When I opened the email reminding me that it was my turn to share ‘The Other Side of Me’, I had just returned home from a gig by classic rockers Magnum and so it seemed appropriate for this great, hard-working band to be the subject of my piece. My first Magnum gig was at The Octagon in Sheffield in 1992 with 1,500 fellow fans revelling in Magnum’s music back when they were at the height of their powers. It would have been one of my first live shows. To be amongst crowds of people, sharing my passion, my music, was a new and hugely energising experience, setting me up for a lifetime loving music and, all these years later, the band still hold a special place in my heart. Now, over three decades later I was still wallowing in the joyful experiences of youth. This time around, the band played Cambridge Junction late by two years, almost to the day, thanks to the pandemic. Although there was a scattering of younger audience members, the 2022 crowd was somewhat older, having aged alongside their heroes. Something of a tradition for me when attending Magnum gigs is donning my actual 1980s leather jacket, which still just about fits, so long as I don’t attempt to zip it up (or breathe). Like the undisturbed shrine that it is, the jacket still contains in it’s pocket a newsletter from the official Dio fan club, received in the early 1990s back when membership of an American fan club meant sending over a postal order each year. (Remember Dio? Possibly the greatest rock singer ever and Black Sabbath’s best vocalist throughout their various line-up changes.) And so it was, that I found myself watching Magnum again, while wearing the same (ill-fitting) leather jacket, absorbing familiar sounds, singing along to anthemic choruses I first heard and learned as a child, smiling like an idiot as the decades fell away. I had considered writing about Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne or Steppenwolf but there was always something special about Magnum that makes them the other side of me.
It is fifty years since Magnum formed in Birmingham. That a band of any genre is still performing after five full decades is an incredible and under-rated accomplishment. Indeed, one of the things I truly respect about the band is that they continue to produce new albums with surprising regularity. Their latest, ‘The Monster Roars’, was released as recently as January 2022, a full 44 years after their wonderful full-length debut, ‘Kingdom of Madness’, which was a prog-rocking, rolling, expansive, sprawling journey through a mesmerising sonic landscape, full of unexpected turns and changes of pace. If you want to explore Magnum’s back-catalogue then start right at the beginning with ‘In the Beginning’, that album’s opening track. Then seek out the 1980 live album ‘Marauder’ and take in the dynamic live version of the same song. You’ll soon see/hear that the band should be experienced live. My vinyl copy of ‘Marauder’ was a regular on the turntable. If memory serves, that album was bought from Sheffield’s premiere record shop Record Collector, which still exists today in Broomhill. Sadly, Hitsville, my other source of records back in the day has long-since closed down. In my mind, I can still smell the pungent combination of vinyl, old paper and dust that was Hitsville’s signature funk.
Founding band members Bob Catley and Tony Clarkin are still at the heart of the band and are one of the greatest duos in classic rock. Catley’s impassioned vocals and Clarkin’s melodic guitar and distinctive song-writing are bright lights that remain undimmed. Many other great players have come and gone over the years, notably Colin ‘Wally’ Lowe and Alan Barrow on bass, Kex Gorin and Mickey Barker on drums and the brilliant keyboardist Mark Stanway. After their prog-rock beginnings, in the early 1980s, Magnum’s sound began to move into the mainstream with a blend of rock guitar, anthemic, sing-along choruses and highly melodic songs. A level of chart success followed, beginning with 1982’s ‘Chase the Dragon’, which reached 17 in the album charts. The much-loved album ‘On a Storyteller’s Night’ and ‘Vigilante’, which was produced by David Richards and Queen’s Roger Taylor, continued the journey into more commercial-sounding rock, leading up to the release of ‘Wings of Heaven’ in 1988. Peaking at number 5 in the UK album charts and spawning three Top 40 singles, ‘Wings of Heaven’ was the moment that Magnum peaked commercially, and deservedly so. The album is packed with brilliantly crafted and performed songs with just the right mix of edgy guitars and radio-friendly hooks. While they would never achieve quite this level of commercial success again, Magnum have been remarkably consistent over time. Along with countless live albums and compilations, the band have now released an impressive 22 studio albums, including two UK Top 10 albums and twelve that reached the Top 40. As recently as 2018, 46 years after the band formed, ‘Lost on the Road to Eternity’ charted at number 15. That’s a level of prolonged success that most artists and bands can only dream of and it comes from their warm relationship with a fiercely loyal fanbase. Each new album is like a collective triumph against the marshalled forces of time.
Many people associate Magnum with fantasy imagery and clichés, such as dragons and other beasts, thanks to the distinctive artwork of Rodney Matthews, which has featured on many of the band’s album covers. For me personally, I associate Magnum with my youth, with picture discs, coloured vinyl, bootlegs and record fairs, with seeing my band on Top of the Pops in that magical ‘Wings of Heaven’ period when the world was briefly ours. For me, Magnum are the melodic representation of exhilaration, resilience, nostalgia and joy. There was a special moment at the Cambridge Junction, a full thirty years after I first saw the band, when they played ‘Les Morts Dansant’, a powerful ballad about the horrors of war. It is, of course, more relevant than ever in today’s world as war rages in Ukraine. By the end of the song, the vivid images of fighting have been replaced by children running and playing on what was once a battlefield. It feels especially poignant in the current circumstances but also, beyond the symbolism of war, it speaks of the passage of time and the way in which all things, our personal trials and challenges as well as huge global events, pass and fade into memory. But with their relentless touring and seemingly endless creativity and supply of new material, Magnum and their fans endure. Once you’re a Magnum fan, you’re always a Magnum fan.