Billy Watman, according to his website, is influenced by Rodrigo y Gabriela, Tommy Emmanuel & Mike Oldfield. The first two, clearly are finger-picking classical guitarists and it makes sense, but the latter gets an airing in the set, as he gives us a snippet of “Tubular Bells”. He does that because he is explaining how he does his thing. That alone sets his 25 minutes apart from others, because where this type of thing can sometimes be cold and clinical, this is warm and welcoming. His playing is incredible. He takes on songs as varied as “Rasputin”, “The Spirit” by tonight’s headliner, “Mr Crowley” and “Another Brick In The Wall”. Watman is an engaging character, but with a supreme talent, and he finishes his set with something that is apt for tonight’s gig. You’ve heard “Breaking The Law”, but you have never heard it like this. Billy Watman has done something special. He’s taken a style that others have done and put his own stamp on it.
Theia, have been through plenty in their career. This version of the band is very different, though from the hard rock heroes of a few years back. Now a two piece, with Kyle Lamley and his brother Ash, they have a new sound. “Blue Heart” for one, has a real flavour of Royal Blood (and yes, I am aware that this is a lazy comparison, but it works) “New Day” has a proper disco sheen, and “No Crisis” has a real chug. But more than that, you’ve got the Lamley boys and the fact they are always so delighted to play live. The vibe on stage is quite lovely (“I know there’s other stuff going on at the moment, but I’ve seen the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its not worth it” says Kyle). “There’s A Boy” is the most personal thing here, and “Back In Line” adds something a little heavy, but this set is a showcase for a band that’s evolved wonderfully, but has retained what made them great in the first place.
“We’re going nowhere. I ain’t ready for no rockin’ chair”. Those words seem to hang in the air tonight. Not least for MV, because as a 14 year old in the summer of 1990 that was the first Magnum single I bought. It began a love affair with one of the greatest bands from these shores.
Which brings us to the second reason for those words being important. Bob Catley, Tony Clarkin and this current line-up of the band are gathered in the freezing cold of Wolverhampton, at the finest venue for rock n roll in England to celebrate their 50th anniversary.
The set they play for nearly an hour and 40 minutes tonight is glorious, genuinely stunning, as it was in March when they played more or less the same one, but somehow tonight more electricity in the air.
“Days Of No Trust” and “Lost On The Road To Eternity” kick it off, but its “The Monster Roars” that underlines the best thing about them. Here is a band that doesn’t sound like any other, not really, but here is a band too that is still making wonderful music. Nearly every year they stick a record out and nearly always it is stunning. No other band of their vintage does this.
It doesn’t even matter what they play or from what era of the band, it is simply shot through with a class. As if to emphasise that this is a band who looks forward, these 16 songs take all the eras in. New stuff like “Archway Of Tears” rubs shoulders with “Dance Of The Black Tattoo”, now a decade old, and “The Flood (Red Cloud’s War)” which is a 30 year vintage. The band deserve every credit for keeping it so fresh.
Then something happens. They play “Wild Swan”, and Tony Clarkin – the genius behind all these songs – rips out a superb solo. And somehow, it goes up gear, which considering how good it had been to start with, is no mean feat. The tinkle of Rick Benton’s piano that heralds “Les Morts dansant”, the aforementioned “Rockin’ Chair” (a chorus that’s been that catchy for 32 years should be investigated) “All England’s Eyes” and “Vigilante”, complete with dancing from Bob Catley that is so natural, nothing about this band is staged. Nothing.
In fact, I am going to make a big statement here: I don’t think that there’s a hard rock band that can match this last few songs in order, anywhere.
That also includes the encore trio. The heavier “Kingdom Of Madness”, the epic “On A Storytellers Night” and “Sacred Hour”. But what is really interesting about these is that Catley gets emotional talking about “….Night” as he looks out at the packed crowd, and says “I know you’ve supported us since those early days and thank you”, maybe he too is reflecting on the career that is being shown on the big screen behind him.
As ever, they do the introductions after they finish the last song. “We’ll keep this going as long as we can,” says Catley, “as long as we can do it well.” Given what had been seen tonight, then that might mean another 50 years.
MAIN MAGNUM PIC: KEITH TRACY