N ick Magnus is getting quicker at making albums. “There was a six year gap between Hexameron [his third solo album, released in 2004] and Children Of Another God . But the gap between that and new album N’monix is only four years. At this rate, I’ll soon be doing an album every week – ha!”
Magnus might not exactly be a household name, but he’s a vastly experienced keyboard player, with connections to both The Enid and Steve Hackett. But why are there such lengthy gaps between albums? “That’s because I am a rarity these days, in being a constantly working musician. I make a living through music. But this means I have to take on jobs such as arranging and producing in order to pay the bills. Therefore I can’t spend all the time developing my own ideas.”
The birth of N’monix happened when Magnus and his long-time lyricist Dick Foster got together early in 2011 to discuss ideas for the concept around which the album would be based. “I can write music without any concept being in place, but I do find it easier to do it when there’s an overall story linking everything together,” he explains.
The initial approach was to tackle the subject of the way age erodes the memory. “I am of a certain age now when I know people who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. Dick and I thought this would be a good subject to write about. But it’s so depressing that we also felt this shouldn’t take up the whole album, otherwise people are gonna feel very negative. So, we agreed to expand the concept and make it about time and memory.
“We start with the Greek myth of Cronus, the god of time who devoured his children. And we end with the scientific principle of entropy, which is what happens when time ends. But then the scientific theory is that when we reach the state of entropy, everything begins again – so it’s an optimistic climax to the album.”
Two of the tracks here do tackle the realities of what happens when people lose their faculties, and face up to being robbed of your memories. “The song Broken is about the frustrations you must feel when the memory fades away, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s available as a single, and when you download it, 20p will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Society.”
This track has Tim Bowness of No-Man on vocals, and it was a remarkable sequence of events that led to his participation.
“When Broken was finished, I didn’t know who I should get to sing it. Then by chance I heard Truenorth from No-Man. I thought Tim’s voice fitted exactly the emotion I wanted to create on the song. But I had no idea how to contact him.
“I then got an email from one Tim Bowness of Burning Shed Records, who wanted to stock my albums. And this guy also said he’d be happy to guest on anything I wrote. I replied, asking him if he was the Tim Bowness from No-Man, telling him that if he was then I had a track that was perfect for him!”
The second song to discuss the problems of dementia is Shadowland, which is about the next stage in the onset of the disease.
“Sufferers suddenly find a blissful existence where they enter their own world. I got Steve Hackett, whom I’ve known for about 36 years, to come and play on this one. I already had the melody worked out, but didn’t know how to bring this to life. Steve was great, because he got immediately what I’m on about, and does it superbly, adding his own texture to it all.”
Hackett is featured on three tracks in all, and in an era when so many collaborations happen by email and the internet, it’s refreshing that the guitarist was actually in the studio with Magnus when they were recorded. “It’s so much easier when you are physically together because you can discuss ideas and try different things. Steve always arrives with loads of pedals, and he’ll go through variations to find the right sound. Doing it remotely loses that sense of rapport.”
The album title is a corruption of the word ‘mnemonic’, and there are songs relating to this topic on the album. “As it’s a memory device, we felt we had to feature these somewhere. But how many mnemonics do people know? There’s ROYGBIV – Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain – which relates to the colours of the rainbow, and that’s the basis for Kombat Kid. But there are so few others we could find. In the end we went for Old People From Texas Eat Spiders [OPFTES], which is a mnemonic for the bones of the skull…”
At this juncture, Magnus impresses by reeling off the names of these bones, which is a challenge for anyone who’s not medically trained. “We used that one on Headcase, which was our play on words. I do the vocals on this track. That wasn’t the original idea, but I literally couldn’t think of anyone else to do better. In the end I thought I’d give it a go. It’s not come out too badly, but I really should take voice lessons, because I am very rusty when it comes to singing. I did do the vocals for Identity Theft on Children Of Another God, but I don’t do enough of this.”
The recording process was stretched out more than expected because Magnus faced personal problems. “My father died in March 2013, and it took me until the autumn to sort everything out and come to terms with the loss. I also had writer’s block for a while, so things took longer than I’d anticipated.”
So far, Magnus has never played live as a solo artist. And it appears there’s little chance of that changing this time around.
“I would love to do a tour. Or even one show. My problem is the cost that would be involved in making it happen properly. If I was to get together the sort of line-up that could bring my music to life onstage, then it would be financially prohibitive. For instance, there would have to be about six keyboard players, or a full orchestra. Consequently, it would be an economic catastrophe. I’d probably bankrupt myself. Much as I’d love to tour this album, I have to accept it’s beyond me.”
Magnus would also like to turn N’monix into a movie. “It’s a very visual album. But again, I don’t have that sort of financial clout. So, the closest I’ve gotten is the video for Eminent Victorians, which took about three months to make. That was mostly created by Dick Foster. It’s very complex, but I’m delighted with the way it turned out. When you see this video, you get the idea of where I’d take a full movie. Now, if someone wants to finance this project, I’m listening!”
N’monix is out now on Esoteric Antenna. See www.magnus-music.com for more information.
** NICK WHO?**
Charting the course of a 40-year musical career…
Nick Magnus was born in 1955, in Hampshire. He studied both piano and the cathedral organ when growing up. Magnus was a member of the original line-up of The Enid in 1973, but left a year later. He never recorded with the band.
In 1976, Magnus joined Autumn, alongside guitarist Mark Easton (who started the band two years earlier), drummer Robbie Dobson (The Enid, Hawkwind) and bassist Steve Hoff. They split up a couple of years later, falling foul of the onset of the punk era and being just a little too early for the prog revival at the start of the next decade. However, they recorded around 40 minutes of music in ’77, and this was released as the album Oceanworld in 1999.
Magnus is most associated with Steve Hackett, having worked with him from 1978 until 1989. In all, he played on six Hackett studio albums, starting with Spectral Mornings in 1979 and concluding with Till We Have Faces in ’84. He also co‑produced 1981’s Cured and played on the track Camino Royale from 2012’s Genesis Revisited II album.
His first solo album was 1993’s Straight On Till Morning. This has been followed by Inhaling Green , Hexameron, Children Of Another God and now N’monix.
Aside from Hackett and Tim Bowness, those who’ve guested on these albums include saxophonist Rob Townsend, flautist John Hackett, guitarist Geoff Whitehorn, plus vocalists Pete Hicks and Kate Faber.
Magnus has created one album with Hicks (Flat Pack, released in 2008), as well as a downloadable album with Dick Foster, called Don’t Look Back, under the banner of Magnus & Foster. He guested on the 2005 John Hackett album Checking Out Of London, and played grand piano and synthesiser on the 1985 China Crisis album Flaunt The Imperfection. He also appeared on the 1983 Renaissance album Time-Line. MD