It was just over a year ago that fans of British band Magnum woke to the post that longtime keyboard player Mark Stanway had officially left the band, while on tour in the UK. Just after a month later it was announced that Rick Benton had joined the band, and had played on the band’s last few shows. He would play live with Magnum throughout 2016 and recorded with the band the brand new album “Lost On The Road To Eternity” – which is being released early in the new year. Thanks to Al Barrow [Magnum’s bass player], I connected with Rick and sent him my questions for this interview – some insight in to Rick’s musical styles, influences, and his experiences thus far with Magnum!
Check out more about Rick at >
What bands and artists did you grow up on – ones that had a major influence on you?
I grew up in a very musical household. Both parents played piano, (my dad played in a dance band and also played organ at the local church). My brother, sister and I all started piano lessons at a very early age and so music was always around us. We listened to a wide variety of genres, anything from Bach to the Beatles, Beethoven to Black Sabbath, Rachmaninoff to Rush! I was also very lucky at school to have a music teacher who was passionate about all styles of music, I remember we had a school orchestra, choir, jazz band and pop bands so we had the chance to ‘dip in’ to everything musical. I started ‘gigging’ when I was around 12 years old, meeting and playing with some great local musicians who helped me along my way. I also went to watch as many gigs as I could. I’m not sure I could accurately point to any individual influences – more a combination of all of the above to be honest.
Can you give me a ‘top 10’ of favorite albums from your early years?
Wow – very difficult question! I’ve always had a very diverse taste in music so this isn’t going to be an easy one to answer. For me, so many of my all-time favourite tracks are tucked away on albums that wouldn’t necessarily make this list – I’m much more of a ‘playlist’ listener than a whole album aficionado! Thinking back though, in no particular order, these are probably the albums that I listened to in their entirety most regularly (and in some cases still do!):
Peter Gabriel: So, Us Pearl Jam: 10 Rush: Moving Pictures Magnum: On a Storyteller’s Night Genesis: Genesis, Invisible Touch Toto: IV Bruce Hornsby and The Range: The Way It Is Steeley Dan: Aja Donald Fagan: The Nighfly Stevie Wonder: Inner Visions
You’ve also done theatre and teach. what music is your first love and favorite – rock, blues, theatrical?
I listen to such a wide variety of music depending on the mood I’m in – it could be jazz, classical, latin, blues…..but at the end of the day I’ve always been a bit of a rocker at heart!
Prior to joining Magnum, how familiar with the band were you? and / or any of their songs?
I remember getting ‘On a Storyteller’s Night’ when I was in my teens and loving the album – great song writing, performances and arrangements. I’ve followed the band since then so I was pretty familiar with many of their songs. I’d also met Tony on a number of occasions at Mark Stuart’s studio when he was based in Walsall. How exactly did you wind up joining Magnum? [details]
Last December I had a phone call from Mark (Magnum’s TM and Sound Engineer). We’ve known each other since the 90’s (Mark produced a number of recordings I did with The Lilac Groove and I’ve done keyboard sessions for him at his studio for a raft of artists over the years). He asked me if I was available over the following few days to join the tour for the final shows, explaining that Mark Stanway had decided the time was right for him to concentrate on other projects and had left the band. It took me about 1 second to say yes! I spent the next day scoring out the set from live video clips and recordings then joined up with the guys at the Wolverhampton gig and then travelled with them to do the last show in Edinburgh.
You would’ve had to learn a number of tracks in a hurry !? What are some of your favorite Magnum songs to perform as a keyboard player and as a listener?
They’re all fantastic to play for different reasons – that’s one of the greatest things about Magnum – you know instantly who you are listening to, but no two songs are the same. From a keyboard players perspective, some are about fitting in to the ‘groove’ backing up the guitar rhythms, some creating a ‘mood’ or ‘scene’ through sound and others are more ‘virtuoso’ with intricate piano lines and string arrangements.
Picking favourites is tricky because it can depend on your own mood at the time of playing but I would have to say that, from the current live set, Les Morts Dansant, Twelve Men Wise and Just, All England’s Eyes and When The World Comes Down encapsulate much of what’s great about playing keys for Magnum.
Magnum has some grand keyboard intros and solos throughout the catalogue. do you approach your playing to sticking true to what’s on record or are there any alterations in the way you perform certain tracks?
That’s an interesting question as many of the songs have developed from their original recording through decades of live performances. I’ll give you one example – Les Morts Dansant. On the album version, the intro is played on a pipes sound. On live performances this has become a very recognised piano intro. From a sound and notation perspective I learnt the set from live video footage and live recordings with the aim of remaining true to what audiences have become accustomed to. Obviously there will be subtle differences in my dynamics and feel as we all play slightly differently, but for me, staying true to these well-known intros and solos is very important as they are an integral part of incredibly crafted and well loved songs.
You’ve had the chance to do some major festivals and tour with Magnum prior to the new album. what have been some of the highlights and any moments that stick out for you as a new member to the band and their audience?
The first thing that struck me and has been a constant highlight of every gig has been the obvious bond between the band and the fans. I know it’s a well used (sometimes over used!) comparison but it really does seem like one giant family. Talking to folk before and after the gigs has been great – I’ve certainly felt very ‘welcomed’. Tony, Bob, Al and Lee are all great guys to be around on and off stage and the crew are amazing – we’re certainly enjoying life on the road! Touring gigs and festivals? Take your pick – they’ve all been highlights!
How was the pre-production and recording experience for the new Magnum album? [detail your input and viewpoint of this whole process]. As Tony Clarkin writes the Magnum material, can you tell me how much freedom you had to expand on intros, solos, etc. – in the studio?
What a great experience! For me the process began with sitting with Tony and listening to the song demos he had recorded, talking through sound selections and arrangements and then starting to lay down my keyboard parts. There was plenty of encouragement and opportunity to put forward ideas as the recordings progressed (intros / solos / sound selection / arrangements etc.). Often we’d lay down several takes of a song, starting with a very basic rhythmic version and finishing with a full-on keyboard ‘notefest’. Tony would then decide which worked best for the song – on some of the tracks less was definitely more, on others the keyboards took a more prominent roll. Tony is not only an incredible musician and song writer but he is also a quite extraordinary producer – I learned so much from working under his guidance in terms of developing ideas and playing for the song – absolutely priceless!
Having not heard the album, aside from the single [Without Love – which isn’t a keyboard heavy track]. what can you tell me about some of the other songs — any favorites? any big keyboard intros and solos?
From my perspective as a fan, I would say that this is very much an unmistakable Magnum album – Tony’s incredible songwriting and selection of subject matter re-counted through Bobs dramatic vocal story-telling runs right through the heart of it. Musically there are powerful guitar riffs, sweeping melodic solo’s, incredible drum grooves, all underpinned by Al’s signature rock solid bass lines and a title track which features a symphony orchestra playing an arrangement which I defy anyone to say doesn’t send shivers down the spine! Can I choose favourites? No – they all sound amazing to me and move me emotionally in very different ways! There’s definitely a couple of times where the keyboards take a ‘nod’ and a few that they start – I’ll let the listeners decide whether these are ‘big’!
Are there any of your own performances on the new album that you are looking forward to fans hearing?
To be honest I’m really looking forward to everyone being able to hear the album in its entirety – I’m beyond proud and honoured to have been involved in its creation – I just hope that my input has been faithful to the rich musical history of Magnum.
You must be looking forward to the upcoming tour, and performing new material that you are a part of!? Has it been decided on how many and which of the new tracks will feature in the Magnum live show? [if so, how was this process achieved?]
Naturally I’m very excited about the tour – we go in to rehearsals in the new year and then we’ll be off, hoping that our bus driver doesn’t get us “Lost On The Road To Eternity’ (I should say that he’s a great driver and we’ve all got satnav apps on our phones so I’m pretty sure we’ll find all the venues!). Regarding the set, Bob is the one who generally puts the show together. It’ll undoubtedly be a mix of classics and new material….I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say any more than that (under a threat of limb removal!!).
You’re also a part of Rebecca Downes’ band. How different is that musically and in performance?
Musically it’s quite different – in Magnum I use a wide variety of sounds between the songs ranging from orchestral strings to lead synths, brass, vintage pads, acoustic piano, electric pianos, motion synths, organs etc. For Rebecca, I predominantly use three sounds – acoustic piano, Hammond and Rhodes. Playing wise they are very different genres and therefore my actual playing style changes somewhat – for example there’s much more improvisation required in Rebecca’s set with blues solos on piano and Hammond featuring in a number of her songs. From a performance perspective, any time on any stage should be treated in the same way – get on and give it 110%!
She has signed a North American deal[!?] – might we see you with her over here in North America in the near future?
I’m not sure about the near future as touring North America is a very expensive business, but you never know – I’d love to come back at some point!
What are you listening to these days, as a music fan? [any current albums or reissues you’ve picked up?]
I try to listen to anything and everything! Although I might not personally like all that’s out there, I’m very conscious of the fact that with so much music available to listen to, there’s always a surprise to enjoy and a lesson to learn! If pushed, I’d have to admit that right now, while I’m typing this response, I’m listening to a Christmas compilation that the kids have popped on…..thank goodness it’ll be over in a week or so (musically!).