IN CONVERSATION, November 2018
This exclusive interview was conducted as the band prepared to enter the rehearsal studios ahead of its first live shows and was the first ever group interview for Kingdom of Madness. The line-up at the time consisted of Mark Stanway, Micky Barker, Richard Bailey, Laurence Archer, Mo Birch, Chris Ousey and Neil Murray...
Mark, how did the concept / idea for Kingdom of Madness first come about?
MARK STANWAY: The initial idea only came about in the early Spring of this year. When I left Magnum back in December 2016 the last thing on my mind was to form a band with a view to re-creating Magnum classics. However, I was having a coffee with old friend Richard Bailey and we talked about various band ideas including a two-keyboard project as well as the possibility of doing something with Richard’s previous project ‘Phenomena’. During this informal chat we also discussed the possibility of putting a band together to do what the Magnum fans had been screaming for over many years, namely performing the ‘classics’ that put Magnum where they are today that no longer get played by the band. As the discussion got more intense, I suggested that if we could get the likes of Micky Barker, Mo Birch and Laurence Archer interested then we would have the nucleus of a great band made up of top-drawer musicians, all of whom have a shared a legacy over the years with Magnum. Over the following few days I contacted Micky and Laurence. I then made calls to friend of old Neil Murray and another personal favourite of mine, vocalist Chris Ousey who I had played with several times when depping for Adam Wakeman in Snakecharmer. The response was very positive and so ‘on paper’ we had a band with amazing potential.
Micky, it’s been 23 years since you last performed Magnum music onstage. How easy was it for you to decide to join this union of former band members and other classic rock alumni?
MICKY BARKER: When Mark first called me with the ‘Classic Magnum’ idea I had big reservations. I was never keen on going back down memory lane and never had any intentions to be in a ‘tribute’ band, let alone what may be considered a Magnum tribute band. However, Mark was fairly persuasive - "After all, four members of Kingdom of Madness are former members of Magnum.” So, blowing the dust off some of the old CD’s and DVD’s from my time with Magnum – ‘Vigilante’ to ‘Rock Art’ and the live recordings ‘The Last Dance’; ‘Wings of Heaven Live’ (at Hammersmith) and Birmingham Town Hall 1992 – the idea of playing some of Tony Clarkin’s finest songs again became increasingly appealing; especially with this line up - Mark, Laurence and Co. and the thunderously funky Neil Murray on bass (who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for the past couple of years in the Bernie Marsden Band). In the end it was an easy decision – “Ok let’s do it! If it’s a tribute, it’s a tribute to our times in Magnum and the song-writing of Tony Clarkin”. I’m looking forward to playing all of the set really, particularly some of the stuff from ‘Vigilante’, ‘Wings of Heaven’ and ‘Rock Art’.”
Richard, in your case it’s been even longer - 38 years since you last played with Magnum. How easy was the decision for you?
RICHARD BAILEY: This decision was easy. Mark and I had discussed previously the possibility of a two-keyboard project. Joining him on a few of his “Evening With” shows confirmed that working together would be fun and it was obvious that the fans would welcome the chance to hear some of their favourite classic Magnum songs. I’ve no problem in re-visiting the songs I played on originally. I’ve enjoyed listening to them and also digesting Mark’s keyboard parts.
Laurence, you have of course also played with Magnum on stage, having filled in for Tony Clarkin on a 1984 UK tour. Can you share with us how your involvement in that tour came about?
LAURENCE ARCHER: Mark had played keyboards on my Stampede album for Polydor and we instantly become friends. When it became known that Tony may not be able to do the tour or complete it, Mark asked me and I jumped at the chance. It was very late notice and I seem to remember learning the set while travelling on the train listening to a tape Walkman to Brum. Had a great time with the guys, great memories and very glad I took it on.
Neil, how did you come to be involved with Kingdom of Madness?
NEIL MURRAY: I’ve known Mark since the early 1980s, though coincidentally Magnum supported Whitesnake in 1978 on our first theatre tour of the UK, when Richard Bailey was Magnum’s keyboard player. Mark and I have played together on and off for many years, so I guess I was an easy choice for him to make when thinking of players for Kingdom of Madness.
You have the distinction of having worked previously with almost all the musicians in Kingdom of Madness at some point in your career through your work with Whitesnake, Phenomena, M3, Grand Slam, Snakecharmer and Bernie Marsden. Would we be correct to assume there are some solid musical and personal friendships to be found amongst the membership of Kingdom of Madness?
NEIL: It’s always better to work with people who you get on well with personally, as well as musically. I wouldn’t want to play with people I didn’t like, or with musicians/singers that I didn’t think were much good. Of course, I’ve worked with too many people over the years to stay in constant touch with more than a few of them, but I’ve also been lucky to nearly always get on well with the musicians I’ve been associated with.
RICHARD: In my book, mutual respect for each other’s musical ability is essential if you are going to perform live. Of course, Neil and I spent a lot of time together during my stint with Whitesnake and whilst recording the material for the Phenomena project and Bernie Marsden’s Band SOS. His bass playing in the rock context is legendary. I’ve worked with Micky Barker on several occasions over the years and his pedigree is beyond dispute. Mo’s pedigree is well known. I respect Mark’s judgement on the other two guys!
How will Kingdom of Madness approach the task of reproducing the classic Magnum material?
MARK: In my opinion, and that of many discerning Magnum supporters, Magnum were at their absolute pinnacle and peak of their game from 1985 to 1995 when the band included Micky Barker on drums and Wally Lowe on bass and vocals. Obviously, Wally has long since retired and was therefore not a possibility but by having the wonderful talents of Neil Murray (one of my all-time favourite rock bassists) I felt I had more than found the perfect rhythm section. Wally also sang so well with Bob Catley and those wonderful two-part harmonies could only be recreated by someone with outstanding vocal talent and experience, namely Mo Birch, who has sung live and recorded with Magnum many times over the years. I wanted everything to be live and real without the use of on-stage computers, sequencers and samplers which I personally detest, especially after using them for so many years, night after night with Magnum who continue to use and rely upon them to this day. We have a band that can and will perform these great songs ‘LIVE’ without deception and cheating. We are endeavouring to be as faithful to the original versions as we can, yet at the same time Magnum in the 1988 ‘Wings of Heaven’ era had tailored and perfected various versions of the vast back catalogue and these versions will perhaps be the most familiar and comfortable for those discerning listeners, so there will be elements of that as well.
What has been involved for you all as far as your personal preparations for the live show, ahead of rehearsal sessions?
MICKY: Getting behind the kit - a more expansive kit than I regularly use these days, as over the years I’ve continually stripped back both my kit and my style of playing to the very basics - and putting in the hours, working through a process of repetition, reconnecting dormant neuron pathways and familiarising myself with the songs and a style of playing I’ve done little of since my last gig with Magnum in 1995. Reclaiming ownership of my old drum parts and bringing a further 23 years of drumming experience to them. Also building the level of stamina required to deliver what is going to be a fairly full-on set. It’s been challenging but great fun.
CHRIS OUSEY: Every song comes with its own challenges. I think the main thing is to be sympathetic to each and try to get the energy right. I just want to have a good working knowledge of melodies and where all the parts of the songs fall. Things can change a fair bit once you're working together in a rehearsal room, so being adaptable is important too. There are plenty of very strong songs in the proposed set. In running them through in my own studio space they all have great melody and are really fun to sing.
RICHARD: I had a brief listen to some of the original studio recordings before focusing on live recordings. Working in my studio at home, the first stage was to write out chord charts - essential with some of Clarkin’s songs, which have more than a few unexpected changes! Next stage was listening in more detail to highlight the less obvious parts. Mark and I have got together a few times to refine the keyboard parts and decide how best to feature them. Digesting all of this takes a little time. Final stage is putting it all together with the other guys in the studio. All of Mark’s original keyboard parts used specific sounds played on instruments that were current when the recordings were made. I’ve taken an assimilation of these sounds as my starting point, developing them as I go. I expect I will include my own interpretation and there will probably one or two new parts.
MO BIRCH: I’ve been watching lots of old video footage so I could see exactly when Wally was on the mic, then I learned that particular vocal part. It’s funny because after all these years of hearing Magnum, this is the first time I’ve properly read the lyrics to the songs in question, so I’m like “Oh, is that what he’s singing?….it’s not ‘Just like a Sparrow’….!” Joke…
NEIL: When learning new songs, I tend to listen to them a lot and get to know them well before practising the bass lines etc. If the songs aren’t memorable, that’s a much harder job - not a problem in this case! I often write out the chords or certain riffs, which helps me study the parts in detail, and can be used to refresh my memory later on. Unless it was a one-off concert where everything had to be note-perfect or there was very little rehearsal, I wouldn’t normally use those chord charts on a gig.
LAURENCE: So far I’ve just been listening, but I will be doing a couple of intensive days before rehearsals, playing with the tracks.
How do you go about picking a set for a tour, given the breadth of the Magnum repertoire and the variety of styles it includes?
MICKY: Mark and I got together and listened to a few of the old albums and recordings, particularly the live stuff. From these, the songs for the set where chosen, based on a list of fan favourites, songs that had maybe not been in the Magnum set for a while and stuff we just wanted to play. These were compiled and sent off to the other guys. The list was then cut down to a set of songs that everybody was comfortable with and happy to perform; representing material from the albums ‘Kingdom of Madness’ to ‘Rock Art’ and our various times with Magnum. The songs were then arranged into a set that would both be exciting and have a good flow.
MARK: The Magnum / Tony Clarkin song repertoire is immense and therefore it was not difficult conceiving a set of classics, especially as these songs put Magnum on the map in the first place. With a catalogue of over 220 songs you cannot play everything and so we will be concentrating on a ‘Best of 1978-94’. One thing I would like to stress is that we do not see ourselves as being in competition with the current Magnum and would hope that the fans don’t either. We’re trying to keep the set list, which we compiled three months ago, as different from what Magnum are currently playing as possible so that people get to see two completely different shows. It’s a vast catalogue of music with more than enough songs to keep both bands busy and for the fans it really doesn’t have to be a “choice” between the two bands – we would always encourage them to support both. Ultimately, it’s all about the songs and for the first time in a long time I can honestly say I am looking forward to playing every single song we have in the show. Without spoiling the surprises too much I am especially looking forward to playing ‘Sacred Hour’ and ‘Wild Swan’ (spookily two songs that have just reappeared in Magnum’s latest set!).”
Mark, although you were the main instigator of this project, how important is it to you that Kingdom of Madness establishes a “band” identity?
MARK: While it was initially my doing that bought this whole thing about, but not excluding Richard as he was instrumental too, I very much want it to be a ‘band’, not the ‘Mark Stanway Band’, thus keeping individual artistic freedom and democracy within; something I have not experienced or enjoyed since 1995. So, it is of the utmost importance that we are a band and not an unhealthy dictatorship. I never want to experience such a situation ever again for as long as I live!!
This is the first time Magnum music will have been performed live with two keyboard players. How will the keyboard parts be divided between the two players?
MARK: As mentioned earlier we will not be using computers and sequencers and therefore to faithfully re-create these classics live with all the ‘icings’ requires an additional pair of keyboard hands. Richard also plays flute and we intend to utilise this additional talent also.
RICHARD: I’m sure we will share out the key parts equitably and for the first time ever, the less obvious but no less important embellishment parts will get a decent airing live. As for the flute playing, I intend to include a few flourishes, similar to the way we did in the early Magnum years. I’ve still got the actual flute I used back then - maybe I’ll bring it out of retirement as a special treat!
Chris, as a vocalist you obviously have a very recognisable personal style that is quite different to that of Magnum vocalist Bob Catley. How will you approach the vocal parts for live performances?
CHRIS: Right from the earliest conversations Mark and I had, he made it clear that he wasn't in any way expecting me to emulate anything that had gone before from a vocal style point of view. However out of respect for just how well-crafted so many of the Magnum songs are, I'm going to be sticking good and close to the original melodies for the most part. However, whenever I stand in front of a microphone, I'm primarily thinking, “how can I get the best out of this song with what I can bring to the table as a singer”. It's impossible for me not to stretch out on vocal parts that move me, so I'm also looking forward to having some fun with my own interpretations too.
Mo, you’ve recently completed a series of “Evening With” shows with Mark. A nightly highlight of these shows was your renditions of classic Magnum tracks such as ‘The Lights Burned Out’, ‘The Last Dance’ and ‘Les Morts Dansant’, which met with a great reaction from audiences. How did you enjoy performing these Magnum favourites?
MO: I really enjoyed it. However, singing hugely popular songs in front of die-hard Magnum fans was nerve-racking to say the least! Mark didn’t want me to stray too far from the original melodies, i.e. no frills and I also did them in the same key. No-one was more surprised than me at the positive feedback, so I guess the girl did good!
Of course, this was not the first time you had performed Magnum music as your backing vocals were featured on various Magnum albums as well as live shows including 1984 dates (with Jaki Graham), Donington 1985, and Birmingham 1992. Are there any standout memories of any of these shows you can share?
MO: Absolutely, it was a time when certain idiots in the crowd thought it cool to launch missiles at the stage! On that day at Donington I think 99% of those idiots were there. Jaki and I were quite far back from the front of the stage, so we were fine but poor ol’ Bob spent much of the show dodging bottles and pieces of muddy turf!
How are you looking forward to working alongside Chris? This surely promises to be a fantastic blend of voices?
MO: I’m so looking forward to it. I’ve listened to Chris’s solo material and I’ve seen him live with Snakecharmer and he has that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that I love in a male voice. The guy’s got soul.
And what can we expect to hear in the lead guitar department and rhythm section?
LAURENCE: I will be truthful to the songs, but I will be interpreting the solos to play my way, but without losing the strain of any melodic input.
MARK: The guitars will be immense as Laurence is a stunning guitarist and a great soloist. With all due respect, Tony Clarkin was always first and foremost a songwriter rather than a solo guitar “maestro”, so Laurence will add a really exciting element to the band.
MICKY: Obviously there’s going to be a different dynamic in the rhythm section. With Neil on bass and Mo Birch on percussion, there may well be some different rhythmic twists. We’ll see what happens when we get into full rehearsals. I’m ready; bring it on!
NEIL: I would definitely start off by following the bass parts that are on the original recordings, though I’ll check out live versions to see whether things are played differently. It very much depends on the song whether I feel I can put something of my own style into the material, and it’s likely to be something that happens naturally, the more shows we do and the more familiar I am with the songs and how we perform them.
The Magnum catalogue of songs clearly has a lasting appeal. What qualities do you feel are the secret to the music’s longevity?
RICHARD: Tony has managed to write some memorable songs which, during the ‘Classic Magnum’ era, were recorded and played live by great players who understood how to perform them to best effect. Adding that to an amazingly loyal fan base has given them lasting appeal.
MICKY: Well-crafted songs, written from the heart, with social and political comment that is still relevant today, performed by a band that has consistently delivered on tour for the last 40 years or more.
MARK: Short and to the point answer here is that a good song is a good song and is therefore timeless and indeed a credit to its writer.
LAURENCE: There is a running theme with Magnum songs and it’s a great formula that works.
CHRIS: I think first and foremost you have to have a well thought-out and well-crafted song. When you then let a singer of Bob's obvious calibre loose on it, you know you're going to be on to a winner!
MO: Dare I use the word “catchy”? They are. You just need to look around at the audience, young and old; they are having a party. The lyrics are timeless, they are poetic, they paint a picture for everyone. Clarkin is a gifted writer.
NEIL: The songs have a good combination of melody, atmosphere and ROCK! There are varied influences, but the band has a style of its own which has proven to stand the test of time.
What are your hopes for the future with Kingdom of Madness?
NEIL: Hopefully to reach as wide an audience as possible, and for the band and fans to enjoy the music, which is what it’s all about.
LAURENCE: Lots of gigs and travel and getting it out there to the people that wanna hear these old Magnum songs and playing them with new energy and power.
CHRIS: Mostly I want this band outing to be fun for all concerned. We all have an immense amount of respect for what Magnum has achieved over the years, and indeed continue to achieve. The band wants to give some of the earlier, perhaps currently less-played songs an airing, and so long as we're not treading on any toes, and there's an audience appetite, I look forward to it immensely.
RICHARD: The material is good and will be performed by a great bunch of players. The rest is down to the enthusiasm of the fans. I’d like us to take Kingdom of Madness to Europe next - subject to Brexit, of course!
MO: I hope we’ll knock it out of the ball park. I realise that we’ll be compared to Magnum by some, but I hope those that come to see us and can see further than the end of their noses will see Kingdom of Madness as a sh*t-hot band that are doing great justice and keeping alive these Magnum classics.
MARK: It’s early days really, but I would like to see the name Kingdom of Madness really establish itself on the main stages and play to bigger and bigger audiences as, after all, we all just want to be playing live in a great band as much and as often as possible whilst keeping an open attitude to maybe even writing and recording original music a little further down the line.
MICKY: Let’s hope there’s more to come; who can tell?