By STEVE MASCORD
“‘AS a person?’ You mean, before he was a wolf?”
Mr Big singer Eric Martin is answering my question about how well he knew Magnum vocalist Bob Catley before they worked together. You know, not as someone on the stereo but … as a person.
Cue the smart arse response (Turns out, within a couple of hours of the two meeting Catley was joining Martin on stage for a rendition of Mr Big’s 1991 megahit, “To Be With You”) which unfortunately has me breaking out in unsettling laughter for the next 15 minutes.
Martin, 58, describes himself as Mr Bigmouth. Our interview – conducted with me in London and him somewhere in Spain – was supposed to start at midday and and finish at 12.20. It began at 12.35 and concluded at one. I think I’m now Facebook friends with the hotel receptionist’.
Anyway, why would you ask the singer of American hard rockers Mr Big about the vocalist of British pomp rockers Magnum? Because they’re both about to tour Australia with the metal-opera collective Avantasia, that’s why
“With Mr Big, I’ve known the guys for 30 years, right?” says Martin, whose youthful looks earned him another title: the Benjamin Button of rock.
“And on the last tour we did hang out pretty tight because our drummer Pat (Torpey) was going through Parkinson’s (see separate Eric Martin feature, coming soon at patreon.com/hotmetal) and we rallied together.
“But for the most part in those 30 years, we shined on stage but we didn’t really hang that much in the off-days or … when we came off stage, it was pretty quiet.
“That’s not to say we’re not good friends. That’s just the dynamic that we had.
“I was definitely the class clown of Mr Big, trying to put some spark into the guys at times. I mean, sweetheart guys, lovely people but they’re private characters, right?
“With Avantasia? Oh man, it’s like a traveling circus, a traveling party. I love all these guys. I’m not the only class clown in this situation. I love hanging out with these guys. They’re really interesting, they’ve all had a taste of success, they don’t bring their crazy band baggage to our ensemble.
“I can’t think of any cooler thing to say than: it reminds me of boy scouts’. Call up 14 or 15 of your best friends and let’s go hit the bar tonight!”
Quick ready reckoner on Avantasia: it’s a heavy metal opera put together by Tobias Sammet of Edguy. They record concept albums with guest singers and tour the world. Is that enough to explain it?
Sometimes we imagine our rock heroes don’t have the same imperatives as ourselves, that they are all millionaires sitting by a Belle Air pool growing old gracelessly.
The fact that some of them now play in five bands reminds us otherwise. And then there’re projects like this, which allows Sammut to hire some of the musicians that used to be on his bedroom wall.
How much of this is about art and how much about paying the bills?
During a rather bizarre YouTube interview, shot in an Amsterdam street, Martin said a number complimentary things about Sammut – including describing him as “a great paymaster”.
For once, there is a pause when Eric’s asked about this. “I’ve seen that interview and I thought ‘I did pretty good til I said paymaster!’. What it was, when Mr Big got back together in 2009, we only toured and made records every two years.
“It wasn’t like it was back in the nineties when there was consistent money to make a living and also rock out and stuff. Like, in the nineties it was back-to-back.
“When I said paymaster, I meant I was fortunate to get something that was lucrative and get my ego stroked and also get back up on that big stage.”
Catley, for his part, draws a clear line in the sand when it comes to lucrative side gigs.
“We did a thing called Rock Meets Classic … I stick only to Magnum and Avantasia these days and I think that’s only fair to the songwriters within those bands,” he says in an interview a couple of days earlier.
“If put myself out to the highest bidder all the time, I think it would look rather cheap and nasty and I don’t want to become that person. I try to be very loyal to Tony (Clarkin) and to Tobias.
“I don’t think (Sammet) would appreciate me working for the direct competition. There are other projects out there like Avantasia and I have been asked to appear on them but I said ‘no, I’ve got enough to do and it wouldn’t be right, it wouldn’t be honorable..’”
Mr Big have toured Australia once, Magnum never.
“I’ve never been there,” says Catley, “We’re playing Sydney and Melbourne, as you probably know. It’ll be a great experience for me personally.”
Not only is it the trip of a lifetime for the 71-year-old but the workload is somewhat light compared to what he’s used to.
“I’minvolved in five songs,” he says. “You come on and do two and then other people come on and do their part with Tobias. Tobias is involved in all of them.
“It’s like a an opera.
“You can really go for it. You pack all your energy and all the high notes into those two songs you’re on for and then the other two songs songs where you come back after your break.
“You don’t have to pace yourself, like you would on a long Magnum tour. I’d be worn out after the first night if I did that (with Magnum). I’d lose my voice. You’re allowed to really show off and go for it and shine.
“He keens inviting me back. He must like what I do for him and I do get a lot of pleasure out of doing it.” Not only is it a nice earn, then, but projects like Avantasia allow older vocalists to turn back the clock with a low workload.
It’s like being Marlon Brando in Superman.
Avantasia Tour Dates:
May 12: Metro Theatre, Sydney
May 14: Forum, Melbourne