Interview with frontman Bob Catley of Legendary Rock Act Magnum23rd January 2022
It’s certainly shaping up to be a busy year for Magnum. Firstly, they released their superb 22nd studio album, The Monster Roars, last week. Following that, at the end of March they play their first shows in nearly three years with the first of two UK tours scheduled for this year. And on top of that, 2022 sees them celebrate the bands 50th anniversary. So I had plenty to ask vocalist Bob Catley about when I had the pleasure of talking to him recently.
Hi Bob, thanks a lot for talking to us today. Firstly, congratulations on the new album (The Monster Roars), it’s your 22nd I believe. As we speak, we’re about an hour or so away from the Album Charts being announced, are those something you still get excited about?
Thank you. Yeah, I still get excited about them, whenever we put an album out. We’re always nagging to find out where it’s gone to in the chart. We tend to better in Germany than in the UK, chart wise. It just seems to be that way y’know. We just live over here, but over there seems to be our biggest market, I don’t know why. I believe it’s charted at number 5 in Germany which is great.
We’ve gone in on other charts too, we’re number 2 in the rock and metal chart as well. So we’ll see where we end up over here. On the last album there was a ten place difference between the two. We were number 8 over there, and number 18 over here, so it’ll be similar again I imagine. I’m just glad that people are buying the album and enjoy it, and they will hopefully come and see us when we eventually tour.
You seem to have hit a consistent vein of form at the moment, with Lost On The Road To Eternity, The Serpent Rings and now The Monster Roars all getting a very positive response from the fans.
Yeah. you’re right. On the last four albums or so, we’ve really got ourselves on a roll. We’ve been using the same studio, the same engineer, with Tony (Clarkin – Magnum guitarist and songwriter) producing again. The songs are coming out of him in droves, if that’s the right expression! The music is getting better and better, and is of a consistently high standard.
I love the sound of the albums, and I love singing the lyrics. They mean a lot to me, I put my heart and soul into it when I know what they’re about. I couldn’t be happier with everything, the sound, the songs, the level of production. We’ve got a great band now as well, with our three new arrivals. We’ve got a lot to look forward to. We’re touring all the UK, then off to Europe with Gotthard.
How does Tony present the songs to you? Are they complete finished demo’s, or do you tweak them once you all get into the studio?
He records them as demo’s in his home studio, then brings them into our studio in Wolverhampton when he’s ready to start laying them down. He’ll play me them, and say sing this, try this bit and we’ll see how it goes from there. They’re complete demo’s so everyone, not just me, can hear how it goes and hear the melodies. He puts the vocal melody down on guitar, so I get a heads up on where it goes.
I’m always the first one to hear them, and I’ll say “great, let’s have a go”. Sometimes we have to drop the key as playing them on a guitar is not the same as singing them obviously. We sometimes change the key to get the best out of my voice. As we live with them for a certain period of time, the tempo’s may change, Some songs need to be more urgent once the vocal is down. It becomes a different ball game then, you can judge it better as a whole rather than just a guitar piece.
For this last album, we recorded a few songs, then had a break. We started again in the middle of last year and Tony brought a few new songs in. We dropped one that wasn’t working. There’s a track on the album, Your Blood Is Violence, which may not have been there had we not had the break. So, it’s good to leave things a while, and then come back fresh.
So finally, the album is out now, and we’re now gearing up for rehearsals for the tour. We start the UK tour part one in late March, then comeback for part two in September. It’s had to be re-organised that way as everyone is after the same venues due to the pandemic.
With the tour having to be postponed a couple of times due to the pandemic, you never got the chance to tour in support of (2020’s) The Serpent Rings album. Will the tour feature both, or will just be a Monster Roars tour?
Yeah, we’re going to give a couple off The Serpent Rings an airing. We felt like we lost that album with not being able to tour it, and it deserved better. We haven’t forgotten it, it’s a great album. We’ll mix those into the set with some newer songs and older ones, and some really old ones, We’re putting those in as it’s our 50th anniversary year. We’re bringing some songs back that we haven’t played for some time. Our loyal fans have waited since early 2020 to hear these songs, so we can’t wait to play them for them.
How do you decide on the setlist? It must be hard to keep it within a certain time frame, rather than ending up with a Bruce Springsteen style marathon?
Haha yeah it’s hard. We working on it now. We’re always looking at it and changing this one, and that one. We’re working on two different setlists. One for the UK, where can play our full set, and another for Germany. Over there we’re touring with Gotthard, as special guests, so we only play for an hour. So it’ll be more of a case of what aren’t we doing tonight. We’ll get it right, then have to pull it apart for Germany!
As well as the UK and Germany, we’re also getting to go to Sweden and Norway this time too. We’ve not done that many shows over there, but we’re looking forward to hitting Scandinavia and rocking the socks off them!
How long is it since you’ve played a show now?
The last show we played was at the end of August 2019. That was a festival in Spain, and after that our bass player Al Barrow left the band, He wanted to spend more time with his family which he couldn’t do as he was always on tour with us. We got a replacement Dennis Ward, who used to be in the band Pink Cream 69. He’s American, but lives in Germany, We’re going to be rehearsing again with him soon, and hopefully we’ll get to go somewhere this time!
After such a long lay off, are you having to get yourself match fit again, as it were, before you go back out on the road?
I’ve been doing some singing recently, so I feel like I’m where I need to be really. When you haven’t done anything for a while, you sort of forget how to sing, if you know what I mean. It soon comes back again though. We’ve been working on a few other things in the studio recently. The worst thing you can do as a singer is to over use it. You can do it untold damage if you over do it, and start shouting in nightclubs and pubs y’know? I tend to stay quiet when i go out!
I always warm up before I go onstage, and a little Jack Daniels with ice and coke always helps! It’s the worst thing you can do is to go on stage without warming up. If you don’t and try to hit the high notes, you’ll rip your throat out quite easily. I’ve learned that lesson, as have a lot of singers I know. You won’t have a voice the next night. We do four or five nights on the trot when it’s our show. But with Gotthard it’s two or three nights then a night off.
It helps when you love what you do. It doesn’t feel like a job, So I’m in a great place at the moment. I’ve also been singing with Avantasia too which I love doing. I’m one of six invited singers on that tour. I’ve done three world tours with them so far. I’m out with them doing European festivals again in the Summer between the two Magnum tours. So I’ve got a pretty busy year coming up.
The Avantasia albums are superb ,like rock opera aren’t they?
Yeah they are. It’s quite a show. There’s six singers, the band, Tobias (Sammet – Avantasia‘s main man) and then the backing singers too. It’s a great stage set too, very spectacular, and a full three hour show.
That epic sound, dare I say it almost prog sound, is you guys signature nowadays in Magnum too isn’t it? Powerful, grand sounding music.
Yeah, but we do all kinds of music really. We do long songs, short ones and everything in between. But, yeah, that really is Magnum‘s sound isn’t it? I don’t think there’s many bands that sound like Magnum, which is good. It’s nice to be different! We came out in the punk era of the 70s, and I don’t know how we survived that. We were the total opposite of what was around at the time. But we made it through and 22 albums later we’re still here.
You become you’re own man as you get older, you develop your own voice. But by working with the likes of Tony, you only get better as you learn.
Not only punk, but you also survived the grunge era of the 90’s too..
The gunge era as I call it! We came through all that too. But our fans have kept us going. We play to three generations of families at our shows. But whatever age they are, there is no generation gap, they’re all Magnum fans and it’s great. I think why we’re still here. People know what they’re gonna get, and it’s a nice environment to bring their kids. They know it’ll be alright.
Going back to the new album, what are your favourite songs on it at the moment? Mine tend to change with each listen. One day its That Freedom Word, the next it’s The Day after The Night Before or Remember.
To be honest, I like them all at the moment. I think the title track is gonna knock people over when we come on stage. Your Blood Is Violence is my favourite at the moment though. But we haven’t got room in the show for that at the moment as it’s too long. The Day After The Night Before, we’re going to be doing that.
Also a song called Remember, the second song on the album. That mentions about how me and Tony first started working together. Looking back to our early days at the Rum Runner nightclub in Birmingham. It’s a great uptempo dance tune. The whole album is mid to up tempo apart from the one ballad. It’s an ‘up’ album, and some of the songs are quite heavy too, and then we do some of the lighter songs we do as well.
I think that’s why we’re still here, because people want something different rather than the same song over and over. The albums are a bit of a rollercoaster, and it’s the biggest complement in the world that people are still buying Magnum records all these years later. The fans are the best in the world and I hope we don’t let them down.
Back in the day, around the time of 1988’s Wings Of Heaven album, singles were a bit deal. On this album there’s tracks like I Won’t Let You Down and No Steppin’ Stones which sound like they would’ve been hit singles, had they still been a thing today.
I love No Steppin’ Stones, it’s very commercial. It’s got a brass section on it. And I Won’t Let you Down is similar. We did a couple of lyric video’s for them, that helps get the message of the song over to the listener. They were done by our record label SPV, who support us really well. They give us all the support we need.
But, yeah, there’s some really commercial stuff on the new album, like Wings Of Heaven, Vigilante and Storytellers Night. It matches up to those really well. It’s the same songwriter and the same singer, so there’s going to be similarities between them I guess. I’d love us to famous all over the world and do everyone’s Top Of The Pops again. We did it a couple of times. I loved it but I don’t think Tony was so keen.
You mentioned earlier that this year also marks 50 years for you both together as Magnum. Do you still have to pinch yourself that something you love doing has become a life’s work?
Yeah, its literally been a lifetime. We’ve had ups and downs, good years and bad years. Mostly good ones. A few line up changes. We broke up twice. The first time we didn’t mean it. We were just trying to get away from our label. The second time we did mean it, and me and Tony went on to form a band called Hard Rain. Then I went away and did some solo stuff, before we got back together again in 2002 with the Breath Of Life Album. We’d had a rest, and we came back bigger and better with a different line up. We’d probably gone as far as we could by the mid 90’s, we’d done Wembley Arena, and the NEC three times, toured America with Ozzy Osbourne, Things just naturally came to an end in 1995.
We’re still here together all these years later, with a great line up. You’ve got to like the other people you’re in a band with. The guys we have at the moment are terrific, with Dennis, Lee Morris (drums) and Rick Benton (keyboards), and long may this line up continue. The music’s better and better each time we do an album together. I feel very fortunate to have been part of Magnum‘s journey through the rock world.
Are there any plans to mark the occasion this year? Or are you just concentrating on the album?
Nothing at the special at the moment. I’m sure the label with want us to record for a live album or DVD at some point, but they haven’t mentioned that yet. Apart from that we’re just concentrating on a great tour of new stuff, recent stuff and the old stuff really with it being the 50th anniversary year. Maybe something may happen that we’ve not been told about as yet, but we’ll just concentrate on the tour.
Tony will be back in his studio writing new material during the break in the Summer, he’s written two already. I’m looking forward to it all. But first things first, we’ve got to start rehearsing for the tour. That’s as far as we’ve got!
You guys first appeared in the 70’s from the West Midlands, that’s almost the home of hard rock and metal, with bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Slade etc. Were those guys an inspiration to you at all?
We first started out as the house band in The Rum Runner Nightclub, so we weren’t out there heavy metalling as it were. We were never part of that scene. Though, I think we were playing up to the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal vibe really. It was coined by someone at Kerrang! Magazine in the late 70’s. So we were playing up to that, which helped us a lot. It actually got us noticed, without us actually being heavy metal, I’m not sure how that works! There was many different types of music and bands coming out of Birmingham at that time, not just Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, and we were part of that scene really.
We’ve been called all sorts over the years, prog rock, pomp rock, orchestral rock, you name it! I don’t know what kind of rock we are, I just know that Magnum‘s Magnum and you can’t put it in a pigeon hole, it’s not that simple. It’s just good music. And you can put some people off if you do that, so we leave it up to the listener. Call it what you like, and if you like it, come back for more.
As you look back over the years, have yo got a favourite era of the band?
I like the now to be honest. It’s great, I could say the 80’s, I could say being in the States recording Goodnight LA. The late eighties was great, around the time of Wings Of Heaven, we did a lot of stuff that was great for the band. But honestly, and truthfully, where we are now, with the line up we have now and with all the things we have coming up would be it. We’re playing Birmingham Symphony Hall again soon, and you can’t get better than that, it’s brilliant. What we’re doing now is a great time for Magnum, and we want to make the most of it.
But there were times in the eighties that were brilliant too, around the time if the On A Storytellers Night album. We did a lot of stuff we hadn’t done before. But I could say there’s been loads of times that was my favourite time, like just starting up, doing the first album, Kingdom Of Madness, that was a great time. We had an album coming out in the shops. You can’t beat that feeling. But I really enjoy the hear and and now, that’s my contentment, it really is.
You mentioned the On A Storytellers Night album there. When you were recording it, did you know it was going to be such a special album?
The songs were there y’know. It was a happy recording session in the studio. We used UB40‘s studio in Birmingham, and we’d toured the songs already, and tried them out on the fans before we even got into the studio. We were doing How Far Jerusalem, Les Morts Dansant, Two Hearts, and Just like An Arrow. They all went down terrifically well, because they’re great songs. It was a great album, but when you listen back to it now, I think it sounds a little bit dated. We didn’t have the benefit of todays production techniques and technology, but when you put it on, it just flows. The artwork by Rodney Matthews just completes the whole package for me.
It’ll always be my favourite album, apart from the latest album of course. Your latest album is always your favourite, as its the one you’ve just been working on for the last year and a half or something! And many of the fans would say the same thing. It was a real milestone album, and we got to a lot more people with it. It was the album that made Magnum really, we played the Monsters Of Rock Festival at Donington on the back of it. We signed with a major label, Polydor, because of it. When you’ve got major label backing, the world becomes your oyster. It was the start of a great time for the band.
One last question, do you collect your own albums and keep memorabilia from across your career, for posterity and to look back on?
Yeah, I’ve got a copy of everything we’ve had out. I always grab a copy, didn’t always in the past, but I do now. It’s nice to have them to look at, I even keep the tour laminates. I like the old Magnum memorabilia, my daughter is mad for it, she’s always getting bits and pieces off Ebay. She finds things like twelve inch picture discs. I’ve even got a Vigilante wall clock that we had out once, it even still works!
Reminiscing isn’t for everyone, but I like looking back. It makes me feel good to realise what we have achieved over the years. I’ve collected all sorts, I love my vinyl. I’ve got Deep Purple, The Beatles, Rolling Stones albums. The early stuff, not the later stuff, that’s what got me going back then. Listening to Mick Jagger back then was what made me want to be a singer, he’s my hero.
I’m of that age where that’s where I started. I saw the Stones in the sixties at Birmingham Town Hall, and that’s what got me going. You couldn’t hear a word he was singing, but what a racket! It excited me to the point where I had to pack my job in and join a band. It was a chance I took because of the money, but my mum and dad supported me through it, as they could see that was what I wanted to do.
Thank you so much for your time today, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
My pleasure. I just want to say thank you to everyone for sticking with Magnum all these years, and I hope they all enjoy the new album, and will come and see us on the tour this year.