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Heavy Load: Tony Clarkin On Hairdressing And Death

Veteran Midlands prog-rockers never say die.

Anthony Michael Clarkin was born on November 24, 1946. Like his future Jet Records labelmate Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra, Clarkin grew up in the Birmingham suburb of Shard End, later immortalised - along with Rome, Tokyo and Monte Carlo - in ELO's hit song All Over The World. Guitarist and songwriter Clarkin formed the band Magnum with vocalist Bob Catley in 1975, and released their debut album, Kingdom Of Madness, three years later. The band eventually attained long-overdue chart success through trimming back their pomp-rock excesses in the late 80s, but split up in 1995. Perhaps unexpectedly, given that the guitarist had abandoned Magnum for a more modern-sounding venture called Hard Rain, it was Clarkin who instigated a reunion in 2001. The band's current studio album, The Visitation, is their sixteenth to date.

How was your childhood?

I had a working-class upbringing that was very happy, I guess.

Were your parents understanding of your musical ambitions? 

Although they were worried about my being in a band, they really helped. My dad bought my first two guitars for me.

Is there any truth in the internet revelation that you trained as a ladies’ hairdresser after leaving school? 

Yes. I thought being in a band and being a hairdresser were sure-fire ways to meet girls.

How did you feel when, early on in the band’s career, Sounds magazine wrote that Magnum looked “like a bunch of roadies at a fancy-dress party”? 

[Laughs] That would be an insult to the road crew, really. Being a fashion guru has never really been my style.

Is there a secret to writing good songs?

If there is, then I wish someone would tell me.

After the band had struggled for so many years, did having hit singles feel like some sort of vindication? 

‘Vindication’ is not the right word. I remember being really pleased, but it’s not something you should expect just because you’ve been playing for a long, long time. It was also around that point that I think we lost our way, being pushed around by a record company [Polydor] and manager [Keith Baker] who always thought they knew better than the band. Thank heavens we got rid of both.

You cut your hair and threw away your trademark hat in 1992. The story goes that on the day concerned Bob Catley walked right past you.

Believe it or not Bob's been walking past me for years. I sometimes think he's blind. On one occasion I remember being shoved out of the way by fans trying to get to Bob. I'd just shaved my hair, and I went round introducing myself as Tony Clarkin's brother. The trouble was no one believed me.  

You and Bob have worked together for 39 years. Do you ever argue? 

Actually, it's very rare that Bob and I have disagreements. I think by now you'd say we need each other [laughs]. And of course I mean that in a musical sense.  

 You suffered a heart attack at the Sweden Rock Festival eight years ago and had to be airlifted to hospital.  

Yes that's true. And I nearly had another one getting into the helicopter. As I've grown older I've begun to hate flying.  

Against doctor’s advice you continued to smoke and drink. Is that still the case?   

[Laughing] Hang on a minute. Do you know my doctor? No, I stopped smoking and drinking on the same day four years ago.  

Very little is known about your life outside of Magnum. Do you have kids? 

Yes, I do have children. In fact it was Dionne, my eldest daughter, who gave me the idea for the song The Visitation

Do you believe in God? 

The best way I can explain it to anyone is to suggest they watch the film  Fiddler On The Roof. That [the film’s lead character, Tevye] is me; it’s a wonder I haven’t been arrested. 

Were you pleased to discover, via a recent interview with photographer Ross Halpin, that Jimmy Page approves of Magnum’s music? 

Yes, I’m very pleased. I’ll never get my big head through the door now. 

What’s the best feeling in the world? 

It’s putting the last full stop after the last word in the last song when you’ve been writing an album. 

Do you have some understanding of the meaning of life? 

It’s different for everyone, whether it be making love to a beautiful woman or spending lots of money on stuff that you don’t really need. 

Do you want to be buried, or cremated? 

I’d like to spend my last month on this planet in a house of ill repute, and afterwards they can do whatever they want with me. 

Magnum’s album The Visitation _is available via SPV Records, as is new album _Escape From The Shadow Garden.

THE VISITATION LIVE

DID YOU KNOW:

  • Magnum's biggest UK single was Start Talking Love. It got to number 22 in 1988.

  • The band played the Monsters Of Rock Festival at Donington in 1985.

  •  Patty Smyth covered Les Morts Dansant in 1987. She retitled it Call To Heaven.

  •  Magnum only toured the US once. In 1982. Opening for Ozzy.

  •  The band's first single was a cover of The Searchers' Sweets For My Sweet, released by CBS in 1975.

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