» Bob Catley/Al Barrow - Magnum
« back

Interview conducted April 12 2014
Interview published May 29 2014

When English hard rock legends Magnum's European tour reached Sandviken in Sweden, this Metal Covenant scribe, who is a big fan of the band since the eighties, just had to arrange an interview. Since singer extraordinaire Bob Catley wanted to rest for a while after arriving at the venue, bassist Al Barrow happily sat down for a chat. Later on, Bob was just as happy to do the same. The pleasant and interesting interviews with both members are therefore below in the order they were conducted, as it's easier to follow that way. Many thanks to Al and Bob and the Magnum crew - also for giving us a memorable concert!

First part - Al Barrow

Mozzy: So, now the tour has kicked off. I guess you are always eager to get out there and play live?

Al: Yeah. I mean, we would love to tour more. We get a lot of people on our website who go 'can you come to this place, can you come to this town', and so on. We'd love to, but it's really hard. Promoters seem so cagey these days. If the gig was big enough, we'd play everywhere. We just need promoters to get on the ball and get us to the town so we can get to as many fans as possible.

Mozzy: And now that you have a new record out, you're probably even more excited to play?

Al: Absolutely. I mean, you always know that the fans want to hear the older stuff as well, but as musicians you want to develop and create music. It's the reason why we do this. It's real good fun to go out there and play new stuff, new albums. Sometimes it's a bit of surprise that the songs you think are going to just kill and slaughter don't always transcend to live shows. Then you have to adapt them slightly. So it's always a bit of an experience. But it keeps you fresh and excited, so you try and mix the set a bit by doing old and new, trying to please everybody.

Mozzy: You're doing five songs or so from the new album, I've noticed.

Al: Yeah. Four or five, depending sometimes on time constraints, and sometimes the show is cut down so you have to cut a track. But yeah, we try to do a good selection of each album really.

Mozzy: Do you get into the touring routine straight away after being in the studio? You've done it for a long time, obviously.

Al: Well, it's pretty much what we do most of the time. It's a natural progression. Once you've been locked into a studio for six months or so, it's really exciting to think when we can get out there. You don't really see much of the world, though. You're on the bus and then you're in the venue. So you don't generally see a lot of what's going around. But we do like visiting places when we get the chance, and meeting lots of new people. That is brilliant.

Mozzy: And what do you think of the smaller venues like the one here in Sandviken? It must be different.

Al: It's a totally different mindset. It's going to be cosy tonight, let's put it that way (laughs). But sometimes this happens. Sometimes, the bigger venues are very sterile: you cannot see the crowd and there is no direct contact. Sometimes, these gigs work out to be fantastic. It's a very small space, so I don't know what the sound is going to be like. But you know, we're here and playing for more people.

Mozzy: I saw Pretty Maids here last October actually. The atmosphere was great, and it was very warm (smiles).

Al: Oh, alright (smiles). It's going to be warm as well.

Mozzy: But you really get that intimate feeling.

Al: Definitely. It's good, the people get more involved. It's great.

Mozzy: Congratulations on your new album, another great one.

Al: Thank you very much.

Mozzy: It could be the best one in quite some time, I think. And you have gotten good chart positions as well.

Al: Yery good. We're very pleased. We went in at number 17 midweek, which was a good position. And we ended up at 38 in the UK, in the BBC charts. We did well in Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy… So it's been good! I think it's been well-received by the fans, and the media as well.

Mozzy: Yes, the reviews have been terrific. So you still look out for those, the chart positions?

Al: Well, it doesn't mean as much these days I think. But it still adds credit to the band, if they are seen to be in the chart positions of some standard. It doesn't do your profile any harm to have a good chart position. So it's always nice to get up there. It's a bit disappointing if you don't get a high one; then you think you're doing something wrong. We've obviously got some good charts and the fans seem to like it, so…

Mozzy: That's the most important thing.

Al: Absolutely, yeah.

Mozzy: I guess it was different before, like in the 80's, with chart positions.

Al: Yeah. It's a totally different environment now; the music industry is so vast. I mean, when Magnum were doing a lot of sales and were doing big arenas, the whole music industry was different. Everybody was listening to rock, more so than nowadays. And with downloads and illegal downloads, chart positions can be altered drastically, with computers and so on.

Mozzy: I think it's a shame. I still buy the records.

Al: Well I think Magnum fans still go out and buy the records. But there's a lot of people that not so much follow the band but still download illegally… You cannot stop it or police it, it's just got to be accepted.

Mozzy: True. I bought the vinyl as well, it's really cool.

Al: Yeah? SPV do a great job for us, our German label. In the last 10 years, they've released everything on vinyl. It's just a nice thing to hold, and the artwork looks great that big, with Rodney doing the artwork. It's nice to open up and get the whole thing there, it's great.

Mozzy: Speaking of your latest records, I think it's testament to the quality of your newer material that the set includes a lot of it. There are lots of other bands who just base their set around the classics.

Al: Yeah. I can speak for Tony and Bob on this. They're not ones for playing… almost a tribute to themselves. I mean, you never forget what Magnum stood for and where they came from. But they want to create and make new music, while never forgetting what Magnum are and what they did. So we try to mix the set up, we always try to move forward and try new things, but not completely forget everything we've done.

Mozzy: How is the process of deciding on the setlist, then?

Al: Bob's usually the one that sits and stare at it. Bob's really good at thinking like how a fan would think. He goes 'I think these songs from the new album will fit well with these songs from various old albums'. There's always a set amount of songs that if we didn't do them, people would just go crazy and go away. So we try to change it a bit but keep the core of things like Vigilante, Storyteller's and things like that.

Mozzy: And it's cool to hear the stuff from the newer albums, because those are very good too.

Al: Yeah, there's plenty from the new album, and some from The Visitation and Into The Valley Of The Moonking.

Mozzy: Have you ever considered doing some of the really old stuff from the 70's and 80's, the more rare songs?

Al: Well, there is always some discussion. We get a lot of fan mail, and they go "can you do The Prize?" or something like that. Tony will sit there for a couple of seconds and go "maybe… or maybe not" (laughs). I don't know, they just like to move forward more, I think.

Mozzy: And you cannot play for three hours either.

Al: No. They're not as young as they used to be (smiles).

Mozzy: I recently sat down and played the The Gathering box, and read the great history of the band, written by Dave Ling…

Al: Oh yeah? Yeah, it's a nice little package, it's nicely put together and captures the band quite well.

Mozzy: It said that there were some problems for a while though.

Al: Yeah, well I think the whole band got to a point that they had just been on the road and been recording so much for so many years. It's a long history. I think they just felt they needed a break and step away for five minutes. Maybe try a bit of something else. And then Tony just called Bob and said 'let's get back on the road, let's go for it'.

Mozzy: Yeah. I remember the gig at Sweden Rock Festival in 2002, a while after the comeback. The atmosphere was just amazing. You could tell that a lot of fans wanted to see Magnum again.

Al: Yeah, that was my first Sweden Rock. I think there's still a lot of fans out there. We just got to be promoted. There's still a lot of people that go 'oh, I didn't know you guys were together still', and then they go and buy the back catalogue stuff.

Mozzy: Could it have been good in way as well to be away for a while; it might have brought new ideas, hunger and so on?

Al: Yes. Yeah, maybe you're dead right there. Maybe they felt a bit tired, and when we came back it was like 'come on, let's do it again!', you know.

Mozzy: And you were in Hard Rain, the band Bob and Tony had in-between, of course.

Al: Yeah, I was. That's how I met the guys, I came in to do Hard Rain and then I kind of stayed on.

Mozzy: Did they talk back then about re-uniting Magnum?

Al: Well, not really, no. We did a couple of albums, and they were good fun, but they were not really going anywhere. And then, one of the managers said that people are still asking for Magnum. And Tony and Bob went 'yeah, let's do it, it's good time'.

Mozzy: And now you've had a very solid career since, it's been over 10 years now.

Al: Yes, it's been very good. We were talking about it last night; every time we've gone out on tour or release an album, it's crept up a little bit more. Not massively, but just a constant upturn, and hopefully we can keep that going and people will come back. But what we've noticed now, is that it's not just the original fans; it's also the original fans bringing their kids. And there's lots of new faces coming to the shows.

Mozzy: That must be good, to see the young people there.

Al: It's great! And they know the songs; all the old stuff and the new stuff. They absorb the whole show and it does make you feel good.

Mozzy: Great. It must be the quality of the music, then.

Al: Hopefully, we still bring out good music to a new generation of rock fans.

Mozzy: You've been very consistent as well in that you've released several albums during the last decade, it's been constant. Tony has been very productive.

Al: Yeah. Tony is always writing, he doesn't know how to not be writing, or recording in some way. He's got a studio at home, and he'll just sit there… I mean, literally we'll just get off this tour and he's starting to think of new ideas for the next album.

Mozzy: It's quite amazing really to always come up with such great and catchy songs.

Al: Yeah. He's certainly got a mind for being able to constantly evolve and write - stuff that sounds like Magnum but without copying yourself.

Mozzy: Definitely. And there's some more progressive parts and longer songs too, as on the new album.

Al: Yeah, the new album has got some time signature changes, and some production ideas that we wanted to try. So we're trying to do different elements; light and shade.

Mozzy: Also, I think the new album has a couple of more up-tempo songs as well, more 'rocky' too.

Al: Yeah. That's what people are saying; it's quite of an up-tempo album. It's a strong album. It's weird, because some are saying it's guitar-heavy and then some are saying it's keyboard-orientated. I think it depends on how you listen to it.

Mozzy: Yes, it's a mix for sure. Now, since Magnum came back, can you perhaps consider it a bit of a second coming for the band?

Al: That would be nice, yeah. We just keep working on things and playing as many gigs as we can.

Mozzy: And for yourself who are younger than the rest of the band, how do you see the future? You cannot go on forever obviously, though I hope you will!

Al: Absolutely. I feel very proud and honoured to be in a band such as Magnum. I get to play songs that are brilliantly written, there is a great history, and I stand before fans that have followed the band for many years. I'm still a new face for a lot of people. I feel very honoured and very pleased to be able to do what I do. And of course, there are time limits on everything, you know. But we'll just keep doing it for as long as we can.

Mozzy: Cool. Do you remember your first time in the band, like that time at Sweden Rock for example? It must have been pretty new for you to play to such many people, I guess?

Al: Yeah. I remember that gig very well. It felt natural, I felt comfortable with the guys onstage, and we had rehearsed for a couple of weeks. We just went out and I had such a good time! I mean, you can't help but… when you look at a crowd like that… they want you to do well too, and I've seen bits of videos of it, we played well and just really had a good time.

Mozzy: It was great, one of the best ones I've seen there.

Al: That's fantastic, cool!

Mozzy: You seem to have a good bond with the fans, and nowadays with Facebook and so on there is another way to have that, isn't it?

Al: Yeah. It's another good way of having a direct link to fans. I mean, you used to have a lot of mail, physical mail coming through the post. To actually read them all and re-post them was quite expensive and time-consuming. So a lot of the times, it was someone else who was looking after that sort of thing. But now, I look after the Facebook page, and the website. So it's very direct; anything that gets asked on Facebook gets asked to the band.

Mozzy: I suspected it was you who did that, that you're more into that (smiles).

Al: Yeah (laughs). The guys are not that into computers, so it's easy for me to do it.

Mozzy: That's cool, that you get a quick response on there.

Al: Yeah, we try to. Sometimes I can't get back straight away, but it's a great way for the fans to stay in touch, also with little changes of plans or if there's something we're excited about, something that's happening in the studio, it can go straight on the web for everybody to see. So it's very good.

Mozzy: I bought the limited edition version of the new album, which includes among other things a video for Too Many Clowns. In that, you can tell you have fun together and that you have a good chemistry.

Al: We do, yeah. It's sounds very cliché to say that we're a good bunch of mates, but you cannot do a tour and spend so much time with these people and not get on, it just wouldn't work. So we all give each other space and when we're all together we have a good laugh. There's a certain amount of mickey-taking and piss-taking; no-one safe's for a joke (smiles). And it's the same with the crew. You've seen the guys setting the stage up today, they got a bit of a headache today. They work so hard, and if it wasn't for those crew members and people like Annie that you met… The group of people we have around make our job very easy. We get up and we play while these guys do all the hard work. We're very lucky to have them.

Mozzy: That's important for sure. I'm sure you have a good time on tour.

Al: It's always good fun travelling on a tour bus. Once the show is done and packed away you can have a drink and a chat and watch some films. Last night, me and Tony and the engineer guy and lights guy were upstairs watching Rammstein while the other guys were downstairs having a drink and eating.

Mozzy: And after tonight you're off to the UK again?

Al: Yes, we're touring the UK for a couple of weeks and then come back to do some German shows and later on Sweden Rock. That should be fun!

Mozzy: Oh yes. Thanks, and see you there!

Al: Yes. Thanks, it was a pleasure!


Second part - Bob Catley

Mozzy: As I said to Al before, congratulations on another great album. It has done well in the charts too, do you still find that important?

Bob: Thank you. It has been among top 20 to top 30 around Europe. So it's encouraging. And it still means something to be in the charts - the album charts. The rock charts is cool but the album charts is more the real thing. I think we're number two in Sweden in the rock charts.

Mozzy: You've always been popular in Sweden.

Bob: Yeah, we seem to be! We're coming back, we're playing Sweden Rock in June. We're headlining the Wednesday night I believe, when Queensryche are also playing. Sweden has been very good for us over the years. It's a proper rock country with rock fans, just like in England. Only a little prettier country, I think (laughs).

Mozzy: How do you find this small venue, then?

Bob: Well, it's quite a small stage so we're trying to squeeze the people onto it (smiles). But it should be alright. Should be a good crowd, we've had two good shows in Sweden so far and they have been sold out. So it's a positive response from the audience. And maybe next time we come to Sweden we can play slightly bigger venues. That would be nice. But that depends on how successful the album is every time, you know. And it's good playing to the Swedish people and getting the band together for the rest of the tour.

Mozzy: I saw Pretty Maids here in October actually, featuring your mate Ronnie from Avantasia. The atmosphere was great and intimate.

Bob: Oh, Ronnie! My mate, good bloke! I sang with him in Avantasia, of course. Yeah, I like the more personal gigs. We've done all sorts of places as you can imagine. The personal gigs have the people right by you and there's a different atmosphere compared to when they have barriers and the people are six miles away, you know. There's no contact and you feel quite impersonal there. But you know, that's where promoters ask you to play so you play there; you're not going to argue with it. We used to do the ice hockey stadiums in Sweden, years ago, but we haven't done those for a long time. But it's just good to be in Sweden again with our friends to have a good time. There's always been a good following up here.

Mozzy: Going back in time, I bought the box The Gathering. It has an interesting story written by Dave Ling, and you can read that there was a bit of a difficult period there for a while.

Bob: Well, things were not really happening there… It was after The Eleventh Hour and before On A Storyteller's Night, in that two-year period. We were not really going anywhere to be honest. Tony had a bad time at the time and… nothing was happening for us as a unit. The drummer got pissed off and left (laughs). But then we got ourselves a manager, Keith Baker, and he put some money into the band and we recorded On A Storyteller's Night. We got a new drummer, Jim Simpson, and Mark Stanway came back from Grand Slam, Phil Lynott's band. Then Jim Simpson left, for some reason. I think he was going to join UFO but it didn't actually happen. Then we got a new great drummer in, Mickey Barker, and he stuck with us until the mid '90s. So that was what happened in that time. And Tony was writing songs for On A Storyteller's Night which were more commercial, I should say, and accessible for most rock fans. Whereas before, like on The Eleventh Hour, it was more introvert and self-indulgent, you know. So when On A Storyteller's Night came along it charted everywhere. It was like a different band with different music - a new start for us. The record came out on FM Records and then on Polydor. The German Polydor took over and put it out around the world, and we got a gold record for it so it sold very well over the years. It was a very good album for us.

Mozzy: It certainly was, and what a great album. Your career did not hit off in the US however; is that something you regret? You didn't play there much?

Bob: No we never really took off in America. But we did a tour with Ozzy Osbourne in 1982 (smiles). We were the main support band, and we went down terrifically well. We did the Eastern seaboard, down the Southern states. It took about six weeks. But we had to take a break because Ozzy lost his voice (laughs). So they flew everybody home back to England and then back again (laughs). It was a great tour! We'd love to play in America again but we don't seem to get that far, you know.

Mozzy: It's a more difficult market, I guess.

Bob: Yeah, it is. We do well in Europe. In Germany, Scandinavia and the UK we do really good. America is like… I don't know. We're told that we have quite a few fans in America, but they're like a drop in the ocean. I think we have to go there with a more interest in the band, with promoters willing to take a chance on the band, to put us around more than in one or two states. It's so vast, you know, so there's a lot of travelling involved which costs a lot of money. But we just have to be invited really. And the same thing with Japan; we sell records there but we haven't actually played there ever. South America is the same. So there are a lot of countries that we'd love to play in, but how do you do it without going bankrupt, basically (laughs). It' all outlay, so even with the best intentions in the world, it's difficult. You need support from the promoters and people like that to make it work. So we're working on it. We've had offers before, but they haven't come up to what we require to sustain us out there. Maybe one day it will happen, that would be nice.

Mozzy: Most importantly, though, you're still here going and doing well, after 40 years. That's an amazing achievement!

Bob: Yeah! I think that's enough to be going on with. To be doing this at a certain level for 40 years… It's a bit longer than that now, even (smiles). That's great, you know! I'm still here singing in my 60's, and Tony as well. We're still here doing it, in front of a much younger audience; a much broader, wider audience than we've ever had before. You get the old guys that come and see us, with the old t-shirts (smiles), but all the other ones are younger and are more into the new stuff. So I think it's nice that we can relate to a younger audience. And that's because of the music; it's timeless and ageless.

Mozzy: It's quality music.

Bob: I think it is, and I think people appreciate that and know that they are going to get 11 great songs on every album we put out. And who cares how old we are and how young they are, you know; it doesn't matter. It's the spirit and the feelings within yourself that is most important. It's not, you know, "that one is my dad's age" - we're not normal dads, believe me (laughs)!

Mozzy: I remember the gig at Sweden Rock Festival in 2002, a great gig with an amazing atmosphere. You could tell that a lot of fans had missed Magnum. Could it have been good in some way that you were away for a while? You've had a very solid career since.

Bob: Yes. Yeah, it's been great. Well we went away for a few years, for six years or so. It just was not working, there were many things. So it was just like 'stop!' (laughs). So we did Hard Rain, and Mark went off with other people. And Al came in via Hard Rain, of course. And then when we came back in 2002, like at Sweden Rock, it was like 'oh yeah!'. It was like we never were away. The crowd was all there. We thought "will anyone remember us?", or "will we be first on the bill before anyone is there?" and so on (laughs). But it was like we never were away. And that's down to the support of the Swedish fans for Magnum's music, which keeps going year after year. We're getting more and more people come and see us now, so we thank our fans in Sweden very much for remembering us, keeping the faith with Magnum and coming to see us time and time again. Plus it's because Tony writes great songs. And they seem to like my voice (laughs), and the way we come across.

Mozzy: Definitely. Your voice is certainly important as well; you express feelings brilliantly for example.

Bob: Well, it's my job in the band, to express the lyrics, you know. And I try to involve the audience in what we're trying to say lyrically. Plus I'm quite expressive onstage rather than just standing there looking at my shoes (laughs).

Mozzy: You seem to have fun together in the band. I saw the video for Too Many Clowns, and you seem to have a good chemistry.

Bob: We do, yeah. We have fun and get on real good. Al put that clip together, with backstage footage from the Shepherd's Bush Empire in London. It's quite funny. And Harry (James, drummer) is quite funny, a comedian. So yeah, the music can be quite serious sometimes but we're not that serious or take ourselves that seriously. We're not like 'don't speak to us, we're rock gods!', which can happen, without mentioning any names (smiles). The music is the serious side of the band while we are just fun guys who like a good laugh and a drink, and to chat to people. We have some good fun and humour on the bus, a bit of slap-sticking. Me and Tony are old-fashioned blokes who like good humour, it's all in the heart, you know. But when we're onstage, we're serious. 'Cop this, people!' (smiles). 'Listen to the music, listen to the words!'. But everybody has a good time.

Mozzy: I think that's important, also that the audience sees that.

Bob: I think so. And we loosen up towards the end of the show, jumping and clapping. 'We've done all the serious shit and here's the fun part', you know. We do four songs from the new album live and we want people to listen to them, you know. We don't want to mock about with those songs so we leave that towards the end of the show.

Mozzy: Some of your peers in the business, not mentioning names there either, they do almost entirely old stuff, 'the hits' and so on. But you have such good new songs too.

Bob: Well, I think if you have got great new songs, play them! Don't just keep playing the old stuff. Yeah, the old stuff is great and has a place in the show, of course, but if you've got new stuff, let people hear it! They want to buy the album so they want to know what they're buying, you know. We want to promote and sell the album, it's charting and we want to keep that going and keep the profile up there. We do four new songs live, I think that's enough. And they're going down terrifically well. People have had the album long enough now to actually recognise the song when we play it onstage. It's not like 'oh what's this, I don't know this one'.

Mozzy: And there's also songs from your other recent albums in the set.

Bob: Yeah. We brought two back from the last album, On The Thirteenth Day: Blood Red Laughter and Dance Of The Black Tattoo. And we do two from the previous album, The Visitation: Black Skies and Freedom Day. We thought that would be good; people have had time to absorb them by now so they've become part of the show and I think they will be there for a long time.

Mozzy: Yes, they are excellent songs.

Bob: Very good. But then people say 'well you didn't play the old, old stuff'. So we try and cram as much as we can into our 1 hour and 45 minutes, and try to please most people.

Mozzy: Well, you couldn't really play for three hours either (smiles).

Bob: We would have to do a three hour show, yeah (smiles). It would be like… I think Rush do a three-hour show but they do a drum solo, bass solo and so on; it's not just singing all the time. I wouldn't be doing many gigs then; I wouldn't be fair to do a three-hour show vocally, because it's knackering (laughs). I'd loose my voice (laughs). So we do the best we can in about half that time. I've got a lot of people to sing to, it's a long tour. We could play longer, to please everybody and play all the songs everyone wanted, but you would be onstage all night. The cleaners would be coming round with the broom, you know (laughs).

Mozzy: Probably (laughs). Well thank you so much for your time.

Bob: Alright, I hope that's OK for you. Enjoy Sweden Rock and I want to thank everybody for listening to the album and coming to see us. Bring your friends, see you soon and take care!

See also: review of the gig the same night

Related links: