MAGNUM Great Adventure (The Jet Years 1978-1983)
Classic rock band Mangum gained popularity during the rise of the NWoBHM but, formed in the early 70s, were much more melodic and pomp rock. Over the years they have produced many a wonderful tune. The band’s 1985 ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ saw the band find the well deserved success and acclaim, and later, signing to Polydor, the band appeared on Top Of The Pops. The band are still going strong. Still fronted by vocalist Tony Clarkin and guitarist / songwriter Bob Catley.
However, bar a mid 70s 45 that’s now as rare as rocking horse poo, the band debuted on the Jet label in 1978 and the quality songwriting and rock music flowed from the very start. This material has reissued previously but those pressings are long out of print and hard to find. And all in the usual high standard Cherry Red packaging.
A lovely clamshell box, with booklet, and on opening the first CD out is the band’s debut, 1978’s Kingdom Of Madness. The card sleeve replicates the original ‘King’ sleeve, rather than the later and more common ‘Eye’ sleeve. And what a lovely album it. Opener In The Beginning really grabs you and the title track, with it’s mix of acoustic and crunchy electric guitar, big keyboards and Catley’s distinctive and powerful voice, it’s melodic rock at its best. No bonus tracks on this disc, but all but two from the earlier remasters were also released on the Archive LP, which is reproduced separately as part of this set. So just the 1975 7” A & B side missing, which is a shame but not the end of the world.
1979’s Magnum II up next, and rather than the original sleeve, which was rather plain, they have reproduced the late 80s reissue sleeve, a spaceship courtesy of Rodney Matthews, with whom the band would work regularly over the years. And like the debut, the band featured bassist Wally Lowe, pianist Richard Bailey and drummer Kex Gorin alongside Catley and Clarkin. Great Adventure opens and is long considered a classic. Changes, also released as a single, shows a commercial edge. Many tracks here develop the pomp that the band are known for. Clarkin shows some deft moments on guitar, but it is craftmanship in the songwriting that always elevates Magnum head and shoulders above the competition. All the previous bonus tracks are included here.
Next up was the live set Marauder, recorded at the London Marquee. Jet considered Magnum II a failure compared to the debut and though that a live set would revive fortunes, and a live EP (added as a bonus here) did well, which led to a remix release of the previous single Changes. Proof of how good, solid and tight the band are on stage, and the crowd (suitably strong in the mix) show their appreciation. Not a bad note all night. Also added are tracks that would later appear on the invasion: Live set. A wonderful album.
Recorded later in 1980, Chase The Dragon featured pianist Mark Stanway (who had debuted at the band’s Reading performance), this album wasn’t released until 1982, and was the first of many to feature Rodney Matthew’s artwork. This album was a real highlight for the band, with opener Soldier Of The Line one of many that remain in the live set to this day. It’s a heavy and solid album, with a find mix of keyboards that keep the album firmly in the melodic and pomp camps. The Spirit, with its acoustic intro and solid flurrish, is rightly the highlight of many a concert. And the structure of Sacred Hour would be emulated by many a symphonic metal band for years to come. The usual plethora of bonus tracks (A & B sides, and live material that rounds up the Invasion: Live set).
Then it was 1983’s The Eleventh Hour, the album’s title a deliberate dig at Jet’s working practices and another wonderful sleeve from Matthews. The sleeve also implies an “End Of Days”, another nod to life working with Jet. Perhaps the tensions between band and label (of which there were many) made for a better album, as tracks like The Prize make for such perfect listening.
Four bonus tracks, but sadly missing the 4 Friday Rockshow tracks previously included. Like the debut single from the debut LP, this could be a licencing issue, we don’t know, but a missed opportunity all the same.
The last CD is the Archive LP, which collects many 1974 demos and Kingdom Of Madness outtakes; tracks that were previously used as bonus tracks, but it’s nice to have them here is this separate LP, as that release is now rare and features more artwork from Rodney Matthews.
Trouble was afoot at Jet, and when Rodney Matthews spoke exclusively to Now Spinning he told us how he had to go to their offices shortly before they went bust to chase payment for his services.
The sound on these albums, the mastering, is superb, nothing short of an a dream listen. The presentation is excellent, the 6 card sleeves with booklet in a clamshell. Solid, wonderful, essential.
The booklet may be high on information, but very light on sleevenotes (only a few words compared to what you’d expect), and a couple of missed opportunities with tracks.
Although there’s little new, the previous remasters have been out of print for nigh on 15 years (although a similar box has appeared in Japan), and to get the period complete in a box like this is fantastic.
Joe Geesin | Now Spinning Magazine