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Akoustik Manning can best be explained by Guy Manning himself, "I was going to say the slimmed down version of Manning, but I don't think I can get away with it any more."  The band is made up of vocals, two acoustic guitars, bass, keyboards and flute.  They opened with Silent Man, from the album A Matter Of Life & Death, and "this one's about death".  It has a dramatic sound to start, upbeat, hard, with the flute coming in, making Jethro Tull references obvious, Guy's vocals are forceful, strident, and the track eases into a keyboard part, which in turn leads into the flute, developing the theme, before the guitar races away into a big finish.  Next up is Clocks, a more gentle start, with fast picking on guitar, the bass keeps a steady beat while everything else races around it, a light feel to the other instruments, flowing, the vocals melodic, guitars drifting now, the breezy feel added to by the flute, which is weaving in and out, and the track picks up on a bouncy feel.  Guy then introduces the band while he is trying to tune, Kris Hudson-Lee on bass, David Million on lead acoustic, Phil Wilkes on keyboards and the flautist (or should that be 'flutist' ?  Apparently there is debate on the matter) has left the stage for now, but "I'll introduce Steve separately because he's a special guest, rather than special needs, Phil."  Guy explains that he writes "about death and water" and this one is about water.  The guitar intro is drifting for Castaways, the sound picks up, is dramatic, but is still drifting, with Guy's vocals over the top of it all.  Then the tempo picks up and the track moves on, before calming and drifting again, but bringing back that sense of drama, Phil's keyboards building the atmosphere in the background as the vocals soar, then it eases again and quietens to a close.  The flautist is back on stage, and is introduced as Steve Dundon, on loan from Molly Bloom, but he has forgotten to bring his flute (not a 'flaut') back on stage with him !  Anyway, once he is ready they get into Margaret Montgomery, their song about a white witch, and it has a wonderful Scottish feel to the opening, a lovely flute sound, rolling along, upbeat, in the best tradition of folk rock, and it really seems to suit Guy's vocals.  And there is certainly a feeling of that early Genesis sound in this one.  The tempo picks up for the chorus, a deep sound, rounded melody, before the tempo changes, becomes more strident, a stacatto feel but with the flute still flowing, a dramatic, racing, martial sound, before the tempo returns to how it had been, but with the vocals more forceful, then it eases and drifts on.  The sound becomes stronger as we move into the chorus again, and then it rocks on to the close.  It is such a well crafted song, and tells its story so well. 
Antares is from the Songs From The Bilston House album (yes, this Bilston, although a different 'house'), and is a "song about water and death".  The gentle guitar intro from David moves in waves, building into a big sound which leads into a melodic chorus.  It weaves and swirls, has a gentle sway to it, then builds again into a very big sound, which then floats out, eases, then floats off again, until it finally eases once more into the end.  Valentine's Night is off the excellent new album, Number Ten (yes, it is Manning's tenth album), and is about vampires, beginning with the guitar ticking, the keyboards mirroring the sound over the top of the guitar, Kris' bass thumps a beat under it, while the vocals are powerful over the top of it all.  The track picks up pace and moves on, quite bouncy, with a grand sound from the keyboards.  It eases before building again and the vocals soar, then it eases again into a keyboard sound, very much a tinkling sound, and the track finishes with the guitar ticking again.  Next up is In My Life, opening with vocals and a strumming guitar, and then the gentle pace begins to pick up, the track becomes more dramatic, atmospheric, the vocals more forceful, before it eases down into a guitar part, and it is just the vocals with the acoustic guitar again, until the keyboards join in and it picks up for the chorus.  It keeps that tempo going, even racing at times, then eases and fades to a close.  They finish with the superb Lost In Play, another from the Songs From The Bilston House album, which was also featured on the Classic Rock ProgSpawn CD - it has a very up tempo intro, the audience are clapping along, then bouncy keyboards and it has moved into a most wonderful melody.  It eases for the vocals and piano, then gradually builds into a powerful sound, racing now, pausing into a keyboard and flute part which is pure Jethro Tull at their folk rock best, then dramatic guitar strumming comes in with the bass and the sound is glorious, a flowing keyboard solo, which is taken on by the flute, swirling, soaring, the track still bouncing along, very up tempo as the vocals come in again and it moves on to a big finish - and if that song does not put a skip in your step then nothing will.  This was a great performance and leaves me looking forward to the full Manning set at The Peel on 6 June.  Before then you can catch them at the Classic Rock Society in Rotherham on 25 April.

James Allen