In all of the 44 years that Tony Clarkin has been Magnum’s guitarist and songwriter, he was never as unhappy as when his band was at its most successful.
Their 1988 album Wings Of Heaven and 1990 follow-up Goodnight L.A. were Top 10 hits in the UK, but what Clarkin remembers from that time was the pressure to succeed, to conform to stereotypes, to become something that they were not; to sell out.
During the making of Wings Of Heaven, the band’s record company, Polydor, told them they wanted the album to be something along the lines of Whitesnake’s mega-hit 1987. But Magnum weren’t that kind of band at all. Their music was an English gentlemen’s version of hard rock, not the testosterone-charged attack of Still Of The Night. And where Whitesnake represented the height of 80s glam-rock chic, Magnum’s singer Bob Catley was a short-arse, Clarkin a portly, bearded old duffer who hid his baldness under a hat.
Worse was to follow when they were recording Goodnight L.A. A label exec told Clarkin: “You can’t write songs’, and demanded that he work with proven hit writers Russ Ballard (God Gave Rock And Roll To You, among others) and Jim Vallance (a bucketload with Bryan Adams). For Clarkin, it was all too much. “That wasn’t an enjoyable period for me,” he told Classic Rock in 2014. “When a record company takes away your artistic freedom, you can’t do what you’re best at.”
These days, Clarkin and Magnum are in a much better place. Since the band re-formed in 2001 following a six-year break, they’ve been signed to indie label SPV, who allow them, in Clarkin’s words, “complete control”. As a result, their recent albums have been true to the spirit of their 1985 classic On A Storyteller’s Night: grandiose heavy rock with a little AOR for levity.
And so it continues with their epically titled eighteenth album,_ Sacred Blood ‘Divine’ Lies_. The title track is vintage Magnum, a powerful meditation on religion, Catley’s voice raw with emotion. Elsewhere there’s some weighty riffage in Gypsy Queen and Afraid Of The Night. And the standout is Your Dreams Won’t Die, a stately ballad with a subtle Beatles influence.
Nothing on the new record equals the majesty of the band’s greatest songs – Kingdom Of Madness, How Far Jerusalem, Les Morts Dansant – but after all these years, all the good times and the bad, Magnum remain a class act. That guy who told Tony Clarkin he couldn’t write songs was talking out of his arse.
FINAL VERDICT: 7⁄10