I n t e r v i e w s
Of Tall Tales, Cures, and CascadesInterview by Stephanie Sollow
The tale of Guy Manning is fraught with near misses, with musicians coming together and moving apart at almost the same time, with playing to near empty houses, to even coming in second in a "Battle Of The Bands" to a band even he doesn't seem to remember the name of now. As Manning says throughout the bio on his website: "Fame remained elusive." Picking up the story in Manning's post college years, fame came a little closer with Gold, Frankincense and Disk-Drive, Andy Tillison's band that Manning joined "just before he decided to reduce its ranks and concentrate on recording work. So, GFDD became Andy and me," as Manning writes in his humourous, but honest, biography. This pairing, after two albums (No More Travelling Chess and the rare It's Not The End Of The World ... But You Can See It From Here), went their separate ways, Tillison eventually to form Parallel Or 90 Degrees and Manning to a solo career.
Jonathan Barrett, a friend of Manning's since their brief career in Bailey's Return (and once a member of GFDD), and Tillison assisted Manning with his first solo album, Tall Stories For Small Children. Tall Stories… is a subtle and low key work that is sometimes reminiscent of the Moody Blues, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd, among others. The artwork was done by Manning's three children. Rounding out the line up was Jon Burr on harmonica, Pav Chana on tablas, and Simon Baskind on percussion (Manning's friend since grammar school). The quartet of Manning, Tillison, Barrett and Baskind repeated up their collaboration with Manning's The Cure about which I had an opportunity to talk with Manning about in an email interview conducted the past March, as he was working on his third album. Perhaps now, with Cascade being released this month, the tides are changing. Perhaps the dam of resistance will finally give way and fame won't be quite as elusive.
Stephanie Sollow: So tell us about Cascade, is it a concept album a la The Cure?
Guy Manning: No ... The Cure was an idea that I had developed over a period of time ... from the first thought of "Why are we all here?… " through "... is there some Universal plan?… " to "... what if we exist only as thoughts and dreams in someone else's head?" to the final "... what if that person was insane? ... or perceived as insane …"
SS: And sometimes it feels as if that's the case - given some of the "insane" things our species does. I've often had the same thought, stemming from The Thinker - "I think, therefore I am." But that doesn't suggest, "I think, therefore you are, too." It is a line of thought that might lead someone to question reality, as the character in The Cure does.
There were 4 meditations by Rene Descartes that challenged reality, but in my "Cure" World, the whole of creation is held within another world (actually in the head, dreams & beliefs of an insane man). We are all held there, visions of sound and light, relentless chaotic noise that has driven him (the patient) insane. He actually believes that he can control this "other world," that he can make things become real, create life, create death ... BUT he is no longer in control and he is locked away (from others and himself) because this other reality is not believed in by others (i.e. the doctor who needs to CURE him etc. but who, as it turns out, does believe, but has his own motives for feigning disbelief)
The idea for the "Apocalyptic" ending came as I decided who the main protagonists actually were, so that the storyline took a neat twist and folded out on many further levels.
Cascade is more a collection of pieces that seem to have a running elemental theme of Mysticism or Spiritualism about them:
Some obviously some narrative tales: "Flight 19" about the training planes lost in the Bermuda Triangle; "Winter" deals with the Spirit Of Winter personified in a mischievous imp. Others more personal: "The Night And The Devil" ... is a piece about the time I battled every night with anxiety / panic attacks; "Owning Up" is a retrospective about my reactions to a loved ones death.
SS: Anxiety and panic attacks are something that few understand unless they've gone through it. Expressing it music must have been hard to do, especially as people see you as a musician, up on stage, playing for hundreds - "how could you be nervous?" Even in particular situations, whereas the "confident" person may just be a little nervous, for some it is like being a specimen under a microscope, an over-critical eye looming over you.
The "illness" that I suffered was as a result of changes in life, I suppose. Just after college and on my way out into the Real World. Some people embrace it, I got agoraphobia and rocked myself to sleep for a while ... but it passed. I was not in control then, but I am when I am on stage (especially if I am going down well!).
SS: Which comes to you first, the music or the words?
"Walking In Cascade" ... this is what I call a "stream of consciousness number" […]. I.e. I just start writing down odd lyrics or singing ideas over the music and then notated them afterwards. "W.I.C" seemed to make a lot of sense when I read it back and deals with the ways in which Spiritual awareness comes to a cast of different characters.
Some ideas come from the rhythm and some ideas from melody. A good rule of thumb for me is, if I can grab a song title out of the air, then I can usually write the song!
SS: I see that Angela Goldthorpe from Mostly Autumn is scheduled to guest on the album. How did that come about?
I finally managed to see Mostly Autumn play locally a few months ago after hearing the tracks on the CYCLOPS Sampler 4 (which also has me on it!) I bought the first 2 M.A. CDs and was very impressed. As I had several flute parts in mind for this new album (which is more orchestral in nature), I immediately thought of Angela and gave her a call. We plan to meet next week in order to listen to the rough demos, which I hope she likes! I also asked if Heather F. might like to do the duet "Lead Me Where You Will" (A conversation between the Satan and Eve In Eden), but she may be too busy, we'll have to see on that one. [Angela did, Heather wasn't able to contribute to Cascade - ed.]
SS: Laura Fowles is back on sax, I see, but I'm not familiar with the names Neil Harris, John Hobson, Gareth Harwood ... how did they come involved?
Neil (Keyboards) & John (Drums) were part of the live band that played UK dates last year. Gareth was formerly a member of Parallel Or 90 Degrees and really shone on both their The Time Capsule and Unbranded CDs. He is sort of at a loose end now (having been abroad and recently returned), so I asked if he'd like to do some electric guitar. We will see how that all works out. Now that Jonathan Barrett is no longer with the band I need to find a bassist or guest star bassist to fill in (hopefuls please apply!) [Bass duties are credited to both Manning and Barrett - ed.]
SS: You were scheduled to open up for Greenslade last month [February], how did the shows go?
Very well actually. As Mr. Barrett had left us high and dry at short notice, the band couldn't play without him, so I stripped the pieces down to an "unplugged" level and so Neil & I went out to play them together! It was very good and I performed some numbers that were not in the band set, too.
SS: When's the target release date for Cascade? Will it be out on Cyclops as well, or are you shopping for a new label?
Cascade should be out by Summer 2001. Malcolm Parker (CYCLOPS CEO) always wants to hear them before he agrees to put up the cash, so I have to record it all fully first and then design the artwork, too. The pieces are now ready for the others to attack and I hope he likes what he hears! If he does not appreciate this one, then I am open to offers or will sell mail order directly from my web site! [The official release date was September 6 on Cyclops - ed.]
SS: Speaking of the artwork, that which was used for The Cure seems to have been done using Bryce [a naturalistic 3D rendering software program -ed] ... well, mixed media, but including Bryce. Is art something you pursue(d) actively, or fell into in getting your material ready for release?
Yes, I live art and wanted to paint at school. There is a lot of BRYCE. Actually, the landscape was done for me by some nice people at "The Galaxy Of Health Art Department." I searched the Net looking for images for The Cure cover and found some nice ones up on their site. Although they could not allow me to use the ones found there (copyright), they offered to create some images, to order, for me! Superb; they gave the building blocks from which I constructed The Cure cover.
SS: You said in your holiday message to us that "As for the future...it would be nice to reach a larger audience without having to be so pushy and self promoting all the time!!" Have you found it easier promoting the The Cure than with Tall Stories, now that there seem to be so many more prog related magazines? And especially with the number of online review sites that are cropping up?
No, not really. CYCLOPS is a very small label and Malc. hasn't a lot of resources to plug CDs. Mine are found easily on the Internet, Virgin Records, etc. but no one knows about them to look! It is only through favourable reviews /internet airplay etc. that small artists like myself can hope to attract a wider audience. I usually have to plug them myself like mad on newsgroups and Prog review sites etc. just to let people know that there is an album there to hear…
SS: Have you seen the Internet help your sales or at least increase the interest in your music?
Yes, it has helped a lot. I have a link to a secure VISA card site from my web site ( www.burnsidesystems.demon.co.uk) which can let people buy my CDs directly from me (by VISA Card). The Review sites, the Internet On-line CD vendors ...they all help ...but ONLY IF you know the CD exists!
SS: Yeh, while the prog zines/ezines reach the intended audience, they really aren't ever going to attract the same kind of mainstream subscribers like Rolling Stone, for example. Which is shame as most of the music they'll never hear or hear about is often 10 times better than what is actually released and promoted ... well, because it's all about the promotion anyway, not the content.
Agreed, it's a shame that Music requires Big Business and hard cash to be heard these days! In the good old days it was down to hard work and a bit of imagination. But ... CYCLOPS at least puts up the money to make some of us audible for a brief moment.
I am really grateful to any reviewer who listens to and likes the CDs ... and to actually talk to someone who has bought one and genuinely likes it, is, a real honour and a pleasure.
SS: In John Bollenberg's review of Tall Stories... (which I have to admit I still haven't heard), he mentions "throughout the song one can hear the main theme from 'The Wizard Of Oz.'" (I'm not sure if song should be album, as he doesn't actually name a song.) Something that just Bobo's hearing, or is it? And if so, what's the story behind it?
Well go get a copy! "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" features on the opening track "The Last Psalm" A piece dealing with Post-Apocalypse. A lay preacher makes his way (in an atmosphere suit) towards the last church left standing to deliver the Last Psalm to the survivors. He is afraid of the rising tides from the Polar Caps ... but at the last moment, Life finds a way to survive! The OZ theme is heard in the maelstrom outside the church from a small tape recorder buried in the rubble ... check it out!
[SS: I'll interject here to add that I am now, though not for the first time, listening to the CD.]
SS: Tall Stories…is credited as "Guy Manning," whereas The Cure is just "Manning" ... specific reason for this? Will we find a difference between future "Guy Manning" releases versus "Manning" releases?
Hmm ... Branding! I have often discussed this with Andy Tillison (PO90) ... why do bands seem to do better than solo artists. Are they more respected, taken more seriously? Why is a Roger Waters album deemed less important than a Pink Floyd album? … or is it? On both CDs, I play most of the stuff myself and wrote, arranged and produced most of it too. I just got sick of being called " Guy Manning...Singer/Songwriter" !!!!
SS: The lyrics/topic of "The Candyman" caught my eye. In a way, it
explores the same ideas that The Cure - the whys and therefores
of existence. Do you find that we as a species often spend more time
worrying about what something will mean years hence instead of what it
means in the moment?
Yes, Time is a funny concept and we are obsessed with it. I suppose I just empathise with the wish to achieve something of merit that will outlast my own lifetime. "The Candyman" deals with hopes and dreams chased and somehow illusive in the bid to pass on something bigger than ourselves. The Candyman himself is the personification of those chased ideas (here seen as a figure handing out sweets and candy somewhere ahead and away in the distance but never reached before he turns around and disappears). But then, the central character realises that he has done just that (achieved immortality) through his own children and that as long as the chain continues, he will never die. He himself becomes The Candyman to his own children, pointing them in directions that only they can follow, but (as an honour) he is the Guardian of their hopes & dreams (for a while).
SS: Thanks for your patience, and taking the time to talk with us.
No, thanks for letting me have my say! And please, keep up the great work!
[* "Ozymandias" is a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, written around 1817, and refers to a statue said to have been the largest in Egypt, with this name, the Greek for Ramses II, inscribed upon it. Everyman is a late 15th Century morality play (author unknown).