Intervju med Bob Catley i Magnum!
Ännu en gammal rockräv man kan bocka av på sin intervjulista. Nya given "The visitation" tycker jag personligen är något av det bästa de presterat på år och dag.
Jag hade nöjet att bli uppringd av Bob Catley nyligen och vi kom bl a att prata om de tidiga åren, nya plattan, Robin George, Birminghamdialekten och Avantasia.
Bob Catley: Fine, cold. Frost everywhere and freezing.
I thought we´d dive right into it. I´m kind of wondering about the artwork for the new album? You worked with Rodney Matthews again. Was that the plan from the beginning?
BC: Yes, Tony wanted Rodney to do the artwork for this album again. He did a great job on the “Into the valley of the Moonking” as we all know. The idea was always to use Rodney and I think he´s done a great job again. Tony goes down to his house, he lives in Wales, and they go through some of the ideas for the artwork, partly from the lyrics in some of the songs and also images from the word “The visitation”. Rodney came up with some images for that. I think it´s quite eerie, but I think it´s a lovely album cover in a weird eerie kind of way and there´s a lot of interesting stuff on the walls you can look at. Rodney always puts himself into the artwork and stuff from previous Magnum albums as well. So there´s lots of little interesting things to look at. He´s done a great job and it suits “The visitation”, which is perfect for that album title. We like using Rodney and he´s got a big empathy with Tony for his words and his images, so we keep on using Rodney. He´s a good friend of ours and I can´t think of anybody better to do our artwork. It´s perfect!
How many are there now?
BC: Oh, man I can´t remember! Let´s go through them! The first time we had him was for “Chase the dragon” and we called it that because there´s a dragon on the front. (laughs) Then “The eleventh hour” and “On a storyteller´s night”, which was great and then we lost him and got him back for “Sleepwalking”. What did he do then? We got him back for “Princess Alice” and then “Moonking”. Oh sorry, he did a compilation in the 80´s for Jet Records with the elk on the front. So that´s eight. Eight that I know of. (laughs)
Well, the funny thing is that when I saw it, I thought it was Mark Wilkinson, the guy that did the Marillion covers and then I got his book and in that book he mentions Rodney, so it was kind of funny. What about the title, did that one come right away or did you have a bunch of them floating around?
BC: Yeah, there were some titles before that came along. It´s a year ago when we first started doing it and Tony wanted a direction for the album and there were some other titles around, but “The visitation” came through quite early on and it stuck and he had a good solid direction for the album then. He needs that early on really, so he can tell Rodney what the direction is so he can go on with it, because it takes quite a long time to do the artwork. “The visitation” was perfect.
I noticed that you´ve got Jim Lea (Slade) on strings on the album. How did that come about?
BC: He played on a song on the “Moonking” album and that´s where it all first started and it sounded so good so Tony asked him if he´d play again on a couple of tracks on this album and he came up with this. Sheena Sear who mixed the album, she scored all the violins parts, the viola, the cello and the orchestra and string parts and Jim came in and played. He´s got all these instruments at home and he´s done a wonderful job and we´ve got a picture of him on the back, sort of in silhouette, waiving his violin in the air and that´s what we did with Jim. He´s very busy and we thank him very much for doing it. We wanted proper orchestra sounds on there, not just fake ones, and I think it works beautifully on the song, “The last frontier”. Looking back over your life, the last frontier, which Tony does quite a bit these days. It´s nice to give people and inside to how the world was for us in the 50´s and 60´s. He likes to do that and it has come across very good and Jim also played strings on “Midnight kings”. He´s the orchestra on that as well. He´s done a good job for us. I don´t think we´ve paid him anything yet. (laughs) So, thanks Jim! (laughs) I think we owe him some money.
A record like this, how much is recorded and do you end up with leftovers or…?
BC: Not really. There was only one song that was left over, that didn´t really fit on the album and we put it on the dvd, a song called “Eyes like fire”. That was part of the same session, but we needed a bonus track anyway for the dvd and we´ve got some live footage from High Voltage on there as well. And we wanted something from the studio where we were all playing together and it´s one of the songs that didn´t make the album. It´s a good rocker. I´ve got me hat on and me shades, looking good! (laughs) But apart from that, there wasn´t really anything left over to pick up on next time. It will all be new stuff next time. As a matter of fact, Tony´s at home now writing new songs already. Yeah, he´s getting idea for new songs. He doesn´t use… what´s done is done and it doesn´t carry on to the next album.
Was there any thought of using an outside producer?
BC: No, no, no! Tony´s Magnum´s producer and he has been for a long time. Years ago it was the case, yes. We had Keith Olsen, who was very good and Chris Tsangarides, but that was a long time ago and Tony´s our producer now. He´s the best one to be sitting in the director´s chair. There´s no good in trying to explain to a producer what we should sound like, when we can do it ourselves. Cut out the middle man, I would say.
Is it easier work these days recording an album or is it harder?
BC: It´s hard for Tony, for the song writer it´s hard. Not for me, I just sing what I´m given. I make the tea half the time, so Tony´s got all the hard bit to do, coming up with an album and the pressure must be enormous for him, to follow up a successful album like “The moonking”. Tony´s very easy to work with and in the studio it´s a lot easier these days with computers brought into it a lot more these days. It just makes it much more easier to put the album together and it´s a lot easier mixing it as well. But we´ve still got this great big 48 channel desk in front of us and there used to be three of us on that desk, mixing the album, and now if it´s not right you just go back and do it again on the computer. You don´t need to have any headaches anymore. I love it these days! I didn´t use to like recording, it was a pain in the arse, but now I look forward to going into the studio and I like being creative. It´s great and the technology has made it so much simpler.
What´s the plan when it comes to touring then?
BC: Well, we´re gonna kick off in Sweden in Stockholm on the 9th of March and then we´re gonna do Germany, 18 shows, and in between the 18 shows in Germany there´s one in the Czech Republic. Then Switzerland and Be Bop in Belgium. It´s mainly Germany and then we´ve got a week off and then we´ve got another two weeks in the UK. It´s 40 days all together.
Are you gonna do any playing in the US or elsewhere?
BC: Not at the moment no. We have an American release, but we haven´t yet had the call to go and tour, but we´d love to obviously. We´ll see how it sells, but we´ve got the European tour all booked up now. I´d love to go back to the States and I´d love to go back to Japan! I´ve just been to Japan with Avantasia and they love Magnum over there. I was talking to a lot of fans over there and signing Magnum albums, so there´s definitely a place for us in Japan. We´ve got a Japanese release, so we´ll see. Sometimes you can´t have everything you want, can you? We´re lucky to have Europe, but I think we need to break some new territory.
How did you hook up with Tobias Sammet and Avantasia?
BC: He´s a big Magnum fan and has been for a long time, forever! He reckons Magnum got him started in the business. That´s a big compliment! My manager is a friend of his and she got in touch with him about me doing Avantasia and he liked me to do it. That was two years ago and I said “Yes please!” It´s great stuff and I´ve just done it again and I´ve been on all the Avantasia albums now and Tobias´ become a big part of my life and I´ve just done this three week world tour with him and everybody, Europe, South America and Japan. Fantastic reception for everybody and I had my eyes opened by how popular Magnum was over there. I had no idea, so we´ll see if we can get Magnum back there. I love doing the Avantasia shows! I had a great time and hope to be doing it again in August when Avantasia play Wacken and I hope to be part of the entourage there. But I´m not quite sure because it depends on how long Avanatsia are allowed to play for. It´s a long set, it´s two hours and 45 minutes. I love being part of Avantasia so I count myself very lucky to have magnum and Avantasia and my solo stuff. I´m hoping to work with Sascha Paeth, the producer for Avantasia and he´s also the co-songwriter with Tobias for the album and he´s offered to do me an album later in the year when he´s not too busy and I´m coming off the Magnum tour. I´ve got one more album to do for Frontiers I believe, so I´d like Sascha Paeth to do it for me. He´s gonna come and see me when we´re in Germany and we´ll talk about it and hopefully start recording soon after that. That´s my plan anyway.
Alright! I thought I´d go back in time a bit. What do you remember of the Rum Runner Nightclub?
BC: (laughs) The Rum Runner, I remember that place! (laughs) We were like a resident band thing. Something you do for the money. Like a proper job, a regular job for a musician. I started there in 1970 and Tony joined Magnum, we were already called Magnum, and we had Kex Gorin who is sadly not with us anymore. Me and Kex started Magnum and Tony joined that in 1972 and the we played there for another three years until we got the sack (laughs). Bands used to come in and get up and play. It was like a jam thing. I was at the bar and getting paid for it. Robert Plant was up there and Toni Iommi and Geezer Butler. John Bonham was up there playing drums. It was all a big jam thing, so that´s what I remember it for and the we got the sack because we weren´t playing the music that was right for the times. I mean, women had long dresses on and blokes had suits and it was us lot with long hair and you can imagine what we looked like and all the bands coming in. So that didn´t go down very well so we all got the sack.
Did you play your own material or top 40 stuff?
BC: Yeah, it was covers, top 40 stuff, but towards the end of that Tony said “I´ve got some songs, do you want to play some of these?” and we said “Yeah, we´re fed up with this crap!”. So that´s where the first album came from. He´d written “Invasion”, “Kingdom of madness”, “In the beginning” and those were the songs we were doing on the stage at the Rum Runner and that´s why we got the sack. (laughs) So we had to go and do proper gigs up and down the country then and that´s how we got our fan base together in the mid seventies. That´s when the magnum fans started to come in and know that we existed and in 1978 we put out “Kingdom of madness”.
Yeah, well my other question was about you coming across other rock and rollers from Birmingham? You mentioned Iommi and Bonham.
BC: Yeah, they used to come down and see us. We kind of knew them. You all know each other, you know. But like I said, they used to come down and get up. It was a good scene. All for the wrong reason, it was all self indulgence, but we were having a great time and they were losing customers. (laughs) But yeah, I´ve known Rob Halford and Black Sabbath and half of Led Zeppelin all my life. You can´t help bump into them up and down on the motorways around the country.
It´s funny, I interviewed Rob Halford a couple of years ago and you and him sound so alike. Your dialect and your voice!
BC: (laughs) Well, he´s from Wolverhampton and I´m from Birmingham but it´s very similar to anybody else. Roy Wood sounds just like Tony. It´s that Birmingham accent and Jeff Lynne from ELO and Ozzy, we´ve all got this voice and the same accent, so it´s a bit confusing who you´re talking to sometimes. (laughs)
Do you have any fun memories from the recording of “On a storyteller´s night”? Did you know when you recorded it, could you feel that you really had something?
BC: Absolutely, yeah! We´d been down and out before that. We´d been on the dole and nearly broke up. A terrible time before that and there nearly wasn´t a Magnum at all. On a “Storyteller´s night”, Tony realized he had to open up… we had to open up to the majority of rock fans and give them a chance to actually like what they´re hearing from Magnum. It was a bit self indulging before that, which was ok but we weren´t going anywhere. I think he realized that and he wrote this wonderful album. Commercial for us, which used to be a dirty word, but I don´t see it like that. I see it as playing great music that anybody can get into. I hear it now and I´d love to remix it. Some of the sounds aren´t that great. The songs are wonderful, but it´s showing its age now in the production. 1985 was a long time ago, but I´ve got a lot of fun memories. We recorded it at UB40´s studio in Birmingham and I was a lot younger then. (laughs) We had a different drummer, Jim Simpson, who didn´t last long because he tried to join UFO. He dropped us in the crap actually. We were trying to do a tour for “On a storyteller´s night” and half way through rehearsals… this isn´t a fun memory, I just thought I´d tell you, and he nearly dropped us in the shit. He said “I´m joining UFO!” and we went “Oh, thanks a lot! Cheers!”. We were five days from going on tour, so we had to get a new drummer in quick and that ended up being Mickey Barker, who was with Magnum for years and years. Fantastic drummer!
You were on JET Records for five years and I gather David Arden is Don Arden´s son so did you ever come across Don Arden? I mean, you hear all these crazy stories about Don hanging people out the window and so on.
BC: Yeah, yeah! We´ve all heard those stories and they´re probably all true, I don´t know. It´s not for me to say. We got on fine with Don Arden. He was alright! It was good that we had the deal with JET and it started up our road to success, as they say. We couldn´t have done it without Don Arden and JET Records. So thank you Don! Cheers mate! But I wouldn´t know anything about all the goings on. He got us the Ozzy Osbourne tour in America in 1982. That was Don Arden doing that for us and his son David Arden started out being our manager, but the less said about that the better, really. He was never around! (laughs) What manager? But Don got us to America and Ozzy and Sharon looked after us really good. We were in nice buses and hotels and we had a great time! Groupies galore and police escorts! Fantastic! Rock and roll! Those were the days!
And then you played with Robin George in ´83 or something? How did you hook up with him?
BC: That was on the “Eleventh hour” tour and there were a lot of guitar parts on the album and Tony thought he couldn´t really cover it just himself so he asked Robin if he would come on tour with us as a second guitarist, so Tony could do lead stuff and that. So that´s how we started with Robin. A nice guy, Robin George! I haven´t seen him in years.
Well, I remember being really into his first album when it came out and then just a few years ago he released a follow up to that one and he was in interviews and so on and now he´s just disappeared again.
BC: He was a niche chap, but that was all a long time ago, you understand. He did a good job!
How did you end up working with Jeff Glixman on “Chase the dragon”? He´d done Kansas before that and also Paul Stanley´s solo album in 1978.
BC: Oh, did he? We were offered his services. “Oh, you want Jeff Glixman! Money´s no object!”. We did it at the Town house down in London and he was ill all the way through. But he still produced it. He sort of shouted instructions from laying on the floor, you know, “I´m dying, I´m dying!”. He had the flu or something, which was a shame for him. But he still did a great production for it and it still sounds good now I think. Again, I haven´t seen him in years. He was a good bloke!
Is he American or British?
BC: He´s an American! I think he´s American… yeah he´s a yank!
And you opened up Monsters of Rock in 1985. What do you remember from that?
BC: (laughs) Having a load of mud slung at me! Thank you very much from the Metallica fans. Cheers! That´s what I remember. We were on first and I had a pale blue outfit on and I was covered in crap. Bottles of piss flying passed me. Stuff like that. But we went down really good considering that half of them were trying to get us off. They were waiting for Metallica to come on. Metallica was third on the bill that year. They weren´t as big then, but they had a lot of fans there. We had a great time, talking to everybody and we also signed a record deal with Polydor at that gig. A five album deal, a million pound deal, yeah! It was in all the papers “Magnum million pound deal!”. They took over “A storyteller´s night” and we did five albums with them. And it was at Donnington as well, so it was a dream come true. It was fantastic! “Oh, we´ve arrived!”. A million pound record deal thrown at me, fantastic! (laughs)
That must´ve been enormous back then?
BC: Back then it was big stuff, yes. Yeah, we´ve been there mate! We used to have five trucks for the backline, PA and lights and staging. We used to have two buses, one for the band and one for the crew. It was big stuff, you know. So we´re trying to get back to all that! (laughs) But not the five trucks. There´s other ways of doing it. We go around with a trailer. Most bands now, have the bus and the trailer and you´ve got all your backline in the trailer. It´s just pure economics. I mean, it was getting too silly! I think only The Rolling Stones do that sort of stuff anymore.
BC: And U2 yeah! But we were in that league.
Do you ever get nostalgic and think back on the heydays and the 80´s and the stuff that was going on back then? Especially when it comes to the music industry, where you back then were given three or four albums to find your sound.
BC: Yeah, that´s pretty much true. With Polydor it was like that. They stuck with us and believed in what we were doing for the next album and the next album. You need somebody like that otherwise you don´t go anywhere. We had that and it´s different these days. The whole industry´s different these days. It´s a lot smaller. A lot of bands and record labels and record stores are gone, because of the way it´s done now through the internet. So it´s not so good. Not for certain bands anyway. Some bands give away download to sell records and you can do that if you have a lot of fans, but some of the bands coming out can´t do that and they depend on people buying the records. That´s a shame and it seems to be happening a lot these days. I think we´re all lucky to still have a record business going. I really do. It´s just like the car industry going down the pan. I hope it turns around. I mean SPV, our label, was saved by SONY other ways there would be no SPV, no Magnum album there.
Just one more thing, going back to the Rum Runner nightclub, was anything ever recorded live back then? Do you have any stuff laying around?
BC: No, no! Nothing like that. I don´t think anybody was interested then. They weren´t Magnum fans, you know. We moved on to a place called The Railway, which was a pub in Birmingham, and everybody played there. And yeah, people used to bring their tape recorders and record you there, sure. But they were into the music. At the Rum Runner nobody gave a crap I think. It was more like “Why are you playing the wrong music?”. (laughs) But I´ve seen some of that bootleg footage on YouTube and it looks alright actually, so I shouldn´t complain. I´d rather be on YouTube than not!. (laughs)
Well, it´s been excellent talking to you Bob and I´m really looking forward to catching you live in Stockholm. Have a great weekend!
BC: I will, and you! Thanks!