Welcome back to Sleep When I’m Dead, the column that mixes nostalgia with news and updates on the current activities of veteran bands and artists.
By Dean Pedley
As the festival season draws to a close the autumn months traditionally sees a surge in gig activity around the region and 2013 promises to be no exception with numerous acts out on the road. Not all of them have a new product to promote of course and many tours these days are based around nostalgia and celebrating the all important, and much treasured, ‘back catalogue’. That will certainly be the case at the LG Arena on 29th September when Fleetwood Mac are in town with a show that leans heavily on 1977’s classic ‘Rumours’. John McVie and Mick Fleetwood started their long musical journey as members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in the mid-60’s alongside much lauded guitarist Peter Green. After leaving the Bluesbreakers, Green put together what was originally called ‘Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac featuring Jeremy Spencer’ with Fleetwood on drums. It would be a few weeks before McVie could be persuaded to join this new venture as he was reluctant to give up his steady income from the Bluesbreakers. Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce also played in the Bluesbreakers before Cream and the third member of that illustrious trio, Ginger Baker, will be appearing at the Wulfrun Hall on 27th September as he leads his new quartet Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion.
For Paul Weller it seems the past is something he has never been keen on revisiting and The Modfather will be at Civic Hall on 16th October in support of his latest album. Fans of The Jam can nevertheless look forward to original bassist Bruce Foxton marking the 35th anniversary of ‘All Mod Cons’ with a retrospective show by From The Jam at Birmingham’s Town Hall on 19th September. Another band looking over their shoulders are The Cult as they revisit 1987’s Rick Rubin produced ‘Electric’ by playing the album in its entirety on a tour that stops off at Civic Hall on 23rd October and Nottingham’s Rock City on the 28th.
Over the years many notable bands have declared that ‘Never In A Million Years’ would they get back together and reform. Whilst it may be true of the aforementioned The Jam, there are many more that have done so at one time or another. This year it is the turn of The Boomtown Rats and Bob Geldof will be back fronting the Irish rockers at Rock City on 29th October and Birmingham’s O2 Academy on the 6th November. In the world of progressive rock, break ups and reunions are pretty much par for the course although Genesis has never quite managed to get their ‘classic’ line-up in the right place at the right time. With Phil Collins now seemingly retired it seems that this will never come to pass but 22nd October sees a quick return to Symphony Hall for Steve Hackett with his ‘Genesis Revisited’ show after what was a spectacular sold out performance earlier in the year.
How many bands have delivered their best albums in the twilight of their careers? Well, Deep Purple have been receiving much acclaim for ‘Now What?!’ and whilst it may never be revered in the same way as ‘In Rock’, ‘Fireball’ or ‘Machine Head’, sales have been such that they have reached the Top 20 of the album charts for the first time since 1987. Gillan, Paice, Glover, Morse and Airey come to Birmingham’s NIA on 15th October. It is now a remarkable forty five years since Deep Purple played their first gig in the region, at Mother’s Club in Erdington on 27th September 1968, with only Ian Paice still remaining from the original line-up.
Anyone who caught Magnum’s gig at the Robin this summer will know they are not a band to rest on their laurels. Sure there have been tours celebrating the pair of classic 80’s albums ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ and ‘Wings of Heaven’ but the last decade has seen Tony Clarkin hit a rich vein of songwriting form. Their nineteenth studio album is slated for release early in 2014 and the title has been revealed as ‘Escape from the ShadowGarden’, which no doubt will come complete with some majestic Rodney Matthews cover artwork.
July of this year saw the 35th anniversary of the release of Magnum’s debut album, ‘Kingdom of Madness’ although the band had been around for a few years prior to its release. Back in the 1960’s Tony Clarkin, Bob Catley and original drummer Kex Gorin were all members of bands that were part of the ‘Brum Beat’ era. Clarkin was in The Boulevards, Catley sang with The Smokestacks, The Capitol Systems and Paradox, and Gorin drummed for both The Smokestacks and The Andicaps (whose original guitarist was another Shard End local, Jeff Lynne).
Catley had given up an apprenticeship with the GPO to follow his dream of singing in a band and by 1972 the three had joined together as Magnum alongside bassist Dave Morgan. An accomplished songwriter, Morgan had been a member of The Ugly’s in the 60’s and during the 80’s would tour and record as an auxiliary member of ELO. In these early years Magnum were the house band at The Rum Runner night club on Broad Street, owned and run by the Berrow brothers and in later years notable as being associated with Duran Duran and the birth of the New Romantic era. Eventually Clarkin grew tired of playing cover versions and began writing his own songs, paving the way for Magnum to leave the Rum Runner. The band picked up a weekly residency at The Old Railway in Curzon Street and enlisted the help of pub regulars to sell merchandise and act as roadies. Other artists that made frequent appearances at the venue included Steve Gibbons, Trevor Burton and later Handsome Beasts and Jameson Raid.
By the end of 1976 Magnum had come to the attention of Don Arden and Jet Records, Wally Lowe had replaced Dave Morgan on bass and they had added a keyboard player Richard Bailey. This was the line-up that recorded ‘Kingdom of Madness’, produced by Jake Commander, himself a former member of The Andicaps and who by this time was working as the live sound engineer for ELO. 1977 looked set to be a big year for Magnum as they went on a UK tour supporting Judas Priest who were promoting ‘Sin after Sin’. It was a big step up in terms of audience size and venues although frustratingly the debut album remained unreleased as, not for the last time, problems at Jet Records caused a delay. Eventually seeing the light of day in July 1978 ‘Kingdom of Madness’ achieved a four star review in Sounds courtesy of the influential Geoff Barton who likened the bands sound to Styx, Kansas, Queen and Starcastle.
With ‘Kingdom of Madness’ hitting #58 on the album charts Magnum were on their way and its swiftly recorded follow up ‘Magnum II’ emerged in 1979 as Magnum went on the road with Blue Oyster Cult, Krokus, UFO and Def Leppard. Recorded at the marquee, live album ‘Marauder’ went to #34 and the band appeared several times at the Reading Rock Festival. By now the line-up featured Mark Stanway on keyboards, aside from Bob and Tony their longest serving member. In August 1980 American producer Jeff Glixman, best known for his work with Kansas, met Magnum at London’s Townhouse Studios for what would become ‘Chase The Dragon’. Several years ago I spoke with Jeff about his memories of the sessions. “I really can’t say enough about this band. I absolutely love ‘Soldier of the Line’ and ‘Sacred Hour’; I also thought that ‘The Spirit’ was another great song. The songs were well arranged, the band prepared and they were excellent players. Everything had 3 or 4 part vocals and these guys were just stepping up to the mic and singing. I mean every note of it is sung or played; there was no sampling going on. The whole thing was just outstanding and it was a very easy record to make.”
After a lengthy delay, caused by what Jeff described as “a discrepancy between the record company and the studio”, ‘Chase The Dragon’ (originally to be titled ‘The Spirit’) arrived on the shelves in March 1982 complete with stunning artwork from fantasy artist Rodney Matthews.
‘Chase The Dragon’ went to #17 on the album charts. It would take new management and a new record company before they made inroads across Europe and there have been many ups and downs for Magnum since. But almost forty years since they left the Rum Runner, they remain one of our most cherished bands; long may they continue!
Sleep When I’m Dead will return in November when we’ll be looking back at the early years of Slade. Anyone interested in discovering more about the many bands associated with ‘Brum Beat’ should check out the excellent http://www.brumbeat.net/