Kingdom of Madness

Fibbers, York

2 March 2019

When this project was announced, to be honest I was sceptical. Why would I want to see Magnum songs performed by a band that wasn't ... Magnum?

The thing that changed my mind was seeing Mark Stanway's solo show in Stockton last summer. The moment when he played Les Mort Dansant, I got exactly the same stab of emotion I always get when that keyboard part starts at a Magnum gig, and I thought, you know what, this is as much Mark's song as it is anybody's, and this Kingdom of Madness thing might just work ...

So, who are Kingdom of Madness? Basically, after leaving Magnum two years ago, Mark Stanway decided to get together with a couple more ex-Magnum members and a few more of his mates to "play the songs that Magnum don't play any more".

In addition to Mark there's Micky Barker on drums, and I'd forgotten what a distinctive style he has, a syncopated and almost melodic way of playing the songs that I hadn't realised I'd missed for the past two decades until I heard it again tonight. Also: drum solo!

Richard Bailey left the band before I ever discovered them, so this is the first time I've seen him live. You might wonder why they need a second keyboard player on stage when they've already got Mark Stanway, but he adds new layers to the arrangements as well as rounding out the backing vocals. And adds the biggest highlight of the night for me: a flute solo in Kingdom of Madness! The way it's supposed to be played, and never has been since I've been following the band ... the whole of Kingdom of Madness is a revelation, possibly the best arrangement of it I've ever heard, guitar, drums, flute, everything, it was superb.

Chris Ousey is an outstanding singer, though the mix doesn't do him any favours tonight (Fibbers rarely has a great sound). Despite the mix, you could clearly hear his strength and range, and he quite wisely didn't try to sound like ... that other guy ... , he just did his own thing.

Laurence Archer is a technical wizard on guitar, but his flashy runs never overpower the songs, they feel like exactly what each songs needs.

And I honestly don't think I need to say anything about Neil Murray to anybody who's going to be reading this review. It's Neil Murray on bass!

Finally, Mo Birch on backing vocals, percussion, and seemingly limitless energy: the tiny stage can barely container her, and you get the feeling that if there was a giant staircase anywhere nearby she'd be racing up and down it all night. She adds the extra layer of vocal harmony the songs need, and she takes the lead vocal on The Lights Burned Out. This being one of the many "Oh My God" moments throughout the gig, when the opening piano chords rang out: Oh My God it's The Lights Burned Out! When have I ever heard that live?

So here I am in a Fibbers that's not exactly packed but holds a comfortable crowd of obviously die-hard fans, and the band open with Changes, segueing into Back to Earth, living up to their promise of "playing the songs Magnum don't play any more". Or, basically, all the songs I want to hear. Days of No Trust, Wild Swan, The Tall Ships ... Mark introduces each one with "This is my favourite Tony Clarkin song," which is exactly how I feel about every one. I'm going to forget something if I try to give the full set list. But: Start Talking Love, The Lights Burned Out, Just Like an Arrow, The Last Dance, Only in America, Midnight, Rocking Chair, Kingdom of Madness, Sacred Hour. You might notice they snuck in a couple of songs Magnum still do play, but I didn't see anyone complaining. Because this was a perfect set of songs, every one on my list of all-time favourites, just the best body of songs ever written. And it was nice to hear Mark give due credit to Tony, while still pointing out that it was he, Richard, and Micky who helped shape them and make them great.

You can tell it's a "new" band, even though they are all seasoned veterans. Most of them are reading off music sheets, and after Start Talking Love Chris Ousey says, "That's the first time I've got that right." Mark immediately responds with, "It's the first time I've got it right!" But despite all this, the performances are flawless from where I'm standing—there might be a couple of missed cues and skipped verses in one song, but who's counting? There are apparently technical problems with a guitar amp as roadies are swarming over the stack throughout the first few songs, but I don't think the problems are as bad as they think they are, as I hear the guitar loud and clear throughout. And later in the show, Micky breaks a snare drum—how rock'n'roll is that?—and they have to rearrange the set on the fly so they continue while he runs off to find a spare. The change involves The Last Dance being inserted, and it's a show highlight: played without drums it's closer to the original spirit of the song than any version I've ever heard played live. Chris and Mo duet on the lead vocal, and their voices fit together, and fit the song, perfectly.

So ... what else can I say? It's not Magnum. Don't go expecting it to be Magnum. But they will play a set of the very best Magnum songs, and play them brilliantly. If you love these songs, you'll love this band.

Oh, I haven't mentioned Mark Stanway himself, the man behind the whole thing. He's ... he's Magnum's keyboard player. What else can I say? The man who put it best was Richard Bailey, at the end, after Mark had name-checked everybody in the band, Richard introduced "The man you all came to see" and added, "He's not bad ... for a new boy".

It was just perfect. Best concert I've ever seen.