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
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
Back on the business front, I ask about Guy's move to Prog Rock Records.
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
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.
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
"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 & VocalsIan 'Walter' Fairbairn - FiddlesDavid Million - Electric Guitars
Guests:Stephen Dundon - FlutesAndy Tillison - Hammond, Moog, Rhodes (2)Neil Harris - Piano (2), Arp (5)
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