Sunday, January 5, 2014

Magnum - Shadow Town

Some things get better with age.

Magnum is a British progressive rock group. Formed in 1978 the line up has changed a little over that time. Founding members, singer Bob Catley and guitarist Tony Clarkin, are still leading the band today. Keyboarder Mark Stanway deserves mention as well since he had been with the band since 1980, effectively being there the entire time. A pretty consistent line up all things considered. Also interesting that I mention the singer, guitarist and keyboarder since the three things that impressed me most about Magnum are those three things.

Magnum is not a hugely successful band. After thirty-seven years and seventeen albums they have only every appeared on two countries’ top one hundred lists, Sweden and their native United Kingdom. Like so many progressive rock bands, Magnum fans were loyal, and after so many years of keeping the dream alive a great amount of respect has been earned. Bands reduced to cult status typically end up having a pretty damn good career and presumably a pretty damn awesome life. Needless to say Magnum never made a big splash in North America and has gone past the notice of a lot of music fans, until now.

Bob Catley, he uses a lot of hand
gestures when performing live.
Like so many other great singers I discovered Bob Catley through his amazing work with Avantasia. Of all the many incredibly talented singers in the super group Bob Catley’s voice managed to stand out as the most soulful. An American friend I made in Berlin told me that it was always Catley’s songs that put tears in her eyes, and while I perhaps am I little less emotional about it, I fully understand what she was saying. Catley’s voice has a certain expressive passion that is unprecedented even among other high caliber singers. Obviously I owed it to myself to investigate the career of Bob Catley further.

At first I was drawn to albums like “Wings of Heaven” because it was Magnum’s most commercially successful studio album, also out of Bob Catley’s solo work “Middle Earth” caught my eye because of the obvious Tolkien influence, but ultimately it was Magnum’s latest album “On The 13th Day” that best captured my attention. The 2012 album “On The 13th Day” is a really energetic rock album that has both passion and a touch of the political, mostly notably on the track “Shadow Town.”

“Shadow Town” is a song about surviving poverty, typically a painfully theme of struggle, and with lyrics like;

“And it’s nothing at all,
For a rich man to be,
Completely blind to the call,
Of the whole misery.”


“Nothing’s for life,
Except the cold and the poor.
Oh, and it’s sharp as a knife,
That’s one thing they know for sure.”

And also;

“You’re pocket’s empty but then,
You never had much to start.
It’s got you thinking again,
It’s almost breaking your heart.”

Some very dark scenery is strongly established and this theme would normally be considered depressing, however Magnum does something splendid with the topic, they sing about the strength to endure and overcome while hiding none of the pain. The weight of poverty is crushing the individuals described in this song, yet still there is a message of perseverance. There is strength to Catley’s voice that makes this dark song, somehow encouraging and strong.

The chorus is just perfect;

“The grey stone crumbles,
As years are passing,
Caught up in this shadow town.
And life’s much harder,
To keep on living,
Everywhere’s just closing down.
The streets are angry,
And shouts from children,
Nowhere in this shadow town.
There’s no one winning,
But they’re all standing,
Waiting for it to come round.”

Yeah, that’s right, we’re all still standing. So far “Shadow Town” is my favourite Magnum song and is apt to stand as such for a long time, it just struck such a cord to me, as someone who stood strong in the face of crushing frustration and poverty when I did a decade tour of duty as an actual starving student. Life is not about dark themes it is about overcoming them.

Sixty-five years old and still
rocking out.
Catley and Magnum’s earlier work did it did not grow on me as suddenly as “On The 13th Day” and “Shadow Town.” This most recent endeavour really impresses me, and I am unsure if this has something to do with some amazing late in their career refinement by Catley, Clarkin and Stanway, or if something special simply happened during the recording, or if I just happened to fall in love the Magnum songs that sound the most like Avantasia due to the style of which Catley is singing. Which brings me to the most interesting thing about Bob Catley and Magnum, I think they are getting better with age, and I think it has everything to do with Catley’s voice becoming that of a wizened older man.

While my knowledge of the band is still finite it seems to me the single biggest difference between early day Magnum and current day Magnum is Catley’s voice. I am not convinced Catley has “improved” as a singer since he was singing impressively his entire career as near as I know, but there is something extra in his voice now compared to then. He almost sings with a presence of insight and wisdom, if such things can be felt simply from someone’s tone and expression, then that is probably it. Catley now sings with an aged voice of wisdom and with that a heart full of powerful memories. Catley sings now with more passion and emotion perhaps because he has seen more, understands more, and feels more as a result. I do not know if that is the case but it sure is fun to speculate. Whatever has happened Bob Catley seems to have become a greater singer with time and is still capable of producing fantastic work.

Keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

P.S.  Honorable mention goes to "Let It Rain" which is a close second favorite song of my from "On The 13th Day."

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