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”.
“Eh? What band?”
“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…
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)…?
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.
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