Still delivering the goods…….
Review by Andrew Manning, photos by Rich Ward
What a journey it has been for Magnum from a residency performing at The Railway Inn in Birmingham’s Curzon Street in 1976 to tonight’s show at The Symphony Hall in the same city. There are not many artists with such a long career that are still pushing the boundaries and getting the chance to perform for the first time at one of the most prestigious venues in the country. This appeared to be the perfect setting to return to their home territory after spending the previous eight weeks touring all corners of Europe. It was somewhat ironic that this was taking place on the warmest April day for seventy years after the original Birmingham show in early March had to be cancelled due to the snow. Sometimes things happen for a reason and there seemed to be nobody in attendance tonight who was unhappy about the change in venue.
Before the main course arrived on stage the support for the evening was provided by Rebecca Downes and her band. This local artist from Wolverhampton has already gained some recognition by winning the Best Female Vocalist and Best Emerging Artist in the British Blues Awards in 2016. Right from the off you could feel her delight at performing at The Symphony Hall with her striking voice leading the band through ‘Never Gonna Learn’ which was quickly followed by a new number ‘Take Me Higher’.
The music is of a very traditional blues rock style with a number of subtle influences shining through in the music which still allows Downes to be very much her own lady. ‘Night Train’ her parent’s favourite song was a nice catchy number which drew well deserved applause from the audience. A cohesive working relationship appears to exist both on stage and in the song writing department with Steve Birkett (lead guitars) who really excelled on new single ‘Sailing on a Pool of Tears’ with a wonderful guitar solo at the midway point. A great number in the style of Joe Bonamassa with Downes delivering vocals akin to a movie soundtrack performance. If you want to explore this band then this should be your starting point. The set concluded with ‘If I Go To Sleep’, ‘Believe’ and a cover version of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’. Rebecca Downes is an artist well worth checking out and it would be great for local music if her music is picked up across North America following the signing of a management deal over there.
Bob Catley (vocals) walked onto the stage shortly after the rest of the band and immediately with a wave of his arms, like a messiah, implored the Magnum faithful to rise as they launched into ‘When We Were Younger’. It was an unusual sight to see everyone in the stalls at the Symphony Hall standing from the start and certainly enhanced the atmosphere from the get go. From the opening bars there was a real good feel about the night ahead with the first epic story of the night being told through the lyrics. ‘Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies’ saw Tony Clarkin (guitar) powering the chords and generating mesmerising solos out of his instrument. Such an understated individual who really knows how to produce quality music.
With the new album, ‘Lost On The Road To Eternity’, getting rave reviews and stuffed full of quality songs it was always going to be difficult to know which ones to showcase. First up was the title track and as the opening bars started Tobias Sammet (Avantasia/Edguy) was introduced onto the stage to recreate the dual vocal performance from the album. The song really took the mood of the venue to another level with the audience contributing vocally throughout. This was a real aural experience with the pomp and circumstance of the melody and orchestration shining through to everyone’s delight.
The ever smiling and energetic Al Barrow (bass) slapped and plucked at his bass throughout the set adding to the melodic and dramatic soundscapes being delivered on each number. With new band member Lee Morris (drums) energising from the rear this looks to be a really rejuvenated band. They were joined on stage for ‘Without Love’ by Rebecca Downes and Lee Small (Shy) who provided backing vocals to enhance the commercial aspects of the chorus. Rick Benton (keyboards) appears to have slipped into the band like a perfectly fitted glove filling out the sound through the evening with a real variety of swirling and melancholic sounds suitably adjusted to the track being played. This contrasted beautifully from the more delicate keyboards on ‘Your Dreams Won’t Die’ to the seventies pulsing sounding Hammond organ on ‘Peaches and Cream’.
The homecoming gig was going down well with smiles all around as they launched into ‘How Far Jerusalem’ and then ‘Les Morts Dansant’. Looking comfortable performing in one of the finest concert halls in the world the performance was tight with the band performing excellently as a unit. ‘Show Me Your Hands’ one of the four new numbers played was another opportunity for the audience to get involved with a choreographed swaying of arms lead by Catley during the chorus. Some artists just seem to mature as they get older and the new tracks show that there is still plenty of gas in the tank.
Catley’s vocals were expressive and clear throughout the concert as he worked the crowd like a pro making sure that all present were having fun. The main set concluded with a real triumvirate of classic tracks with ‘All England’s Eyes’, ‘Vigilante’ and ‘Don’t Wake The Lion’ being executed with precision. The latter song being a particular highlight full of tempo changes twisting the music off in various directions. Returning for encores of ‘The Spirit’ and ‘When The World Comes Down’ was a perfect conclusion as one and all departed having seen a performance lifted by the sheer quality of songs.
It is nights like these that provide a welcome release from the busy lives that everybody leads. This was a special night for all present which can hopefully be enjoyed by many more at a future date as the concert was recorded for a live CD.
There is still time to catch the band on tour this year as some new dates have been announced in November. Get yourself along and experience just what the crowd enjoyed in Brum!
When We Were Younger
Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies
Lost On The Road To Eternity (with Tobias Sammet)
Crazy Old Mothers
Without Love (with Lee Small/Rebecca Downes)
Your Dreams Won’t Die
Peaches and Cream
How Far Jerusalem
Les Morts Dansant
Show Me Your Hands
All England’s Eyes
Don’t Wake The Lion (Too Old To Die Young)
When The World Comes Down (with Lee Small/Rebecca Downes/Tobias Sammet)