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Magnum: On A Storyteller's Night - Album Of The Week Club review

With Magnum on the verge of falling apart, everything came together with On A Storyteller's Night, an album that offered the perfect coalescing of music, themes and imagery

Magnum - On A Storyteller's Night
(Image: © FM Records)
Magnum: On A Storyteller's Night

(Image credit: FM Records)

How Far Jerusalem
Just Like An Arrow
On A Storyteller's Night
Before First Light
Les Morts Dansant
Endless Love
Two Hearts
Steal Your Heart
All England's Eyes
The Last Dance 

The material Magnum songwriter Tony Clarkin wrote for On A Storyteller’s Night was spun through his particular and peculiar vision of a rustic and charming Britain; a Britain where Tolkien met Rupert Brooke in a haze of student-union dope smoke.

It was a tone and style he had been developing over some five albums of galloping pomp rock, most successfully on Magum’s third album, ’82’s Chase The Dragon. But the following The Eleventh Hour, a bloated rewrite of Chase The Dragon, contained all of the pomp and none of the charm.

It was as if The Eleventh Hour was a herald for the bad times, a Jonah of an album that almost dragged Magnum down with it.

The band made some half-hearted plans to split after an appearance at the 1983 Reading festival. Then Clarkin got ill, and the future became bleaker still. Magnum’s drummer, Kex Gorin, left to go and play with Robin George. Mark Stanway, Magnum’s keyboard player, was helping out George too, and he’d also joined Phil Lynott’s new band, Grand Slam. Singer Bob Catley rang Classic Rock journalist Malcolm Dome and asked him if he knew of any bands who were looking for a singer. 

With Magnum so close to falling apart, everything came together on an album that offered the perfect coalescing of music, themes and imagery. The songs split easily into two types: epics like How Far Jerusalem, the title track and Les Morts Dansant; and terrific pop rockers such as Just Like An Arrow, Two Hearts, Steal Your Heart and Before First Light

All the songs were imbued by Clarkin’s quirky vision of an anachronistic England: a country of brooding skies and twilight alehouses. It was whimsical, certainly, and unashamedly ambitious, but it was also honest and heart-felt. It was monstrously uncool, too. But for all of its convoluted and lofty content, the album On A Storyteller’s Night had a very natural appeal.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in May 1985

  • Brothers in Arms - Dire Straits
  • Brother Where You Bound - Supertramp
  • Soldiers Under Command - Stryper
  • Power of the Night - Savatage
  • Shaken 'n' Stirred - Robert Plant
  • Seven Wishes - Night Ranger
  • The Confessor - Joe Walsh
  • The Return... - Bathory
  • Hellbound - Warlock
  • Fear No Evil - Grim Reaper
  • Le Parc - Tangerine Dream
  • Loose Nut - Black Flag

What they said...

"Moving away from the pomp end of rock, it keeps the big sound with a commercial edge and solid production, and not one turkey in sight. From the opener How Far Jerusalem and the classic atmospheric title track to The Last Dance, guitar and keyboards and Clarkin's guitar and song writing mix well, with Catley's vocals as strong as ever." (Get Ready To Rock)

"Slightly too cheesy and light to be part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal or the neo-prog scene, but somewhat too heavy and complex to be middle-of-the-road AOR hard rock, Magnum plotted a course between genres which finds them in fine form with this album." (Metal Music Archives)

"As in almost every 80’s pomp rock album the keyboards are the main attraction. They paint the bigger picture, they set the tone of the album and yes, they are magnificent. It’s all about the melodies, and boy are they fine. Take for example Just Like An Arrow, which is a very typical 80s rock song. While it is not anything special, you can help it but enjoy its energy, its melody." (Sputnuk Music)

What you said...

Craig Martin: Having never heard any Magnum until now I come to this album with no preconceived ideas.I don’t have any of their other output to judge it against.

So to fresh 2020 ears I hear an album that sounds very much of its time. Dramatic, keyboard-laden AOR with your typical sounding vocals and predictable lyrics. But it works, and it works so damn well that I wish I had discovered this when it was first released.

There is a lot more to it than what you first think. An album that for its time must have been a gem. I can now dive into their catalogue with great excitement.

Roland Bearne: I ignored Magnum for years: there was just always another more "must have" album to buy with my perennially low budget. I bought Wings Of Heaven and still love it – as indeed I love this. Clarkin curates such quality in both songs and sounds and Bob Catley is just a legend. 

I've seen him hold audiences in thrall from clubs (on his solo tours and with Hard Rain) to huge festivals. Sublime singer. His interpretation and tone are just superb (and he's a lovely fella). Storytellers is a gem – particularly side one – but it's a great listen all through. I have always felt Magnum are sort of more than the sum of their parts. Beautifully delivered anthemic splendour and rather overlooked. Brilliant to have this as an album of the week.

Carl Black: I've only heard one album by Magnum to date. I think it was when they were going through a Bon Jovi stage. So I enter this one with slight trepidation. Overall it's OK. Abut half and half. The first song and the title track and a couple of others are slightly more complex. They kept me interested, and I'd have like more if this type of song. 

The others were a bit meat and potatoes, trying to be American radio rock. It's also sounds a bit dated and "of its time". The keyboard sound thrusts it into a certain era and leaves it there. I thought they could be used as a soundtrack to Miami Vice or (and here's a thing) Magnum P.I.. Could have been really good for me, but the 80s have a lot to answer for.

Chris McGlyn: Before a note can be written about the songs of this album, first comment has to be on the cover art by Rodney Matthews; A man responsible for many an outstanding album sleeve, but this, this is truly one of his best. It encapsulates the mood of the album perfectly, as a band of fantasy brothers gather around a table to listen to the tales of a storyteller. After seeing the cover, the music includes holds no surprise, other than than the consistent quality.

OASN is truly one of Tony Clarkin's finest sets of songs, and that really is saying something. How Far Jerusalem opens in grand, epic style, with Just Like An Arrow following in perfect 'radio rock' style. Les Morts Dansant closes side one in a sea of waving arms.

Two Hearts, All England's Eyes... the consistency of songwriting is astonishing, but it's title song On A Story Teller's Night that I never tire of hearing. Whenever this song comes in the radio it's straight to the volume! It is the soundtrack to the album sleeve and although the chorus is simple it is so effective, I never want it to end.

Can't fault the band's playing at all, but of course, special mention has to go to the Mad Hatter lead singer, Bob Catley. Quality voice and pomp rock hand gestures. Bob is a UK rock legend. It's a 9/10 at the very least.

Marco LG: I discovered Magnum in the early nineties, when they published Goodnight L.A. and Sleepwalking. At the time they were very much an AOR band, with the big power ballads and many other elements that really didn’t age well. In contrast, their early albums displayed a much harder sound, more akin to hard rock or even heavy metal (in the early 80s meaning of the term at least).

The transformation began with On A Storyteller's Night, which sits right in the middle between the two extremes. In my opinion one of the best albums by Magnum, it retains plenty of heavy rock elements without bury them all under a carpet of cheesy keyboards. Highlights for me are How Far Jerusalem, Les Mort Dansant and Two Hearts, but in fairness I enjoy the whole listening experience, every time.

Tony Clarkin’s talent for matching irresistible melodies with elegant guitar work have kept Magnum on the verge of super stardom throughout the 80s and early 90s, but without actually ever achieving it. In the late 90s, when such success became unassailable for melodic rock in general, the band disbanded. Tony and Bob Catley refocused their craft in Hard Rain before returning to the main project Magnum and without the pressure of scoring any hits their albums have been far more consistent ever since.

Yet the elegance of On A Storyteller’s Night is something quite unique in their catalogue, precisely because of that mid-80s sound and those mid-80s keyboards. The perfect balance between rock and pop, guitar and keyboard, leather jackets and perm hair. Top marks from me!

Chris Downie: It's impossible to view this album as anything other than perhaps the most pivotal moment in Magnum's long and distinguished recording career and while that should by no means diminish the importance of other highlights, such as the excellent debut Kingdom of Madness or the monumental commercial peak of Wings of Heaven to name but two, this release bridges the gap between the prog-tinged hard rock of the former and the classy AOR of the latter.

Few bands, either before or since, have managed to straddle the fine line between commercial pomp and intelligent hard rock songfare as well as Magnum and the sheer quality of the likes of How Far Jerusalem and All England's Eyes stand the test of time brilliantly after 35 years. Even the deep cuts like Endless Love and Two Hearts are sheer quality and there is not a weak track to be found.

That Magnum have endured for well over 40 years is testament to both their enduring quality in the live arena and their continuing consistency of recorded output, but few would argue that On A Storyteller's Night is one of their top three and rightly regarded as an iconic classic rock album in its own right.

John Davidson: I played Kingdom of Madness to death when it came out, but by the time On A Storytellers Night was released I thought they'd run their course and didn't buy it.

I reengaged when they got a lot of air play on MTV (and deservedly so) even though they were a bit AOR and looked like a male /British version of 1980s Heart . It was, as they say, acceptable in the 80s.

When I did eventually go back and listen to A Storytellers Night I thought it was pretty good but I wasn't blown away. There are some strong songs on it - Just Like an Arrow is a solid rocker, as is Two Hearts, and Les Morts Dansant is a particular favourite, but the sound of the album overall is very much 'of its time'.

If I want to hear these songs I generally go for the live album The Spirit that was released in 91. The songs are played just as well live as they are on the album, and without the 80s "shoulder pad and hairspray" production stylings they sound that bit fresher and more engaging.

Overall, I must confess, this week's pick seems a bit of step down from last week's classic. I think I'll go back to replaying my Rush albums.

Magnum might have played the same sport, but they were never quite in the same league. That said - as a live band they knew how to perform and full kudos for that at least. 7/10

Sandra Ford: A superb album. Clarkin's talent for storytelling and poetry is magnificent, Catley interprets the words brilliantly and the music is just wonderful. This is nowhere better illustrated than on Les Morts Dansants. This song never fails to make me cry, wherever I hear it, recorded or live. One of my favourite ever albums.

Carl Lewington: Was always a sucker for some Rodney Matthews artwork! An album of two halves for me. Played side one to death when it first came out, and Les Morts Dansant still ranks up there as one of my favourite songs of all time. Every track on that side grabbed my attention instantly but can't say the same for side two, apart from All England's Eyes. Probably only ever played the whole of side two three or four times.

Mike Knoop: 1) An overly earnest singer 2) A high ballad to rocker ratio 3) Keyboards all over a hard rock record – Three things that aren’t generally a winning formula for me; yet here it all works surprisingly, amazingly well. I didn’t know the album or the band before Monday, but I’ve put Two Hearts and Just Like an Arrow into heavy rotation and the rest of the album is catching up quickly. Tony Clarkin has a flair for writing anthems and the band, especially singer Bob Catley and - yes - keyboard player Mark Stanway, give the songs the right amount of heft. I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to On a Storyteller’s Night again and again.

Steve Ballinger: Chase the Dragon was the one that hooked me into Magnum. Love that album. Storyteller's Night was a different animal, a lot more polished, but still some great songs and easily the most accessible album the band had made up to date. The start of a purple patch for them. To Magnum fans it’s an absolute nailed-on classic, and you can see why: it’s very much “of its time”, mid-80s era AOR rock but still a damn good album. Still gets plays on my machine.

Bill Griffin: This started off with such great promise with How Far Jerusalem but the rest of it didn't measure up, though Les Morts Dansants came pretty close. The second side is better overall than the first but doesn't have a standout track like the two mentioned.

Bob Catley's voice reminds me of Chris Hamlet Thompson's, who I know from Manfred Mann's Earth Band. That's a good thing and I would say he deserves better material than this.

Glenn Bannister: Before this album my knowledge of Magnum was a sole 45 single off Back To Earth, which was frankly unremarkable. I recall seeing a couple of songs performed on ETC, Bob Catley singing in a pose suggesting he'd been given the same performance advice as Prince George in Blackadder. 

But having bought the album it all seemed to have come together. The keyboard intro and echoed vocals on How Far Jerusalem scream that's there's an epic coming, and after the rather ordinary Just Like An Arrow, the title track has you reaching for the Rodney Matthews artwork. 

For me it is an album of two parts, tracks that have that epic quality and others that are harmless radio rockers. I always felt that there was the basis for a concept album, Jerusalem, Storyteller, Les Morts Dansant and the closing duo of England's Eyes and The Last Dance having a sort of wistful link to a past time of myths and legends. Still my favourite Magnum album, and the one that saved their career.

Brian Carr: I can honestly say I have never heard Magnum. Didn’t know what to expect with the fantasy album artwork, but wow, I never would have expected what I’m hearing right now. Glorious melodic rock bombast. I’m going to enjoy playing this all week and it will absolutely be added to my Apple Music library.

Iain Macaulay: First time I heard of Magnum was on the U.K. TV Channel 4 programme ECT. A great British Heavy Metal show from 1985 where bands would get to play songs live in a raw studio setting at 5.30pm on a Friday evening. The show is famous for – amongst other things – Motorhead playing in white leather suits, Doro Pesch and Warlock, Phil Lynott and Gary Moore playing Out In The Fields. And Venom's first TV airing to an unsuspecting public. You can google videos of the performances.

I can’t remember which song – it might have been On A Storyteller’s Night’ – but I recall Bob Catley hoisted above the audience while singing, only for his voice not to get broadcast.

I have this album. I don’t know how because I don’t remember buying it. I was never really a fan but I also don’t dislike them. Like An Arrow is a great song I still remember clearly. But nothing they have done since has had any effect on me. It’s just too light for me. Don’t get me wrong, they have some great musical ideas, I just don’t connect with them. And you can’t fault that cover, absolutely brilliant. But like now, every time I hear them mentioned, or songs from this album, I get taken back to that TV show. Good memories. So, I guess they did have some effect on me after all, even if it was quite small.

Jochen Scholl: A landmark, A true classic. I remember Magnum being compared with Marillion back then. It didn't make sense, but this album stood the test. It was their peak, from the symphonic openers to the single Just Like An Arrow". The band made great albums before and do pretty well nowadays, but after Storyteller they lost themselves in cheese for several years.

Adam Ranger: I liked the first couple of albums, but they got a bit too 80s AOR (unsurprisingly given the time!) Many of my friends swore by this album and would not stop playing it, which sort of put me off. Plus, I was listening to heavier or more alternative stuff at the time. Having given it another listen tonight. It's a solid album and I can see why its popular, but still too AOR and bombastic for my tastes.

Michael Böcher: My first contact with Magnum. Saw the cover of the original LP on FM/Revolver records (slightly different) in our local store and was curious. It perfectly fits to the music, some fantasy-related, a little prog-influenced hard rock / AOR with a certain deepness. The perfect soundtrack to playing fantasy games on the computer (at that time a Commodore 64) or reading the lord of the rings. It is until now Magnum‘s finest moment and a true classic of the 80s. I love How far Jerusalem, Les Morts Dansant and the title track, but the best song for me is All England‘s Eyes. Just Like An Arrow is the perfect single, and the lesser known tracks are all enjoyable as well. So nearly a perfect album that I listen to regularly. Simply great: 9/10.

Jonathan Novajosky: Not sure how I've never heard of Magnum until now – they are a band I could definitely get into. This kind of melodic hard rock is right up my alley, and I was sold right after Just Like an Arrow. The opening three tracks along with The Last Dance were standouts to me, and everything else was hit or miss (although mostly hits). A lot of 80s hard rock ballads and other songs that are synth-heavy run the risk of seeming outdated, but I don't think that is the case with On A Storyteller's Night. I will definitely be checking out their other albums this week. 7.5/10

Final Score: 8.02 ⁄10 (179 votes cast, with a total score of 1436)

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