"March 2nd 1993 was a seminal date for Magic. It was the first date of a nationwide tour of concert halls and theatres in which they performed their “Queen” tribute show. I must make it clear from the outset that this was never intended to be a 'look-alike' tribute - as there were five members of Magic, none of whom bore any resemblance to any of Queen, it was a non-starter anyway. Magic’s selling point was the fact that they probably got the most musically faithful renditions of the Queen repertoire and that this was done without any help from pre-recorded backing tracks; it was all live and done without the aid of a safety net.
Up to this point Magic had worked the club circuit that most bands we know from round here were doing, and this, with exceptions mentioned in the previous section above, was what they were geared up to do and what they were equipped for. We were aware that in moving up to this new level that something would have to be done regarding the equipment needed, but unlike touring bands on this level, Magic wouldn’t be able to fall back on any kind of sponsorship or rely on record sales to cover the cost of providing this equipment. So, for some time beforehand, they had prepared as best as finance would allow to be ready .
We arrived at Plymouth on 2 March to start the tour at the Pavilions Hall with an enlarged P.A system that, hopefully, would be enough to provide a sound to fill the arena. For comparisons sake, the Plymouth Pavilions was a 2500 seater concert venue that would fit all of the Goose Green Labour Club buildings inside without it touching the sides. We took an awesome look around , gulped, and prayed that we could pull it off. By the way, the venue was close to sold out!
We proceeded to set up for the show realising slowly that what we hoped would be enough gear wasn’t really going to be . Fortunately, the venue had a good house system that we could link into and this enabled us to provide a show which went very well to give us a flying start.
Plymouth turned out to be one of the biggest halls that we worked over this early part of 1993 and whilst we did have to beef up the sound in some venues by adding their P.A. systems to ours, in many halls we were able to manage with the gear we had. It did become apparent, however, that what we had was really only just about adequate, and that something more efficient was required to obtain good sound quality at higher levels, so the next few years became a constant search by the band to achieve this at an afordable price.
I have been using the term “touring” but it should be pointed out that Magic were still having to play venues that had up to this point been their lifeblood, so it could be a little strange being in a concert or theatre type setting one night and then being back before a social club audience the next night. It would take some time before this situation could be altered. So, in March we could be mixing clubs with venues such as Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall, Southport Theatre; Sunderland Empire Eastbourne Congress Theatre were separated by a ten-day stint in the Scottish clubs. This mix of venues was to continue on for quite some time and called for a close eye on what type of venue was next because if it were a club then Graham and I would usually arrive at six’ o’clock and work through in the normal way with the band arriving later to perform and then leave. If it was a Concert Hall/Theatre type then the arrival time came forward to two’ o’clock to allow for set up, a full sound check, and to allow time to ensure that the venue had complied with the 'riders' to the contract for that show. I use the term 'rider' loosely because we were not in a position to demand very much, nor were Magic the type of band that would be inclined to do so, but there is a much stricter 'protocol' in putting on show in these venues, and over the course of the next few months we found out, sometimes by error more than trial that there were certain procedures to follow to co-ordinate the running of the show for all local stage crew and 'front of house' staff so that the audience could be safely allowed to enter and leave the hall at the correct times, and to ensure that we didn’t start the performance before, say, the audience had come back from the bar at the end of the intermission.
The 'Tour' carried on into April and May and took us to some venues we had only seen in papers such as 'Melody Maker' or 'The New Musical Express'- you know, the kind of place that 'name' bands did and we never expected to go to. Sometimes we had to pinch ourselves to make sure this was real and many times there was a slight inferiority complex of 'What are we doing here'. Some of the gigs that came up in April and May were as follows:
Apr 2: Queen Elizabeth Hall; Oldham
Apr 3: The Pavilion Theatre; Glasgow
Apr 4: The Barbican Centre; York
Apr 5: The De Montfort Hall; Leicester
May 19: Buxton Opera House
Towards the end of May we sailed to Ireland again to play a short run of dates over there. Back in England we returned to working mens' club type venues with the odd theatre date thrown in and this continued throughout the summer months, interrupted by another trip to Ireland in July, to play further down south in places like Waterford, Limerick and Cork, until September, when the promoter who set up the earlier tour had put together another run of theatre dates to be done through the autumn months. A selection of the places we visited this time round are;
Sep 4: Brighton Dome
Sep 10: Nottingham Theatre Royal
Sep 15: Swansea Grand Theatre
Sep 19: Lewisham Theatre; London
Oct 8: King George’s hall; Blackburn
Oct 14: Fairfield Halls; Croydon
Nov 6; City Hall; Hull
Nov 14: City Hall; Sheffield
Magic performing at the Wire TV show at The BreweryWharf, Leeds.
It was during the summer months of 1993 that Magic landed a slot on a 'Wire TV' show compered by the late Richard Whitely of Countdown and Callender fame, to perform a selection of songs to be played and recorded live at the Tetley Brewery wharf in Leeds. In what was essentially a short live show they played a pick of Queen songs whilst I dashed from doing the mix for the 'audience', to running into their control studio to try to gauge the sound being fed to the TV station. This was very tricky because the sound spilled into adjacent mikes making separation virtually impossible with the result that whilst the sound was acceptable 'live', it wasn’t especially good on the Television, with cymbals in particular causing a real headache to control. When the performance was over, Graham and I were invited to sample, live on television, together with Richard Whitely, the results of an earlier cooking item on the same programme. A claim to fame if ever there was one?
One rather different show that came up in this run was The Cabot Hall Canary Wharf London on Sep.30. This was to be a six’o’clock show timed to catch the people who worked in the district on the way home. It can be quite common practice in and around London for people to go out straight from work and then go home due to the length of time lost in commuting. We did the gig which as far as I can recall seemed to go well enough and were dismantled and on the way home by late evening thinking that we wouldn’t be ridiculously late home only to get embroiled in a long tail-back on the M1 motorway in the middle of the night. You can’t drive anywhere in peace anymore!
December saw us lined up to play a run of corporately organised Christmas party gigs split between Spennymoor and Gateshead, but the finishing twist of the knife, before we took Christmas off, was to go to Swansea for a party bash at a nightclub there. On the way down Graham and I got stuck on the M5 at Birmingham for several hours because of a traffic accident. Instead of taking just over four hours to Swansea, it took seven. When we arrived, the band were already there and between us we threw the gear into place, performed and got out almost in the same movement - horrible gig. Just to rub salt in the wound, though, we had to travel on to the Isle Of Sheppey, which is completely the other side of the country to play a club there. After we had got there, we had to sit around for about four hours waiting to perform, followed by wrapping the gear up and then the long drag home through the small hours of the morning. We arrived home in the wee small hours of Christmas Eve with just enough time to rest and enjoy Christmas.
1994 came in quietly, at least for the first half of January. It was back to the club circuit for the moment and the only two that stuck out that month were the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane London, which was one of those horrible London hotel gigs where you had to fight tooth and nail to get any help or co-operation. I was stuck up on a circular balcony which ran around the edge of the ballroom, off to one side and above the sound. I had no real idea of how it sounded downstairs and to make matters worse, it was one of those high level plush presentation functions where everything had to be just so. I still have nightmares about those jobs. The other gig I could have bad dreams about is a place called The Cage in Bournemouth. It was a students dance of some sort and we had to be there early to get in and set up. Once we had done this we had to kill about five hours in a cold and damp dressing room before working and then when they had finished all the lights went out, the DJ cranked up and lots of strobe lights came on. Graham and I were left to dismantle all the gear and get it out whilst being disorientated by the noise level and lighting effects and trying to barge our way out with all the gear to load out. It must have taken nearly three hours and some very frayed tempers. Boy were we glad to see the back of that one.
Parquesur Complex in Madrid
This year was a strange one in terms of work because the promoter who had arranged the first two tours in 1993 felt that the tribute phenomenon had run its course and wouldn’t handle any more gigs. Magic and their management felt differently and so proceeded to get the gigs themselves and so for a lot of the year we were mixing club circuit and theatre circuit without any separation between the two. We were going back to theatres we had already been to and going to new ones whilst still working the clubs. We played this mixture of dates until in early June we flew out to Madrid to play a couple of nights at the Parquesur Disco in the centre of a large water park on the outskirts of the city. There was nothing to do in the daytime but lie by the pools and soak up the Iberian sunshine. Things like this helped to make up for some of the more stressful jobs.
The Rosehill Theatre near Whitehaven,
On returning from Spain we next had to play at one of the most unusual places that came our way. The Rosehill Theatre just outside Whitehaven is a theatre in almost miniature. Rather like Wigan Little theatre but possibly smaller and able to seat only two-hundred people maximum. It had a great atmosphere but was always a challenge to set up in. Over the course of the next few years we played this place many times and usually for more than one night which took some of the sting out of getting in and out.
As the year went on the ratio of theatre gigs increased as the club jobs lessened. In September we only did four non-theatre gigs. In fact, because the band had a deliberate policy of targeting theatre work, we were actually working less nights but were increasing income - both for the band unit as a whole and individually - although overheads were also rising. The dates in November were all theatre dates and were as follows;
Nov 2: Tameside Hippodrome; Ashton-under-Lyne
Nov 3: Derby Assembly Rooms
Nov 4: Alban Arena; St. Albans
Nov 10: Hanley Victoria Hall; Stoke-on-Trent
Nov 13: Newport Centre
Nov 18: Sands Centre; Carlisle
Nov 19: Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre
Nov 20: Magnum Leisure Centre; Irvine
Nov 24: Hull City Hall
Nov 25: Victoria Theatre; Halifax
Nov 27: Mansfield Civic Hall
Nov 30: Hammersmith Apollo; London
December carried on in a similar vein excepting for a six night stay at the Kings Theatre Bar in Birmingham, and included Bristol Colston Hall and Liverpool Empire. My previous visits to this venue had been to see the likes of Eric Clapton and George Harrison with Delaney and Bonny, Genesis and Yes. There were times when it was a little daunting to think who else had trod those boards!
During the course of 1994, the crew had expanded to three people, in order to cope with the increased amount of equipment and also the extra travelling. Most theatre/concert hall type venues employed a clause in their contract stipulating the minimum distance and time that an act could appear in the vicinity of that venue; this meant that careful thought had to be given as to when and where Magic could perform. Also, almost all venues had a policy of leaving a gap of at least one year and more often eighteen months between visits, so this also added to the amount of travelling. Against this was the fact that, in spite of increased overheads, a higher level of income from both ticket sales and merchandising allowed Magic to perform less and be more selective of the venues to appear at. The balance was that the working days were longer and the travelling tended to be more, but we got longer breaks between shows.
The periods just after Christmas and at the height of summer always tended to be quieter, one due to lack of money after the seasonal festivities, and the other because of holidays. It was a slow start to 1995 but it built up by the end of January to a steady flow and by this time we were going back to many of the places we had visited in the previous two years, but many new venues were coming along too; the size, shape and style of venues was very varied and we had to be adaptable to many different approaches. One theatre that came along at this time was Great Yarmouth Britannia Theatre. This was situated at the sea-end of the north pier and for the first few visits we were able to squeeze the large Mercedes van we had at the time through a very tight entrance archway at the front of the pier to be able to drive along the pier to the front of the theatre, scattering holidaymakers aside in the process. The van would only just squeeze through the gap with inches to spare and some very careful steering was needed to get through unscathed. In later years as things got bigger we had to drag everything on wheels the length of the pier. We didn’t look forward to this job coming along, and unfortunately for the crew Magic ended up doing a weekly run of dates here during one summer!
In the summer of 1995 Tony Peet - who had worked with Graham in Whizz Kid - joined the crew. His knowledge and experience were a great help. A previously booked holiday kept him away for a couple of weeks in September, but we were fortunate to have as stand-in a guy called Terry Millard from Barrow-in-Furness, who I had got to know during my time with Rainbow Cottage. His sister Kay was a great fan and friend of the band and he was a one-man roadie machine around the area and worked for several bands at the same time. By 1995 Terry had, thanks to a friendship with Geoff Banks - one of the main men in Genesis’ crew he had made tours with Genesis, Pink Floyd and was more or less a permanent fixture for Van Morrison at the time. Terry kindly stood in for Tony and proceeded to show us how little we knew about how the big boys went about their business. He also had many hilarious tales about the goings on in that world too. He stayed with us for a couple of weeks till Tony returned .
By this time Magic’s show had expanded to include the regular hire of a large lighting rig owned and operated by Kevin Cain, who hailed from the north-east of England. He had a three man crew and at the time travelled in their own truck. This was now beginning to have the feel of a much bigger show. We were now having to think in terms of a more detailed technical rider with lighting going in at 11’o’clock in the morning and sound going in at two’o’clock, to allow time for full set up taking about four hours, a focus of the lighting rig and full sound check to be ready for house opening at usually seven‘o’clock. When the show came down - not usually later than 10:30 - it needed two hours with help from the local crew to de-rig and pack away the gear.
An outdoor show at Wallington hall near Morpeth.
Strictly speaking this was in 1996, but it helps to show the scale that things were getting to.
By the end of 1995 Magic had consolidated their position as one of the most, if not the most popular and respected of the 'tribute' bands, having gone from playing the club circuit around the British Isles to working almost exclusively to Theatre/Concert audiences in this country and abroad. The next part of the story will cover the time from 1996 to 1999."
Joe Moss: June 2011