw them many times in the eighties. And the Magnum name popped up recently when I least expected it.

“My uncle is in a band”.

Usually when friends or work colleagues say that sort of thing they go on to describe a trumpet player in the Salvation Army or second bassoon in the Women’s Auxiliary Balloon Corp marching band. My hopes weren’t high as I wearily acknowledged my colleague’s story. “He’s the guitarist. He played Hammersmith quite recently I think”.

“Hammersmith Arms?”

“Odeon…”

“Eh? What band?”

Magnum

“Your uncle plays guitar for Magnum?” I perked up a bit. “Is he the one in the hat?”

“No. That’s my mum’s Cousin Tony. My uncle is Uncle Wally”.

“Uncle Wally?” I racked my brains to recall the members of Magnum who weren’t Bob Catley or Tony Clarkin. “Your Uncle is Colin “Wally” Lowe? And your mum’s cousin is Tony Clarkin? In the hat?”

“Oh yeah, Tony always wears a hat. They’re just uncle Wally and Tony to me… Do you know them then?”

“I’ve probably seen them live four times….at prestigious and celebrated venues such as Hammersmith Odeon, Reading Festival, Milton Keynes Bowl, and er, the Ipswich Gaumont…”

My colleague nodded sagely.  “I saw them once. It was awful. Couldn’t hear for three days afterwards. It’s not cool to see a heavy metal band accompanied by your mum and dad…when you’re twenty years old”. He looked shaken by the experience. Goodness knows what he’d think of a Slayer gig if that was how he felt after seeing Magnum…

And so it was that my reluctant colleague’s “Uncle Wally” ended up being Colin “Wally” Lowe, (bass) guitarist with Magnum. It perhaps didn’t match the surge of adrenaline that the school friends of Lourdes Ciccone felt on their first day at school, but I’d rank it up there as exciting a brush with fame as the time I stood in a pub urinal next to Paul Di’anno… Actually I probably shouldn’t use the word “excited” in that context. Or “brush”.

The third most famous Magnum in the world (behind Tom Selleck and the ice cream) enjoyed a decent level of UK success in the late eighties, including a Top 30 single or two, selling out the NEC and an appearance on Top of The Pops and Friday Night Live. For the uninitiated, they were an English AOR band, not that their fans might agree with so simple a description. Between 1975 and 1985 they released five (independent label) albums encrusted with Tolkienesque imagery to limited commercial success. Imagine if Ronnie James Dio had re-written Slippery When Wet…

The latter of these however, On A Storyteller’s Night contained the excellent single, Just Like An Arrow, which enjoyed enough success to win them a major label record contract with Polydor.

Their sound became more commercial, the songs arguably a bit better and 1986’s Vigilante (produced by Queen’s Roger Taylor) came just at the right moment when the press were looking for an English Bon Jovi. Thankfully the fans and media weren’t put off by what remains the least macho album cover ever released by a British Rock band: Vigilante was a shocking pink colour and featured a unicorn. It looked like the front cover of a My Little Pony catalogue…

Welcome to the Magical World of My Little Pony where the Magic never stops!
The cover of Magnum’s Vigilante

Follow up record Wings of Heaven maintained the momentum. Sadly, or perhaps luckily, these slightly road-weathered thirty-something Midlanders didn’t quite have the looks, even if they did have the tunes, to be the British Bon Jovi. They were the Blackpool to Bon Jovi’s Las Vegas. Or perhaps Rhyl.

Frontman Bob Catley waved his hands about like a manic air traffic controller. There are rumours he once caused a light aircraft to ditch into an nearby lake during one festival performance.

Tony “The Hat” Clarkin blazed a trail for Slash in hat wearing, but the black curly hair that he sported was sprouting from his chin rather than his head. It wasn’t a look that was ever going to get girls’ hearts fluttering in the way that Slash managed. He looked more like a science teacher. After a chemical explosion.

But the music was good. Clarkin’s playing was tasteful and melodic.  Always in debt to the early eighties sounds of Foreigner and Journey, but with a British twist.

Perhaps Glee and Rock of Ages have missed a trick by overlooking Magnum from their shows. It’s surely only a matter of time before a major US TV Network hit bows out to the sound of Vigilante or an X-Factor contestant belts out a terrible cover of Midnight (You Won’t Be Sleeping)…?

Here’s hoping…

Record #75: Magnum – Midnight (You Won’t Be Sleeping)

Magnum’s eighteenth studio album “On The 13th Day” is released on 24th September 2012. First single ‘So Let It Rain’, taken from the album, will be released at the end of August. 



Categories: Hard Rock

Tags: , , , ,

19 replies

  1. erm. 4th most famous

    .44 magnum, an icecream, an early Clarkson prototype, then our lads.

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  2. Ha, ha! Nice piece. Wally Lowe is a legend!

    I recognise the kind of conversation you report. Only last week I had a conversation with a senior academic who I’ve known for several years and who lives at the other end of the country to both me and the ‘rock star’ to whom she referred. The conversation went thus:
    Her: “I don’t like rock music much myself, but do you like The Who?”
    Me: “I don’t mind them, though they’re not one of my favourite bands.”
    Her: “I only mention them as my cousin Pino has been playing bass with them recently. Not really my cup of tea.”

    Going back to Magnum. From memory the first four studio albums (and the first live album) were all on Don Arden’s Jet Records label – not sure how ‘independent’ that makes them. Great albums all, and you’re right too that fans might baulk at the AOR description. Those early albums have strong progressive rock, ‘pomp’ rock and heavy rock elements. I agree about the “British twist” … they’ve almost always managed to retain an edge that makes even their lightest and most melodic work a bit more interesting (to the hard rock ear) than their American counterparts.

    Though your piece doesn’t set out to cover more recent work in any detail, I think it’s worth saying that over the last decade Magnum have continued to record some wonderful and stunning music. I’d particularly recommend ‘Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow’ and ‘Brand New Morning’ – both of which hold their own against the band’s best known material. Glee and Rock of Ages have indeed missed a trick … but they’re not alone in disregarding a band who continue to deserve so much more. Check ’em out people!

    I’ve written loads … so it must have been a stimulating blog!

    Michael

    ps There’s nothing wrong with Rhyl!

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    • Thanks for the enlightening comments!
      I spent a day in Rhyl. Within a couple of hours it had delighted me long enough. I’m sure there are nice parts though (don’t want hate mail from Rhyl residents!)
      One of the nice things about writing my blog is being given an excuse to re-visit some old albums that were an important part of my youth and Vigilante definitely qualifies. Good to hear they are still going strong, even without Wally…

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      • Mine too. ‘Vigilante’ was a great cross-over album. Not all of my friends were rock fans, but ALL of them liked ‘Vigilante’. Reminds me of a summer in Swansea … student bars and beaches. Thanks for the post which has triggered a whole load of memories!

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  3. A year before hearing Fish with Marillion while hitchhiking to Vienna, we had hitchhiked to the Loreley amphitheatre (where I returned in 2007 or so, mainly because Tull were playing but also a few others at the Night of the Prog) for a festival, mainly to see Tull. Rory Gallagher was there; glad I saw him before he died. Graham Parker was a bit boring. We were extremely tired, since we hadn’t slept the night before. Status Quo played a medley and my friend (who knew who Quo were but was mainly into 1970s progressive rock) woke up from dozing saying “Are they still playing the same song? It’s rather long for a Quo song!”

    Oh, yes, Magnum were there. I hear them occasionally on Planet Rock. Must put them on my list of bands to check out.

    After the festival, we were even more tired, and literally fell asleep while walking. We ended up sleeping in a forest before hitchhiking back home the following morning. Before we fell asleep on the road, we stopped by a pizzeria, not having eaten much in a couple of days. We were extremely hungry and each quickly devoured his large pizza. We asked for more and were happy that we got the last pizza (they had run out of dough), which we split.

    Those were the days.

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  4. That takes me back. I remember headbanging away to Vigilante in a nightclub in Newbury Park, good times. Also really liked “Start Talkin’ Love.”

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  5. That was a great read. I had not seen this site before but will journey back from time to time to see what other little gems will pop up.

    Now I have to fill in a bit of a gap.
    Just incase you don’t know Magnum are still going and going strong. With a recently high charting album in 2010 with The Visitation. (Rock Charts that is)

    This coming September sees the release of their 18th studio album entitled “On the 13th Day”

    It`s already getting some well received reviews as one of Magnums well crafted albums to be up their with the albums such as Vigilante and On a Storytellers Night.

    Im know this info as I am not the uncle, or the cousin, or any relative to Bob or Tony but I have been Wally Lowe`s replacement for the past 12 years or more.
    I must admit though I do refer to Bobs me uncle after all these years the old gesticulator has become one of my family.
    He recently became a grandfather for the first time last week.

    I would like to remind people we are still going regardless of being 44th famous Magnum even behind the pubic headed Clarkson and will be on tour this autumn all over Europe.
    Next weekend sees us in Switzerland on stage with TOTO.
    For old dogs we still keep on doing the tricks.

    I hope that keep being someones 44th favourite band as thats not a bad number really is it?

    Thanks again for taking the time to do a small blog piece on Magnum and we hops to see us pop up from time to time. Cheers for taking the time.

    Al Barrow

    http://www.magnumonline.co.uk
    bazaray@blueyonder.co.uk
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/MAGNUM/130643409137

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    • Hi Al – lovely to hear from one of the band! Glad you liked the post – Magnum were an important band in my formative years and it is great that you are still making records (I did put a note at the bottom of the post to say a new record was on its way).
      Readers – buy the new album!

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  6. Great blog post. I love Magnum 🙂 I loved the Vigilante cover too….although I can see the similarities to My Little Pony 😉

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  7. Oh dear lord I love the Vigilante album – never saw the my little pony comparison before – u have ruined it for me for life(!!!!)

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  8. Brilliant album to this day, they were so good in that ’85 – ’88 period saw them 5 or 6 times during that period superb. btw Every Record Tells a Story you might be seeing a few more comments from me today – discovered this site earlier today via the QR photoshoot story – and I think your site is great brings back so many memories

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