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The View From Guy Manning's Window
Posted on Thursday, July 13 2006 @ 01:57:44 CDT by Duncan Glenday
Progressive Rock Guy Manning writes music with a purpose.

His sixth CD was a concept piece telling the psychologically-charged story of Abel Mann, who has a new lease on life - for reasons that were described in a prior CD.

Manning's seventh album examines environmental issues. The cover illustration shows a man in a Bermuda shirt with a little dog and a suitcase. The earth he's standing on is dry, cracked and decayed, environmentally ruined. He's standing at the edge of this world, looking out into space, and as Manning puts it "basically wondering what he can go and bugger up next".

There's a reason for these songs, and more important, the lyrics are purposeful and clear. The instrumentation and the song structures are very good, and with the absence of esoteric or abstract mumbo-jumbo, the prose is every bit as strong as the music. And that is a rare departure for today's progressive music.

So record number 8 Anser's Tree, presently in final mastering, will doubtlessly lead many prog rock fans toProg Rock Records' shopping basket.

Sea Of Tranquility's Duncan Glenday spent time with Guy, and discussed his previous CDs - particularly the recent One Small Step.

"When I was growing up the only thing I wanted to do was to make a record," says Manning. "Now I've made 7 - and it isn't any easier on number 7 than it was on number 1. It's actually harder, because if your record is any good people expect the next one to be just as good, or better".

At the dawn of record 8, it's interesting to reflect on Guy's back catalog - much of which has been favorably reviewed in these hallowed pages. The complex, rather intense music in the earlier records was replaced with a more mellow sound. Besides the epic 31-minute 8-part title track it's less overtly prog and more acoustic, as Guy had told me it would be well before its release, and it had me thinking of a more modern version of Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick. "Yes, well I suppose it's more Brick than Tales From A Topographic Ocean", agrees Manning - somewhat reluctantly, I thought. "It's in the style of the singer/songwriters like Roy Harper or Al Stewart, an acoustic series of songs that hang together. Is it even prog? I'm not always sure where I fit into that genre - I write what I write. The acoustic style of this one was based around a wish to perform it easily."

And there's another recent change in Manning's approach to his craft. "Before, I'd put on a full rock show, and I tried to reproduce the album on stage - sort of in the early Genesis mentality. But we never really saw it working as successfully as we like, and now we like to do more intimate settings. Communicating with the audience in a smaller space - it's more relaxed and less pressured, a sort of informal chat with the audience between numbers. After doing 7 records I'm able to select quite a lot of more relaxed pieces, and the shows have evolved into a nice evening of songs and chat."

"But from a pure business perspective - are the shows lucrative?", I ask. "I mean what's the purpose behind the shows - do they yield more exposure?"

"Oh we never make money. Recently the we supported Focus for the Classic Rock Society - and we made nothing! They didn't pay us to play, we had to go there at our own expense and pay for our own dinner! No - it's something you have to do sometimes. It's like exercising a muscle. Artistically, you have to have a bit of fun, and take a risk. Sitting in a studio writing albums is one thing, but every now and then I'm driven to it - like a lemming," he laughs. "It can get really lonely sitting in a studio for nine months!" I ask about playing in the USA, where I know Guy has a growing, dedicated fan-base. "Well we'd love to play something like ROSfest or one of those. I think we'd go down very well. We're open to offers!"



One of the nicer songs on One Small Step is somewhat out of character for Manning. "Night Voices" has none of the complexities usually associated with prog - think of it as a folk-pop song - but the lyrics will bring a lump to the throat and the melody is one of those that will stay with you for days. And again, it is a song with a purpose. Guy and I have a mutual friend, who tragically lost his wife many years ago. This friend told Guy about a dream he'd had in which - as Guy puts it "The events were very vivid. He had this opportunity to say goodbye to his deceased partner, making peace, and moving on - all in this magical setting. It's narrative and straightforward, a basic folk song with a slight rhythmic twist- as it moves along it gets a bit quirky. It started off like a Tom Paxton song when first wrote it, sort of what I'd call a folk song..." Then - shifting the conversation to his old friend, The Tangent's Andy Tillison, Guy adds "Andy didn't like night voices - and he thinks my rhyming couplets are a bit too obvious. I would argue - they're supposed to be obvious. But then," he laughs, "Andy and I can discuss the smallest thing for an hour and a half and still disagree."

Back on the business front, I ask about Guy's move to Prog Rock Records. "Cyclops had to cut their roster for financial reasons - and asked if I could wait 18 months before releasing one of my records. But I like to keep the momentum of a record per year. I'm not like Pink Floyd who can take 15 years off - or Kate Bush who did the same sort of thing". Guy is still on very good terms with Cyclops's Malcolm Parker, but by agreement he looked for another label. "At the time Prog Rock Records was a small organically evolving label, with a relatively small roster of artists, and they seemed seemed genuinely interested in nurturing the artists. More like a family approach, and you wouldn't be just another slot on the release schedule. I don't ever want to become just an account code. The label has gone ballistic since they got financial backing, and they've have had to become more business orientated as a result of their own success - they now manage a large roster of up and coming successful artists, and they have very effective distribution partners..."

"So where are the sales coming from, Guy?"

"Well I haven't sat down and done the demographics - but we get a lot of mail from Europe - Norway and Germany, for example - and now with Prog Rock Records, we're getting a lot more in America. Actually - it's now easier to get my CD in America than in England." After a brief discussion, it turned out that, being in America, I had my copy before Guy did. he continues. "As for which CD has been the most popular so far? In 2005 A Matter Of Life And Death had gathered speed and out sold the others - in fact each new one has outsold the previous one. People buy one of the CDs, then tend to buy the next. There's a gradual word of mouth -it's been a very gradual expansion, but people tend to remain quite loyal.

Looking at the cover art and the richly illustrated booklet, once again the product of a close liaison between Manning and up-and-coming BeloRussian artist Ed Unitsky, I ask Guy if the artwork isn't very busy on One Small Step. "Well maybe - but intentionally so. For example, the collage in middle has lots of information in it. The idea is to follow the format of the 1970s covers. Remember Foxtrot, or Nursery Cryme. You'd look at cover for a long time, then you'd start noticing all these little details - and they all have something to do with the album."



Enough with the business - I'm more interested in the art, and I ask Guy what his principal instrument is. When he sits down to write something, what does he pick up first? "Wow, that's a good one. I don't know - sometimes it's a pen! Sometimes it's a lyric, a guitar, the keyboards, maybe even a rhythm part - an interesting backbeat. It depends on what I have in my hands at the time. I'm not like Peter Hammill who used to go away to a hotel once a year with a book and a guitar - rent room a and not come out until he'd got an album. I have my own studio, and I just go and mess about - I record everything onto hard disc, then next time I go in, I'll listen to it and see if it had any merit ... then maybe I'll spend time developing it."

"And - still focusing on One Small Step - what are your favorite moments on the record?"

"I like the epic - I think it's one of best things I've done." I would support that - the "One Small Step" epic conveys a simple message, examined from 8 different points of view - and the message is: Why does man have this ambition rush into space exploration - and even consider taking vacations out there - without a thought for who we are, what makes us what we are? There's a vocal line in Part 1 that summarizes the whole piece: And if we are to make some journey into space / Should we not first learn to love the human race. Although the piece revolves around the acoustic guitar there's still plenty of lead guitar, flute, keyboards, strings, strong saxophone lines and soft female backing vocals. Add reprised themes, constant tempo shifts, and interesting arrangements and there's no question that it will keep your interest.

"I also like the sax solo on "In Swingtime", and the acoustic guitar on "Night Voices" - that Al Stewart approach to writing…", Manning continues. And Back to that Andy Tillison relationship, which he brings up knowing that I've spent time with Andy "Yes, I like the epic. Andy likes pruning shears - he never stays with an idea long enough for it to get boring. But we have a different approach to writing - I don't mind I don't mind continuing a theme or a passage for a while if I think that it will grow on the listener  - or particularly if I've got something to say!"

And so, we come full cycle. If you like your music to be complex, at once powerful and elegant, and particularly, if you appreciate the extra dimension that comes from the purpose behind each song, put in an advance order for Anser's Tree now. Early predictions are that the first pressing will go quickly. Here's an advance look at the track listing:

Anser's Tree (PRR270 Autumn 2006) - will appear in two formats: the limited edition digi-pack with 16 page full color booklet and poster and then the standard edition (no booklet or poster) will follow.  Track listing:
1. (1581-????) Margaret Montgomery
2. (1699-1734) Jack Roberts
3. (1803-1835) William Barras
4. (1900-1922) Diana Horden
5. (1990-2048) Joshua Logan
6. (2001-2094) Professor Adam Logan
7. (2089-????) Dr. Jonathan Anser

All tracks by Guy Manning Except 2 (Manning/Tillison)

Line-Up:

  • Guy Manning - Acoustic 6, 12 & Classical Guitars, Mandolins, Keyboards, Samples, Basses, Drums, Percussion & Vocals
  • Laura Fowles - Saxes & Vocals
  • Ian 'Walter' Fairbairn - Fiddles
  • David Million - Electric Guitars
    Guests:
  • Stephen Dundon - Flutes
  • Andy Tillison - Hammond, Moog, Rhodes (2)
  • Neil Harris - Piano (2), Arp (5)

    Note:

    The pictures in this article are from Guy Manning's, Ed Unitsky's,
    or Parallel Or 90 Degrees' Web Sites

    All Images are by protected by copyright

    Contact the artists for details of copyright ownership

    Unauthorized distribution of these images or any part thereof by any means is prohibited.

     



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