Part One – Magnum’s Tony Clarkin
GOLDMINE: Congratulations on the vinyl reissue of Chase the Dragon. Renaissance Records does such a nice job with these releases. I featured Shooting Star’s anthology on Renaissance earlier this year and I am excited to talk with you about this 40th anniversary recording. The artwork from Rodney Matthews stands out with the gatefold package finally being released as originally planned decades ago. Let’s begin with the album’s great finale, “The Lights Burned Out” which was also a single, a breakup song opening with your lines, “The lights burned out and with it it’s taken my eyes. It seems so hard. It’s taken me by surprise.” I think the song is great. How well did it do in the UK?
TONY CLARKIN: I think it died on its legs, ha ha. As a single it didn’t do much. We played “The Lights Burned Out” in concert for a few years and ended the show with it, too.
GM: The flip side of the single is one not on the album, but I feel is right up there with the best of the album’s songs, called “Long Days Black Nights,” which is crisp and catchy, reminding me of when Deep Purple released “Black Night” as a single only in 1970, but was not included on their In Rock album.
TC: I remember “Black Night.” Our “Long Days Black Nights” was just a demo, actually. The record company, Jet, suggested that we use it as a flip side.
Flip side: Long Days and Black Nights
A side: The Lights Burned Out
Debut: February 1982
GM: It is a solid demo. Now back to the album tracks, on “On the Edge of the World” you play a very smooth guitar part and warn about “dreaming all your precious time away.” Each song seems to have a message. Please tell us about the writing process.
TC: Back in those days you only had about eight tracks of decent length on an album. I started my writing process at about eleven or twelve o’clock at night, occasionally listening to the radio, which was talk radio at that hour. I wrote all the songs on an acoustic guitar. The following days I had to remember how they went as I didn’t record them each night, when I played the guitar and sang to myself, and would take them to the band rehearsals.
GM: The songs that you sang to yourself you turned over to Bob Catley, who is a powerful vocalist, in fact, when I was playing “Sacred Hour,” that one caught my wife Donna’s ear, as she thought he was Dennis DeYoung, formerly of Styx. On other songs like the opener “Soldiers of the Line,” Bob’s voice reminds me of John Lawton from Lucifer’s Friend, who had also been with Uriah Heep for part of the 1970s. Bob has that rare blend of strong vocal styles which puts him right up there with some of my favorites.
TC: Bob and I have been working together for fifty years and I think his voice has gotten better and better over time. Now that he is a lot older, I think there is something added to his voice, a bit of grit, which I like a lot. He and I started out when I was playing in another band at a club called the Rum Runner and Bob asked me to join his band. We did a lot of covers at the time and you had to learn a lot of pop songs every single week for people to dance to. After two years, I got fed up with that and we left, setting about to create and play original music.
GM: Let’s talk about another Magnum member. Chase the Dragon was the first album to officially include Mark Stanway as a member of the band and there are eleven different keyboards mentioned after his name on the album’s credits from a traditional Steinway grand piano and Hammond B3 organ to a variety of synthesizers. I think he adds a lot. I just mentioned Dennis DeYoung and Styx and I think he brought that type of sound to Magnum.
TC: I listened to Styx and especially Kansas. I saw Styx in Hammersmith and in Birmingham and I think they are a great band. I always admired American bands and love seeing them when they visit England. With British bands, we had hefty singers with heavy backing, but we never got the sophisticated sound and harmony vocals of the American bands, along with great playing, which impressed me big time.
GM: With Kansas, I was fortunate to see their television debut on a late night American concert series called Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. The host had just signed the band to his label, Kirshner Records, and they played songs from their debut album. I was sixteen, just got my drivers license, and drove the next week to the record store to buy the album. Then, starting with their second album, their sound became more sophisticated, like you mentioned, when Jeff Glixman started producing them, who produced your album which we are discussing.
TC: A guy from the record company, Jet, suggested a producer for us, saying that he had a guy who produces Kansas, and I said, “Stop there. Great!” I was really, really pleased. He didn’t realize that I had even heard of Kansas. I got on great with Jeff. He is a really nice guy and it was great to work with him.
GM: Before Kansas was on the label, the first Kirshner single came out when I was in 6th grade, “Jingle Jangle” by The Archies. It was that school year when I met and became friends with drummer Eric Singer in my class, sharing a love for music. Last week Eric told me about Jeff Glixman, too. He worked with Jeff on Eric’s first album, which was Seventh Star by Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi on Warner Bros. He said, “Jeff was and is a great producer, making recording fun, productive and creative all at the same time, and is known for getting great big warm tones in the studio and fantastic guitar sounds.” He certainly captured your guitar nicely on Chase the Dragon. Speaking of Black Sabbath, around the time of Chase the Dragon in the early 1980s, you were touring with Ozzy Osbourne. His guitarist Randy Rhoades is getting inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Eric and my hometown of Cleveland, in October. How was it touring with Ozzy and Randy?
TC: It went pretty well. It was a bit difficult playing in front of the curtain but that’s what happens when you are a supporting act. I really enjoyed it. The album didn’t really do much in America, but it was an enjoyable experience and now it is great that our record is back out in America on Renaissance.
GM: Next year you have concert plans with Theia. How long have you and your daughter Dionne known this rock trio?
TC: We had been rehearsing to do a really big tour and then I got all these phone calls that everything had been shut down due to the pandemic. Before that tour, Theia had come on tour with us and it went really well and we asked them to tour with us again, which we will do now post-pandemic.
GM: Dionne introduced me to Theia’s version of Magnum’s “Eyes Like Fire.” It reminded me of Green Day and I really like it. Dionne called it a really crackin’ cover, then she said that she had to head to the hospital as her daughter was having a baby, so that makes you a great-grandfather. Congratulations.
TC: Thank you. Yeah, you’re right. The baby is good, and my granddaughter is also doing absolutely fine. The family is doing well. My son-in-law has a program that helps people who are stressed out and he has asked me to write some music to go with a film created by a guy with a drone, so I have been working on that soundtrack, but most of my time is taking up writing songs for Magnum. In 2022, when we go out on tour, hopefully, it will be in support of our 22nd album, so that’s a lot of songs in a lifetime, and I’ll send you the new album when its ready.
GM: Thank you. I look forward to promoting that one, too.
TC: Dionne and I thank you and Goldmine so much. It has been very nice speaking to you.
Part Two – More from Renaissance Records
Screaming Blue Murder – Girlschool
This 40th anniversary album from Britain’s female quartet often recalls a Suzi Quatro and Joan Jett sound. It features the catchy Go-Go’s-like single “Don’t Call it Love” and both songs from its flip side, “Wildlife” and the brief finale “Don’t Stop.” Their Rolling Stones influence stands out on their cover of “Live with Me,” originally heard on The Rolling Stones’ 1969 Let It Bleed album and on the live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! the following year. The packaging is filled with band photos, including drummer Denise Dufort sporting a WMMS T-shirt, from the influential Cleveland FM rock station.
Live from the Roxy – Bob Welch and Friends
This 40th anniversary double album release of a historic 1981 concert features all of Bob Welch’s post-Fleetwood Mac hits, songs when he was with the band, and much more. For example, Side Three begins with an eight minute version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman,” sung by Stevie Nicks. This is followed by “Ebony Eyes” and a pair of Bob Welch 1981 singles, which should have been hits, “Two to Do” and the Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance composition “Remember.”
Look for full reviews of the new Renaissance Records releases coming soon from Lee Zimmerman in his Indie Spotlight series including Girlschool and in the Reviews section of an upcoming issue of Goldmine featuring Bob Welch and Friends.