Early days, the start of a great adventure – the formative years of Magnum yield results that last a lifetime!
Release Date: 25th August 2023
Label: HNE Recordings
Format: 5CD box set
A band who never quite made the major breakthrough, yet over forty years down the line, still deliver in the studio and onstage. The story goes further back, to 1972 in fact, when the deadly duo of Bob Catley and Tony Clarkin sowed the seed that was to thrive in six decades, yet had to pay their dues until the 1978 release of their Kingdom Of Madness (sitting patiently since 1976) debut.
Fair do’s to Jet for adding Magnum to a roster that included Ozzy and ELO, the Brum connection proving an attractive lure and for also trusting the band with a series of early career albums that would in hindsight, form a strong backbone to their legacy.
HNE’s release sees the first four albums (plus the live one and a set compiled from the 74-76 archive) gathered to form a comprehensive picture of what Bob, Tony and whoever else was in the band (some things never change) were doing in the Jet years.
And so, wibbly wobbly time travel visuals in place, Kingdom Of Madness entered the fray into a late Seventies world where the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal bands were doing good business and there was still a healthy interest in Prog related goodness having weathered the storm of Punk. Magnum’s melodic Rock core, tinged with Heavy/Prog/Metal decoration (some things never changes…) might have had them bracketted with the likes of Uriah Heep and all maintained in concise bursts that rarely took them beyond the five minute mark. Having said that, In The Beginning, as it should be, the first track on the first album, sets out an ambitious stall with rolling acoustic guitars and flying synths heralding a lengthier introduction to the band.
Universe sees them soft rocking in a pastoral fashion while their sense of drama that would emerge and flourish, is in full evidence in the title track. Busy while not treading too much on the toes of fellow Metallers, there’s a hint of the Fab Four in some of the songwriting and of the other fab four, Queen, in some of the operatic arrangements, Lords Of Chaos in particular with some of Clarkin’s guitar lines. Forty-plus years on, the thinness of the production might grate a little, but within the context of their catalogue, Kingdom Of Madness was certainly not one of those embarrassing debut albums that you’d soon disown.
The release of II saw Magnum on tour with Blue Oyster Cult. A close encounter of the first kind at Manchester Apollo, and visions with fans waving their silver Magnum II album sleeves, purloined from the theatre foyer display and Tony Clarkin’s thumbs up. They went down very well warming up BOC, although the album fared slightly less well than the debut. The singles, Changes and Foolish Heart are fair choices as singles fodder; while equally, Stayin’ Alive (not that one…) could have fit the bill in their attempt to break through and breach the charts. The Battle is rapid fire Prog twiddling and pre-dating Axl by some years on the “where do we go from here?” line and almost acts as a prelude for the more standard Magnum that comes via the likes of If I Could Live Forever, but with the wonder of hindsight called to play, perhaps II was the difficult second album.
The live Marauder album was recorded during this period – The Marquee 1979 to be precise. Additional live tracks from the time from the Live EP add content and make this is a strong souvenir from the era. Originally featuring six tracks from the eight tracks that make up the II album, the reissued version (originally appearing in 2005) doubles the content with five tracks from Invasion Live (recorded in 1982 and repeating Changes and Reborn but including Invasion and Kingdom Of Madness from the debut) plus the four Magnum Live EP tracks.
Not quite reaching the heights of the classic double live sets that seemed to flourish during the era, but the set is as exciting as anything else in their catalogue from the period, with the ‘live’ sound much fuller and fatter than the reedier production on their studio work. The II songs get a breath of life and reinforced melodic gloss and the collection provides a bumper crop of live Magnum from their formative era
As the Eighties took hold, so did Magnum. Chase The Dragon (actually recorded in 1980) and 1983’s ‘no singles’ The Eleventh Hour saw the bar raised. Raised to the extent that, forty years on, these two albums remain regarded as peaks of the whole magnum legacy.
Chase The Dragon, bookended by the official and a (not quite so) ‘acoustic’ versions of Soldier Of The Line, includes a handful of tracks recorded live. Compared to the disc of demos from 1974 onwards, the development is evident; a band with more confidence and conviction in its direction has emerged. From the pomp of The Lights Burned Out and We All Play The Game that set the standard for the decades to follow, they still rock and boogie on The Teacher while the closing pair see Back To Earth built on a Maiden gallop and Hold Back Your Love drift into heavy power ballad territory.
More of the same follows on Eleventh Hour. A pair that are tricky to separate in terms of ranking, with no singles farmed from this set, Magnum’s ‘album band’ status seemed to be established and the sweeping alternative orchestral version of The Word gives an indication of where their future possibly lay. Even with the songs contained within the shorter framework with the five-minute prog challenge mark rarely breached, the Queen-esque touches (check the the Hot Space funk on One Night Of Passion) were still evident. Their commercial appeal might be erring more towards the AOR zone bu there’s a basic raw thrill that finds them at their most AC/DC with the pumping and underrated four to the floor of Hit And Run.
Although it’s the Clarkin/Catley partnership that still endures, mention must be made of the keyboard prowess of Mark Stanway in establishing the sound and pedigree of Magnum. Paving the way for the next album that would be the landmark On A Storyteller’s Night, the monster continues to roar. As we know, Magnum would continue to fly their flag for some time to come, yet these Jet albums provide much evidence on which their reputation is based.
Here’s a taste of prime early Magnum with Soldier Of The Line from Chase The Dragon: