Interview with TONY CLARKIN (MAGNUM)

June 2005

clarkin1Twenty years down the line from MAGNUM’s breakthrough album, the British band are still going – and going stronger and stronger. Thanks, mostly, to one man, for it’s guitarist Tony Clarkin whose music keeps things nicely afloat. So, with another release of the group’s famous video, “Live At Birmigham“, a time comes to have a little chat with Tony.

– You’re celebrating 20th anniversary of the “On A Storytellers Night” album now. What, in your eyes, is so special about this record – in creative terms, not in terms of it being the band’s breakthrough?

It is such surprise to me that people really like the album and still to this day fans still say the same thing. When we recorded the album, we were totally broke so we had nothing to loose. Parts of the album were written on a tour bus on a six week tour. I found this a good environment to write the songs.

– Could you, please, explain how could one same city give birth to such different sounds as BLACK SABBATH’s and JUDAS PRIEST’s dark sound on one hand and ELO’s and MAGNUM’s light on the other?

Different people and different songwriters aproach music in many ways. Some have a lighter approach than others. This reflects in the music they create. Birmingham used to be an industrial town, and many heavier bands came from here. I think it was an escape mechanism.

– Is it a big responsibility, to be band’s sole writer and feel it all depends on you and you only?

Yes it is, but I work well under pressure.

– MAGNUM equally impressive in both instrumental and vocal department. Where did this harmony singing come from?

If the song suits harmony singing then I would include it, although some songs don’t need it. It just depends on the song.

– Was it difficult to strip the songs back to their acoustic form for “Keeping The Nite Light Burning“?

It was interesting to revisit these songs and to approach them in a totally different way.

– There’s a great acappella version of “Only A Memory” on there. Some people maintain the vocals weren’t all live but multi-tracked – were they, really?

Yes they were mutitracked, but the vocals were recorded live. No samples, no tricks.

– Your music is obviously folk-based. Was it an original concept – to create something so very English?

I would agree with you that it is very English. I can’t quite see the folk thing, but music means different things to different people.

– And then, there’s a strong blues feel to the music. What guitarist, then, you learnt the chops from?

I have been playing guitar for forty years. Listening to Buddy Guy when I was a kid started me off.

– What comes first to you – lyrics or melody? Do lyrics influence a tune phonetically?

It can be either, but the tune influences the lyric phonetically.

– Bob Catley’s a very distinctive voice. Is it demanding to write for this voice – or Bob can handle everything?

When I’m writing for MAGNUM, I have Bob’s voice in mind, and mostly it works out.

– How would you define the difference between MAGNUM and HARD RAIN? What was the point of RAIN if it was you and Bob Catley anyway?

It was was just a relief, a stop gap, something I wanted to do.

– How did your collaboration with Rodney Matthews come about? Is it you who, as a songwriter, suggests ideas or him?

Yes, I suggest to Rodney the ideas and do very rough sketches. Then Rodney adds details and obviously come up with a finished piece of work.

clarkin2– “Breath Of Life” and “Brand New Morning”: is there a deliberate contrast between the optimistic titles and dark themes of the last two albums?


– There seems to be some anger feeding you lyrics now – unlike before. Are you an angry person? Well, you don’t look the part…

I think im a very calm person. I don’t get rattled at much.

– Bringing back your own words, how your “music recorded have influenced dreams”?

I truly hope the music does.

Many thanks to Ben Williams of Classic Pictures for helping us get in touch.

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