Discovering Rush – ‘The 40 year old virgin’

Hands up who’s a fan of Rush?

One, two, three….okay hands down, there’s too many of you.

Rush fans united...
Rush fans united…

For the last thirty-five, or more years of loving progressive Rock music there was never a day I would have ever considered myself a fan of Rush.
No… please, keep hold of your rotten fruit and hear me out….
There was always something about them I couldn’t get my head around. I used to think it was Geddy Lee’s voice. The ear-shattering pitch he could achieve made seemingly domesticated house cats turn Feral.

Yet there was something undeniably attractive about some of the musical dexterity in the instrumental bits. The amazing power of the combined rhythm section of Lee and Peart was sometimes so complex it defied belief, but every now and then it just seemed too overblown, too heavy metal for a whimsical English Genesis fan like myself.

At various points over the years  I continued to have a genuine dislike of what I heard at whatever moment I came across it. In the 1980’s it probably happened more so, because of their poppy-synth progression, and yet I’m told by the lifetime fans that this period also reflects some of their greatest moments too.
Even a couple of years back I had another listen and heard something from ‘Vapor Trails‘ and I didn’t like that much either. I was surprised at how heavy they sounded, but I know then that I was too set in my ways to open my eyes or ears and really listen objectively. I’m now told that the mix of the Vapor Trail’s album wasn’t very good either so I’m guessing that it didn’t help though.
It’s been a pattern all along.

My first real taste was when a school friend playing me side one of ‘2112‘ sometime in 1980. Like the cigarettes he also offered me to sample– I hated it. Yes, I know this sounds incredible to ‘you’–a fan of Rush. The many I have met over the years have rated this album as one of the best–a real epiphany moment–and beyond that they have been as fiercely loyal and devoted towards everything the band ever released, more so than probably any fan of any group I have known. At the time I heard ‘Temple of Syrinx‘, and as I have said earlier,  Geddy Lee’s voice made my hair stand on end and not in a good way. Described as being similar to ‘A Munchkin giving a sermon’ by one particularly rude American critic, I could see my dislike for his vocal range and unique sound was shared by others.

And now is the time?

My parents always told me, I needed to try something I didn’t like at least once every year in case I changed my mind…
It usually referred to some food that they knew one day I would like the taste of, when I was mature enough to appreciate it. Several years ago I gave up on this philosophy when I finally realised that there was no way in this lifetime, or the next, I would ever, ever like cottage cheese. It’s disgusting. It truly is the work of the devil.

No...please don't make me....
‘Devil’s food’…..

So with Rush I honestly believed they were the cottage cheese of Progressive Rock. Not devils work,  but as likable as the revolting, inedible lumpy stuff….with extra pineapple. I was convinced it would never happen, despite the regular gushing recommendations. When it comes to fans, you Rush types can really gush…however in recent years since I have become part of the social media revolution, I have found the voices harder and harder to ignore.
I even toyed with the idea now and then of going into the attic and looking for that dusty old copy of A farewell to Kings.’ It’s been up there for many a year like a pair of crazy, multi-coloured socks that sit in the bottom of your sock drawer. An unwanted gift (that has been with me since 1986) which I would never enjoy even though I did once try…just a little.

One other item of Rush’s catalogue that I owned which I inadvertently bought was a shaped picture disk from 1982 –the single ‘New World Man’. I was a NUT for the space shuttle in the early eighties—and bought the single purely on the basis of the Columbia shuttle-shaped record. I never played it! I pinned the plastic sleeve to my bedroom wall with the record inside and it stayed there pretty much for the rest of the decade, even after I left home for college.

So fast forward to now and here I am… happy in the world of new Prog, minding my own business. There was no need to revisit the past when there was so many amazing bands to be enjoyed in the 21st century. Moreover where would I even start when it came to delving into the forty odd year history of a prolific band? It’s like signing up to do the New York Marathon having never run anywhere beyond a jog to the bus stop. Where do you start?

The niggling feeling that I was missing out on something just wouldn’t go away so I felt it was time to ask you, the fans and friends to help. Yet that was like asking all the salesmen at the sports shop which shoes I should buy to go running the marathon in. Everyone has a favourite and they all seem to be the best–the most definitive.

So one evening it all started with a series of questions which gave me the first album I needed to start with:

Facebook–‘There are a number of ‘different stages’ to Rush, depends on your listening tastes…’
me–Well I don’t know really. I’m not a big fan of eighties rock music.
Facebook–‘Do you like keyboards, widdly prog, more guitar driven …’
me–Well I’m not a fan of metal and widdy is good. I like synth too as long as it’s not too over the top. Not really helping am I?
Facebook–‘Moving Pictures’ – Go for it!’

So that was that. I jumped onto itunes and bought myself a Rush album…
AND WOW! that’s all I can say.

Catch the mystery, catch the drift

Time to break my duck...
Time to break my duck…

So the beginning was ‘Tom Sawyer‘. I realised straight away that this was a track of real familiarity. It’s impossible to go through thirty something years of Prog without coming across this song. It’s a classic tune that has obviously played in many a rock club in my youth and although I wasn’t paying attention I knew the song pretty well.
The first play was the opening of a door to my subconscious and lurking there was this music.
Immediately I can see why it is so loved by the fans. It’s not especially epic or technically challenging, and yet that’s its charm. It’s simple yet amazingly clever and radio friendly, (something Rush seem very capable off) and it was the right choice to start as it’s definitely an easy ride into a new world. Aside from the vocal at the lyric… ‘The River’ reaching some very high note, it  was less high pitched than I expected, in fact it all seemed a lot less glass-shattering than I remembered…

I’m doing my best to avoid the obvious Ayn Rand elements to the song and yet the track hits you squarely on the chin in this regard. Using the Rand philosophy of man as the hero, (Tom in this case) the song plays to the central theme of a modern day individualist free to grow when only supported by a limited government, it’s all there in the song in black and white.  It’s here at this point I wished I HAD listened to this track when I was younger. My middle-aged mind can’t help but pour over the meaning of songs and it’s not something I can switch off. If I had played this when I was twelve, I would have just enjoyed the way the words sounded instead of their message.
It’s the same going into the next track ‘Red Barchetta’, yet more Rand Pseudo-philosophy with an anti-government message. I’m sure when the ideas that went to form this song were presented, the belief was that we would now be living some Orwellian (1984) nightmare when the government had taken control–2112 as I understand it. Still aside from this, it’s a DAMN FINE catchy song and I find myself tapping my foot along to it.

It’s when we get to ‘YYZ’ that things really do start to sparkle for me, the tightness of the arrangements in those Morse code moments are mind-blowing, and that rhythm section I mentioned earlier shows its amazing strength. The rhythmically strummed guitar of Alex Lifeson is sublime and shows how much he is a versatile player–without doubt the one member who impresses me the most. My guitar tutor was always one who extolled his virtues particularly the flamenco-like way he would hit the strings, a kind of brush technique that raked the strings with a flick. Of course it’s one of many techniques he uses. Looking back, I think it was at those guitar lessons where I started to wonder if I should give Rush a chance.

With ‘Limelight‘ I get the subject more than most. The intensely private man that Peart is obviously is at odds with the success of the band. His own social awkwardness (is there a hint of ASD to him?) is the key to the song and that’s the level I am happy to leave it. The synths are good on this track too, they just seem to strike the right balance for me.

Something lost on me as the dazzling  ‘The Camera eye’ opens is that this would have been the start of side two. As this is my Ipod it’s just track five instead. It has the feeling of a song that nicely starts a second side and this thought and inspiration by the artist is lost in the digital age. The song also impresses me and I feel the album is beginning to grow on me as it goes along. I like the Steinbeck quote and the viewpoint of the Camera eye as a stream of consciousness. It’s a tale of two cities and romantic in it’s delivery.

‘Witch hunt’ has the subtitle ‘Part III of Fear’. What is this about? a quick look on the internet reveals that this is part of a four part series that was released in reverse order. I realise at this point how confused my daughter Annika felt when she asked me about Star Wars.
A–“But it’s part four daddy, we need to start with part one…”
Me–“Sweetie, it’s supposed to start with part four and then it goes forwards to six before it goes backwards to one and then goes forwards again to three.”
How can ‘Witch Hunt‘ start with part III in 1981 and then progress to Part II in ‘Signals’ in 1982 before part I in ‘Grace Under Pressure’ in 1983.
Ouch my brain hurts. Am I supposed to listen to the three albums in reverse order to their release? Apparently the three songs were performed on the ‘Grace Under Pressure’ tour in the right order so maybe that’s the answer? Is there a live album of that tour? It’s a cynical song as it goes, the track really points to the choices we make based on fear that something bad is going to happen to us.

The last track on the album, ‘Vital Signs’ is a very different style from the rest of the album. I am told that this piece lays the ground work for the later albums such as ‘Grace’ and ‘Sub Divisions’. So maybe that’s where I need to go soon. It’s a lot more synth than the rest of the songs on Moving Pictures and I can see that Alex Lifeson has been relegated to a rhythm player more so. It’s a very short track and completes what feels like a short album, but 40 mins was typical for the time.

Touched for the very first time…

So there you have it. I popped my cherry!
In the space of a few tracks I have been set on a course towards understanding Rush and dare I say, I have liked what I have heard.

It’s just a little off-putting for me that Ayn Rand was the basis for some of the early work and I feel I will probably approach it at some point, but with caution. Rather refreshingly though, I see that Peart has recently tried to put some distance between him and the Rand right-wing ideologies.
“I know where I fall politically. And I define it better now: I’m a libertarian, but a bleeding-heart libertarian.”
More clearly he says:
“It’s enlightened self-interest. Free will.”

Whatever ‘enlightened self-interest’ is, I am guessing that Peart wants to shift slightly away from an ideology based entirely on self-interest with capitalist values that empower’s the individual at the expense of a healthy, government supported society as a whole.

I never really noticed before, but politically there was maybe a blockage towards me liking Rush because of my dislike for Rand and the fact that Peart was very much invested in it. As I said, I should have listened to it all much earlier–as a young teen, unaffected by theme and lyrics , instead feeling the pure energy and the power of the music and those iconic sleeve covers.

In short, I may never like everything they ever wrote, but there’s 40 years worth of music to have a go at so I should find something more to enjoy. It’s time for me to fast forward to the 21st century now and start on my second Rush album, ‘Snakes and Arrows’

I’ll be back to let you know…..

Other great reads on Progarchy…

A new review from Thaddeus Wert
Hold your Fire -Rush’s finest?

https://progarchy.com/2014/04/24/rushs-finest-album-hold-your-fire-until-youve-read-my-analysis/

The first Rush album reviewed by Craig Breaden

https://progarchy.com/2014/02/22/rushs-first/

A review of A Farewell to Kings by Kevin McCormick

https://progarchy.com/2013/01/21/rush-a-farewell-to-hemispheres-part-i/

A review of Power Windows by Brad Birzer

https://progarchy.com/2013/12/14/power-windows-rush-and-excellence-against-conformity/

Kevin Williams on Clockwork Angels Tour

https://progarchy.com/2013/11/24/rushs-clockwork-angels-tour-straddles-the-80s-and-the-now/

Brad Birzer on Clockwork Angels Tour

https://progarchy.com/2013/11/27/rush-2-0-clockwork-angels-tour-2013-review/

Erik Heter on Clockwork Angels Tour Concert in Texas

https://progarchy.com/2013/04/24/you-can-do-a-lot-in-a-lifetime-if-you-dont-burn-out-too-fast-rush-april-23-2013-at-the-frank-erwin-center-austin-texas/

A review of Vapor Trails Remixed by Birzer

https://progarchy.com/2013/10/05/resignated-joy-rush-and-vapor-trails-2013/

A review of Grace Under Pressure by Birzer

https://progarchy.com/2013/02/21/wind-blown-notes-rush-and-grace-under-pressure/

Like Rush meets Jethro Tull – ‘Resistor’ – ‘to the stars’

I’m bordering on Hyperbole, but blimey the new album from ‘Resistor’ – ‘To the Stars’ is an absolute marvel!

To The Stars
To The Stars

Resistor are an American Rockin’ Progressive Rock outfit from Providence, RI with more than just a little touch of Rush.
The new album ‘To The Stars’ has blown me away this week. I can’t tell you how good this is… so why not find out for yourselves?

Jump straight in with track 4 ‘Train to Tucana’ as way to hear them first. Described as Ian Anderson meets Sergio Leonie! Not far off!

Listen free on Progstreaming –

http://www.progstreaming.com/_wb/pages/play-album.php?activeAlbum=00701%20-%20Resistor%20-%20To%20The%20Stars

 

Abel Ganz – Finally the wait is almost over….

NEWS: Abel Ganz – New album coming soon…

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Anyone who has heard Abel Ganz knows what a special prog band they are. Their last record Shooting Albatross was simply amazing.
These guys from Scotland wouldn’t win prizes for speed but what they do produce is worth the wait, every time!

Lovers of bands like Big Big Train will love this rich and well crafted Prog with a unique flavour of Scotland. The range of instrumentation is to die for! This is the kind of Prog you want!

Like so many bands in this tough music genre they need help to realise the goal and get the music out there. it’s all written but they need preorders and pledges. Please have a look and try some of the music out on the bands website and the Abel Ganz facebook page.
You WONT regret it!

The new album pledge page:
http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/abelganz?utm_campaign=project8919&utm_medium=activity&utm_source=facebook

From their last album: Listen-
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Abel-Ganz/104282746280548?id=104282746280548&sk=app_204974879526524

 

 

If there is any justice in the world…

Ossicles – Mantelpiece (Dec 2012)

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Sometimes an amazing album comes your way that you wonder how the rest of the world missed it.
Over a year ago two 20 year old guys from Norway produced a breathtaking double CD called Mantelpiece.

It’s a breathtakingly rich and accomplished piece and it deserves to be noticed.
Have a listen to the video and see what I mean…

Review : ‘Bigelf’ — ‘Into the Maelstrom’

Into the future…with a blast from the past…

Sometimes bands that openly wear their influences on their sleeves are derided for being derivative and lacking in originality—retro is both cool and a dirty word, it just depends what you are applying the label to.

Bonkers and Retro
Bonkers and Retro

‘Bigelf’’s – ‘Into the Maelstrom’ is so openly retro in style that on the surface it appears an easy target to shoot down as a pastiche. Straight off the bat, they hit you hard with a massively distorted rock guitar riff, down and dirty from the Sabbath vaults. This is pure unadulterated 70’s heavy rock, well produced but not tweaked with any modern edge or given the Muse tune-up that came about from the late 90’s onward. It’s rough and gutsy, a sheer wall of noise which sounds like a handful of sweaty leather clad guys, albeit with an androgynous smudge of mascara,  grinding out the album in one go. Analogue mixing with old tube amps–everything real, down to the beat up guitars and whisky bottles lying around the studio. The truth may be far from this picture but the image the music musters has that old fashioned honesty about it.

The riffs from guitarist Luis Maldonado are for the majority of the album full of Tony Iommi inspired muscle. They chug out mercilessly behind a relentless pounding Portnoy beat, and yes at times he is very much comparable to Ward himself.

It’s only rock n’ roll but I like it…

Lightening the mood from the dark, doomy Sabbath sound is a layering of glam and synth-laden progressive rock with American Psychedelic weirdness. The former of these is the flavour of the Bowie Glam era evident in the vocal from founder member and writer, Damon Fox.

Damon Fox - A man out of time...
Damon Fox – A man out of time…

Thematically its all rather space-edged in concept—something that was all the rage in the early 70’s as the space race came to the peak of its popularity. The material ignores all the modern elements of rock music and focuses on far off sci-fi conceptualisation in sounds like the fantastically bonkers opener ‘Incredible time machine’ or in ‘Hypersleep’ and ‘Edge of Oblivion’–tracks that would have sounded perfect on ‘Rainbow Rising’, ‘Heaven and Hell’, In Rock and a whole host of classic rock albums from the era, not forgetting of course Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

If these are albums that sit in your battered vinyl collection or still adorn your old patched up denim that sits in the back of your wardrobe then this is the album will make you put it on and air guitar in your bedroom once more. It has the ability to do that and in the process the last 30-40 years melt away.

Each track has the ability to grab you from from the first play with catchy hooks, memorable choruses with some effective harmonies which give way to traditional guitar solos that are still as relevant and vibrant in the 21st century as anything from Gorman or Tipton glory days. ‘Already gone’ is an good example of this in the closing third.

Mixing up the sound further is a number of other bands such as ELO in the form of the big Beatle sound they perfected. Present in the song, ‘Theater of Dreams’ is a big belting dose of Jeff Lynne with a good splash of Cockney Rebel added for good measure.

The progressive start to the last song ‘ITMhas tinges of King Crimson at times before breaking into some more solid Glam infused progressive rock. In this track the gloves are off and the music gets about as proudly overblown as it can for the last eight minutes. It’s not hard to imagine this live in concert, the drummer would be 20 feet above the stage on a riser and below guitarists would windmill the last chords through the fizz and smoke of a barrage of pyrotechnics. Famous live albums would follow from on afterwards – Live in japan, in a gatefold double LP—a classic for all time. Yes they are most definitely from another time and space.

The future – 70’s style!

All this may sound a tad indulgent, to bask in glow of a 70’s sounding rock band, an echo of a bygone era, not even the real thing. Yet it serves as a reminder of when rock was good. Stripped down, it’s truthful and unashamed at it’s flairs and sideburns and it’s head-down, pot-headed scifi weirdness. The world has moved on and through its digital, clinicalness it has lost some ability to charm and mystify simply like Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy over the rainbow. The feeling achieved from listening to ‘Into the Maelstrom’ can return you there and it’s a great reason to get this record. On vinyl of course!

Into the Maelstrom – Track Listing:

1. “Incredible Time Machine” 3:57
2. “Hypersleep” 5:38
3. “Already Gone” 3:29
4. “Alien Frequency” 4:15
5. “The Professor & The Madman” 6:00
6. “Mr. Harry McQuhae” 6:14
7. “Vertigod” 3:58
8. “Control Freak” 2:52
9. “High” 7:11
10. “Edge of Oblivion” 6:34
11. “Theater of Dreams” 4:02
12. “ITM” 8:10
• “I. Destination Unknown”
• “II. Harbinger of Death”
• “III. “Memories”

Edison’s Children – ‘The final breath before November’

Reviewing the new release from Edison’s Children – ‘The final breath before November’.

A Brooding and Atmospheric sibling.
A Brooding and Atmospheric sibling.

Oh Brother where art thou…?

The start of 2014 sees not one but two new studio releases from the prolific Marillion bassist Pete Trewavas. The first is the in-your-face prog goliath that is Transatlantic’s ‘Kaleidoscope’. A release so anticipated and marketed that you would be forgiven for missing the second release – Edison’s Children: ‘The final breath before November’.

This release follows the debut album ‘In the last waking moments’ from 2011 and features again the paring of Trewavas with vocalist and all round multi-talented musician, Eric Blackwood. Whilst the first release was more of a Marillion hybrid with all the members performing on the album, this second release is performed almost entirely by Blackwood and Trewavas. It does feature some guest stars in the form of Henry Rogers (Touchstone and DeeExpus) as well as Mike Hunter, Marillion’s producer and sixth wheel.

If both new releases were viewed as Trevawas’s children, one would be seen as the loud, brash and overly confident son and the other would be a quieter, more reflective and subtler child. That on the face of it may seem to be a simplistic view of the two albums but ultimately sums up their personalities. However both albums have one significant element in common with each other – they are both epic. Matching the size and scale of both the larger tracks on the Transatlantic release is the mindblowing 67 minute track ‘Silhouette’, pushing the whole album to the 80 minute mark, which is a squeeze by CD standards.

There are a multitude of flavours to appreciate on this track and throughout the rest of the album. At times a little of the Marillion vibe is there in the soaring Rothery-like guitar sound which blends in with hints of a Floydian influence – a little more of the later Gilmour years to be precise. Interspersing this sound throughout are some delightful synth parts which provide a delicious haunting atmosphere. Many of these moments on the album hint at what an alternative Marillion could have been if the more progressive beginnings had matured over the years. But influences aside this is an album of sheer power and amazement which is full of surprises. It is a beautifully crafted and performed record and for this reason would be very much appreciated by fans of bands such as ‘Big Big Train’ and ‘Airbag’. Avoiding the metallic tones of some of its contemporaries it’s a welcome change to so many new releases in the past year or so and for me it’s a standout release that deserves the same, equal attention that is bestowed upon its Supergroup sibling.

If you are already in receipt of the sparkly and somewhat green Transatlantic release you may find that there is little else you will be giving your time to other than getting your head round the enormous quantity of music on offer. But when you are done and you turn to your wish list to see what is beckoning you, make sure this release is at the top of your list. It will absorb you in a way that a great album should by plucking your emotions and drawing you into its rich world which opens up its mysteries with repeated plays. I for one intend to provide a more detailed view on this superb release at a later date.

Track Listing:

1. The Final Breath
2. Light Years
i. Fading Away…
3. Silhouette
i. Silence Can Be Deafening (Pt I)
ii. Welcome to Your Dreamland
iii. Where Were You?
iv. The Longing
v. The Moriphlux (Pt I)
vi. I Am Haunted
vii. What Do You Want?
viii. The Seventh Sign
a. the wrong
b. the alcolyte
c. the hollows
d. the road (less traveled)
ix. The Morphlux (Pt II)
x. Silence Can Be Deafening (Pt II)
xi. Welcome to Your Nightmares
xii. Music for End Credits

Snow Goose is no Turkey – A new Tangent Release!

The Tangent -snow goose

The new release from the Tangent is due out on Christmas Eve….I’m going to stop there and clarify that. The newest release from the Tangent in 2013 is out on tomorrow. Yes another piece of great music from Andy Tillison is being released just before the Christmas holidays. A prolific few months from the band have given us some of the best music of the year in the form of two albums Le Sacre Du Travail and L’Etagere Du Travail.

“Music Inspired by Music Inspired by the Snow Goose” is the official title of the latest offering and this is exactly what the name suggests. A homage to one of the best prog albums of the original era by Camel.
A fantastic recent tour from a revitalised Andy Latimer has no doubt had some influence in this creative moment for Andy and the results are a delight that I’m sure even the most hardened critics will warm to.

The song starts with a familiar refrain that could have come straight out of the Camel stable, a flute based toe tapper that draws you in and literary makes you smile. As the song settles into the middle instrumental passages it offers a clever blend of the flavours of Camel but there is enough of The Tangent sound in there to convince you that you aren’t actually just listening to a blatant pastiche. Impressively everything is performed by Andy on the small set up within his house. (The dining room I think.)
A special mention goes to Sally Collyer for the camera work on the video that has been made to accompany the song and Andy’s post production editing skills combine to make a fun piece which brings out the charm of the track perfectly.

Significant proceeds from the sale of the track are going to a good causes in particular Cancer charities in honour of Andy Latimer’s return and also the expectation of a speedy recovery for Christina Booth from Magenta who is also being treated at this time.

I am hoping plenty of people read this and share it, and most of all, purchase this track on Christmas Eve. It will blow away your Christmas stress, help you with the wrapping of presents and keep you company whilst you plough your way through a bottle of Shiraz.

Well actually it probably won’t but it will remind you this has been a great year for Tangent music and progressive rock in general.

MP3 and FLAC will be available to buy from the Tangent shop at  http://thetangent.org/ and the song will be free to watch on YouTube from Tues 24th at 8pm – 20:00 GMT

Ignorance and Want and Gabriel…

“This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” – The Spirit of Christmas.

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Dickens was telling us that moral ambitions at this time of year fail in the shadow of greed….and a social system that forces ignorance and want upon us.

Perhaps in the words of Peter Gabriel we see the brainwashing of rampant consumerism, we blindly buy the products we are told will fulfill us. 

“It’s the last great adventure left to mankind”
– Screams a drooping lady
offering her dream dolls at less than extortionate prices,
and as the notes and coins are taken out
I’m taken in, to the factory floor.

for the Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
– All ready to use
the Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
– I just need a fuse.

Got people stocked in every shade,
Must be doing well with trade.
Stamped, addressed, in odd fatality.
That evens out their personality.
With profit potential marked by a sign,
I can recognize some of the production line,
No bite at all in labor bondage,
Just wrinkled wrappers or human bandage.

Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
– All ready to use
it’s the Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
– I just need a fuse.

The hall runs like clockwork
Their hands mark out the time;
Empty in their fullness
Like a frozen pantomime.
Everyone’s a sales representative
Wearing slogans in their shrine.
Dishing out fail safe superlative,
Brother John is No. 9.

it’s the Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
– All ready to use
it’s the Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
– I just need a fuse.

The decor on the ceiling
has planned out their future day
I see no sign of free will,
so I guess I have to pay,
pay my way,
for the Grand Parade
it’s the Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
– All ready to use
it’s the Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
– I just need a fuse.

I’ll keep it short… if we bust our budgets this Christmas to give what we think we should we will see the new year in feeling spiritually bankrupt… as always.

Have a good time, spread some love and good cheer. 
Merry Christmas friends…

 

Exclusive: An Interview with Guy Manning – Nov 2013

guy

By Eric Perry

 Manning’s latest album, ‘The Root, the leaf and the bone’ was released on the Festival Music label in October this year. On the lead up to the time of its release I was fortunate enough to hook up with Guy and put a series of questions to him about the ideas behind the album and the process of getting it ready for release.

Eric Perry: In the new album, “The Root, the Leaf & the Bone”, you refer to a village that you chose as your original concept design to highlight the charm that is lost when progress builds up on top of things and I wonder if your view of progress is ultimately cynical because of the way you use the ‘sleazy banker’ in the song.

Guy Manning: I suppose I am a little cynical yes, but all I am really saying is to just take care, consider before you change anything.  But really I know that there are certain things that are we don’t want to go back to. No one wants to suffer from typhoid if they can help it and no one wants to send mail by pony express instead of email and so there are things that are definitely good about progress and there are some things that are also bad about progress but I am not standing on a soap box! I’m not throwing my clog into the machinery and I’m not a Luddite. What I am saying is that there is always something traded in when we move forward and sometimes we are glad to get rid of that. I am taking the opportunity to be nostalgic and share a romantic view of things. There is sometimes, something rather comforting about things from the past, especially the further in time we get away from it.

Funnily enough, I was talking to some people the other day and they were saying how good the war years were: “We never had it so good in the war years, what a sense of camaraderie, we never felt so close.”  I thought are you potty?  You were being bombed and shot at! There is something about the fact that the further you leave something behind, the more you develop a romantic view of it and I don’t know why that it is…it’s a weird, somewhat blinkered vision of the past.
As we go through life and we change as we get older, like in the song “Palace in Delights”, our viewpoints change. You know when we go through any change, whether it’s in ourselves or towns or races of people or technology or whatever it is, there is always something traded in. That’s okay for some things, but not for everything.

blitz

The Blitz, times were hard and actually not that great either….

I don’t know about you but sometimes when I see a vintage car, I look at it and I think about how much I would love to own it, but you know what? Would I really want to take it on? The maintenance and so on?  Probably not!

EP: With ‘The Forge’, there is a theme that seems to be about progress but is it showing things from that Luddite perspective? Were you saying that the art of crafting in the heat of the furnace was better than the time when the machines took over and automation came along?

GM: Not Luddite because I know why we need certain things and I am not saying “Stop the machinery running!” There are 2 ways of looking at the Forge. There is the romantic view of the man struggling on his own in a battle of wills, just a man with his tools, crafting something unique out of raw metal. Or it’s about this factory where you don’t want anything unique, you want everything to be exactly the same and it’s about the juxtaposition of those two ideas. I’m not saying we should turn off the machine and go back to the old way of beating it out. I know that we need cheap pots and pans if money is tight.

EP: The whole of ‘Root’ seems to be similar to your others albums in that it concentrates more on the elements of storytelling than the soap box you mentioned earlier…

GM: Well I do write songs about us all but not as a great social commentator, however, I do write about the human condition. From the aspirations of a man working alongside Newton or someone sailing on a boat between Charlestown and Bristol…

I do think there’s a lot of hyperbole around these conceptual albums though. Sometimes the work has been cited as a Masterpiece, which is absolute rubbish! When I released “Charlestown”, a lot of reviews said it was a Masterpiece. It’s not a Masterpiece! I had to laugh. It’s just a series of good tunes…a Brandenburg Concerto, now that’s a masterpiece, Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony, that’s a masterpiece.

EP: Close to the Edge?

GM: Maybe yes, it’s close (no pun intended?) But to me, it cannot be compared with something like the Pastoral symphony. “Close to the edge” is rooted at its creation time and so I am not sure it’s as timeless. Sure, it’s got longevity but I’d be surprised if they are holding it up in 500 years alongside the former.

EP: Maybe they won’t with Beethoven either.

GM: Possibly, of course!. But Beethoven never released an “Open your Eyes’’ or did he?

Beetclose

Arguably two masterpieces…or just one?

EP: My question of the Soap box was related to the track ‘Old School’ on the new album which harks back to the old school days and the systems within them. It sounds like it’s a message about change, which has been for the better, when the old ways, corporal punishment and so on was still a part of school life. “Make a stand against draconian violence”. Yet some people argue from the other side on this.

GM: Yes, well I think there is that element in  there, but you know, I lived through some of that era and I didn’t like it to be perfectly honest, but some kids DO get away with murder today…God!! I sound like my granddad!
In the old days, if we’d talked in class we’d have had our knuckles rapped with a ruler or we’d have the board duster hit us on the head or we’d get the cane or the slipper.
(“Didn’t do me any harm.” He whispers as an aside!)
But, at the time, yes, it bloody well did! But, who’s to know if it wasn’t a character defining moment and that as a result, I did not buck my ideas up. I don’t know, I’m certainly not preaching, all I’m saying is there is a certain not so romantic view of the old school life that I lived through. The song gave me a chance to air some of my resentments as a kid…

EP: Yet it’s not a very romantic view like hopscotch and short trousers. You refer to the somewhat nasty, authoritarian side of the old school ways.

GM: It gave me a chance to vent my spleen. Basically the kid in my story is saying “I’ve had enough!”
In his mind he rises up and says ‘Bollocks to all this’ and he takes over the school. But it’s all in his head. In the end we don’t see him marching off triumphantly. In the end, he’s standing in the corner, facing the wall with a sore bum, because that was the reality.
Some of it was quite horrible then, and I think things in education have changed for the better now. I don’t think there is anything good about beating a child into submission to get them to understand something. Especially when the child has maybe got some learning difficulties and some frustrated arsehole is whacking the hell out of them because he hasn’t got the insight to realise that the kid needs actual help and isn’t stupid.

The soap boxiest piece on the album isn’t that track however, it’s ‘Decon(struction) Blues’ that’s where I’m on my soapbox shouting “Don’t tear it down!”
Let’s consider what you’re doing. You tear things down and then bitterly regret when they’ve gone. So let’s take some time before we deconstruct and consider what should stay and what should go and what should be listed.

Going back to my point about me venting my spleen though, my school experience was not great and I hated some lessons. So, this song gives the kid at school a chance to see what it would be like to throw off the manacles and the shackles and take over the place – kick some ass, before he gets a beating from the headmaster.

EP: There is a strong theme on the album of nostalgia throughout…

GM: There is, I do like looking back quite a lot….

EP: I can see the theme of nostalgia at its most obvious in the track ‘Palace of Delights’

GM: That’s right.

EP: From a commercial angle?

GM: It isn’t really meant to be in those terms.
The “Palace of Delight” is overtly a shop in an old town which houses every element of your childhood on those shelves, like it’s been waiting for you your whole life and when you get to the age of 40 you go to this shop and suddenly you are transported to a time when you were 9.
Everything you got for Christmas when you were a child is waiting for you in that shop. It’s one of those strange shops where everything is juxtaposed together, Fishing nets, Diana and Charles wedding mugs, old Dinky model cars, stamp collections (which are way out of date), scouring pads, Ajax cleaner and clown balloons. You name it, it’s all in there and it’s all mixed up and higgledy-piggledy and, as soon as you close the shop door behind you, you’re transported to the time of your youth.
The Palace of Delights is the mind’s eye of what it’s like to be a child, to have your formative years presented back to you.

EP: The joy is revisiting that, is it?

GM: Yes, and everyone’s Palace of delight POV would be different. My Palace of delight would be the things I mentioned in the song, like the Man from U.N.C.L.E. bubble gum cards which I used to collect. When I went to school in 1969, I used to trade them round the school yard.
“I’ll give you two Mr Waverley’s for an Ilya Kurayakin” (Look that up if you don’t know what that is referring to…)
You used to have to collect the set of them but you’d always end up with five of the same card!uncle

So in the shop I would see these ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E .’ cards, as well as Waddington’s game Railroader and ancient Beano annuals and suddenly I’m back at Christmas 1966…
It’s a pictorial representation of nostalgia and memories.
I believe that nearly every village has a shop like this in it somewhere.  You find one and you are transported out of time – it’s a TARDIS shop!
It creates the emotional response between you, the object and the joy of remembering pure nostalgia.

EP: After you have done this album, Number 14, do you find it possible to keep discovering inspiration?

GM: I think I’ll write a reggae rock opera next.

EP: Did this album occur easily or was it a painful process?

GM: I find writing songs easy-ish, I find writing songs ABOUT something to be hard. Because you need an idea, a kernel of something. Once I get it, I’m off and running. “Charlestown” was a perfect example of that. I had snippets of melodies but I didn’t know what the hell I was going to write about. I went on holiday thinking this is all shit and I’ve got no ideas at all. I’m all washed up and quite depressed.
We went to Cornwall and happened to pop into this place, Charlestown. I went to the harbour and there is this great big four-master (Ship) you know…

I went on board. It’s one of those ships that has been used on ‘the Onedin Line’ and every other BBC sea related period drama going.
It was then that I started wondering where this thing had gone when it was a ‘real’ voyager. It was a grey day and it started me thinking…everyone gets this romantic vision of the sea and the ship cutting through the waves with people shouting “Avast Ye.”, but, in reality it must have been bloody horrible, setting off from Cornwall on a miserable grey, grisly day, carrying clay of all things. They were lucky to get to the other end alive in a lot of cases.
So that’s it, the light goes on and I get the idea. I went to the Charlestown maritime museum to find out more about the ships, the cargo and common voyage problems. I went to look up facts about it and there is was, that was Charlestown…It was all from that one thought. And once I get the idea about what I’m going to write about… VOOM! That’s it, I’m off. I find I can write.
I wrote the main structures of “Margaret’s Children” in about two weeks.  I had a family tree on the wall and would look at who was on there. Once I know what I am going to write about its so much easier, I don’t think that writing the songs is a problem for me, I can probably write songs until the cows come home, but writing songs about something that’s worth listening to and has got something to say, that’s much harder.
Where I get the ideas from, I don’t know, I don’t question it, it beats the hell out of me. I don’t have a clue where some of it comes from, it’s peculiar some of it

The idea for ‘Root’, was all about this village and that there were things buried below the surface. Things that have changed, you know?

EP: The village is your creation, not one that you have visited, like say Haworth?

GM: No, it is imaginary, but I did do research. I did lots of reading. I have a folder here on my computer called ‘Dying Village’ and in it there’s lots of stories of old Yorkshire towns that have been lost, you know? Through some mining disaster or some other sort of disaster. I’ve been looking into how some of the places have changed completely. The pit has closed maybe and everyone has had to leave, and then the town got levelled, turned into a quarry for a while, and levelled again and then the site got redeveloped into an off-the-motorway retail park. You know, a Retail Centre or something like that.
The original idea was about this old village, with ‘Root’ it’s never really concerned with the new, it’s not really concerned with what is going on now, mainly with what was.
The title track looks at what is going on under the ground.
‘Decon(struction) blues’ warns you about tearing communities down.
‘Autumn song’ looks at the natural changing of the seasons.
‘Palace of Delights’ is about going back in time (for a moment).
‘Old School’ is also about looking back at an earlier time.
‘Mists of Morning’, again, even though it’s a ghost story, it’s about looking backwards. It’s going back to the beginning of the village, where they saw these trades people off – violently, and it came back to haunt them, literally.
‘Huntsman and the Poacher’ is also about an older way of life and ‘Amongst the sleepers’ is about remembering the personal Past.
A lot of it isn’t about modern times but it’s concerned with where we stand today.

village

The village, torn down and lost forever…

EP: You’re looking in that direction…

GM: Yes, over my shoulder basically.

EP: I’d like to ask you about the production. One thing that is notable about Root’s production is that it’s rich in Strings and Wind instruments, in particular the latter. There seems to be a bigger range of Saxes, Trumpet and Bassoon on the album. Was that a conscious decision when you were beginning the writing process or did that evolve? The texture of sounds appears to fit the album.

GM: It does, well in actual fact the textures fit the songs, and the songs fit the album. That’s the way it works. I don’t write to order as a rule, although there have been exceptions to that. I just write songs and if I happen to write one that’s got a funky soulful vibe, I can somehow hear the horns in the background already.

I do listen to Stax Motown and that sort of stuff. If I hear a rich horn section and I play a pop song-(and that’s what a lot of these songs are), I would then add to one of my demos a sort of synthetic brass sound and then I pass it along to Marek Arnold who does the saxophones…What I would get back from him are multiple tracks of Saxophone, but arranged slightly differently. So instead of my three fingers on the keyboard they are all done with different Saxes with different intonations, and he’s arranged them together as a brass arrangement. And…I got a lot of that back from him this time.

The way the sax songs fell, a lot of them had that brassy punch to it. I didn’t set out saying. “You know what I haven’t used brass than much, I’m going to use brass on this album.” It’s just that I wrote the songs and they happened to require brass IMO and when Marek got hold of them, he went wild really, he sent back far more than I could use.
I liked the arrangements this time and I didn’t do what I normally do which is pare it down. Instead I left a lot of the solid arrangements in because they were really good and because a lot of them have got a pop rock feel this time. There are some folky acoustic songs but a lot them are not folk songs per se, they’re more pop songs really, if you break them down.
I do love those brass arrangements
The thing about the Bassoon was that it was just fortuitous. I’d seen ‘Knifeworld’ at Summers End and I thought they were absolutely brilliant and I went over to chat with Chloe (Herrington) and Kavus (Torabi) to tell them how much I really enjoyed it. I’d seen her on stage with this bloody great Bassoon and she said ‘Can I have a bit more Bassoon in the monitor…’  (Laughs) You don’t hear that a gig very often do you?
….and it was just about the most wonderful noise and I thought…You know what… I bet that would sound really good on something like ‘Autumn Song’. It’s got that ‘Camberwick Green’  / ‘Ivor the Engine’ kind of feel to it, slightly rustic you know. It’s a folky-out-in-the-wilds folky feel.

EP: It just seems like a natural fit that the song which poetically describes the change of the season, combines with the wind instruments perfectly. It wouldn’t work in many other songs.

GM: You write each song as an individual piece you know…like an artist paints individual pictures. You don’t paint an exhibition, you paint pictures and then you put them in an exhibition and it’s the same with songs. I write them and quite by luck they all go together into the same collection.

I’m not constantly having to throw them out because they don’t fit with the other ones. I don’t care if they don’t fit, normally.
Just look at ‘Margaret’s Children’, perfect example. You’ve got something as big and symphonic as ‘Perfect Childhood’ then you’ve got ‘A Night at the Savoy’ with a slinky acoustic piano.

EP: That was one album where you seemed to go with what seemed right with each song…

GM: That’s right and ‘Root’ was no different. There was no great overarching plan with ‘Root’. It’s just the way the songs turn out and hopefully they run in the right order to keep you on board. The running order is crucial for an album like that. A lot of the time you’re not guided by chronology like in ‘Anser’s Tree’ or ‘Margaret’s Children’ where the first song had to be ‘Years of Wonder’ because it’s set in the 1600’s and the last one had to set in the future – so it runs from the past to the future…this one could be ordered anyway.
I knew that ‘The Root…’ (The title track) was going to open it and …Sleepers’ was going to finish it. It was where to put to put the ones in the middle that we had some debate about. Hopefully the songs come together and create a unified flowing album and you hear it and think that it couldn’t be any other way.

EP: I hear the pop elements on this album too and wanted to ask you about the song ‘Decon(struction) Blues’. It seems that this is a good example of one of your pop songs because it’s very clever in the way you also seem to blend in a wide range of styles successfully, like the middle rock-out section of guitar, with the chorus which is pop with a bit of soul and the wind segment which feels like something of a classic 60s TV theme tune. How did you make all that fit together?

GM: I don’t know. I didn’t set out to make it clever, it’s just the way it came together.

EP: Are the elements parts of the files that you keep gathering called ‘Newbies’?

GM: No, it didn’t happen that way. You have to realise that with ‘Decon(struction) Blues’ I could pretty much play the a full demo of it before anyone got their hands on it, and it didn’t change apart from some chopping of bits out, you know, being concise about things. The original flow and shape and arrangement was always going to be like that. The players (in the band) out there can bring it to life because they can understand their instruments far better than I can. But there’s nothing clever about it, I just wrote it as a complete song. I didn’t agonise over it. I didn’t aim to put a ‘stax’ bit in it. I just kind of go ‘Blurgh‘ and there it is. I work on the basic verse, chorus, verse and chorus and then decorate it with the instruments.
I try to use everyone’s performances. There’s far more material produced than ever gets used on the album though. Marek played loads of solos which just aren’t on there. Steve played some flute parts that aren’t there either, I just snip things when I think there’s enough of it. There might be 20 minutes worth of solos and I only want 3!
I assemble them like a relay race, one follows the next. Like stitching a collage together of all the people’s parts. If there is any art involved it’s in how I bring all these parts together so that it hopefully sounds natural.
As a solo artist you have to be objective and bring out the parts that you think people will want to listen to, not just the bits you have worked on. Otherwise it will just sound like Guy Manning’s greatest 5 minutes all over the place, you know. So even though it might be my favourite bit of piano I don’t stick it at the top of the mix, that’s not what it’s about.  The Song is King!

The whole thing has to match the song, the song has to match the lyrics, the song and the lyrics have to match the artwork and everything comes together to provide the listener with the materials they need to build up that world in their minds. And if it’s unnatural, it will wake you up from that journey and the spell has been broken. So the art is to try to meld things in and also hope it lasts as long as it should last without becoming boring.

I’ve been bloody lucky really that it has turned out alright. Sometimes I don’t know how it’s going to end but I know it’s going to turn out alright, when you start you have to believe it’s going to turn out alright.
You know, one night I’m going to go to bed and the little cobblers elves are going to come into my studio overnight and sort out all the crap I recorded the night before. And in the morning I will go,
“You know what? It’s much better than I remember it last night. The little elves have been and sorted it all out for me.”
No…nothing clever. I don’t think of myself as clever.

EP: Do you find it easier to write the 3-4 minute pop song that the 12 minute sweeping epic?

GM: No not really because the 12 minute sweeping epic is just a series of 3-4 minute pop songs with just some linking passages in between. ‘Charlestown’ is 35 minutes but its 35 minutes of small songs which talk to each other.
‘Suppers ready’…Is that ONE song a cohesive piece? It is now! But it wasn’t that way when they wrote it. They stitched it together and yet you wonder how else could it have been? That’s just the way it was always meant to be. ‘Willow Farm’, that was just a small, little bit of nothing until it was in the middle of ‘Suppers Ready’ and suddenly it became very important you know.
Whatever it is, it just needs to have a good melody or a good tune. I firmly believe that having things without a melody is just silly. You don’t have to be discordant to be adventurous. Melody for me is extremely important. I want people to be able to hum the tune. I want a Dave Gilmour type solo you know, as in one that you can sing afterwards. I want you to be able to sing the guitar line. I don’t need speed. No matter how wonderful and dextrous it is, I want melody in there, I want it to build.
I like to sing my guitar solos – ‘Southern Waves’ you know, I can sing that guitar solo, it was one of ‘those’. We could all include shredding for shredding sake. I can shred with the best of them, you know! ‘Oh look at me, aren’t I so gifted? Look how fast my fingers blur as they go up and down the neck…’ But I do not like to, it all has to have purpose.

You might get away with it in a live concert, but on the album you’re going to listen to it time and time again and that shredding becomes fairly boring to me very quickly.

EP: After all the writing, when that’s done and it’s time for the mixing and mastering, is it then that the process seems like a Herculean task? Is this the least enjoyable part would you say?

GM: You play to your strengths don’t you? I think I’m a pretty good songwriter, and I think I’m a bloody awful producer to be honest. My albums at best sound like well-produced demos. You can hear everything and everything is nicely balanced. I know I’m not a great producer and I think that’s why it’s a Herculean task… because I am going into it knowing it’s never going to sound as good as how I think it could be (as in in my head).

I listened to “Charlestown” recently for the first time in two years. There’s nothing more depressing than going back and listening to your own albums. When you’re thinking…ah!!! where’s the bass, you know, or what was I thinking, that drum sounds terrible, what the hell was I doing there?
I know I’m not a great producer but I’m not a bad songwriter though.
I like writing songs best. I like producing them less, and somewhere in the middle I like playing live. Even then, I only like the performance bit, playing for an hour and half or so…It’s always a bit of a struggle and I really hate the packing away!
My stage of choice is that moment of writing the songs and working with the guys to make the parts of the song mature and evolve. Once I have all the parts and I know how it’s going to sound, I can lose interest in it altogether. I then have to seal myself away and pull myself into the zone. It’s not something I take any pleasure with. I don’t fixate about how a bass drum should sound for hours on end and you should do that when you are producing!
I liken it to a man walking into a desert with a canteen of water, you know? You walk and walk until you can’t go on anymore and you drop to your knees and then fall flat on your face.  It’s that point where I never want to hear the album again and I just can’t do anything to it after that point. I just don’t have the grit to actually go back over it. I purposefully do not go back and listen to the album because if I found something I ought to do something about, my heart would drop. That’s not the way you should be about your own work. That’s not say that I’m trying to’ polish a turd’ that it’s really crap and I’m struggling with it. I just never get it to sound as good as I think it could.

I do give it to someone else on occasion and it sounds….yeah… ok…it takes the pressure off me, but in actual fact I don’t think anyone’s ever remarked on it. The only other person who’s ever done any real production on my albums is Andy (Tillison) who’s a far better producer than I am and he knows far more about how the sound should be.  When he did ‘Bilston House’; admittedly it’s a popular album and it’s a good sounding album, but no one has ever put anything in a review to say…
“Thank God Andy’s producing this one because it sounds so much better than the others.”
But I do take my hat off to him, he did some good work on that album and he really took the pressure off me!
But it’s a great act of faith when you put your work in the hands of someone else, even someone you trust. You’re losing something and yet you can’t say anything.
You keep your mouth shut because someone has listened to it objectively and with no axe to grind and no emotional attachment with it. They don’t feel the need to preserve a piano part that personally took 2 days to master; they just look holistically at it, as a song.

My main problem is that normally I don’t have the money to give it to someone else. I can’t pay Trevor Horn to have a go at ‘The Root, the Leaf and the Bone’ He just wouldn’t have the time anyhow!  There are no large record company advances that pay me to go into the studio with the London Philharmonic orchestra to do an arrangement. So you can either get someone you trust to do it at very little cost or you do it yourself.

You know the end of ‘Misery’ (Stephen King) where he has his glass and his one cigarette and he gets to the end and he say’s “That’s it.” I get to the same point and I say, you know what, that’s as far as I can take it. After that point I’m just fiddling around…

EP: How do you hold down the multirole aspect of your career? Writing, recording, rehearsing, mixing, organising live dates, doing the website, doing interviews and holding down a day job?

GM: I’m used to it. I’ve been doing it for more than 14 years. It’s a cycle, each year. I just do one thing and then I go on and do the next. I keep the website ticking over, they are small increments. You do things in small manageable chunks, like decorating a house. You don’t think about decorating the whole house at once, you just deal with the wall in front of you that you are about to paint, and then you paint the next wall and so on. So over the course of a few weeks, the house gets painted.
It’s time management. I take on a lot basically because I’m responsible for it.
I try to keep everything simple and just fit anything in that I can.


EP: You sound very organised…

GM: You have to be organised. I like getting things into diaries. For the radio shows, I get in touch with the presenters months in advance. I want to know when I’m doing the interviews and I want to know when the shows are going out. The ‘Special Guest’ questionnaires (for the Root album) now published on the website, I had them lined up in my diary. I have them there and I know exactly when I’m going to release them…it has to be planned or its chaos….chaos!

EP: Another thing I have noticed that you have added to the work load is that you’ve changed the bands image….

GM: (Laughs) you could say that…

EP: It’s quite a big change and I thought it looked quite impressive when I saw it in Prog Magazine.

GM: It was time to change! I have always said that I wanted to make an effort, I didn’t want to just turn up, set up the gear and take my pullover off and play. I wanted set up, go off and come on looking like we made an effort to change into something. I don’t mean that we have to put batwings on or anything like that, or come on in capes. I wanted people to realise we were taking the performance side of it seriously. We wanted to put on a show because we are not the most animated band to watch, you know? We’re quite sedate in what we do and there are not a lot of visuals or loads of posturing and’ air guitaring’ and so on. We play the songs and some of them are complicated and we have to sit down and concentrate on what the hell we are doing. While that’s happening there isn’t a lot of action!

But, the way I see it, you can at least you can look good sat at the keyboards. Beforehand we would come on in black shirts and Julie came out in a dark dress. We all looked neat and tidy but we looked like we were at a convention for funeral directors or barbers or waiters or something. So I said that we should do something about sprucing up the stage act.

For the past few shows I have been off to the off to the side of the stage and yet, everyone expected me to be in the middle. People think that because I sing and I wrote the songs that I ought to be in the centre with all the spotlights on me, but  I put myself at the side because if you are set up over there, your stuff is less likely to be moved and I had quite a complicated set up and I didn’t want anyone to dismantle it and move it around.
Anyway, that’s all going to change. I’m going back in the middle again because it became apparent practically, not egotistically, that people want to come and see me.

Not Guy Manning...So how do we look? The way we are is best described as storytellers. We don’t act it out like Gabriel did, you know? I’m not coming on dressed up as Rael or putting Slipperman costumes on and all that stuff. The nearest I got is putting a Captains hat on for Charlestown So I did suggest a bit more visual interest and I think it was Kris who came up with the Steampunk idea. I don’t know why, I think he had been watching ‘The Golden Compass’ or something like that and he quite liked the waistcoats and goggles and top hat look and stuff. So once we got that idea, everyone went running off to Oxfam and took great pride in doing their own costume/look. It wasn’t coordinated from the middle or anything. It was just “Go out and kit yourself out.” And we had great pleasure in showing everyone…here is my costume.

EP: Was it taken in good spirit?

GM: There were some people who found it more comfortable than others. I think in the end though we all embraced it. When you see the Prog magazine in Nov (2013) you’ll see Martin has this lovely little waistcoat and goggles and he looks like some sort of demented mole or something. He looks really good and Julie… well Julie looks like a dark version of ‘Mary Poppins’ dressed up in this sort of corset and long dress and tied up boots. And I look like some sort of mad professor, well not mad…probably like some sort of country squire in my long coat and waistcoat, my thin glasses and a sort of 1930’s Genevieve car riding hat and pirates boots up to my knees. We all look very odd!
I just hope people take it in the spirit it’s being given and just embrace it for being fun. Some people might say we look like a bunch of pretentious twats and I’m quite expecting to get some sort of backlash. You know, some people are going to look at those photos and say “What the bloody hell do they think they look like?”

But I tell you what, I am so sick of seeing five guys in black t-shirts standing with their arms folded. I hate those shots, or the ones of guys leaning against a brick wall. I don’t want to do that. We are going to do something a bit different. We went a Heritage railway museum and we dressed my youngest, Nathanial, up as Death (with Scythe and everything) and every time there was a photograph he was lurking in the background, hauntingly hanging around you know? We brought him in because there are a lot of Manning songs about Death and we had a right old laugh when we did it. The whole thing was a great day out, it was absolutely boiling hot, we had a lot of fun and we just hope that when people do see it that we don’t come across as pretentious arty farty basically.

It’s fun, it’s just fun. It’ll be bloody hot sitting on stage in it though, I can tell you.

EP: Have you tried it, a dress rehearsal.

GM: Not yet but the day we shot it, it was bloody hot, probably the hottest day of the year. But I know we will be warm. I’m hot in a t-shirt and joggers so I know it’s going to be tough. But we’ll see.
I think you have to suffer for your art!

 EP: So you hope to bring your songs to life through what you are wearing?

GM: Yeah, hopefully. Like I say we are not going to act them out. But we want to bring a sense of style to the proceedings. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. It was more to do with Alice in Wonderland than anything else.

EricEP: Thanks Guy, I enjoyed our chat and look forward to catching up with you again soon.

GM: Indeed…Very, very enjoyable. Thanks.

For more information about Manning and the latest album visit: 

Manning Website

Root the Leaf and the Bone promo video

Sample track – ‘The Huntsman and The Poacher’

My arrogant choices of 2013

The more I think about prog music in the last year, the more I think that things are not as rosy in the garden as they first appear. Sure, the sheer volume of music, some of which is slickly produced and marketed, is something to be jolly pleased with. But underneath it all lies a pervasive style which is taking over the genre and reinventing it to fit its own requirements. I’m talking about Heavy Metal.

For decades the sound of metal has evolved and reinvigorated itself through many sub genres within itself. Hair metal, thrash and so on. But in recent years the progress of metal has been slowed somewhat with the lack of any new direction. Step forward progressive rock, a style that has its roots in hard rock, and features lengthy passages of intricate playing. It would seem that the two genres are naturally going to dip into each other. But the result is mostly one way. This is the time of progressive metal, and not heavy progressive. There’s a significant difference. Metal takes a style, be it, funk, dance or whatever and assimilates it, making it metal, like a Borg, or cyber man takes the bits it wants and discards the rest, and it does it in such a way that we barely notice.

I look around at the top tens and beyond of this year and see the evidence. Of course as I said earlier, there still diversity and alternatives. But it’s slipping.
Haken, Maschine, Kingbathmat, Tesserac T, Steven Wilson, are the obvious candidates for this year, hugely popular and increasingly heavy. However it’s reach extends into the heavier Flower Kings, Cosmograf, Also Eden. For many the tendency to slip into a drop key, low, thunderous chug seems hard to avoid, and it’s that element that is obliterating the intricacies, the delicacy and subtly of prog. I’m not saying that metal prog isn’t intricate, far from it. But it centres around clever time changes and thrash like shredding and histrionics, rather than melody and space.

Prog through all its incarnations and technological advances has largely stayed true to its origins for the most part until recent years. Does it need to change to survive? We think so, because that’s the kind of world we live in. Things need to keep moving and evolving towards new styles because that’s the future. But is it?
What we say and what we do are at odds with each other. The pop music charts strives to be new but revisits the past for all its ideas and polishes them, representing them, hardly different at all.

If the editors of Prog magazine are to be believed, and I’m sure they are, the design and content of their publication is designed to maximise sales, based on what the buyers want. That usually means 70s style prog music, Yes, Tull and Genesis. Is that a bad thing? Possibly if there is be to a younger audience going forward.
Should we really care that much about a younger audience? Not really. We are an ageing population with more youthfulness and money to spend that the younger end of the music scene, and we have staying power. It’s this age we need to keep on board.

I don’t believe we should sacrifice the music to the gods of metal in the belief that this is in some way the path the future. I would like to see more from the likes of Big Big Train, and The Tangent, and Sound of Contact, and a return to the subtler Flower Kings, all whom employ far more shades in their palates than the grinding technical wizardry and Wayne’s world style head bobbing of an ever increasing number of bands.

I must point out, I have ‘The Raven’, ‘Overcoming the monster’ and a few others. But the tipping point away from the music we fell in love with isn’t far away. A top ten in a year or two will resemble something from Kerrang, it’s coming….

My top albums of 2013-
1: The Tangent – ‘Le Sacre Du Travail’
Epic, important and classically inspired.
2: Big Big Train – ‘English Electric part 2’
Sophisticated, moving and sleek. More of the same but wow, that’s okay!
3: Sound Of Contact – ‘ Dimensionaut’
Space prog, alien, and catchy. Great first effort!