I like things that are distinctive. Whether that be
in musical styles, vocal range or something else.
That's what attracted me to Kate Bush, YES and I guess Progressive Rock in general. So it's no surprise that I'd be attracted to the voice and music of Guy Manning. Whether it's his solo albums which now number ten, or his work with The Tangent if you've heard his style you'll know what I mean. I caught up with Guy to talk about life, the universe and everything else.
Jerry Lucky: I always
like to go back to the beginning…sort of set
the stage…what were your earliest
progressive rock memories?
Manning: My first memory is of hearing
Tarkus and the S/T ELP album I was 14 and
impressionable! We younger kids liked to
hang out with the older kids and my friend
Stephen had an older brother Mickey. Mickey
was 3 years senior to us and had a record
player in his room and 3 plastic LP cases.
All his albums were kept in pristine
condition. On very rare occasions, we got to
go in and he'd play us some music it was in
these sessions that I first heard Jefferson
Airplane, Grateful Dead, Wishbone Ash and
the ELP albums I remember how striking the
Tarkus cover was.
When I saved up enough to start my own collection, Tarkus was one of the first purchases but in actuality I was (at that time) more interested in my Lindisfarne and Alice Cooper albums plus the superb Al Stewart
When I went to Grammar school, I met my life long friend Simon and he introduced me to loads of new music including Jethro Tull, Yes, Frank Zappa and Led Zeppelin and together we discovered the Canterbury bands like Caravan, Hatfields and expanded our horizons to take in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Genesis, John Martyn, Roy Harper, Culture, Bob Marley, Little Feat, Steely Dan etc.
JL: Now in all fairness I've called your music Progressive Rock. How do you feel about that?
GM: I am not sure about that label at all. It covers a lot of ground after all!! Other people have called me that because of the extended song lengths and use of more than standard rock instruments I believe that I am simply a song writer who uses whatever vehicle is required to get the meaning, atmosphere and emotion of a piece across to the listener Having said that, being signed to a label called ProgRock records for 3 albums will tend to define you (be that purposefully or not) within the genre.
JL: When I look at your CD's I'm always amazed at the number instruments you play. How did that happen?
GM: Just as and when required I think. If you look at the instruments list played by Ian Anderson on 'Thick as a brick' you'll find all sorts there too...I try to add colour and texture to my songs and sometimes an acoustic guitar or organ alone will just not do. I had piano lessons a child but it did not 'take'. I only got to grips with playing when I discovered a cheap Spanish steel string guitar in my parent’s wardrobe and started bashing out Ash numbers with my pal Ian. From there I started experimenting with the old upright piano in the house and it all grew from there.
JL: As a listener, I remember the first disc of yours I put on I was immediately reminded of artists such as David Cousins, Strawbs and Roy Harper. Who were the people who most influenced you musically?
GM: Well see list earlier I guess. However, the artists I immediately took to and wanted to emulate were Tull, Roy Harper & Al Stewart. They really talked to me Tull for the use of instruments based around a single acoustic guitar or flute line, Roy Harper for the extended solo artist structures and Al Stewart for demonstrating so very well (Past Present And Future) that a song could actually tell a story and be rich in images whilst being well researched and words hand picked to deliver both reaction and clarity
JL: Many people will recognize your name together Andy Tillison from The Tangent. What are the roots of that relationship?
GM: Andy and I met in 1987 when my band of the time needed to record a Radio session for the BBC. We went to his recording Studio (Lion Studios in Leeds) to do this. The control room was a pig sty but the scruffy bespectacled fellow behind the desk seemed to know his stuff. As I set up my five keyboards, sequencer and controller set, he took more of an interest. In the breaks etc. we chatted about music and all sorts and got on quite well! He played me some stuff he was recording for his band Gold, Frankincense & Disk-drive and I liked it. When my band bit the dust later, I decided to try and record some of my own songs and sought Andy out...the rest (as they say) is history!
JL: Tell us how a typical Guy Manning piece comes together. And is there a difference based on the length of the song?
GM: Is there a typical Guy Manning piece? Songs come together from snippets of ideas, the start of a lyrical phrase, a song title a rhythm pattern...anywhere and everywhere Some songs feel complete being relatively short and some need a longer time to develop of to finish off telling the tale I do not write to order and very rarely write a piece to feature any particular musician (though there have been some few exceptions to this).
JL: When it comes to making music, what would you call music of your comfort zone? And on the other side of the coin what are the things that cause you to be out of that comfort zone?
GM: Comfort Zone - Acoustic guitar based pieces Non Comfort - not much really, although when Andy starts talking about modal scales it gets my brain spinning a bit.
:JL: As a multi-instrumentalist how do you balance the input of others when it comes to the execution of your music?
GM: This is split into 2 parts really;
a) Sections that I have 'composed' where I expect the supporting musicians to play what I write (but maybe in their own style)
b) Sections where they get freer input (but under my guidance. i.e. I tell them if I do not like it!) Normally, I have demoed ideas to give them a view as to what I was thinking about at the time. This can change of course and whole sections can be rearranged or rewritten based on feedback from the players etc or my general feeling of 'it fits' / 'does not fit’...boring or not etc.
JL: Some performers like the studio more than the live setting, others vice-versa. Where do you stand on those two environments?
GM: Given a choice, I think I prefer the Studio as I can control my environment and experiment more without wasting other people’s time. The end product has to strand the test of time and is a definitive one off statement....as Joni Mitchell once remarked, no one asked of Van Gogh..."hey man, paint that picture again." I like to play live but, as we get older, the comfort of doing this and the strain on the frame begins to take its toll! I certainly like to meet the people who like the music and chat to them and this alone makes it all worth while I also get a chance to try out old songs in a new way and reinvent them for the road/show.
JL: Speaking of Live, how often are you on stage during the year? And is there a "day-job" that keeps you busy the rest of the time?
GM: We do not play often but mainly because of the band members' outside commitments to family, workplace etc I have a full time day job (as do the others) Also, in the UK there are fewer places to play this type of music anymore i.e. which requires the audience to actually listen to the music It therefore becomes a self fulfilling prophecy...to get an audience you need to play a lot...to play a lot you need to be able to get an audience (or places will not book you) That said, this year I have decided to not write a studio album and to concentrate on more live work and hopefully culminate this activity with a live album and/or DVD.
JL: Your newest disc is entitled "Number 10" and features what appears to be the door of the Prime Minister on Downing Street. Tell us a little about the songs on the disc. Is there a theme we should be aware of?
GM: There is no narrative or conceptual theme to the new album. Through the artwork, we have provide a link by reusing the mysterious MANDALA symbol into each page (...except one page...readers please spot the odd man out!) There are 8 songs;
1) Ships - A rock song opener about the stormy end of a relationship and the echoes that keep coming back
2) The Final Chapter - a narrative about the rise & fall of a biker gang leader in New York
3) An Ordinary day - contrasts the controlled life of day job workers to the unrestricted elemental Wind blowing outside
4) Bloody Holiday! - The trials and tribulations of going abroad on a holiday (featuring cameo references to some great 10cc numbers)
5) Valentine's Night - A lot of people have written to me about this one. They say it is a great love song discussing the duality of the man/woman in relationships and the losing of oneself in the other. It is actually about Vampires!
6) A Road less travelled - a narrative unworldly tale about a man on a very strange road trip
7) Another Lazy Sunday - What we all fail to do on a Sunday
8) The House on Hill - the album epic. Love can transcend time & space. Orpheus in the Underworld with a happier ending
JL: Will you touring with the disc? When? Where?
GM: UK Dates have started and will continue across the year We will play the North of England (where we are based), London, the annual Cambridge Rock Festival and also hope to get offers to play Europe or the US (Put me down for ROSFEST 2010 George!). Promoters please note...we are gig ready!!
JL: By the time an artist gets around to releasing their 10th CD they've gained some cogent point of wisdom. What point would you most like to pass on to others?
GM: Ten albums in, I realize that I am still an unknown really. Some people stumble across my music or get there by other routes (Via the Tangent etc) but on the whole, not widely known. I have a devoted small hard core following that I really appreciate. Each album brings a few more into the fold. So, wisdom? Write for yourself; be true to that and others will find you. Keep going and try not to get too bitter at being somewhat ignored!!
JL: Lastly then, if you were stuck on a desert island, what five discs would you like to have with you and why those ones?
GM: Tricky!! Jethro Tull - A Passion Play (I never get bored of this - - I don't care if many fans think it is odd, I love it) Al Stewart - Past, Present and Future (listen to those tunes and lyrics - genius!) Genesis - Foxtrot (My fave, a little rough edged and quirky - Gotta love ‘Supper's Ready’ - again a track to explore the onion layers and depth of lyrics) Yes - Tales from Topographic Oceans (Hard choice but this would keep me exploring longer on my island!) Jon Mitchell - Court & Spark (Glorious melodies, great band performances, poignant lyrics) Roy Harper - Bullinamingvase (Hard choice again, but this has a lot of colour on it and some fantastic imagery)
JL: Ahh – Bullinamingvase, my favorite Harper album. Guy, thanks for taking a few minutes to chat. All the best in the year ahead.