MAGNUM - “Tony Would Hate To Be Called Pomp Rock”
March 16, 2007, 8 years ago
Midlands neo-prog legends Magnum have been called many things in their more than 30 years at their plush and fussy game, but yes, if you have to put a label on it, that obscure, forgotten tag “pomp rock,” usually ascribed to American bands from the late ‘70s, would have to fit the bill.
“Pomp rock, pompous rock, pomp and majesty, yes,” laughs lead singer Bob Catley at the suggestion. “And AOR is an American term. I don’t mind being called pomp rock. I know Tony would hate being called pomp rock now. But it just makes me laugh. I call it pump rock. It is whatever you want to call it. If you like the music, you like the music. The album is getting good reviews and people seem to love it, so it’s great.”
What Catley is referring to is Magnum’s new record, Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow, which isn’t nearly as daunting in reality, says Bob, as the title would suggest.
“Princess Alice is a fictional character. Hr name came from an orphanage in Birmingham, called the Princess Alice Orphanage. It was in Harbourne, in Birmingham, many years ago; it’s not there anymore. Tony was researching this before we started putting anything down for the album. He wanted to get his facts right, for personal reasons. And the name, Princess Alice kept going around his head, and it helped him put ideas for a song called ‘You Will Never Sleep’, which is the last track on the album. So that kicked off the whole writing process, really. And the fox… Tony always wanted to get the evil sly fox into the artwork somewhere, and now he’s got his chance. There’s a little story on the front basically, how she is breaking an arrow over her head, which is a peace symbol, obviously. She’s trying to do a deal with the fox, to get the little children back, that he has kidnapped and put them in cages in the back; you can see them and they’re very forlorn and sad.”
“But that’s the only context of the album, really, the artwork,” continues Catley, on this near red herring of a wrapper. “She’s breaking an arrow over her head as a peace sign, which comes from one of the songs on the album called ‘Like Brothers We Stand’. The Native Americans had to make peace with the white man, with the newcomers to their home, their country. They had to make peace or be at war forever, so they break the arrow, and it comes from that. I think it’s a lovely piece of artwork. But the songs themselves don’t directly relate to each other. They are just stories on their own, in their own right, 11 of them. So it’s like 11 chapters of a book.”
What is interesting is that these 11 chapters (as has been the case through the entire 20-odd album career), are written in their entirety – music and lyrics - by one man, guitarist Tony Clarkin.
“It’s a pleasure singing Tony’s songs,” says Bob, addressing this eccentric wrinkle in the band’s creative fabric. “I can’t write songs; I’ve never even tried it. I’ve never even had to try, really. I’m very happy that Tony does it for me (laughs), and we all are. I wouldn’t want to ruin anything that Magnum has going, so we stick to the same format, and I think that’s how Tony likes it too. So there’s no split in direction or ‘Where is this album going?’ How he does it, I don’t know. This album must’ve took a year, easy, from start to finish. He would start recording at home, coming up with ideas on his computer, and then he would come to the studio in Wolverhampton, which is where some of us live. We would go in and I would say, ‘OK, what have you got for me?’ And the first time he played a song, I was like, ‘Oh great!’ I just knew it was going to be a real classic Magnum album this time around.”
“They’re uplifting songs,” muses Bob in closing, articulating the strangely soul-replenishing vibe of the record, its sublime sense of melody despite being generally of a hard-ish rock realm. “You know, things might be down and terrible, but don’t worry, it will be all right in the end. A lot of stuff like that going on on all the albums. It’s realistic issues addressed, but fine, we’re all going to be good. Don’t get too down about it, be strong. There’s a track on their called ‘Be Strong’. Don’t let people put you down, and what do they’d know? And you’ve got a lot going for you. So some of that stuff is in there. I mean, I feel the lyrics more than most, I suppose, because I have to sing them; I have to put my heart and soul into the songs.”
Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow will be issued with a bonus making of/interviews DVD. European dates will ensue once the record has hit the streets…