Kingdom Of Madness/Firegarden -
Corporation, Sheffield, Saturday 15th December, 2018
First up, as a support band we have a treat itself - Sheffield's very own Firegarden are here to entertain us for half an hour. Although the prog rock veterans on down to a threesome they do make up very well for keyboardsman, Andy Gotteri's absence.
Mainman Jake Mann slices through the 5 songs fantastically tightly and though they bravely include no less than 2 covers today it's a key reminder of how this combo came to encounter their inspirations.
Slick guitar playing and precise timing by all three lads and a huge amount of patience by the crowd provide a very relaxed and pleasing warm up for what is about to follow.
Now seeing one Magnum gig in Sheffield in one year is lucky enough these days. Seeing two - to use the expression slightly loosely in this case - means we might have been very good for Santa and he's discovered it early.
Former keyboardsman of over 35 years Mark Stanway wastes no time since his abrupt departure. Reuniting with his one-time predecessor Richard Bailey, plus drummer, Mickey Barker (85-95) and into the bargain, long-running backing vocalist Mo Birch, he also managed to strike gold in getting the rest of this line up together.
Bass veteran, Neil Murray (Whitesnake & Vow Wow to name two) and Stanner's old Grand Slam mucker Lawrence Archer are joined by none other than Brit AOR's top vocal tornado, Chris Ousey himself. Previously worshipped for his work with Virginia Wolf, Heartland, The Distance and more recently Snakecharmer, this shop is by all accounts about the only man capable of gifting a selection of Bob Catley's incredible melodies this fresh lease of life.
The cheer from the Corporation's quite sporadically-loaded 'big room' is still pleasantly loud for a covers band, as Kingdom of Madness 7 members or make their way in one by one, after a spirited introduction by Sheffield's own favourite double act, Des and Mick Bailey. Igniting the fireworks with an oldie like 'Changes' is a clear indication that these lads have no intention of staying to one particular little corner of the Magnum catalogue - well 1978 to 1994 is still sixteen years and ten albums.
The follow-up barrage of 'Back To Earth' and 'Just Like An Arrow' are where Mr Ousey's onslaught leaves no trench untouched. The titanium throat of Snakecharmer and Heartland turns these two cornerstones into his own from start to beginning. As much as Magnum has surprised us with still including a number from 'Rock Art' on their set list as recently as 2014, Mark and the lads have opted to take it further by including two. 'Love's A Stranger', one of their most underrated ballads is beautifully reconstructed by Marks keyboard work and is the closest Chris could get to his Heartland days without beginning to imagine he is still in them.
Onto one of the many major highlights of the evening, the double attack of 'Wings Of Heaven' material, with 'Start Talking Love' and 'Wild Swan' and a strong reaction from the turnout that feels like twice as many people are actually in the room tonight. The long-lost favourites don't stop coming as 'The Lights Burned Out', 'Need A Lot Of Love' and 'Rocking Chair' chew up the room with increasing emotion by the diehard Magnumanians.
Chris manages to carry out most of the shapes onstage Bob pulls, aside from his gesticulations, as he pounds up and down left and right across the middle two quarters of the Corp stage, switching round to face those behind him and back again to those on the opposite side of the barrier, in the essence of a true rockstar.
The second 'Rock Art' entry of the night is my personal favorite of their 1994 album. 'Tall Ships' is very much what Magnum were about in the early 90s with a lyrical feel that had already been tilted towards in 'Stormy Weather'. Rather appropriately, it is their one entry off 'Sleepwalking' that comes next. 'Only In America', while not one of my mega-favourite Magnum cuts is however a totally different machine as I hear it live for the first time. The guitar sounds much meatier at least in Lawrence Archer's hands and Ousey's handling of the verse lines strengthens its force. Somehow I think I might be playing this one more often when I get home from now on.
Another one we haven't heard for quite a while is Midnight, which though missing the saxophones off the studio original is still substituted by a strong vocal work on the chorus, contributed to heavily by the crowd. the comical moment of the evening comes with 'Days Of No Trust', in which we find that even a performer of Chris Ousey's vocal calibre isn't that bulletproof occasionally.
Accidentally forgetting the words to the second verse he substitutes that with repeated bursts of the first line of the chorus, as a cue for them to skip straight through before anyone notices. Suddenly as much as we did at least he is honest. "I'm sorry I cheated you out of a verse there I think.", Chris then adds "You ought to go and ask for a couple of quid your money back."...to much laughter of support from the understanding turnout Kingdom itself closes the main element of the set off, firing up the pogoing engine at the front just exactly as Catley and Clarkin would succeed on any night.
The title song of the debut album which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2018, Stanway can be seen struggling not to look emotional as he mangles the ivories, although most of the time he looks down at his instrument as always. Neil Murray for a man with such a huge background this is a guy who used to provide the rhythm for Whitesnake has a strange habit of being heard but not seen, staying hidden at the back for the length of the set.
After taking two minutes breather behind the veil, the seven of them return for a tear-inducingly emotional rendition of the 'Last Dance' from the 'Storyteller's Night' days, in which Chris and Mo Birch make a magnificent duet, with her performance almost seeing his at defeat. Totally ending proceedings with the evergreen live staple that is 'Sacred Hour', is where all seven musicians show their meat together and as individual performers.
Stanway's ethereal melodies, synchronised to by his own predecessor Richard Bailey, who sits quietly pumping away on the opposite end of the stage, still send a sweet tingle up every spine here in 2018. Chris smashes the chorus once more with a silky echo that still lasts as he enters the rideout. It's time for all seven, Neil included to bow out - literally - together, as a hugely exhausted looking at Mickey Barker unites with them from beyond the kit. This chap in a woolly hat and black T-shirt could scarcely be harder to identify as the same fellow who played drums on classics like 'Vigilante' and 'Wings Of Heaven' many decades ago although the look keeps him youthful alongside Richard who would make a brilliant incarnation of an ageing Dr Who.
With band introductions by Ousey completed, it's up to Mark himself to state the obvious about a man who this evening couldn't have been possible without. I always dream of hearing Chris Ousey covering Magnum numbers sometime before I drop, and with this being the very first date of a brand new venture, there's no guarantee that this not going to happen again ever. An incredible Christmas present, to hear not just two Magnum live sets in the space of three weeks but the headed by two separate but undeniable of British melodic rock re-establishing their worth. This is going to be one long the subject of talk.
Christmas has come to Sheffield in 2018, and then some.
By Dave Attrill