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Interview - Al Barrow (Magnum)

Interview with Al Barrow from Magnum
by Dan Mailer at 23 April 2014, 4:01 PM

For over three decades the British Rock fuelled MAGNUM has been sailing the seas, between the lines of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, they have been inspiring millions. Recently the band released “Escape From The Shadow Garden”, via SPV / Steamhammer Records. Dan Mailer had a chance to talk to Al Barrow, the band’s bassist, about the new release and more…

Hello Al, how have you been? It is a huge honour having you for this interview for Metal Temple. How are things in the Magnum camp? Excited about the upcoming new album and planned tour?

Hey Dan, it`s great to get the chance to speak to you and all the readers at Metal Temple. Everything in the Magnum camp is great, were very excited right now and in mid flow doing lots of press and interviews worldwide for the new album. It`s a very busy time for us all especially Bob & Tony who I think are doing about 20 interviews a day. This goes on for a while, they have been doing it a long time so they are kind of used to it. We have been working closely with The Agency in London, Workhard PR & SPV to give this album and forth coming tour as much promotion as possible. Everyone is very excited about the plans for 2014. We can’t wait to get back on the road and play some of the new tracks for the folks and of course play some classics. We have recently put the set together and we think it`s a killer show. I think it`s a very up tempo set so bring ye dancing shoes and your tonsils. We have about 36 shows confirmed and still some more tbc. We are trying to get out to as many places as we can. We wish we could do more… We need promoters to get on the phone and say we want Magnum at our venues!

What is the new album “Escape From The Shadow Garden” about, anything you can share with the readers in particular?

Well firstly let me start by saying I think it`s one of the best albums I have played on. I would say that but it`s true. I think we have everything that is Magnum and more in this album. Some great artwork, balls to the wall riffs, incredible lyrics and tons of hard hitting choruses. A lot of folks are saying it`s a bit retrospective, I see their point in some ways. That was not an intentional plan, but when you get Bob & Tony doing what they do and at their best I suppose you’re going to get elements that would make people think that. As many know Tony writes all the lyrics and I feel once again he has dug in deep and come out with some real great work. I think it is something that Magnum fans in a way expect from Magnum. Lyrics that take you places and paints some pictures whatever your interpretation of the songs are to you. I love the lyrics on this album it has to be said. I think Magnum fans are going to enjoy every last moment of this new album.

The last album was only released in 2012, what made you guys want to produce an album so soon after “On The 13th Day”? Was it a matter of label deadlines or merely you felt that it was the right time to hatch new material?

We try to have something ready every 2 years or so. it`s really not a plan as such, as I say Tony writes the songs and is always working. He never really stops. Tony works at home on songs pretty much constantly for about 6 months before bringing the ideas in a basic form to the studio. I occasionally go over his house to catch up on new ideas but to be honest from the point of conception to the final thing they grow in so many ways. It`s quite a process that it goes through. An enjoyable one for sure but does take a good year or so to get it to a point where you can see the meat on the bones so to speak.

What was the recording process like this time around while the album was produced? Can you elaborate on particular moments that you remember fondly?

Once the album is at a point where you can feel the idea of the song, tempo, key, hooks, rough melody played on guitar or piano, we start to get a little more involved. We work well under that old saying of “too many cooks”. First thing is to get Bob to sing some guide vocal lines. This will give us a better idea if it`s in the right key to push Bob hard enough to get the best performance out of him. Let me tell you know, Tony will push you to the limit to get the best out of you every day of the week. Once the key is finalised Harry will come down to the studio for a week and pretty much play the songs in one take a lot of the time. He is quite incredible like that. By now we have a rough copy of the song for a few weeks to get to know it, do some homework, so no time is wasted learning things in the studio. Time is money these days! I am there for pretty much 90% of this process. Once the drums are done I will come in and do my bass lines. Tony will say this is what I want to hear. I will record all he asks, then he says right do what you want to do. Add what you feel you want to add. So spend a few hours adding what I like, at this point Tony either says I like that part or run, riff or choice of notes which may differ a little from his, and then sometimes he says ok I like it but I want the original pass on this part. So it does become the art of compromise at times. As far as I am concerned it`s whatever is best for the song. it`s nice to show boat from time to time but if it affect the song it won’t make the cut.

You can guess the next part, we get Mark in to do his keys. It`s a very slick and quick process. Once all the parts are right we move on to guitars and then vocals. I say that, these parts kind of get split up over the next few weeks as Tony refines melodies and solos. A lot of changes can happen at this point so I have at time had to go back in to change some bass lines. Now I get to have more involvement with backing vocal. Me & Bob spend the next few weeks doing vocals and harmonies. I think this is my favourite time in the studio, as long as we don’t get a cold. We have a lot of fun doing this. Usually at my expense. They make me sing ridiculously high, well out of my comfort zone just to make me squirm, then play it back to me, it`s like torture but it does make for some very laughable moments. I said we should keep them all and release a spoof album. Lol. This process goes on a while, then weeks spent mixing and mastering. I find that a little tedious but all part of the process. If you get it right though you end up with something that you feel very proud of and cant wait to play to people.

How did it feel first being asked to join the band back in 2001? Was it in a manner of a dream come true, a deep wish that came out bursting?

Well I had been with Hard Rain for a while so it seemed a quite normal progression; you could say it sneaked up on me really. Once Tony & bob had decided to put Magnum back together it was a very natural process. No big phone calls or anything just “were going into the studio to record, when are you free?” That was it really. We had been taken on by SPV Records and have had a brilliant working relationship ever since.

I had only ever seen Magnum live on one occasion. So not so much a dream come true but a very lucky place for me to be in. I have become a bigger Magnum fan over the years if that makes any sense? I feel very lucky to be in the band and to have such a wonderful back catalogue of songs to get my teeth into live. I like hanging with the guys and we do actually get on really well. You have to, lol. I do get the chance to do other projects but Magnum is my real love and family to be honest.

What do you do outside of the band, for example during downtime?

I am very lucky to get paid what I would do for free, but don’t tell the manager that. I do get some free time and I love traveling and photography. Again I am lucky to have turned my hobby and passion in to something people want to pay me to do. I do photographic jobs all over the world and get the chance to work with some wonderful people on the way. I have a photographic company with a guy you may know by the name of Vinny Burns, guitarist with Asia/Ten/Ultravox/Dare just to name a few. It`s great working with Vinny as we have many similar memories of touring and were both mad on photography. He also makes a worthy drinking partner when sat in airport lounges for months on end. Sprint water and juice of course.

I also spend a lot of my time designing merch for bands and events. I get to do band photos and doing band logos etc. It all seems to be linked in some way. If it involves being creative in some way I am a happy camper. I also like to travel a lot, this year hoping to do Rout 66 again.

What got you into playing bass in the first place, and who influenced you?

All my family are or were musicians & both my brothers are drummers, lol I had to do the drummer joke, sorry. My mother was a great singer in her day I think it`s in the jeans, we all like to perform. My older brother & sister were in bands & I would go watch them rehearse. The bass player always seemed the coolest and funniest in the band to me. I thought I can do that. While my friends were all out drinking and finding girls I was in my bedroom for years playing along to Rush and other Prog bands. I learnt every Rush bass line note for note. I joined several bands in my youth and ended up doing lots of session work around the Midlands. So when I got the call for Hard Rain it was just another job at the time. Who knew all the years later I would be in Magnum?

As far as influences go I would have to say Geddy Lee was my starting point. Then moving on to people like Tony Levin. I have always leaned towards singers influencing my music taste more than bass players. So when I got to tour with Kip Winger who is an outstanding bass player but has one hell of a voice. Also Danny Vaughn was a big influence on me. After many years I have ended working with Danny on a few things and speak often. I like the writing of Peter Gabrielle also. I have to say my favourite singer in John Farnahm.

What is your favourite song of Magnum to perform live?

It changes from tour to tour. Sometimes it`s nice to revisit a song we have played in the past and do things very slightly different. Keeps things fresh for me. I always enjoy the classic Magnum tracks but I always get a lift out of tracks like All my Bridges. We have some quite dark songs in the set so when we get to that point in the show, it`s like a bit of party time. Relax a little and swing ye pants. I used to enjoy playing Wild Swan, Soldier of the Line and Don’t Wake the Lion. There are a few new tracks off the new album were doing on the 2014 tour which I am very much looking forward to.

Coming in hard you have a tour planned for the support of the new album, is a track list ready for the events? Can you share several titles that will be included? Will there be plenty from the new release?

We do have a set list in place right now I am excited to play it. It has some of the favourites in there but 5 new tracks and few tracks we’ve not played for a while. I don’t want to give it away right now. You will have to come to a show to hear for yourself.  Sorry, but what I can say it has all the potential of being a classic Magnum show.

What is the band dynamics like, do you all get on well?

We do, when you spend a lot of time with these people, usually in small rooms or on a tour bus it helps if you get along. Sure we have in depth discussions and have our own points of view. You’re going to have difference in opinions on things in life but we all seem to click on stage and in the studio. I spend a lot of time with Bob & Tony and we do have a laugh. Usually taking the mickey out of each other.  It seems to work for us. Tony and myself spend a lot of time discussing artwork, photos and ideas for each album. Bob makes lots of tea. Lol. I look forward to touring with everyone. There are a lot of people that help Magnum behind the scenes. There’s a lot of crew and office staff and studio folk who all help us sound and look good. Well as good as possible. It`s a big unit of people and you all have to agree to an end point. It`s a lot of fun when we all get together. It does become a bit insular on the road, you get a lot of in jokes and things that people outside of the group of people working together would find hard to follow or even funny in the slightest. We all get along well and it`s a very comfortable place to be. If I was to say yes there is a dynamic, it would have to be said Tony & bob are the boss and I’m the sex appeal. Lol but…..Harry might disagree.

What’s in the future after this album / tour cycle? Working on another album or perhaps something else?

We have a nice little tour coming up this year and some more dates tbc for later in the year. I would imagine Tony will already be formulating some ideas when the tour finishes.

Well here are the tour dates…

MAGNUM TOUR DATES 2014

25.04. UK-Leamington Spa - The Assembly
26.04. UK-Manchester - The Ritz
28.04. UK-Nottingham - Rock City
29.04. UK-Glasgow - Garage
30.04. UK-Newcastle - O2
02.05. UK-Holmfirth - Picturedome
03.05. UK-Wolverhampton - Wulfrun Hall
04.05. UK-London - Islington Town
06.05. NL-Uden - De Pul
07.05. B-Vosselaar - Biebob
08.05. D-Dortmund - FZW
09.05. D-Cologne - E-Werk
10.05. D-Emden - Nordseehalle
12.05. D-Hamburg - Docks
13.05. D-Berlin - Huxley`s Neue Welt
15.05. D-Saarbrücken - Garage
16.05. D-Filderstadt - FILharmonie
17.05. D-Offenbach - Capitol
19.05. D-Regensburg - Airport Obertraubling
20.05. D-Nürnberg - Rockfabrik
22.05. D-Munich - Circus Krone
23.05. CH-Pratteln - Z7
24.05. D-Ravensburg - Club-Oberschwabenhalle
06.05. AT-Kufstein - Kulturfabrik
27.05. AT - Dornbirn - Conrad Sohm
04.07. SE-Sölvesborg - Sweden Rock Festival

What was the most memorable show you’ve done? And what was the weirdest of them all?

They all feel very special; I would have to say the first time I Played Sweden rock was pretty smokin'. It was probably the biggest crowd I had played to at that point. I always enjoy playing Scotland for some reason. They just seem to know how to have a great night at a gig. Loud and sing every song with you. I like some Spanish shows but we never seem to get back there as much as we would like to. Home gigs are fun and London Shepherds Bush & Z7 in Switzerland has to rank high.  Z7beciase the catering is fab and they do laundry, that might not sound much but believe me it means a lot when you’re running low on undies. I hope I can add some more to that list after we do this tour. We are playing some new venues Magnum have not played for a while like Circus Krone etc, so that will be cool. Ask me again next time and I will have hopefully added a few more.

Al I wish to thank you for this interview, it has been a pleasure for me as a great fan of you guys. Any last words for the readers?

I’m not one to rabbit on….lol but I would just like to thank all the fans for the support and thank them for going out and buying the album. I hope we get to meet a lot of you on tour sometime. If not hit us up on Facebook, I run that side of things and I am always available to chat about Magnum anytime.

Cheers, be safe, live life, play it loud and Live ye Dreams!

Cheers



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