Mark Stanway (Magnum) Interview
Interview by Mark Dean
Hey and thanks for joining us today!
Firstly, how did the collaboration with Pat Mc Manus arise? Were you familiar with his previous work with Celtus, and Mamas Boys?
Mark Stanway – Yeah I’ve been familiar with Pat’s work since the early 80’s which was when we first met; around 1984 Phil Lynott, John Sykes, and myself were working together and we had just done a solo tour tour of Sweden (Phil Lynott solo tour). Phil said one day that we are going up to Nottingham to jam with a pal of mine, who plays in a band called Mamas Boys and that was the first time that I met Pat, at Rock City in Nottingham.
We got up and did a couple of Lizzy songs with Mamas Boys and we got on well ever since.
The reason this has come about is that Magnum did a couple of shows in late November-early December as Pat happened to be the opening act at both of our shows; we renewed our friendship, and loosely said that it would be good to play together. The next thing Pat phoned up as he had just lost his bass player two days before his European tour and asked if I could play bass on keyboards? This was the day before he was due to go; I hadn’t started listening to his stuff or anything and had
one day to learn his set. I went out and did the first three shows of his European tour, playing bass basically on a Hammond. It was only last Wednesday that I played Pats full show, actually using my right hand.
How was the set list for the tour devised? Did you have much input into that?
MS – I’ve got my favourites. The gig that we did last Wednesday, Rick Chase (former Mamas Boys singer) was getting up to do three tracks, Pat knew that before I did the 3 European dates. On those dates we did the 3 songs for me to get familiar with them and Pat, of course has some standards that people expect Runaway Dreams; Needle in the Groove and Best Friend-Pats got such a catalogue of great material. We are doing Parisienne Walkways because the last time I played that was with Phil (Lynott); (must bring back a few memories) That was one of the reasons that Pat threw that back into his show, that I had played it so many times with Phil Lynott.
It was nice, especially as Pat does the guitar part so well, he plays it beautifully; we play it a bit differently. He is not copying what Gary Moore did as Pats’ got his own style. Pat is pretty much sticking to his own show, apart from as I have said the compromise when Rick Chase was doing a couple of the songs that he used to sing on.
There is a local vocalist you are playing with tonight?
MS – So I understand! He is a legend over here, has been singing for over 20 years, established pedigree, singing currently with Stormzone.
I have heard of Stormzone. Do you know which songs that you will be playing with him yet?
MS – I think we are doing "Hot Blood ". Pat actually had to relearn it, I think in Belgium…plus we had to do it in a different key to suit the vocals.
Tonight is a homecoming gig for Pat, but you are no stranger to these shores yourself.
I personally saw you several times with Magnum. Any particular memories of Belfast on those tours, or was the 80,s just a blur of rock n roll debauchery?
MS – I have got very fond memories of Ireland, especially because of Phil Lynott.
When we first formed Grand Slam, I lived here for four months, in Dublin and we warmed that band up with about 28 odd shows. We did everywhere both North, and South Ireland. I have nearly been to every county because of Phil. Obviously with Magnum, apart from that one festival (Ballyronan) we have only ever played Belfast and Dublin
Ok taking you way back now. At what age did you become interested in music? Did you come from a musical family?
MS – Yes I did! My dad at the tail end of the war was a drummer in a swing band and I was brought up on swing music. I loved big bands. Jazz like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Buddy Rich. My dad also played a little piano, so I always had a piano in the house .
There was an old saying ‘If there isn’t a piano in the house, then there is no chance of anybody learning to play it!’ I was brought up having music played far more than watched television. My dad taught me how to play drums, that was my first instrument, but he was always better than me-I thought then I would be better play the piano!!
How did that develop to playing with Rainmaker, and then Magnum?
MS – I heard an album by Billy Cobham called Spectrum and it changed my life.
I thought this was what I wanted to do as it was like rock but it was jazz, it was thinking mans music. It was far beyond what I was capable of playing, but I fancied playing that stuff.
I then found the guys in Rainmaker, who were all into that style of music.
Jazz-rock was my first thing so I went out and bought my first Fender-Roades, and started plying jazz-rock. With Rainmaker we played the Speakeasy in London one night in 77/78 and Brian Robertson came up and jammed with us. I haven’t seen Robbo for a while (think he was in Motorhead the last time) I have conflicting stories but will never forget that night in London. That was my favourite Thin Lizzy; he played so well in the late 70,s early 80,s wonderful.
Growing up in Birmingham, with Elo, Sabbath, and Plant etc and in a thriving musical scene, was it difficult to get gigs?
MS – Not really. I think that I chose the right instrument because there was a lack of keyboard players. There was always a chance of a gig or a jam with somebody.
We were playing a pub in Birmingham called The Railway which was famous at the time in Rainmaker, we used to get only 20 people on a Wednesday night but on a Thursday night Magnum used to play, and people were queuing down the street. We could not understand it and 18 months later I was asked to join Magnum, but we were all friends anyway.
I read an interview that your wife had some input to the Sacred Hour tune. Would you like to explain how that came about?
MS – Well the Sacred hour thing, my wife is a very competent piano player also. We play music together. During the Rainmaker days, I was also in a band called ‘Little Acre’ which is where I met her. She was the vocalist in that band, and the rest is history.
Mo had actually come up with this piece of music that she used to play on the piano, and I said that I could use that for a track I am doing with Magnum, on my first album Chase the dragon and I said that I could make a big feature out of that, so I adapted it a little. I’m going to play that tonight actually!
We were both in Robert Plants’ Honey drippers also we have also been in a band fairly recently with Robert who lives close by. I have been friends with Robert since the early 80,s we were actually in a pub quiz team together for a couple of years.
How did the link up with Phil Lynott in Grand Slam come about, and what was the legend like to work with?
MS – He is still the biggest rock star I have ever worked with. He used to come and stay for weekends at my house to get away from London, have Sunday dinner and play with the kids, he was a regular guy. Unfortunately he liked to party a bit too much.
How do you feel about the current Thin Lizzy line-up?
MS – You cannot stop the guys earning a living. Brian and Scott are there and Darren. Brian is one of the best drummers that I have ever worked with, a fabulous player. I have never seen them live, just on Youtube. I’m glad they are out there doing well, and earning a living, it is wrong to stop musicians earning a living. Brian was there from schooldays with Phil!
Touching on a link with one of my other favourite bands, I have read that you could have joined Whitesnake.What happened there?
MS – Yes that is right! I met Phil because of John Sykes. John and I were very close since the Tygers of pan tang days. When they were doing the Thunder and Lightning tour, John invited me to Manchester Apollo to watch the show, I went up, and met Phil briefly…the next thing I know, I am at Reading with Magnum, and Phil was doing the farewell Lizzy show in 1983! Phil said to John and me to go back to his place for the weekend at Richmond and we ended up staying there for over a year. We put a new band together and John got the call from Whitesnake, financially an offer that he could not refuse!
Grand Slam was struggling to get a deal because of Phil s reputation and the band was worthy of a deal, but it didn’t happen. He could have put Lizzy back together, but he was adamant to see it through. He stuck to his guns and then I got a call from John asking if I would be interested in joining Whitesnake, the next thing it is in Sounds, and Kerrang etc.
It never actually happened. Having said that, Phil was so devastated when John left, before I got Laurence Archer in place in Grand Slam, I felt that I couldn’t really do that to him, considering that he and I really formed that band.
Continuing with the theme of vocalists, what was it like to work with Robert Plant?
MS – As we live very close to Wolverhampton we would bump into each other all the time. I had played in a band with Robbie Blunt who was in all his solo bands; we were just mates. A couple of years ago Robert said that he was going to do a couple of charity gigs with The Honeydrippers, and asked if I would be interested, so I did that! I am still very close to Robert, and we often have Christmas lunch, very close families. I am glad to say that I have never fallen out with anybody in the music business and anybody that I have met I have stayed friends with, it’s a small business.
Has working with Pat outside of Magnum prompted you to pursue other musical projects outside of the band?
MS – For five years I was working with Marsden, Moody, and Murray in classic Whitesnake and Bernie has actually asked me to do some more shows! Those songs were the best songs for me when Whitesnake was British. I have known Neil since the 70’s and I have played with him also in other bands. I was always in London, and used to gig with Neil.
Can you define the enduring popularity of Magnum which prevails some 20+ years after their peak of commercial success in the 80’s with albums such as Storytellers, Wings and Vigilante etc?
MS – Things have changed 1988-91, we were doing arenas and huge dates, which all went by very quickly. We had the record company behind us and they would make hits and there was a bit of pressure on the band to come up with some commercial stuff for that reason. When we played the NEC I saw 10,000 people it was a big thrill, that was all because of things like Top of the pops. Today we have 2,000 people at the shows that are diehard Magnum fans that are still coming to this day, and bringing their kids to see us. We don t change, we like to progress, but it still sounds like Magnum. People feel safe with that.
We did Storytellers album in 12 days and it cost £9,000.we financed that, and it has gone gold since.
Apart from the latest album (as everybody says it is their best) what is personally your favourite Magnum album, and one that you would regularly return to as a fan?
MS – Rock art, I like to listen to and there are a couple of songs on it that are such brilliant songs. Tall ships being one of them. I like the way we did that album. It was in our own studio, we were in charge of it, which we hadn’t been for some time production-wise. We went in and set up and played live basically, that is the last time we did that. We had a producer but he was more of a great engineer than a producer and he recorded it properly. It was just the freedom that we had on doing that album and it went down like a dream. There are a couple of songs on there that I just think are the best songs that Tony has ever written. He has written something like 280 songs, that is a hell of a catalogue.
Bob also although senior in years is still banging them out!
Do you still have any musical ambitions as yet unfulfilled?
MS – I don’t think that you will ever achieve everything. I have had some seriously good opportunities over the years and I don t regret any move that I have made, I am very fortunate. I am happy to still be in Magnum, and still have a record deal and we have just finished the new album, and will go out playing it. I do enjoy playing all the time, not just once every 18 months (which is what it seems like with Magnum at the moment) to get an opportunity to play with somebody like Pat who has got to be one of my favourite guitar players!
Did you ever get to see Rory Gallagher?
MS – Yeah I did, but that was a long time ago. Birmingham Town Hall…another tragic loss.
I read that you are in the process of writing a book? Is it still called Close to the Mark ?
Is it a solo project, or in collaboration with an outside writer?
MS – Yes it is still that title. I am writing it all which is why it is taking such a long time!
You don t realise actually how many words that you have to write for a book. It is a priority when I have got the time and I would like to finish it this year as it has stories that people have never heard about. It is pointless putting discographies in, that s all on the internet anyway. It is all behind the scenes, the funny times and here are many that I can’t tell, obviously! This goes through the entire Phil Lynott thing also, so it is not just Magnum.
My last thirty odd years that I have been a musician, there are also stories about me and Robert Plant, various little snippets. There is no chronological order and it will shoot from 1982-1992 and then back again. I keep thinking and remembering more things, my memory seems to be getting better not worse!
Finally several people have asked me, if there is a chance of Magnum returning to play a date in Belfast?
MS – I would love to think so! If we could just find a promoter who is prepared to put some money up and do a deal with the agency, we would be here tomorrow, and maybe do a couple of dates, maybe also Derry and Dublin! I would dearly love to be playing here again but it’s all down to a bit of politics, a little bit of finance, and the right promoter taking us on……..
Thank you so much for your time today!
MS – Pleasure!