Gig Review: Magnum / VEGA / THEIA – The Tramshed, Cardiff (7th December 2022)

Originally scheduled for April, this show was one of a few rearranged due to a Covid outbreak during Magnum’s Spring tour. It’s to Magnum’s credit and their completely solid work ethic that they didn’t cancel, merely looked for a slot where they could combine the dates in a straight run which has seen them visit Bristol, Southampton and which culminates in a celebration of their 50 years as a band with a show in the Midlands.

THEIA (c) Paul Hutchings

The band have been loyally supported by two touring companions. The first of these is THEIA, a two-piece comprising brothers Kyle and Ash Lamley. You know it’s going to be a fun 30-minutes when the duo run on with cards held up with the words “Wild Applause”. There’s a level of confidence which belies their youth, with drummer Ash turning a whole 24 the day after gig which earns a hearty round of applause when Kyle notifies the crowd. They play music they describe as a “bastard sons of Royal Blood and Twenty-One Pilots”. It’s easy to see why but as the audience slowly thaws, Theia hit their stride with a short and punchy set that is endearing and totally enjoyable, Kyle a blur of movement and excitement, as if he’s consumed family bags of Haribo before hitting the stage. There’s laughter, lots of laughter as Kyle ribs his brother mercilessly, though Ash gives as good as he gets. Of course, if your music is rubbish comedy will only get you so far and it’s to their credit that they can cut it musically as well.  They hit the studio for album number four in January.

VEGA (c) Paul Hutchings

In a review I wrote in 2021 for VEGA’s seventh album Anarchy & Unity I said “there are certain things you want from VEGA. Soaring melodies, classic harmonies, rich clean vocals, and a steely edge that reminds you that although Vega sit firmly in the melodic rock camp, they can still hit hard when they want”. Well, tonight they bring all that once more in their main support slot. The band have had a line-up change earlier in the year with the band’s founding members the Martin twins departing in what some on social media called a bit of a mystery. Regardless of any on-line drama, new bassist Mart Trail (Bootyard Bandits) slots into the band with ease, keeping the low end tight all set with drummer Pete Newdeck. VEGA are a bit of a UK institution and bring their infectious melodies to a Cardiff crowd already in the mood for some decent rock ‘n’ roll. It may be a Wednesday evening, but VEGA go for it hard, with an eight song set drawing songs from across their discography.

Unsurprisingly, they draw two from Anarchy & Unity, “Kneel to You” and “Live for Me” slotting neatly into the mix. Vocalist Nick Workman is the ideal frontman, humble yet confident, whilst guitarist Billy Taylor and lead axeman Marcus Thurston show some moves with excellent shredding. It’s unsurprising that the crowd enjoy this, for VEGA live are excellent. It’s only their cover of Duf Leotard’s “Animal” which spoils things a little, with some bemusement as to why a band of VEGA’s quality need to throw in a cover at all. Still, apart from that grumble, things are nicely set up for the arrival of the headliners.

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Few bands are as reliable as Magnum. Formed 50 years ago by Tony Clarkin and Bob Catley, they’ve released 22 studio albums, had countless line-up changes, and toured all over the world. Their audience is loyal, committed, and once again ready for Magnum to deliver.

Alongside Catley and Clarkin, the latest line-up is as solid as the band have ever had. Drummer Lee Morris, keyboardist Rick Benton and bassist Dennis Ward all look comfortable, part of the furniture and all committed to the cause. We get tracks from eleven of the band’s albums, the front part of the show top loaded with songs from more recent music including two from The Monster Roars. The exception is opener “Days of No Trust” which has the audience purring from the off. The band are static, the exception being Catley, who twists and turns, his voice now tuned to a lower octave, but still rich and strong. Clarkin is content to take stage left, his cool shades hiding his eyes for the first part of the show as he cranks out the riffs and engages in subtle interplay with Benton.

Magnum (c) Paul Hutchings

We get some gems. A rare outing for “The Flood (Red Cloud’s War)” from 1992’s Sleepwalking stirs the memories, the rousing pomp of “Vigilante” closes out the main set whilst there’s a beautiful rendition of “Les Morts Dansant”, one of three from the seminal On A Storyteller’s Night. The title track from The Monster Roars is joined by “The Day After the Night Before”, leaving one to muse on how much fun it would be if Magnum enlisted a real brass section for one tour.

Catley and Clarkin are amongst that ever-increasing group of musicians now comfortably into their seventies. They must drink unicorn blood for neither appear to have aged in the past two decades. Their performance is slick, polished, utterly professional, and compelling. Catley has a lovely narrative with the crowd, his mannerisms charming. The crowd roar them on, revelling in a performance of sheer brilliance. We get “Rockin’ Chair”, a song once reviled but now elevated to classic status. “All England’s Eyes” stuns and then it’s the encore.

The band reappear on stage, Clarkin hits that riff and the place go as bananas as it can with the demographic present. It’s “Kingdom of Madness”, sounding good as it did on the band’s debut way back in 1978. From here one can only hope for the final two songs and Magnum don’t disappoint. “On A Story Teller’s Night” is mesmerizing before a revised version of “The Spirit” ices the cake in magnificent style.

I’ve seen several bands in 2022 who are surely in the last chapters of their musical journey. Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, Saxon, Uriah Heep and Magnum. One can only hope these guys can keep going, for there aren’t any bands who can touch them on their day.

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Photos by Paul Hutchings

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