“I am a fan myself as well at the end of the day…, I remember meeting Ronnie James Dio, I was almost too scared to go and say hello to him.”
MR’s Dave Evans chats with Uncle Bob – a.k.a. Bob Catley of Magnum
Firstly I’d like to thank you on behalf of Midlands Rocks for taking the time to talk to us.
Congratulations on your new album ‘Escape From The Shadow Garden’, your nineteenth studio album. For a band that has been going over forty years do you still get the same thrill and nervous anticipation on the eve of an albums release?
Yes I think it’s nineteen albums now, it’ll be twenty next time. Yes it’s the same with every album we make, its just like doing your first album again – “What’s this bag of treasures I’ve got to sing here?”. I never know quite what to expect till I hear them, then I go; “We got it now”, and we’ve done that for nineteen albums. It’s always fresh and it keeps you anticipating, and it keeps me young and I love singing with Tony (Clarkin, guitarist Magnum). It’s out on the 24th March, you tell everybody and are so proud that the album’s coming out in the shops and on the internet. It’s like the first time, you never lose that tingling sensation of your records available and will anyone buy it. We have such loyal fans, they are great and buy everything and have kept us going all these years.
I am one of them, I’ve been there since 1985 buying the albums.
A lot of people came in on ‘On A Storytellers Night’, it’s the album that brought us to a majority of rock fans I believe. We were a bit unknown and ‘O.A.S.T.N’ opened a few doors and we started doing bigger stages. There was a million pound record deal banded around – I think for five albums – I certainly didn’t see it, but it looked good in the press. It shouldn’t be a chore and it wasn’t.
I have my favourite tracks, what are the stand out tracks for you ?
I love them all, ‘Live Till You Die’ is a great opener.
You always have great opening tracks, it’s always a grandiose, epic opener with Magnum.
It has to be, I love Tony’s songs, the way he constructs them, a lot of keyboard intros, and a down octave voice, then it all kicks off like a mini epic.
The second song ‘Unwritten Sacrifice’ the song about the unknown soldier. A lot of young men go away to war and their sons never see them again and there’s nothing left to bury but a helmet, rifle and a cross. Who was that guy, what was his story?
‘Too Many Clowns’ of course, a great song, get your 50’s Rock n’ Roll on for that. Tony’s guitar sounds are much better these days – stronger and crunchier, and Mark’s Honky-Tonk piano.
Tony’s guitar sounds are unleashed of late, he’s always strived for different sounds, but he’s really going for it now.
He’s in the groove now, he’s got a nice set of guitars, Les Pauls, Gibsons, a Blackbird that was made for him. He will bring three or four with him on the tour because of the key changes in the songs, some require a different guitar. He’s a great producer for the guitars, the drums and the bass, and the vocal he gets for me is fantastic. He pushes me and gets me to sing to my limit, I love the way he makes me sound. We’ve known each other for over forty years now and I can’t think of anybody better to work with myself.
Absolutely, it’s like a jigsaw piece, everything fits in…
We have a great chemistry after all these years, as all the band does really. Mark, Al and Harry, a great band, they are a great rhythm section as you can hear on the album, and on stage. You need that, you need to be confident in your band, so I can just do my thing and sing over the top. I know there is concrete bass and drums and Mark and Tony can do their solos. I think we are quite an established band after all this time.
We try to be as melodic as we can, melody is good for the heart and soul, even if you don’t get into the lyrics you can get into the melodies of the song. There is something for everybody on this album. If you want to know what the songs are about then you can have a guess.
Interesting you should say that as I have a question about ‘Midnight Angel’. In my mind I envisaged a Christine Keeler type character, a lady of the night mixed up with a political figure.
You’re quite right, Christine Keeler would fit that perfectly, it’s about a young lady who turns to prostitution and gets mixed up with a politician so it’s Christine Keeler all over. This one ends up being dragged down the river because she’s been murdered by this politician who’s had his wicked way and shall remain nameless. I love singing it… it’s a bit bluesy, emotional, you can imagine yourself down in South America, in the swamplands; “A lot of souls go missing down here” (adopts accent). So yes, it’s to do with prostitution.
It’s nice that Tony’s songs can touch people in a way that we can all understand, and is relevant.
It can only touch people if you can deliver that vocal.
I love singing them, it’s my job to sing them right. I put a different emotion into each song as required, I can sing some of them hard and gritty, others I can sing quieter and softer, it’s the music that effects me and my voice, you can hear the passion in my voice.
This is what the fans love. Your voice is like a vintage wine it gets better with age, something you must have heard more times than you care to mention.
You get better as you get older, it took me all this time to get good (laughs), I’ve been doing this a long time . The early days of recording, I listen and go “Hmmm, it’s alright”, but you can hear I’m young and inexperienced, but as the albums go on you listen to them and hear me grow up vocally. We’ve grown up together over the years with Magnum, touring and all that it makes you a better person, older and wiser. There are things in the past I’d change but you can’t look back, you have to look forward. Nothing wrong with getting older, as long as you get better.
There must be a telepathy between you and Tony. Tony must think in ‘Bob Speech’ by now?
He writes for me, me alone, and he wouldn’t make me do anything that wasn’t in my heart and I wasn’t capable of singing. Sometimes I tell him that’s not quite right, we’ll put it down and move on to the next song. There isn’t anything that goes on the album that isn’t 100% Bob and Tony’s commitment.
Absolutely, albums cost a lot of money these days so we try to give them value for money. For example we always put out a Digi-pack initially before any album and it comes with a bonus disc and so on. We always try to do that when we can afford to, a nice present for the fans, give them something extra. The artwork speaks for itself with Rodney Matthews, I think it makes for a good package all in all.
The album is also coming out on 12” coloured vinyl, very snazzy. The artwork, as I’ve said looks fantastic especially on the vinyl sleeve version. I’m glad SPV put it out also with gate-fold sleeve.
The old days where you had a proper gate-fold sleeve have largely gone. These days with digital downloads a lot of younger fans are missing out on owning that special package with all the artwork. Magnum always seem to remember their older fans and have that covered, that is incredibly commendable as it all costs money.
It does all cost money, we know people download but we try to give those that don’t something to look at as well as listen to. I think our fans need the artwork, the full package, like Christmas come early. You can’t beat vinyl, I’m from the old school, go to the record shop spending all afternoon looking through stuff I want to take home a treasure, I come from those days.
We always think about our fans, keep them happy as they keep us going. We talk to them all the time on websites, backstage at the gig, at the pub. Al (Barrow, bassist) does our website, he talks to the fans all the time, he does that and the artwork and he takes all our photos. He’s like a fan himself really, and a great voice – like Wally before doing backing vocals, and you need that as we’ve always done two part harmonies and it works a treat, he’s a real asset to Magnum. As a band we try and perform the songs on stage like they are on the album. It’s like being at home with Magnum in your living room.
As a reviewer I listen to an album, then imagine in my head what it’s going to sound like ‘Live’ because that’s where it matters.
We try to, sometimes it’s not possible because there were ten guitars and we only have one guitarist, so sometimes you have to bend it a bit, but usually we do it bang on like the record.
(Laughs), It wouldn’t surprise me, but I don’t think we can put out an album any quicker than a year and a half.
You started it a month after the last one was released?
I know, he’s mad you see, all he does is write songs for Magnum, he has lots of ideas already. We’ll be on tour for two months then we’ll come back, he’ll take a bit of a break and then he’ll be off in his studio up his garden doing it for the next album, that’s how he works. He’s prolific, I don’t know where it all comes from, he can’t sleep, he must be up all night writing but that’s how we like it and we will do it as long as we can, as long as our physical bodies can put up with it.
We are enjoying it more now than we ever did, we don’t have a record label pressurising Tony for a hit record like Polydor did. We had a number two album with ‘Wings Of Heaven’ so the next one had to be number one, they were never satisfied. SPV give Tony total artistic control and are happy to sit back and wait for the album to turn up and then go; “Great we’re gonna put this out and you’ve done it again”.
Do you worry about chart positions, I imagine it’s not something that has too much of a baring now?
Not really, we had a single out from the album last time and the album charted in Germany and at the lower ends of the UK charts. So if it charts that’s great. If this one charts in Germany again – our biggest market – great, we also chart in Sweden, it’s nice to know you are still up in the charts somewhere. Our fans go out and buy them and if that puts us in the charts that’s great.
Germany and Sweden are two areas where the fans aren’t as cynical as some countries, and when they get a great rock band they won’t let it go.
I think rock fans over here are great, but the music is so mixed up over here, but Germany is like ‘ROCK’, when we first toured there in 1979 supporting UFO I couldn’t believe how cool the rock clubs were compared to over here, American cars inside them, neon signs, flashing lights, proper stages with proper lighting. The UK caught on slowly after that, it’s equalling out between us now though.
I think it’s because of the ‘Live’ scene now, people are making their profits from the show rather than off the back of the album. Bands are stepping up the standard, as this is where they are making the money.
That’s right people want certain things, you want good quality, a rock club to go to or a theatre for a gig. I think Magnum shine in a theatre best of all, with our backdrops and our lights, I love playing in theatres. In fact we are playing in Islington Town Hall, we’ve never played there before but it’s supposed to be quite nice. It makes everyone feel better when you are in a nice place, not a dingy place where your feet are sticking to the floor. The older you get the more you expect quality wise. We get whole families coming to see us now; it’s a nice family atmosphere with the Magnum fans, we get all ages, old people like us, blokes with long hair, blokes with no hair, lots of women these days, it’s fantastic. We couldn’t have a nicer cross section of people if we tried, it reflects in our music and what we stand for.
A lot of bands are coming back these days, you have a younger audience who would have missed them first time round, so it’s nice to pick up a whole new audience – but retain your older fans as well. We are especially looking forward to the Wulfrun Hall which is our home-town gig, I hope it’s packed out so we can have a great night.
You have also worked with other singers/producers, more recently Tobias Sammet from Avantasia, what is that like for you?
I worked with him and Avantasia a few times, going around the world it’s a great experience. I’ve only been invited by Tobias as he’s a big Magnum fan, so because of the success of Magnum I got invited by him to sing on Avantasia’s ‘The Metal Opera’ in 2008, and I said “Yeah I’d love to” and I’ve done every album since. I have been a part of Avantasia for many years now, I have Tony to thank for that “Cheers Tone”.
Tobias is still a relative youngster yet he’s been going for over 20 years already, it’s quite astonishing really.
Yeah, I love Edguy, they are coming out on tour in September I believe, he’s a good friend, he reminds me of me twenty five years ago, he’s got the same dreams and aspirations like I had, and still have.
Have you heard Edguy’s version of ‘The Spirit’?
Yes, he had to ring Tony to ask permission and it was like “Yeah no problem”. It’s very good, just like the record. Working with people like Tobias is like another string to my bow, but I always look forward to coming home and working with Tony. Tony and Tobias are the best two guys I’ve ever worked with.
You have also worked with Michael Kiske and Joe Lynn Turner, two talented vocalists.
Michael and Joe yes, also Eric Martin of Mr Big, I’ve worked with some really nice people through Avantasia, you go all over the world and get announced on stage and all the applause – especially in South America. Me and Tony would love to get Magnum to South America.
So we can expect a Magnum ‘Live In Rio’ DVD then in the future?
Absolutely, you try and stop us, it hasn’t happened yet but I’d look forward to it, we did San Jose with Avantasia and it was great.
You’ve released six solo studio albums, are there anymore in the pipeline?
Yes six, the last one was ‘Immortal’ with Magnus Karlsson, then I got far too busy with Magnum and Tony to start stretching myself again to do solo albums, I’ve put that on hold for the moment. I’d have to go away for a long time and record, I feel I’d be unfaithful to the band, I wouldn’t feel right doing that. I’m too busy focused on Tony and Magnum really. If I wasn’t in band it would be different, but I am faithful to my band.
I first saw you at the N.E.C on the ‘Wings Of Heaven’ tour. Do you miss the huge venues or do you prefer to be able to see the whites of peoples eyes?
I like any show really, any show full of Magnum fans. We do a place in Southampton called The Brook, it’s a small place but it has a fantastic atmosphere, I get them standing up in the balcony, it’s not big but it might as well be the N.E.C the reaction we get. It’s not the size of the venue it’s the reaction we get from our fans. We’ve done the big places – but they couldn’t see us, and we couldn’t see them. I prefer the theatres and the clubs as it’s far more satisfying as you are nearer to the people and there is more interaction. The Shepherds Bush Empire is a brilliant theatre, a wonderful place to play. Some of the bonus tracks were filmed there and you can see the theatre in all it’s glory. You don’t need Wembley Arena – that’s for other people.
I am a fan myself as well at the end of the day, I remember meeting Ronnie James Dio, I was almost too scared to go and say hello to him, I was like a fan, but we shook hands, had a chat, and he’d actually heard of us. We had the ‘Wings Of Heaven’ album out in the charts at the time. It was like talking to an old friend. I was most upset when he died, it was awful. You can still be the fan when you meet one of your heroes. It’s nice not to be jaded, as some people get jaded easily. I save my energies for the stage personally.
I once described you as a conductor garnering energy from the band, the music and the crowd. You live the songs like an actor on the stage. Is that a fair comment?
I don’t know any other way to do it, I get on stage and sing to peoples eyes, make it personal to them. It’s very personal to me what Tony writes, I try and put that over to the audience, it’s not just singing a song it’s telling a story. People like to stand up at our gigs that’s the atmosphere – our fans going crazy for the music.
Talking of the music, what one song would you like to be remembered for?
It’s very difficult, I could say ‘How Far Jerusalem’, ‘Les Morts Dansant’, I could say ‘Sacred Hour’, I love that song. How about ‘The Spirit’? I’d like to be remembered for that. Overall for being in Magnum and all the great songs.
Another would be ‘When The World Comes Down’ I love the emotion, there is a song on the new album that reminds me of that called ‘Valley Of Tears’, it has the same subject matter; “you’ll be ok don’t worry about it” you know? That’s how I’d like to be remembered that type of song. You get little throw backs with Tony, he’s kept stuff in his head from the past, he may not even realise it.
Now to the tour, any surprises set-list wise, any songs you are going to revisit?
We’ll be doing a mixture of old and new as always. The start of the show will be very hard hitting – BANG BANG BANG ! The set will be backwards and forwards between the albums, it’s an hour and forty five minute set so we want to play what people want to hear, but we also want to enjoy it ourselves. We’ve got ‘Kingdom Of Madness’ of course, we’ve been doing that for about forty years. To think we’ve done nineteen studio albums is amazing really.
We are also playing in Germany doing a co-headline tour with Saga which will be good, really looking forward to that one. We are also doing Scandinavia before we hit the UK, so we are going to try the new show out over there and get it right for when we hit Southampton.
What can you tell us about the support band Neonfly?
They supported us on the last tour in Germany, a young band, a really great up and coming band, everybody loved them over there. They have a very entertaining singer. I think people here will love them too, a great opening act that put the crowd in a good mood. Neonfly – check them out.
So what does Bob do to relax, I can’t imagine you relaxing at all as you are always on the go?
I go over the pub for a pint, my daughter runs it – so my money is no good there (laughs). I watch TV, movies mainly, I’ve just bought myself a 3D telly, I’m like a little kid with a new toy. So really I like music, films and going to the pub for a pint. I’ve calmed down now though to just a pint and a half.
Do you have to look after your voice?
What does my voice in mainly, is shouting, after the gig, shouting to be heard. I keep my voice quiet so I can save it for the stage. I have a medicinal Jack Daniels and then give the bottle to the crew (laughs).
So finally, I think I know the answer, but where do you see yourselves in five years time?
Doing this, album number twenty, I don’t see anything changing. As long as people keep coming to see us and keep buying our records we’ll always be here.
Once again many thanks for talking to myself on behalf of all of us at Midlands Rocks and all your fans. All the best with the new album and the tour.
I hope to see you all on tour and buying the album and cheers for a great interview.
19.04. UK-Southampton – The Brook
20.04. UK-Buckley – Tivoli
22.04. UK-Oxford – O2 Academy
23.04. UK-Bristol – O2 Acaedmy
24.04. UK-Norwich – Waterfront
25.04. UK-Leamington Spa – Assembly Halls
26.04. UK-Manchester – The Ritz
28.04. UK-Nottingham – Rock City
29.04. UK-Glasgow – Garage
30.04. UK-Newcastle – O2 Academy
02.05. UK-Holmfirth – Picturedome
03.05. UK-Wolverhampton – Wulfrun Hall
04.05. UK-London – Islington Town Hall