A rare solo excursion out of London took me to Liverpool on the weekend, primarily to experience my first ‘proper’ Magnum gig (I’d previously seen their 40 minute set at High Voltage last year, which was great, but merely whet the appetite for more!). I’d be meaning to get to Liverpool for a while, and combined with the fact that only seeing Magnum once on their current tour (in London later this month) was never going to be enough for me, talking myself into making the trip was pretty easy.
Magnum are a band that refuse to live in the past, and as a result their High Voltage set came under criticism from some quarters, as it was weighted heavily towards recent material. While it was perhaps not as ‘festival-friendly’ as a set could be, few would deny that their recent run of albums have been as strong as any other that you’d care to name across their long history and it’s only natural that they’d want to showcase that.
The current tour is, of course, in support of newly-released album The Visitation, which I’ve raved about in previous postings. We were treated to half of the songs from this latest opus, along with one or two tracks from each of the previous three, and of course a smattering of classics, including no less than four culled from 1985’s On a Storyteller’s Night, still regarded as their all-time masterpiece (and it really is difficult to argue against that assessment, even if most of their albums are just as good!). Tellingly, even the classics were of the album cut/fan favourite variety, with precisely zero of their charting singles getting an airing.
A highly receptive crowd proved once again that if you like Magnum, you love Magnum, as every song received a rapturous reception, and a sing-along party atmosphere was apparent from the outset. It was a diverse crowd too, with ages ranging from…well, not quite 7 to 70, but pretty close at both ends!
If I had one complaint (and to be honest, I didn’t…) about The Visitation it would be the comparatively small role played by Mark Stanway, but his keyboards are very much a vital ingredient of the Magnum sound, and really came to the fore in the live setting, as keenly demonstrated in the opening flourishes of All My Bridges and the haunting intro of Les Mort Dansant (possibly THE greatest Magnum song ever). Of course both Stanway and drummer Harry James are largely trapped behind their instruments, and guitarist Tony Clarkin has never been a showy performer. As a result much of the onstage energy radiated from frontman Bob Catley, and the baby in the group (at a mere 40-odd years in age), bassist Al Barrow, who always looks like he’s having the time of his life. Catley was, as ever, in fine voice, although most of his between-song communication with the crowd was non-verbal, which surprised me, as he’s always struck me as the chatty type – I don’t think he even so much as uttered the phrase ‘this is from the new album’ once!
The set got off to a cracking start with the early non-album rarity Back to Earth, closely followed by the brilliant When We Were Younger, from 2007’s outstanding Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow.
The selections from The Visitation were well-chosen, and nicely sprinkled throughout the set. Freedom Day roared with life (in the process reasserting itself as my current favourite from the album), and Black Skies also came across even more powerfully than on the album, while Spin Like a Wheel proved an emotional roller-coaster.
The main set built to an explosive climax, ending with Storyteller’s All England’s Eyes and the title track of its follow-up Vigilante. Encores were further title tracks, this time from their debut album Kingdom of Madness and finally, On a Storyteller’s Night itself.
Earlier on Gwyn Ashton had got things off to a lively start with his two man blues army (consisting of himself and energetic drummer Kev Hickman, who, as he told me later loves his current role a damn sight more than his previous one – that of IT consultant to Santander – and it showed). His set was built largely around his own new album, but being in Liverpool for the first time, he also threw in a rocking cover of Beatles classic Eleanor Rigby, which they’d ‘knocked up in the van on the way over’ – it didn’t completely work, but it was a good attempt just the same.
As noted earlier the end of the month sees both bands arrive for a London gig, which is set to be filmed for future DVD release – so if you can’t make it to any of the remaining UK dates the tour will at least be available to you at some point in the future – miss it at your peril.
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Given that I was only in Liverpool for roughly 24 hours I didn’t get to experience more than a taste of what the city has to offer, but did, of course, have to use some of that time to visit the Beatles Story, the unofficially official Beatles museum. Spread over two sites which you can flit between by foot or shuttle-bus – or, as I did, visit on consecutive days (tickets are valid for 48 hours).
The main exhibition at Albert Dock takes you on a chronological tour through the career of the greatest band in rock history (No, they’re not my favourite band - they come somewhere in the lower top 30 for me personally – but anybody who denies their greatness and importance is simply insane), combining audio-guide recollections from friends, family and other associates with recreations of some of the important sites (notably the Cavern Club), while the newer site at Pier Head features different exhibitions throughout the year, plus the FAB4D experience (Basically a 3D show, but with seats that move a couple of times and ‘real water’ that splashes…), which is good fun if rather slight.
Across the two sites there is plenty of interesting memorabilia on display (including a large number of US gold records and albums) and it does a very good job of catering to all levels of Beatles knowledge – I know a reasonable amount, but there were still some surprises in store, such as the loyal Liverpool Beatles fanbase refusing to buy first single Love Me Do, fearing that if it became a hit the band would leave the city! It probably goes without saying but any Beatles/music fan need to come here at least once.
Although my stay in Liverpool was brief I loved it to bits and will certainly be returning for a proper visit at some point. Obviously seeing Magnum as many times as possible anywhere they care to play is still a priority, and if the two should happen to combine again I won’t be complaining!