Magnum guitarist and co-founder Tony Clarkin has died, aged 77

Tony Clarkin
(Image credit: Sebastian Reuter/Redferns)

Tony Clarkin, the co-founder and guitarist of British melodic rock legends Magnum has died, aged 77, following a short illness.

His death was announced via the band’s website and social media channels, with a message from his daughter, Dionne.

“I know that Tony has touched so many people through his music in so many different ways,” she wrote. “I don’t really have words to express what he meant to me right now as the grief is too fresh. It was a privilege to call him my Dad.”

Olly Hahn, product manager at Magnum’s label, SPV/Steamhammer, was among the first to pay tribute to Clarkin.

“We at SPV/Steamhammer are devastated about the passing of Tony,” said Hahn. “We can’t believe that he’s gone. For 22 years the whole team and I had the pleasure to work with him, 22 years of fantastic music, trust and loyalty. We are forever grateful for this. Rest in peace, Tony!”

Clarkin was Magnum’s principal songwriter, recording 23 studio albums with the Birmingham rockers, plus two with Hard Rain – the band he and Magnum vocalist Bob Catley formed in 1996 when Magnum had split.

That split didn’t last too long. A few years of breathing space and they were back in 2001. Clarkin said the break had done him the world of good as the band returned with 2002’s Breath Of Life, a record he produced himself, and played and programmed drums on. 

Being a musician can be a very isolating life in that you don’t live and work like normal people do. But then I start writing and that’s my world, that’s where I belong

Tony Clarkin

Growing up in Birmingham, Clarkin famously had set his sights on a very different career path in ladies hairdressing. But music proved too strong a pull. 

In the very early days they played Birmingham’s Rum Runner nightclub, but it was during their residency at The Railway Inn that Magnum began to put together a sound around Clarkin’s vision. 

Their debut album, Kingdom Of Madness, was recorded in ’76, released in ’78, and inaugurated a melodic progressive rock sound that was likened to Styx and Kansas, and typified by its eight-minute epic opening track In The Beginning. It was a sign of things to come.

Over a career spanning 50-plus years, Clarkin could draw upon a seemingly limitless well of creativity. Magnum’s latest studio album, Here Comes The Rain, is typically imaginative, full of surprises, and is scheduled for release on 12 January. Clarkin said the key to his longevity as a songwriter lay in writing something that he liked. “There’s nothing more satisfying,” he said, but admitted that songwriting was a strange way of life.

“When I start to write the songs, I don’t have any fixed ideas in my head. I probably play a bit of guitar or mess around on a keyboard, sometimes I read a book and usually this gives me a place to start,” he said. “But to put this into words that people can understand I just fiddle about for hours hoping something inspires me. Being a musician can be a very isolating life in that you don’t live and work like normal people do. But then I start writing and that’s my world, that’s where I belong.”

In December, Clarkin revealed that he had been diagnosed with a rare spinal condition, with Magnum subsequently cancelling their 2024 tour. Clarkin said at the time that the condition was “not life-limiting” but the rigours of the road was out of the question, and frontman Bob Catley did not want to hire a stand-in.

“With the nature of touring and the weight of electric guitars this means there’s no way I would be able to play the scheduled shows in the spring,” said Clarkin. “We’ve taken the decision to cancel the tour, rather than mess anyone around trying to postpone in the hope things might get better in the short term. Bob didn’t feel it would be right doing it with a dep at this time.”

Clarkin was an animal lover and his family have said they will set up a charitable trust in his memory. 

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.