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Saturday 8 June 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Magnum (Live Review By Paul H)

Magnum, Hand Of Dimes, Coliseum Theatre, Aberdare 5th June 2019

It’s been a while since I renewed my acquaintance with Magnum. Having first seen them way back in the long defunct New Ocean Club on Rover Way in Cardiff in 1984 on The Eleventh-Hour tour, my most recent experience of them live was a rather flat show at the Steelhouse Festival in 2013. I’ve deliberately missed their last couple of Welsh appearances as a result of that showing and the Ed suggested that their 2016 show at The Tramshed saw frontman Bob Catley struggling badly. But the lure of the Midlands melodic giants is always strong, their early albums sitting amongst my favourite music of all time and with a recent output that is as strong as anything they have ever written it seemed an appropriate time to travel to the heart of the Valleys and catch the band in the intimate setting of the Coliseum Theatre in Aberdare. It was also an opportunity for fellow writer Rich to see Magnum for the first time. Neither of us were to be disappointed.

One of the masterstrokes of Orchard Live’s promotion of this special show was to add local lads Hand Of Dimes (8) to the bill. As we strolled to the theatre from the ample local parking, the HoD army were out in force with probably as many t-shirts displaying their logo as those wearing Magnum shirts. Having seen Hand Of Dimes several times in recent years, I knew that we’d get nothing but professionalism and as soon as the band launched into Looking At You that was confirmed. Bassist Mark Maybry having returned from his role as part of Bernie Marsden’s band and he had the added buzz of being confirmed as Marsden’s bass player for the forthcoming Joe Bonamassa cruise. There was certainly a spring in his thumping bass lines as he fought through the inevitable fatigue to play his part in another high-quality Dimes performance.

I’ve reviewed the band a number of times, but it is always worth mentioning that Dimes possess three things in spades: magnificent musicians who do what they do with the minimum of fuss and maximum effectiveness; quality songs which appeal to everyone; and a genuine humbleness which is the foundation of every show. As always, it was Nev McDonald whose stunning vocals took centre stage, but this is a band who are a collective unit. Alongside Maybry and McDonald, who loved the typical Welsh banter the partisan crowd threw at him, drummer David Stephenson held it tight at the back, Colin Edwards added the sublime lead guitar work and Nev’s long time sparring partner Neil Garland on keyboards, backing vocals and harmonica was as uber cool as usual.

Unsurprisingly the bulk of the set came from the excellent Raise album, which is a release I never tire of listening to. Pinstripe Arrogance, Guilty, Bad Reputation, Stranger In My Own Town and my personal favourite, the fantastic Jacobs Ladder sandwiched the Kooga track Like I’ve Never Known from the 1986 album Across The Water (McDonald and Garland go back to those days together). With the temperature rising, Dimes brought their 45-minute set to a close with Sail On. You know when a support band is good when it comes as a shock when they announce their final song and you are genuinely gutted. This happened … again. Welsh shows are rarer than hen’s teeth now, so this was a fabulous opportunity to see on of the best Welsh hard rock bands up close and personal.

Magnum (9) need little introduction. Formed in the mid 1970s, the band have been through more turbulence than a Boeing 737, but the nucleus of frontman Bob Catley and guitarist Tony Clarkin has been solid through thick and thin. Joining these two septuagenarians were long time bassist Al Barrow (since 2001) and more recent additions Rick Benton on keys and Lee Morris on drums. Opening with Wild Swan from the 1988 Wings Of Heaven, the band showed a passion that belied their years. Catley a ball of energy, air shapes thrown continuously, and whilst he has put on a few pounds over the years he still has the moves. In recent years he has tuned his vocals down an octave or two and this allows him to deliver those classics without murdering them. Clarkin rarely moves, but at 72 can still deliver the killer solo, as he demonstrated on the extended How Far Jerusalem. His presence and playing adds the heavy to the band.

Magnum chose the new tracks to open the show after Wild Swan, with three from 2016’s Sacred Blood ‘Divine’ Lies (The title track, Crazy Old Mothers and Your Dreams Won’t Die) and two from the excellent Lost On The Road To Eternity, (sadly minus Tobias Sammett for the title track). After that this was a set littered with classics. How Far Jerusalem, Les Morts Dansant and a spellbinding All England’s Eyes from the legendary On A Storyteller’s Night, an emotionally charged Don’t Wake The Lion (Too Old To Die Young) from Wings Of Heaven and a rocking Vigilante which shook the venue to its very foundations. Live Magnum are slick and tight, with the subtle lighting adding to the atmosphere and a stunning crystal-clear sound making this venue one of the gigs of the year. With Benton’s lush layered keyboards enhancing the songs, the implementation of some orchestral backing tapes added still further and no-where was that more evident than on the encore, where The Spirit was followed by the most amazing Sacred Hour I’ve ever heard. The hairs on the back of the neck were standing tall as my spine tingled and I was filled with joy at hearing orchestral sections accompany the band as they played this most iconic of all the band’s songs once more. Finishing to a huge ovation, there remains plenty of life in these veterans yet. With a new album due this year, Magnum’s star may well shine for a while longer.

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