MONDAY night in 2014, one of the greatest British hard rock institutions and a band I had not yet seen live. Those were the necessary ingredients for a good evening and now I could finally tick off one box from a personal concert list. Magnum’s last show in Finland took place amazingly over 25 years ago, when they were touring for the seminal “Wings Of Heaven” album. One simply cannot be sure we will ever get to witness these giants of rock again, as time flies by relentlessly.
My first encounter with Magnum took place while still at primary school. A friend gave a presentation at class about the band. I thought to myself “what the hell is this Magnum?” – They weren’t something that was very popular amongst the youth back then. The band’s music was introduced to me later in the mid 1990’s when their swansong live album “The Last Dance” was released. I collected most of their earlier output soon. Magnum called it a day at the same time, only to reform some years later in the early 2000’s. Since then their release schedule has been very profilic to say the least. New albums coming every second year, with the exception of two of their latest I have all of them. My interest in their new music has vanished somewhat after the release of “Princess Alice & The Broken Arrow” in 2007. The following two albums were good melodic rock, but I felt guitarist Tony Clarkin’s writing pen was simply not as sharp as before and by 2011’s “The Visitation” I had lost track with the band.
Their latest record “Escape From The Shadow Garden” was released merely a week before and Tavastia marked the first date of band’s European tour. So for many people the new songs were still unknown and set list naturally a total mystery. First six songs were all from the latest three Magnum albums. I recognized “Black Skies” from few years back, but otherwise these were numbers from “On the 13th Day” and “Escape From The Shadow Garden.” A bold move from a classic rock band of such stature. Magnum has a rich and popular back catalogue especially from the 1980’s, yet more than half of tonight’s material came from years 2008-2014. On the other hand I find this to be highly commendable. They are still making new viable music when other similar acts simply concentrate on pure nostalgia, you have to raise your hat to Magnum for continuing to do this.
The new songs all sounded very promising and choruses got stuck in my head. The audience was also relatively well into the new material. There were roughly few hundred people present, but atmosphere remained warm and enthusiastic throughout. Nowadays there seems to be a slight recession in the concert area, few years ago Tavastia would most likely have been filled to the brim. There were still quite a few people packed in the front, but moving a bit backwards there was more than enough room to enjoy the music.
In the mid-set the first true classic was aired, when 10-minutes of ”How Far Jerusalem” got everyone in the room to raise their hands. Later we got more emotional with “Les Morts Dansant” and “The Spirit.” And finally up-tempo “All England’s Eyes,” a rocking rendition of “Vigilante” and the main set closer “Kingdom Of Madness.” All these were excellent live songs. “Vigilante” got the best reception from the crowd, even some older gentlemen were jumping up and down enthusiastically. During “Kingdom Of Madness” people were surprisingly silent, perhaps this 1970’s number has connected as well as I thought. For me personally, it is band’s possibly finest track and the one song that got me hooked from “The Last Dance” record. There was only one encore and naturally the one song to close all Magnum-concerts. “One Sacred Hour” brought the evening to an end after roughly 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Set list could have been better. Like I said, new material got preference and I’m totally ok with that because the band have chosen their stance there.
However, with classics played all were relatively safe choices and I would have hoped for more variation. Most of the old songs were slow-to-mid-tempo arrangements, something like “Days Of No Trust” or “Start Talking Love” could have spiced up the set a bit even more. “Wings Of Heaven” is a phenomenal album, which tonight was excluded completely. From the newer albums, 2004’s “Brand New Morning” and 2007’s “Princess Alice & The Broken Arrow” were also ignored, the former being my personal favorite from Magnum album this side of the millennium. On the other hand, songs off “Escape From The Shadow Garden” sounded very promising and it is always a difficult thing to pick a song list for a group like Magnum with a huge back catalogue.
Acoustics inside Tavastia were basically good, bass was too loud on few tracks and it was fixed throughout the show. Vocalist Bob Catley’s voice is beginning to show the strain of years, some songs being better than others. Higher parts were dropped down slightly and there was a certain hoarseness I don’t remember hearing on the albums. But for a man now deep in his seventies, this is more than understandable.
Tony Clarkin on guitar played his parts with style, remaining in classic no-show-off mode throughout. Riffs came in with rich sound and his solos were top notch. Same goes for Al Barrow on bass, while the bass sound was indeed way too loud, this was fixed towards the second half of the set. On drums the solid work was provided by Harry James, who is still probably more known from his lengthy career with another British hard rock masters Thunder. And of course on keyboards the legend Mark Stanway, who performed the night’s set seated. His playing was delicate and perfect. Keyboards play an important role in Magnum’s music and Stanway delivered on that front.
This being the first show of the tour, there were couple of small blunders and most likely Catley’s vocals will also improve as more concerts are underway. But members obviously had a great time laughing and enjoying being back on stage. As almost always, it was very much worth it to go and witness another legend in action. This might not have been the greatest gig of the century but a very nice evening with hard rock classics, not too often one gets to experience such an event these days.
Report: Ville Krannila
Live ‘Til You Die
Dance Of The Black Tattoo
Blood Red Laughter
How Far Jerusalem
Too Many Clowns
Les Morts Dansant
Falling For The Big Plan
All My Bridges
All England’s Eyes
Kingdom Of Madness
One Sacred Hour