There’s a stormlamp on the table
Throwing shadows to the gable
And you swallow if your able
On a storyteller’s night
Keep your night light burning
I’ll come through the wind and rain
Keep your night light burning
I’ll be with you once again
I saw Magnum 20 years before I ever bought any music by them. In 1990 I thought they were a bit too wimpy for my 18yo tastes, but there was a busty girl living downstairs from me* who told me that really wanted to go see them when they played Leeds University later that month, so Mr Integrity here became their greatest fan – ‘Oh, haven’t you got a ticket already? Well, you’re welcome to tag along with me if you like‘… So there I was on 26 November 1990**, swaying gently to their parping keyboards and melodic tunes; not a single one of which I’d ever heard before in my life, ‘Oh this is my favourite one too!‘ I shouted at one point, #Shameless. My only criticism in my diary was ‘a total lack of energy’.
Fast forward 20 years and mankind has advanced to the point where technology enabled me to buy a copy of On A Story Tellers Night for £2 as an afterthought one tipsy evening because I loved the Rodney Matthews artwork so much, without leaving my armchair. The vinyl and the front cover are fine but the back cover has a strange water stains on it that look like it was used as the last, slender hope of a householder trying to thwart a flash flood.
The cover is great a wonderfully detailed Tolkeinesque depiction of various assorted creatures gathered around a roaring fire (in an inn) and if not grooving with a pict, then certainly being enraptured by a wizardly-looking story teller. I love all the little details in the picture, including the artist’s dog, painted under the table.
I didn’t expect On A Story Tellers Night to be as good as it was. Good, well-played melodic nuggets with, sometimes, real thought behind them, very English If I had an overreaching criticism it would be that slightly trebly 80’s production values and a lack of rawness, but that’s the nature of Magnum, I’m not going to sit here and criticise them for not being Agnostic Front. I can see some similarities with Misplaced Childhood era Marillion, in terms of sound; Magnum picked it up and headed off down Rock Boulevard, whereas Marillion took it for a spin down Prog Strasser^. As always, you have to suspend your critical nonsense, lie back and just enjoy some good, easy-on-the-ear rock.
The opening trio of ‘How Far Jerusalem’, ‘Just Like an Arrow’ and ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’, really take some beating, really good tunes one and all. The atmospheric title track edges it for me over ‘…Jerusalem’ s tale of beggars and despair and the poppier AOR charms of ‘… Arrow’, which has that 80’s rock keyboard sound in excelsis. ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ basically conjures the cover picture into sound, no mean feat. What should be mentioned is how well Bob Catley sings all three, he doesn’t have the most powerful voice, or the most flexible but he does the job perfectly here with some real feeling. In fact the band all sound like a really strong, cohesive unit – I particularly like the rhythm section of Jim Simpson and Wally Lowe, who underpin everything good hereabouts.
I also have a real soft spot for ‘Les Morts Dansant’^^, a great slow-building swoon of a song about a firing squad and assorted horrors of war, featuring some excellent unflashy guitaring from Tony Clarkin and some very well-written lyrics. I also really have a thing for ‘Two hearts’, which is a brisk pop-rocker that could almost be The Cars and that’s a great thing in my book. In fact as I write this I’ve listened to it 4 times in a row.
Now there are some tracks here on A Storytellers Night that have, umm, yet to hook me shall we say but for the sake of positivity let’s ignore those. I like this album now and I would really have liked it if I’d heard it when it was released in 1985. Yesterday it even passed that most rigorous of all quality tests, I put it on in the presence of that fearsome beast known to the world only as Mrs 1537, ‘I quite liked that’ she said – praise indeed!^*
Oh and Mr Integrity? he lucked out.
*I was going to say I couldn’t remember her name now, but I just have. Not quite sure why I feel compelled to tell you this.
**Having seen Thunder, backed by Electric Boys, the night before.
^oh yes, check out my whimsy made flesh:
^^covered by patty Smyth as ‘Call To Heaven’ in 1987.
^*LPs recently to fail that test include Harvest, Raw Power and Tago Mayo (‘what is this shit?’).