Magnum at Islington Assembly Halls

I’ve been listening to Magnum since the 1980’s. I first heard their single “Invasion” played off a cassette tape at a Venture Scout camp sometime around 1982, and I never looked back. Then, some years later, I heard and then bought their album “Chase the Dragon” with its opening song “Soldier of the line”. To this day, “Soldier of the line” still blows me away. Overblown, portentous and pompous dungeons-and-dragons style heavy metal music at its very best! Strictly speaking I think “melodic hard rock” is the more correct term – that probably just means heavy metal with keyboards.

In recent years I’ve been getting back into 1980’s rock music, whilst not neglecting other more modern musical genres. I can listen to classic old heavy metal, for example Judas Priest’s “Electric Eye”, as easily as I can to Linkin Park, Eminem, Faithless, Madonna or the Indigo Girls. And so it was that I bought myself a ticket to a rock concert, and on a blustery grey late winter evening, took myself off by train to Highbury and Islington, to see Magnum.

I came out the tube station and oriented myself, and set off. I do like the inner city; it is almost a “guilty pleasure”. Almost it were, I should feel bad, because I like the atmosphere – the seedy kebab shops, the little minicab offices, the harshly lit open-all-hours grocers, the rejuvenated Greek restaurants with little tables outside. People bustling up and down – couriers, workers going home, people out for the evening. I passed the venue on the opposite side, and walked on for a mile or so before turning back in the gathering darkness. There’s something about a city at dusk that attracts me, especially London.

Entering the venue, I find myself in a queue of older men and a smaller handful of women. There’s a fair amount of facial hair on show. Everyone is polite. Once inside, I found the bar and had a pint of some Italian lager in a plastic glass. Leaning against the bar, wearing a leather hat, I felt like Paul Hogan in the old Fosters advert: “Do you know any Rolf Harris, mate?” NO. “Looks like it’s gonna be a good night…”

The opening act were a two-piece called Theia, from Burton-on-Trent. I gave them the time of day because they were from my neck of the woods. Harmless; a drummer and a guitarist singer who was in good voice. It’s great to see new people being supported and championed. Not so much them supporting Magnum, as Magnum supporting them.

The main support act were a six-piece called VEGA, very much in the melodic hard rock tradition. Quite listenable though there is a limit to how much of this kind of thing I can take in one evening. There was a tendency for this vocalist (and the first vocalist too for that matter) to sound to me a bit like Jon Bon Jovi. Their final song was great; I was listening to it thinking, this has a great Def Leppard groove…at which point I became aware that they were covering Def Leppard’s “Animal”…

Bob Catley and Magnum came on and opened with a crowd-pleaser, their single “Days of no trust”. They followed this with “Lost on the road to Eternity”, and then the opening song to their new album, “The Monster roars”. Guitarist Tony Clarkin is Magnum’s lyricist, and I’ve been an admirer of his work most of my adult life. In “The Monster roars” you hear the words “stark reality“…these words also appear in their classic song “How Far Jerusalem” – “In stark reality/thy will be done/for you, for them, for me.” It’s interesting to me to see writers re-using ideas and concepts over and over again.

A bit over half-way through, the keyboard introduction to their classic “Les Morts Dansant” rang out and the crowd went wild. This opened the part of the set consisting of very much older material. And unfortunately, “very much older” is also a description of all of us and not excepting Bob Catley’s voice. I had been in conversation earlier with a fellow fan, who reckoned that voices could fail as one grows older, and singing in a different key might be an answer. “Les Morts Dansant” though a great song, was too much for Bob Catley’s vocal chords to really give of their best tonight. They followed this with – by no means tongue-in-cheek – “Rockin’ Chair” – i ain’t ready for no rockin’ chair. Like Jethro Tull, we may be too old to rock-n-roll but too young to die…we’ll see about that. One may hopeā€¦

Then there was “Vigilante”, and during this song unfortunately I had to leave in order to get home in time. That ain’t rock-n-roll but it is working for a living. A shame to have missed the last three songs in the set. (I found out that these were “Kingdom of Madness” from right back in the 1970’s, “On a storyteller’s night”, and “Sacred hour” from the Chase the Dragon LP.) All told, a great night: great value, great fun, great rock-n-roll.

Under the apple tree – a concert at Cadogan Hall

Yesterday to London, to see a concert at Cadogan Hall. We took train in the grey afternoon at 1623, accompanied mostly by homebound schoolchildren. We dawdled a little near Victoria. We popped into the “Turkmen Gallery“, a wonderful, rich, deeply colourful shop on Ecclestone Street that is quite literally an Aladdin’s cave of carpets and artifacts from central Asia. Then we went for an early supper at the Thomas Cubitt on Elizabeth Street. My wife had the fish pie, and I chose the fish and chips in order to try the “triple cooked chips”, which did indeed live up to high expectations. We shared a dessert as the light faded outside and the nearby shops lit up.

Thence through the gloaming towards Sloane Square and Cadogan Hall. The hall is a rather beautiful former church, built in the early 20th century, tastefully converted into a venue with 900 seats. It is the home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and hence a venue with a rich and deep musical tradition.

This concert was hosted by “Whispering” Bob Harris, the DJ, under his https://www.undertheappletree.co.uk/ brand “bringing attention to amazing artists who deserve to be heard by everyone”. I confess that whilst of course I’ve heard of Bob Harris, I’ve never listened to his programmes. In person an affable older gent, he introduced four very different artists: Judie Tzuke, Jamie Lawson, Emily Barker, and Catherine McGrath. The four of them came and sat in a semi-circle on the stage. Judie Tzuke and Catherine McGrath were accompanied by professional guitarists, although the latter did play guitar herself.

They each sang in turn, and the rest of the time, sitting politely and listening. They spoke of it being the first time they had played live since COVID-19 changed everything. Their singing was delightful; there was no bad nor weak song in the entire set. I think each artist sang four times.

Judie Tzuke sang clear and bright. Jamie Lawson spoke rough and ready and a little vulnerable, perhaps, but his singing voice blew the room away and to be honest, for me, he stole the show – even in such august company. A very powerful and distinctive voice. Emily Barker is also a powerful and distinctive singer whose voice soared out into the hall. We saw her play at a benefit gig at a church in rural Surrey some years back, and well I remember her voice from that night. Catherine McGrath proved to be a listenable and engaging Country music singer, clear and sweet in tone, a daughter of the Emerald Isle.

All the songs were accompanied by some outstanding and exceptional guitar. Notwithstanding Jamie Lawson noting in a self-deprecatory tone that he “only knew three chords” his playing, and perhaps that of Emily Barker, stood out for me – but that’s not to do down the other players. As a guitarist myself I found all the guitaring excellent, inspirational and encouraging. Bob Harris did note at the end that Country music has advertised itself as “three chords and the truth”. It was ever true that most modern guitar-based pop and rock music is just three chords – but that misses the nuance and technical brilliance of some of the arrangements we heard tonight.

In conclusion, this was a great show, with four very different artists singing a range of very special songs. I was touched by the relaxed, accessible, normalness of the artists – not megastars, but people who sing and play for a living to bring pleasure and joy to others. If I took anything away as stand-out special, it would firstly be Jamie Lawson’s powerful singing voice – particularly when he got passionate and really let go – and Emily Barker’s songs: her guitar arrangements and sweet singing. A great night out for a first after the time we have been through.