British rock icons Magnum released their 19th studio album, called ‘Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies’, through SPV Steamhammer in February and have just completed a European tour to support that album. For the first time in many years that tour included a date in Belfast; on Friday 27th May when they played in Limelight 1.
I spoke to Magnum singer Bob Catley on the phone on 17th May to chat about the album, the tour and a few other things. That chat was included on The Friday NI Rocks Show which was broadcast on Friday 20th May – the Show is now available from our MixCloud page - https://www.mixcloud.com/NIRocks/interview-with-bob-catley-from-magnum-featured-on-the-friday-ni-rocks-show-on-20th-may-2016/
The interview has been transcribed and posted below.
Magnum are Tony Clarkin on guitar, Bob Catley on vocals, Mark Stanway on keyboards, Al Barrow on bass and Harry James on drums.
Check out http://www.magnumonline.co.uk/ for more info.
NI ROCKS – Hi Bob, thanks for taking some time to talk to us at Rock Radio NI.
BOB – Hi everybody, nice to speak to you Nigel.
NI ROCKS - You’re in the midst of a tour to support the release of Magnum’s new album ‘Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies’. How has that been going so far?
BOB – It’s been going brilliantly, thank-you. We started out in the middle of April, up in Sweden for a few shows, then we came down to Germany for a lot more. We’re now back in the UK, on the second week of a three week tour. It’s been going brilliantly. Great crowds everywhere. Everyone has loved the songs; the new songs and the older songs. The shows have gone down very well; we’re really happy with that. And we’re looking forward to Northern Ireland very soon, it’s going to be great.
NI ROCKS – I was looking at your schedule and you’ve 31 gigs in 41 days. That’s a fairly intense schedule.
BOB – Oh yes, we don’t have a lot of days off (laughs); it’s alright, we’d rather keep playing anyway. You can have all these days off in nice hotels, but you get a bit lazy and you have to kinda start over again at the next gig. It’s good to keep going; it keeps you focused and you need to be intense. The more you play together on stage the better the band is as an outfit and the show benefits from that. How many times can you go out for a curry! We’re here to do a job and to promote an album. We’ve met some lovely people. We do four or five nights at the most, but usually four on a one-off ; so that’s ok. On other tours in the past I’ve done a lot worse than that; it’s been six or seven nights and it’s been awful; especially for me as the singer! I’ve been : “help, my little voice can’t do it” (laughs); so this is quite easy really. It’s all very civilised and we’re having a great time.
NI ROCKS – In terms of fan base at the shows, do you see an increasing number of new, younger fans coming to the shows as well as the older generation?
BOB – We get a lot of younger people coming to see us – it’s nice. We still get the old timers – people you have been with us for years. God bless them and thank God – they’ve been with us all these years, since the early 80’s when “On A Storytellers Night” brought us to a lot of people. They’re still with us and they bring their children and their grand-children, and it’s a lovely family atmosphere. There’s no swearing or any of that rubbish on stage, like some bands do! I don’t believe in that. We get younger people coming to see us, who missed us; because they weren’t even around (laughs); when we were having success in the mid 80’s. They weren’t even born, but they’ve been brought up on Magnum music over the years – thank God – and they’re ready for it when they come! They buy the t-shirts and they know all the words and they’re waving their arms around. We get 8, 9, 10 year old kids who are proper, full-blooded Magnum fans already when they turn up to the shows and it’s lovely. I love Magnum because it appeals to such a wide range of people and ages as well. There’s no age gap; everyone is a Magnum fan, which is great.
NI ROCKS – The latest album “Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies” was released in February and entered the Top 40 albums in the UK. In fact most of the albums you’ve released since 2002 have progressively done better in the UK charts. Does chart position mean as much to you now as it would have done back in the 80s?
BOB – We had a number 2 with “Wings of Heaven” back in 1988 and “Goodnight L.A.” was number 9 in the charts. Those things are hard to come by these days, but we do get top 20 or top 30 everytime we put something out. Especially in Europe and even higher in Germany. Top 20 guaranteed in Germany and Sweden and places like that. In the UK you’re lucky to get top 20 these days, let alone top 10 and number 2’s and number 9’s. It’s changed over the years. We need to be on the TV more if we’re going to get into the top 5 album charts. I think we do pretty good considering. This is our 19th album don’t forget and there’s not a lot of bands who can say that; who are still around after all this time and are still relevant to a lot of people, a lot of hard core fan base people. So I’m quite happy with the chart success. It could be better, but it could be a damn sight worse (laughs). So, I can’t complain. We’ve a very good record label behind us – SpV based in Germany. They do a lot of promotions for us. I think, all in all, we’re very lucky to have a great record label, great fans who have stuck with us over the years, through thick and thin. And we’re still in the charts – Magnum!! I can’t believe it! I feel very lucky to be part of this organisation and I love singing Tony’s songs of course; everybody knows that. I just want to thank everybody for keeping us relevant and successful in the charts; we need to be to keep going. You’ve got to have a little bit of success to keep going and to make another album and do another tour and so on, You can’t do it without being in the charts and having a great fan base; so the two work hand in hand.
NI ROCKS – I don’t claim to be any kind of expert, but I do think your albums have been getting better with each release over the past few years. Do you think there has been any change in the Magnum sound?
BOB – We are getting better (laughs); not to say we weren’t any good before. Tony is improving. Each album Tony produces for Magnum is better than the last, and that’s how it should be. It’s all going uphill slowly, at a slight incline. Instead of being on the level, it’s actually going up at thirty degrees or something. He’s wonderful, and he’s a great song writer as you know. Magnum is a personal, acquired taste. You have to listen to the songs a couple of times to really get into them, but the production is wonderful. It’s quite heavy these days, compared to how it was in the past. And heavy for the right reasons, not just for the sake of it. There are lighter shades of course, but production is heavier, meatier, more rounded and deeper at the bottom end. There are glorious keyboard sounds. We’ve had keyboards for all these years, but now they sound fantastic. We have string sections coming in and out. We’ve practically a whole orchestra!
Tony is great and I love the way he does things. It’s just a pleasure to put these records on to listen to what comes out of the speakers. That’s not easily done and it takes time and a lot of imagination. It comes from the heart and you need to know what you’re doing in a studio with modern technology these days. We’ve a great engineer, Sheena Sear, and she is totally in tune with Tony’s requirements of what he wants to hear from those speakers. We have a great time in the studio. I used to hate it, but now I love it. I was only in a band for one thing and that was to go on stage, have a few beers and “hello girls”! Now, it’s let me in that studio and let me be part of that crew and process. It’s such a wonderful feeling when it ends up on that vinyl. On the vinyl! (laughs) Well, we do vinyl as well! On the cd rather! It’s great to say that I was part of that, from when it comes in on the first day and Tony says I’ve got some new songs. It’s like wow, here we go again! It’s just so exciting, at my time of life, to have this thrill every day I go into the studio to listen to this man’s wonderful music coming out of the speakers, and I love to be part of that. I’m so lucky to be the singer and I’m the first one to hear them out of all the band. It’s fantastic. You can’t buy this wonderful existence. I can’t believe it. Thank you very much whoever you are. I could go on, but I won’t!
NI ROCKS – We’re going to play a track from “Sacred Blood ‘Divine’ Lies” now. Do you want to pick one and tell us a little about it?
BOB – We could play the title track couldn’t we! It’s basically about people who put themselves up as a god-like personage or thing. Not really as an actual god, but saying follow me people! They tell you all this rubbish and people fall for it. They do it in a godly manner, hence they’re divinely lying to you, and that’s basically what the song is about. It’s nothing to do with religion or anything like that. It’s about people who use other people’s short-comings and take advantage of you.
(That track play’s on the broadcast. Here’s a video of Magnum performing “Freedom Day” from “The Visitation” album in Belfast on 27th May)
NI ROCKS – You’re playing Belfast for the first time in many years on Friday 27th May. Any particular reason why it’s been so long and are you looking forward to getting back to the city?
BOB – Yeah, I don’t know why it has been so long. We used to play Belfast quite often in the late 80’s and early 90’s as people will remember. Then it all stopped for some reason. I don’t know! Money, I suppose, or promoters wanting us but not coming up with the right ackers (money) for us to actually bring all this stuff over to Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. It just stopped! But now, there is resurging interest from promoters again, thank God, and we will be coming over very soon. It’ll be worth waiting for. The last time we were in Belfast, the audiences were brilliant, very emotional , very noisy and gave a wonderful reaction. I’m hoping it hasn’t changed. I know the people have a good heart over there and will welcome Magnum with all their heart, We’re really looking forward to coming and seeing you all again.
NI ROCKS – I was looking at some of the setlists from recent shows – there’s a good mix of tracks from the newer albums as well as the early ones. I guess it’s always hard to please all the fans so how do you decide what to include?
BOB – Certain songs pick themselves really; like “How Far Jerusalem” and “Les Morts Dansant” - they’ll always be there – “Kingdom of Madness” is a great one to finish with. “Vigilante” and other big stuff. Other songs will come and go over the years. It takes time to sit down and think about what we’re going to be playing to please hopefully all of our fans, but at least the majority of our fans. There are so many songs that we could do so you’ll always have someone saying you should have done this one, you should have done that one. There are so many opinions that you can’t please everyone all the time; it’s impossible. We want to be happy playing the songs as well, so we have to please ourselves as well. We’ve brought back a couple of old songs which you’ll hear when we play there, and there are five new songs from the album as well as some from the last couple of albums. There are some older songs that we always do because they’re always wanted and people will not let us not do them. It’s a mixture as always and we hope we’ve got the blend right. The show is going down really well and we haven’t had any complaints so far. We’ve had some very nice things said about us on Facebook and in the media, so I think we’re doing the right thing.
NI ROCKS – I wanted to chat briefly about Avantasia as well. You’ve been involved in all the albums apart from the first one I think.
BOB – The only involvement I have is one or two songs which Tobias (Sammet) writes for me specifically in mind to sing; like the other seven singers that are probably on there, or ten singers more likely. There’s usually about seven singers on stage, but there’s probably about ten on the album. He will come over and sit down with me and play me the song. He’ll give me a backing track to sing to and I’ll sing a vocal a few times. It’s just a single vocal, it’s not tracked, there are no harmonies. He does all that with the backing singers and the choir when he gets back to Germany. It’s just me and him and the producer, which is Sheena (Sear) because we do it in the Magnum studio. It’s all very personal; it’s like sitting down with Tony and working with him. He’s a lovely man Tobias and a massive Magnum fan. He’s a good friend of mine and I’ve known him for a long time. I’ve done four or five Avantasia albums now (actually seven). The first one in 2002 – “The Metal Opera Part II”. I’ll do one song on the album and then a couple of bonus tracks; so I’ll probably do three songs for each album. That’s my contribution and then when the tour happens it’s like here we go around the world. We visit all these countries that I haven’t been to even, but have now! I’ve been to Japan twice, South America twice and it’s opened my eyes to a lot of things in the world. I look forward to doing some festivals this summer – I think there are ten coming up.
NI ROCKS – Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask you about. You performed at the Avantasia gig in London back in March, but you will be during the summer festivals with them as well then?
BOB – Yeah. The London show went well. It’s a pity there was only one in the UK. The UK hasn’t really opened up to Avantasia yet. It’s mainly all around Europe and the rest of the world, so the UK has to catch up with the rest of the world! The UK doesn’t know what it’s missing. But at least it was one show in London. Hopefully if there is a next time, and I hope there is; it’ll be more than one show. The UK deserves more Avantasia. So tune into Avantasia people – you don’t know what you’re missing; it’s great stuff!
NI ROCKS – We’ll play another track from “Sacred Blood ‘Divine’ Lies” now. Do you want to pick one and maybe tell us a little about it?
BOB – I’d like to pick a song called “Your Dreams Won’t Die”. It’s a lovely ballad. People pass on eventually in life, but if you’ve touched people’s hearts and you’ve meant something in life and been the type of person people take notice of, then you will never die. People will always talk about you and remember you in a fond way. You’ll always be alive and your dreams won’t die.
NI ROCKS – “On A Storyteller’s Night” (1985) is probably the band’s best known and best-selling album, although “Wings of Heaven” (1988) was the highest charting, as you said it got to Number 2 and it produced the most successful singles. Do you yourself have a favourite Magnum album?
BOB – I thought “Wings of Heaven” was great, but then I thought “Vigilante” (1986) was great and “On A Storyteller’s Night” was great! I think they’re all great. There are one or two songs that I wouldn’t really want to perform again, but most of them I’d love to sing on stage and I love what we’ve done over the years. So I don’t have a favourite, but there is one different one. There was an acoustic album called “Keeping The Nite Light Burning” (1993) which was done in the studio acoustically and that’s maybe my favourite Magnum album. I don’t think many people know about that one. They were rearranged versions of songs we’d done before on previous albums; in an acoustic way. And I love that one.
All the way through the Magnum stuff, I love all the albums of course. Pick anything you like and that would be my favourite! It’s usually the latest one. ‘Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies’ for the moment is and should be my favourite Magnum album because this is the one we’re promoting and performing on stage. In years to come it will slip into the ‘oh I like them all’ category. I think they’re all great in their own right. “Sleepwalking”(1992) was a great album I thought – we don’t do anything off that at the moment, but hopefully will in the future. It was a lovely album that was. “Rock Art” (1994) was another great one.
“Goodnight L.A.” (1990) didn’t really connect with a lot of people in Europe. I think they thought that we’d done a Def Leppard and sold out to the Americans. It wasn’t true really; though it was recorded in America with an American producer. We thought we were doing the right thing putting an Americanised slant on the album, but it didn’t do us any favours really so we won’t be doing that again. We’ll stick to recording in the UK, because we’re a UK band. We should have done it in the UK. I think we were talked into it by the management. (Laughs). It’s an old story and we’ll not bother with it now.
NI ROCKS – There can’t be too many rock bands around now who can list a “Top of the Pops” appearance on their CV. Looking back does it seem a little surreal?
BOB – Oh God, it’s not very cool when you’re in a rock band to go on “Top of the Pops” – you think ‘are you joking?’ That miming is rubbish! I loved it actually and we had a great time. I didn’t mime actually, I sang all the way through it. They gave you the choice of playing live or miming to the record; I think everybody knows that. We chose to mime, which was against our better judgement , because we’re a live band. We did it live in one take and listened back to it and it sounded rubbish live! We thought this is awful. They wouldn’t let you use your own engineer. They had this BBC bloke who hadn’t a clue what a rock band should sound like. The mix was terrible. So we said next time we do it we’re going to mime against the record and it worked much better because it sounded better. When you’ve spent all that time, money and effort making a record and then you sound rubbish, who’s going to go out and buy that! They’ll go ‘they weren’t very good were they’!
So, we did actually mime and it came across really good. We did it three times. I actually sang along and actually lost my voice miming! That’s ridiculous isn’t it! It wasn’t in me to mime. I thought ‘I’m not having this’! What you actually heard was the record for the single, but I’m actually singing my heart out and the mic wasn’t switched on (laughs). I really enjoyed “Top of the Pops”, but yeah, it’s not very cool! But if you wanted to get to a lot of people that was it. I remember when we first started going around the airforce bases in the UK and all the young airmen and the army guys would sit around the tele watching “Top of the Pops” with Slade and T Rex. Then some years later – there we are, on that TV, it was wonderful. For me it was like a dream come true, but then not everybody would agree! Anyway, I thought it was a good laugh, and it didn’t do us any harm at all, so it was the right thing to do.
NI ROCKS – You’ve released a number of solo albums over the years as well as the albums with Tony in Hard Rain. It’s been about 8 years since the last solo album was released. Have you given consideration to doing anymore and is there anyone you’d like to work with?
BOB – No, I don’t that at the moment. That was for that time, but now is now. There’s far too much going on for me to even think of doing solo stuff. It was ok at the time and I worked with some good people, but what we’re doing now with Magnum is what should be happening. Nothing to distract from that. This is everything I have ever dreamed of being in a band doing – it’s working with Tony and singing his songs. Anything else would just be a distraction. The Avantasia stuff is ok – it’s only every three years or something. Anything else would just be a nonsense at the moment, it would just be so distracting and ruin everything that we’re trying to do, trying to get back to where we were. So, no interest in going there really with the solo stuff. It was ok in the day, but it’s not wanted at the moment.
NI ROCKS – The current Magnum tour takes you up to the end of May. What plans does the band have after that?
BOB – We’ve got a couple of festivals coming up at the end of July – at Rock of Ages in Germany and another one just after that. We’ve got a couple of shows to put around that as warm ups. Then we’re going to do some Christmas shows at the end of the year – somewhere, not too many; just a few to say merry Christmas everybody. Then we’ll be back in the studio with Tony to write some songs for the next Magnum album, which will be the 20th Magnum album. That’ll kick off in January or February (2017) and then the new album will come out a year later. There’ll be some festivals next summer hopefully. There’s something called Hard Rock Hell in North Wales, which we’ve done before and have just been offered I think. It’ll be ongoing, but mainly a recording year next year to do another album, which will be great.
NI ROCKS – Thanks again for taking the time to talk to me. I know you’ve a very busy schedule and are about to go on stage in Nottingham. We’ll finish with another track from the new album. Would you like to pick another?
BOB - Yeah sure. A song called “Crazy Old Mothers”. This is basically dedicated to our older fans, who have been coming to see us for a very long time. When we were on tour the last time, there were some chaps at the bar who had a few too many drinks. Older Magnum fans, singing and acting outrageously drunk at the bar. Tony remembered that and wrote a song called “Crazy Old Mothers” – mothers as in not your real mothers (laughs). It’s short for something! That’s the funny side – come on you crazy old mothers, let’s get in trouble! Don’t act your age and never grow up. Just keep young in your head. This is dedicated to the older section of our audience – “Crazy Old Mothers”.
Playlist for the Friday NI Rocks Show on 20th May
SCREAMING EAGLES – Screaming Eagles
ROMEO’S DAUGHTER – Radio
SAFIRE – Fallen Angel
MAGNUM – How Far Jerusalem
Interview with BOB CATLEY from MAGNUM Part 1 (9.5 Min)
MAGNUM – Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies
Interview with BOB CATLEY from MAGNUM Part 2 (7 Min)
MAGNUM – Your Dreams Won’t Die
Interview with BOB CATLEY from MAGNUM Part 3 (9 Min)
MAGNUM – Crazy Old Mothers
VEGA – Explode
PRIMITAI – Night Hunter
KAMELOT – My Therapy
JEFF ANGELL – Everything Is Wrong
SUNSTRIKE – Angel In My Room
RAINBOW - Stargazer