If Magnum had looked more like Bon Jovi, rather than a bunch of ordinary blokes from Birmingham – frontman Bob Catley’s visage is more Gonk than Jon Bon and in his early days guitarist Tony Clarkin looked like a refugee from ZZ Top who’d been kicked out for eating all the pies – they would doubtless have had the sort of commercial success their output actually deserved.
Their longevity is testimony to the fact that their brand of melodic rock, tinged with pomp and prog stylings, continues to strike a chord with those fans who value substance over style. Indeed their latest album, On The Thirteenth Day keeps up the high standard of their recent releases.
Mark Stanway’s swirling, atmospheric keyboards heralded set-opener All The Dreamers, a cut from the aforementioned disc, as the band hit their stride early. Bob Catley’s trademark arm-ography – part song illustration, part band conducting, part geeing-up the crowd – is as endearing, or distracting, as ever, depending on your point of view. Only when he played tambourine on Wild Angels and All My Bridges did his arms and hands stop swirling as he concentrated on keeping the beat.
Catley’s voice is slightly frayed round the edges these days and is all the better for it. His timbre gives real resonance to songs like When We Were Younger.
Clarkin’s unflattering 80s image is a thing of the past and his neat, understated stage presence belies his talent both as a songwriter and guitarist. His mesmeric solo on How Far Jerusalem was one of the highlights of the night.
Erstwihile Thunder drummer Harry James also made his tub-thumping presence felt, particularly during The Flood, aided by his youthful rhythm pal Al Barrow on bass.
One of the biggest cheers of the night was reserved for The Spirit, which for much of its length featured only the duo of Catley and Clarkin. They were only joined by the rest of the band as the song reached it’s rousing coda.
Of the new material Dance Of The Black Tattoo worked particularly well, despite Catley stumbling over the song’s title during his intro. Clarkin’s crunching riff exudes menace, while the section featuring Stanway’s haunting fairground organ is eeriness personified. Experience and maturity has undoubtedly brought added nuance to Clarkin’s writing.
Throw in crowd-pleasers Vigilante and Kingdom Of Madness – plus an encore featuring Rockin’ Chair and Days Of No Trust and a substantial Academy crowd went home suitably entertained.
Martyn P Jackson