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Drie jaar na de Magnum-reünieplaat 'Breath Of Life' gaat het Magnum-zanger Bob Catley in de wind. Zijn hoofdband heeft net de sterke, nieuwe plaat 'Brand New Morning' uitgebracht en ook zijn solocarrière zit in een positieve creatieve spiraal. Als Lords Of Metal met deze vijftiger spreekt, komt hij net terug van een Britse tour met Magnum. Het typisch Engelse druilweer leverde de zanger een forse verkoudheid op, waardoor hij regelmatig zijn antwoorden door de telefoonkabel kuchte. Het stond hem niet in de weg om enthousiast over zijn bands en soloplaten te verhalen.

Door: Ferdi | Archiveer onder prog / sympho metal

Magnum came together some years ago after breaking up in 1995. Why did you break up at the time?

“Because we felt that, after being together for twenty years, it was time to do something else. The symphonic rock genre was in decline. Promoters weren't interested in us anymore and we could notice a decrease of the number of visitor's who attended our gigs. Because of this lack of interest there was a huge apathy towards Magnum, both in the band as well as outside it. It was our guitarist Tony who eventually made the decision. He was fed up with the music and wanted to do something else. We founded the project Hard Rain together, which was much more straight rock than Magnum. Exactly the thing we needed.”

At the time you also released your first solo-album, 'The Tower'.

“I was in touch with a songwriter called Gary Hughes at the time, who you may also know from the British rockband Ten. He offered to come up with material for my solo-album and also produced it. That album was very important to me. I had been doing Magnum since my young days and this was the first time in my life when I worked with someone else. The release of my solo-debut and its follow-up 'Legends' forced me to set my priorities. I had to choose between doing another album with Hard Rain and promoting my own material. I choose for the latter. Tony did not want to continue without me, so he saw the project falling apart and of course it was me again who was to blame. Tony went on writing for other bands and I started work on my third solo-cd 'Middle-Earth'.”

That third solo-album 'Middle-Earth' sounded a lot more mellow than anything you did before.

“That was the intent of the cd. Never in my career did I want to put out the same album twice. In this case it fitted the atmosphere of the album. The album was born out of my long desired wish to write a concept-album about the 'The Lord Of The Rings' books. Gary Hughes came up with the music and in one way or another it turned out much softer than anything I did before.”

After doing 'Middle Earth' you got Magnum together again. That was in 2000/2001.

“Exactly. I was sitting outside in the garden having tea and smoking a cigarette, when all of a sudden Tony rang me up on the phone. He told me how he missed the band and asked me, “fancy 'having another go at it?”. I really did find myself in a state of surprise because I never imagined Magnum getting together again. I explained to him how I was doing solo-material too. Joining Magnum would be alright with me, as long as it wouldn't keep me from releasing solo-cd's. That was no problem to him, so all of a sudden Magnum was back on its feet again. Surprising, eh?“

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Your first new release 'Breath Of Life' was received with mixed response.

“I know. It was a good album but not a great one. The feeling of being together was a bit weird at the time and we did not feel like we received full support from all the business-partners. The album was okay but we could have done a better job.”

After touring with Magnum you returned to your solo-career. This time you didn't work with regular Bob Catley-songwriter Gary Hughes. What happened between you and Gary?

“After we did the thing with Magnum I asked Gary Hughes again if he was available. We did three albums together and had a great cooperation. We never intended to be a regular couple of a singer and a songwriter, but he grew as a writer/producer and I just kept asking him back. Unfortunately he wasn't available to do this new cd. He had an album in the works for Ten and he was working on his two 'Once And Future King-cd's. So in other words: he didn't have any time to do it.”

You ended up working with Paul Hodson, also from Ten. The result was your heaviest and possibly your best solo-album to date: 'When Empires Burn'

“When Empires Burn', yeah, that was my heavy metal-album, hehehe! I of course knew Paul through Gary and from touring with Ten. He played me some demo's of the solo-album he was working on (under the name Hodson; out now – Ferdi) and they were so convincing that I asked him to do a complete album for me. He was into doing this Maiden/Priest type of metal at the time. Which suited me fine because it was something I never did before and because it provided a nice contrast with my previous album 'Middle-Earth'.”

You have never been a songwriter, not for Magnum and not for your solo-band. Why not?

“Because I'm not suited for that type of work. I am just a rock and roll-singer and not an artist. I never tried writing my own songs nor have I ever felt the desire to do so. Why should I, if I ever have the people I work with who can do the same thing a lot better?”

Do you have any control over the material that you sing on?

“I actually have more control than most people seem to think. I often change certain parts of songs, such as the key I sing in or the general pacing of the material. This is usually done in a case when a song could benefit from a better adjustment of the music to my vocal style. Not every songwriter can come up with a sound to mach my vocal range that easily.”

Do you reject a lot of the songs that are written for you?

“Not for Magnum. But as far as my Bob Catley-albums are concerned: yes, I also reject a lot of material. Sometimes I change songs, but if I really do not feel a song has the potential to be really great I just throw it away. I usually either love 'em or hate 'em. I usually trust my own feeling when it comes to selecting material. It is not a scientific process but more of a gut feeling that determines if a tune is going to be on an album. Most of the songs come to me in the form of a demo or a musician playing a composition for me on an acoustic guitar.””

You now have a new album out called 'Brand New Morning' with Magnum.
“I am pleased with the way the new album came out. I think we did a good job, and this shows from all of the good reviews that we received. We just finished a UK tour, have more shows coming up next year, and I hope that the fans appreciate this. The new material comes across pretty well. We played four songs including the title track and got great response to it.”

How was the new album written?

“It was basically done by Tony in his private studio. When time came for the new album he locked himself up in there for a couple of months and came out with about fifteen songs. Nine ended up on our cd, five spares either were rejected or were used as bonus tracks for the Japanese version of the album. We then recorded the songs in our Madhouse Studio's, where we spent a total of six months. A lot was changed about the songs, especially the vocals. The album was actually finished last spring, but we preferred to release the album after the summer so we could promote the band at a number of festivals.”

How is the atmosphere in the band Magnum at the moment?

“It couldn't have been better, actually. We have a good line-up and we make good music again. It still is a bit of a surprise to me, because I never thought this band would ever reunite. And here we are again with another album out.”

So I take it you are pleased with your new Magnum-cd?

“Oh, most definitely. I think we achieved a nice mixture of songs, ranging from progressive rocksongs to soft ballads. It's the kind of album I would want to buy if I was a listener. It has no fillers, every song is on the album for a specific reason. Recording the album was a pleasurable experience.”

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Pretty soon you are going to work on the new Bob Catley-cd.

“My fifth, yes. We are hoping to get some shows done with Magnum and after that it is back to work. I am currently sorting out songwriters for the cd. This time I want to work with a number of people instead of having just one songwriter. I already have some names in mind. My guess is that the result will be some sort of mixture of the previous four cd's, with slow, atmospheric and heavy songs alternating eachother.”

How do you avoid conflicts between schedules of Magnum and Bob Catley?

“By communicating with the parties involved and by planning ahead. I make a lot of arrangements with Tony about this and so does my management do with his. My agenda is already full for the next twelve months. We will first do a number of tours with Magnum. Then in 2005 I will start working on my new solo-album, which will be out somewhere near the summer. After that it's either back to work with Magnum or getting me a solo-tour done. As long as we keep talking about these things we know that they do not have to clash.”

You have been playing with Magnum for thirty years, not counting the time between the split and the reunion. Do you think that you have been able to attract a new audience, or do you play for the same people as you did in the seventies and eighties?

“Well, I'd say we pull a totally new audience these days. Most of the guys who know us from the old days have retired from rock. A small number of the old fans stayed with us, but the majority got jobs and families by now so they're less inclined to travel a long way to see us live. I'd say that we attract mostly young visitors who either appreciate us for our good music or because they got to know this band of ours through their parents or older brothers. It does my heart good that we are not just playing to people who are almost as old as we are.”

The record company Sanctuary recently re-released a number of old Magnum-cd's and a box-set with rare material from the old days. What do you think about these re-releases?

“I think it is a good thing for the band. The original versions of our cd's have been out of print for ages, so it is good that people are still able to get their mitts on them. We rarely have any control over these re-releases but appreciate the fact that there still are record companies who are interested in keeping the name Magnum alive. And hey, every now and then we even receive a cheque for these cd's. I am all for it.”

One of the recently re-released Magnum-cd's is your 1985 album 'On A Storytellers Night', which many people regard as your landmark album. Do you feel this way too about the cd?

“I think it is great that so many people remember that specific cd. It was an important album for us at the time that brought us to a whole new audience. I do not think that it is the best Magnum-cd, but I agree that 'Storyteller' has passed the test of time really well. Sure, the production has aged considerably but the music still stands out today. As for what I consider to be the best Magnum-cd: I believe that the 'Vigilante'-cd was on the pinnacle of what we are all about. But ask Tony and he'd say that 'Sleepwalkers' is his personal fave.”

What keeps you making this music even after thirty years?

“The love of the music, basically. It is a great feeling to be able to keep going and show the world what we are made of. I just love singing songs. Even when I was young I was quite a big-head, always singing at parties and the like. To be successful with it is great. And we surely have been successful. Flying in private jets, thrashing hotel rooms, driving expensive cars and playing arena's filled with fans: we've done it all. What other job could give one such satisfaction as this one?”

And how long will you be able to keep this going on?

“I will keep this live up until I roll over and die.”

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