"I thought: ‘Oh my God, what have I got myself into?!’ We were paid thirty pounds a week, but I think Bob earned more than me…”
The incredible partnership between Tony Clarkin and Bob Catley was born when singer Catley turned up unexpectedly at the guitarist’s front door. “It was Bob and Kex [Gorin] and they asked me to join Magnum and play at the Rum Runner,” guitarist Clarkin recalls, referring to the legendary night club on Birmingham’s Broad Street at which Magnum and Duran Duran became house bands.
“It was like being in a dance band,” Clarkin groans. “I thought: ‘Oh my God, what have I got myself into?!’ We were paid thirty pounds a week, but I think Bob earned more than me…”
With a smile and a mischievous chuckle, Catley confirms this theory: “That’s because I was also the DJ in the breaks between our sets.”
Clarkin recalls those long-gone dance floor days in a song called ‘Remember’ from Magnum’s new album ‘The Monster Roars’. “But being on a weekly wage was cool,” he continues, picking up the tale. “It was the first money I’d earned as a musician. Kex was the drummer and the bass player was a guy called Bob Doyle. I went out and bought some purple trousers to join the band.”
“I used to wear green satin trousers,” grimaces Catley. “All of this is all so long ago; I didn’t even know that Tony wrote songs. All we wanted at the time was a guitar player.”
Fast forward five decades: the Rum Runner is musical history, demolished in 1987. Kex Gorin died of kidney cancer in 2007 and nobody really knows what happened to Bob Doyle. But still Clarkin and Catley, the Morecambe & Wise of Pomp-Rock, remain firm friends and work colleagues after five decades.
“Of course it’s shocking,” Clarkin nods, “but that’s not something we think about too much. It’s only when a journalist like you says: ‘Did you realise that you’ve been together for, like, a gazillion years?’ that we take a moment to consider the fact.”
Told in their own words, this, then, is the rags-to-riches-to-rags-again story of Magnum from formation in 1972 to dissolution in 1995 (their post-reunion era is a subject for another day): 24 years, eleven studio albums, a crucial live record and a whole lot of memories.
As a backdrop to Magnum’s first album, it was a random slice of good fortune that led to a deal with Jet Records, and the eventual release of ‘Kingdom Of Madness’ some six years later. Tony, you were invited to help build Nest Studio, the facility at which the band would record their first demos?
Clarkin (enthusiastically): “Yeah, yeah, that was me and Dave Morgan [the bassist that replaced Doyle]. Dave knew that I had done woodwork at school and he roped me in. [Laughs] Imagine me working on your house? Instead of being paid I requested studio time, we did demos, sent ‘em off to Jet Records and that was it.”
The album’s birth was neither simple nor comfortable. When Magnum arrived at De Lane Lea Studios in London, Jet had forgotten to book hotel rooms.
Clarkin: “The way I remember it, they did book a hotel but when we got there it was like a halfway house. It was full of drunks.”
Bob Catley: “Just as we were checking in, this tramp checked out.”
It felt better to sleep at the studio?
Clarkin: “Yeah, for a few nights… in the foyer. Then we went to another, better hotel. At reception we said: ‘Hello, we have a reservation paid by Jet Records.’ The woman screwed up the bill into a ball, threw it at my head and it bounced off. Jet already owed them so much money.”
The type of music you sought to play – a Pomp-infused, highly melodic strand of Hard Rock, with occasional bursts of flute courtesy of keyboardist Richard Bailey – was not exactly in vogue.
Clarkin: “It’s never really been in vogue, has it? When we put out ‘Kingdom Of Madness’ people just laughed at us. Sham 69 and Punk were what was popular. Our stuff was so overblown [Laughs], but it actually sold a few copies.”
Amazingly, it made No. 58 in the charts.
Catley (scratching his head): “I thought it reached 48, but none of us believed that it stood a chance of doing so well – no way.”
There was a priceless support slot with Judas Priest in ‘77, also another outing with Whitesnake but the catch with Priest was that they wanted you to roadie for them?
Catley: “That was instead of buying onto the Priest tour. In the end we paid other people to roadie for us. But that’s what the original deal was, yeah.”
How do you look back at ‘Kingdom Of Madness’ all these years later?
Clarkin: “I really couldn’t tell you. I haven’t heard it for decades.”
Catley: “I thought the music was quite involved, very intricate for the time. It was everything that Punk Rock was trying to get rid of.”
How did you enjoy working with Ten Years After bassist Leo Lyons on the second album?
Catley: “Leo was great.”
Clarkin: “Yeah. He was a nice guy. But he never got paid for his work [by Jet]. It’s sad and completely wrong. Years later I did some more stuff with Leo and he told me that. He didn’t even bother chasing it up because those sort of things happened all the time.”
Compared to its predecessor, ‘Magnum II’ represented a giant leap forwards, lyrically, musically and sonically.
Clarkin: “Did it really? [He shrugs shoulders]. I honesty couldn’t tell you. I haven’t listened to those records for forty-odd years. I know other people’s records better than I know my own.”
You once told me that there was a big lyrical change. Whilst the words for ‘Kingdom Of Madness’ were fantasy-based, second time around there was more of an attempt to embrace being commercial.
Clarkin: “That’s true. Obviously, it didn’t really work, did it?” [They laugh]
That’s right. ‘Magnum II’ failed to chart, as did its singles ‘Changes’ and ‘Foolish Heart’. Given the success of the debut, it must have been bewildering?
Clarkin: “That sounds like the story of our lives.”
Catley: “I’ve got to be honest; I haven’t listened to ‘Magnum II’ for years, either.”
Nevertheless, it contains some all-time great Magnum songs – the flamboyant ‘The Great Adventure’, for instance.
Clarkin: “I wrote that one on a family caravan holiday in Weymouth – very flamboyant. Funnily enough, I’ve never been back.”
Was its underperformance the fault of Jet?
Clarkin: “A lot of things went wrong thanks to Jet. Almost every record we made for that label, they would keep us waiting for two years before they released it.”
Catley: “It happened with the first one, and then ‘Chase The Dragon’, the third one, also took two years.”
When something like that happens, how do you put aside the disappointment?
Catley: “It was a very, very tough time. We had put our hearts and souls into making that album.”
Clarkin: “I kept making all these phone calls to America; it was soul-destroying. The only positive I could draw was thing things couldn’t get any worse.”
“I’ve got to be honest; I haven’t listened to ‘Magnum II’ for years, either.”
Like so many others before them that sought a break, Magnum encapsulated their wares with a live album, ‘Marauder’, recorded at London’s Marquee Club on December 15, 1979. And the plan worked…
Catley: “Yeah, it did quite well for a live album. It had the power that had sometimes been missing from our studio records.”
Before ‘Marauder’ hit the racks a four-song EP that retailed for the then-bargain price of £1.15 became a Top 50 hit for Magnum. Tony, you once said it was “the most unlikely record I can imagine in the British charts”.
Clarkin: “It’s true. Though I do recall being down in Hastings for the mixing with Chris Tsangarides [the recordings were handled by Leo Lyons], I don’t remember very much of the gig except that somebody had hired a dry ice machine which sucked all of the oxygen out of the atmosphere – as if the Marquee wasn’t already hot enough. By the time we came offstage we were almost dead.”
Did it throw Magnum a lifeline at a pivotal moment?
Clarkin: “Yeah, it did, definitely. Looking back, I suspect that Jet might have given up on us had ‘Marauder’ failed to take off the way it did.”
No disrespect to keyboardist Richard Bailey, who departed the band at this point, but the arrival Mark Stanway was an important development.
Clarkin: “I suppose it was. He was with us for a very long time. We used a fill-in [Grenville Harding] for a while, but in a band everybody has to fit in. Grenville was a bit strange… to say the least. So when Maurice Jones, the promoter from the Midlands [best known for establishing the Monsters Of Rock festival at Donington Park] told us about Mark, we clicked right away. We were actually letting off bombs [pyro stage effects] when Mark auditioned for us… and still he wanted to join!”
Does anyone recall why Richard Bailey left?
Clarkin: “Oh, now you’re asking. No… I really don’t remember.”
Presumably Magnum were big fans of Kansas, hence the introduction of Jeff Glixman as producer?
Clarkin (enthusiastically): “I always liked Kansas – I still do. It was very exciting to work with Jeff and we got on very well together. He taught me a lot about production, he was great at things that were really overblown. Jeff used to work at incredible volume, and I mean five billion watts.”
Once again, ‘Chase The Dragon’ confirmed a creative growth.
Clarkin: “I don’t go back to anything we’ve done in the past and play it again. I’m more about looking to the future than the past. But at the time I was going: ‘This is fantastic’. Years later I went to a funeral where somebody played the version of ‘The Spirit’ from ‘Chase The Dragon’ and I noticed that the drums speed up and slow down.”
But Glixman was able to get the sounds you’d heard in your head?
Clarkin: “That’s it, yeah. And I think I was starting to write better songs by that point.”
Jeff took the tapes back to Atlanta, and you went with him Tony…
Clarkin: “Yeah. I wanted to be there for the mix, and I still had some guitar overdubs to finish. When we finished that album there was a great vibe in the studio. We knew that this was by far the best record we’d made so far.”
…But then Jet played silly buggers once more, leaving Magnum’s handiwork to gather dust on the shelf. Two more years!
Catley: “I think that Jet was suffering some cash flow problems at the time, but nobody told us what was going on. We just had to sit tight and wait.”
Clarkin: “We honestly couldn’t believe it – the same situation all over again.”
When finally released in March ‘82, ‘Chase The Dragon’ saw Rodney Matthews supply cover art, and also for the first time the distinctive Magnum logo was used.