Interview Credit: Adrian Hextall (Photographer/Live Gig reporter Myglobalmind Webzine
Thank you for talking to us tonight Bob. I wonder if we could start by discussing the art work on the new album, ‘Escape From The Shadow Garden’. The cover has a real sense of ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ about it. Was that a deliberate intention?
Yes, well there are elements of ‘Storyteller’s Night’ here. Rodney Matthews does all of our artwork and he’s done many albums of ours including Storyteller’s and 11th Hour. When Tony (Clarkin, guitarist, songwriter and producer for Magnum) goes down to his house in Wales, he sits down with him and discusses what he’d like for the new art work and the new album. They decide what they want, what some of the songs are about and some of the lyrics and then Tony leaves it with Rodney to come up with images of what they were discussing.
He comes up with quite familiar looking stuff that all Magnum fans are going to love. We hope they’ll look at it and comment on it and they’ll say that it does look great. Those images in there are from ‘Chase the Dragon’ not just ‘Storyteller’s Night and there’s also the unicorn in the background from ‘Vigilante’ and the Magnum logo used on ‘Storyteller’s’ is in there as well. SPV the album label actually said “you know, why don’t you bring back the logo from ‘Storyteller’s Night’?”. Overall the new album cover is reminiscent of previous albums with the Jester from the last album, he is there hiding behind a tree and of course we do actually have the Storyteller in front of the tree and (laughs) he’s not looking too happy is he?
With the title of the album, I guess we all have our shadow gardens in our life, somewhere where we can escape to when we are in a place we don’t want to be. Of course the title is really whatever you make of it and it’s how you individually interpret the album cover itself. It’s whatever you want to get from the album cover really. I’m very pleased with it, it’s great artwork, very colourful, very vibrant and it’s gonna make a good T-shirt I think.
As as a picture it’ll sit very neatly I think next to other shirts from previous tours.
Oh yes, indeed, you’ll be able to always tell from the Magnum gig what era a fan came into Magnum simply by the shirt they are wearing. We are very grateful for the fans, they’re fantastic and we really appreciate them when they come a long way to support us.
What do you find is your crowd these days? Are you finding that the Dads are bringing the children these days?
We get quite a crossover crowd these days. We get whole family coming to see us now and it’s great. With the parents, they’ve got the old T-shirts on, they know the words to the songs, it’s brilliant, it’s great to see. We get a lot of ladies coming to see us now which is nice again (laughs). But yes we get a crossover, we get suits, we get bald people, we get the long hair, little kids, all sorts of people. And I think it reflects in the albums that we play. The albums are quite diverse and so are the crowds. We put out tracks that appeal to a broad section of rock fans which is great and what’s nice is that they’re very loyal to us as well.
Tony has recently commented how there is much less pressure from SPV in forcing you to release a new album, you’re given time to actually work on it produce and deliver it with a reasonable time frame, you’re not being forced to produce the next hit single as you would’ve been a few years ago.
Yet you’re still managing to turn round albums in relatively quick succession. After all, if you look at the last one that was only out in 2012 so whilst there’s not much pressure to release you’re still finding the time to work on this and you very very productive in being able to get out these new albums.
Well, the thing is, Tony is mad for writing at the moment. He’s always working in the studio and as soon as we get back off tour he takes a few weeks off then moves back into the studio where he’s back on his guitar recording stuff. He starts writing almost immediately after the tour finishes really. He’s very focused of course, writing songs for Magnum. We turn round albums very quickly and SPV are very happy with that situation. We are back on the road as well, not too long after the last album and tour and it’s getting us out there and I think it’s good really in keeping our profile quite high. We’re trying to build our fan base back up again from when we got back together in 2001. We’re trying to attract new people, keep in the public eye, get back on the road again and get interviews together. Tony is ready with a new album so why wait, let’s get back in the studio record it and then get back out on the road.
When we’re working in the studio together, I’ll just make up some words to get a chorus down just so that we have a sense of what the song is going to sound like and Tony will take it away, work on it overnight and before you know it the following day we’ve got a new song completely finished. Tony is a brilliant songwriter I think and is also a great producer as well. The production on Shadow Garden definitely exceeds the last album and Tony is just getting better and better and better as a producer it’s amazing. We’re all very proud of what he does for Magnum, it’s great…
Can I just ask about the working relationship that you two have. It seems very similar to the relationship that Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey have, where Pete is the guitarist, the the songwriter and the producer who is working to write songs that fit with Roger Daltrey’s voice. Is that the way you and Tony write songs together as well?
Well we’ve worked together for so long now that Tony knows exactly what to give to me, what I’m capable of, you know, what direction to push me and he knows what to write for me and he won’t give me any thing that I can’t sing or isn’t me really. I might say to him that “this one isn’t really working I’m not getting to grips with it” and Tony will just say to me “okay then, let’s leave that and put it to one side and work on something different”. We don’t force it you know, he knows exactly what my voice is capable of and he is one of the best producers I’ve ever worked with. It’s different compared to other producers we’ve worked with in the past as he will push me to get the best performance out of me whereas producers we’ve worked with on previous albums may well say “yeah yeah that’s fine that’ll do it don’t worry about it” and we would move onto the next track whereas Tony will actually say that we can do better and that let’s do it again. Looking back at some of those earlier albums I almost wish Tony had been the producer because I think he could’ve done a much better job.
Tony knows what’s in my head, what’s in my heart and we share a lot of similar feelings so our observations on situations are very similar so it makes the writing process very easy. I of course can get inside his head so I know how to sing his songs and as a result it’s a good mix so yes I do believe it is a similar relationship as Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey might have but of course it comes out of working together for so long that you can’t fail really.
I suppose if you two didn’t work so well together you wouldn’t still be going strong as you are after all this time?
No, not at all it’s very important that you do get on as well as you do because you’re right we wouldn’t have been together after all these years if it didn’t work.
Given the style of the album cover, is there an underlying theme running through it. I note there are several different styles of songs from the press release but what about the actual theme running through the album. Are they all individual tracks or is there something under pinning it all?
There isn’t really a theme, it’s not a concept album but there are however 11 songs that we think will knock your socks off. There’s not a theme in those 11 songs but there are stories within the songs and there are what would call many epics for example ‘Unwritten Sacrifice’. This is a song about the horrors of war and the unknown soldier who just never came home, it’s quite a strong anti-war song. There’s a line in the lyrics that is quite poignant, ” morning comes round, life disappears now quietly he sleeps, sand in his eyes still open wide, buried his secret keeps“. So there’s no trace of him he’s just gone up in smoke, who is he who was he and it’s just a story of him, about the unknown soldier and about his sacrifice. We’ll be playing that live on stage. Then you’ve got tracks like ‘Crying in the Rain’, which would be great as a single, if we were going to put a single out, which I don’t think we are but it would make for a great track to release in isolation. It’s the old story of girl meets boy girl splits up from boy as she’s been telling lies. Don’t believe a word she says, it’s the old-fashioned relationship tale which always goes down well. But it’s a great rock track, it’s great to listen to, there’s nothing too heavy there and then we’ve got ‘Too Many Clowns’ which is more of a rock ‘n’ roll track and that’s about the clowns who run the country at the moment so it’s quite topical. It’s about the politicians and when they come into power and how, once they are in power, they no longer care about the mothers and child benefits or the pensioners and their plight. The view is that ‘ I’ve got the power now for another four years’ so the promises are forgotten. I think it’s a good observation at the moment about politicians as there are many clowns.
It does of course also matter how you also interpret the songs yourself some people will say “no, no Bob you’re wrong there is a theme running through the album” because it’s how you interpret the lyrics and what they mean to you.
I do also like the last album track ‘Valley of Tears’. It’s a big epic ballad and we do always like to finish the album on a ballad and this is the one for this album. We like to leave people listening to the album in the running order it was recorded in you know? ‘Valley of Tears’ is about people looking at their life, wondering where their happy life has gone but don’t necessarily realise that they’re in it at the moment and it is in fact a happy life that they are living. Try not to look too far ahead, be happy with what you’ve got, your life is actually pretty good. And this song ‘Valley of Tears’ explains that people.
As far as promotional work for the album is concerned have you done anything like a music video to help promote it?
We have a bonus DVD with the Digipack of the album which contains some live video recorded material. They’re for the fans, they’re not really for TV promotion but you never know, maybe somebody will play one of our tracks on the TV. But the video itself is as a result of six nights in Europe and it’s got live footage on there. It is just a bonus for those fans that want to see us live on stage so that’s recorded and it’s nice to have and we hope it’ll get more people out to see us on tour. I think it looked good it’s a good give away for the fans.
It’s also an incentive for people to actually buy copies as well with the bonus elements coming out on the extra discs?
Yes, we’ve also got a vinyl copy coming out which is so a nice change again. Double gatefold album which will make the most of the artwork.
And I see that you’ve have a new tour. 13 dates across the UK in April and May is that correct?
Yes that’s correct, we’re playing Islington Town Hall in London for the first time ever. I’ve heard that that’s a nice venue and were also going back to other venues that we have played before so yes we’re really looking forward to it should be a good tour. We have a very good band on with us is called ‘Neon Fly’. They are a younger band but they’re very good, the audience loved them last time they toured with us? They toured with us in Germany last time and they went down terrifically well so hopefully they’ll go down well in the UK as well. The tour kicks off in April on the 19th.
What about the touring lineup? Is it the same five guys on tour these days? I notice that you also have Harry from Thunder on drums with you nowadays as well?
Yes we have Harry James who used to be in Thunder and of course is still in Thunder but we give Harry plenty of time to book us in. He’s a great guy, one of the best drummers that I’ve ever worked with. We’ve got Al Barrow on bass who’s been with us now since the Hard Rain days in the 1990s, so when Magnum got back together again in 2001 we got him on board. Mark Stanway is on keyboards of course, he’s always been there and then of course there’s me and Tony and to be honest we think it’s the best line-up we’ve ever had and I think that comes out in our sound, I like the way we are playing together, we work together well, it’s a good working relationship both in the band and with the audience.
We’ve also got a full German tour coming up after the UK one and it’s a co-headlining tour with ‘Saga’ from Canada. As it’s a co-headlining tour, depending on where you are in Germany will depend on who goes on first and he goes on second but it doesn’t really make any difference because we’re both getting a full set each every night so the people that benefit really are the audience because they get to see a headline set from both bands. So that’s around 12 shows in Germany and then we are into the festival season in Europe as well.
We are headlining the opening night of Sweden Rock this year as well which is great for us. On 4 June. We’ve played Sweden Rock about five times now that we’ve never headlined before. The festival runs across four nights there, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and I think and we are headlining on the Wednesday night which is fantastic.
We’ve also got the ‘Rock & Blues Festival’ in Derbyshire which has yet to be announced in the press but I think we are going to be headlining that. They just keep coming in so it’s going to be a very busy year for Magnum.
Do you think you might even be at Download Festival this year?
We would love to play Download but I’m most likely to be going back there as a spectator rather than as an artist.
With the last album, you got such positive reviews and you’re charting a lot higher as well than other acts that might be performing at Download it‘s surprising that you don’t get to play?
Well, it’s not for me to say really, it’s not my decision of course but we would love to play there if we were given the opportunity.
I still go every year if I can and if it’s only as a spectator because Donington is only just down the road from me, with me living in Tamworth but I get to do the meet and greet piece, I have my photo taken with a few people, shake a few hands and you know, it’s a nice experience so that alone is a good thing but yes of course we would love to play there given the opportunity.
And yes, you’re quite right, the last album charted highly especially in Germany and across Europe but sadly not enough to get us on the bill last time. Maybe this one will be that extra push to get us invited. We will have to wait and see.
You’ve lived in Tamworth all of your life I believe?
Yes, I’ve got a lot of friends and family up here so I’m quite settled I’m quite happy in Tamworth. I love going away on tour of course but it’s always nice to come back home again. I’ve got my cat to come back to, I live with my daughter and she works in the pub over the road which in fact is where I’m sitting this evening doing the interviews with you and everybody else that I’m talking to as well. My house is just over the road, so of course it’s not far to stumble home after you’ve had a few drinks!
When you are back home in Tamworth, what do you do to relax? Have you got any hobbies that you partake in?
(Laughs) Hobbies?? What are they? I don’t have time for hobbies now but when I get down time I try to listen to music whenever I can, I’m also a big movie buff as well so I do like to watch movies to relax and that does help when I’m not working on things in relation to Magnum. I love anything that’s loud and brash so the fantasy films, the sci-fi movies and so on. I’ve got a really good surround sound system hooked up to the TV as well and I turn it all up because I can, we’ve got nobody living next door too so the sound’s not a problem although of course my cat doesn’t like it and it tends to run off. I’ve also got one of those 3-D TVs now as well so I put the glasses on, put the movie on in 3-D, turn the surround sound system on and turn it up loud. I am a loud guy. I guess it’s the need for the loud singing with Magnum that I like my music loud, I like my movies loud.
Just a final question around your solo work. Over the years of course you‘ve had quite a lot of solo output and you’ve worked with for example Gary Hughes from Ten. You’ve also put out ‘Middle Earth’ your album based around Lord of the Rings. Are there any plans to do any more solo material or is it Magnum that is your sole focus these days?
Magnum is my sole focus these days and I just haven’t got time or the willpower to be honest to work with another songwriter or producer. Everything I do is with Tony these days and our focus is definitely on Magnum. I wouldn’t like it if Tony went off and did solo work you know so well no no no not at all, its just Magnum these days. The only thing different I suppose is that sometimes I go and sing with Aventasia. I’ve done a couple of world tours with Aventasia and Tobias Sammet from Edguy who put that together. I work with him in that and it’s a heavy metal rock opera that tours the world. He gives us the opportunity to tour South America and Japan which is great so would be nice to be invited do that again “yes please Tobi if you’re reading this!”.
I think it’s only right and proper that I do stick to my focus with Magnum because you know at the end of the day I…. well, I don’t want to get the sack ha ha!.
Thank you very much for the time you spent with us today. We really appreciate you taking the time to speak to myglobalmind.com.
My pleasure and just a small anecdote for you. You probably didn’t realise that my middle name is Adrian as well. My full name is Robert Adrian Catley. Adrian was something my Grandmother wanted call me but actually my Grandad wouldn’t allow it. He insisted on Robert being added at the front of it and it’s Bob that has stuck over the years.