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(Hairless heart review

The Ragged Curtain is my first incursion into the works of Guy Manning. I’ve known about Guy’s association with the band Parallel or 90° and in fact saw Po90 a few years ago in Leeds, UK around the time they released their first album, but I’m not sure if Guy guested for that performance. Incidentally, I thought that Po90, at that time, had their moments and was particularly impressed by their keyboard player (who guests on one of the tracks on The Ragged Curtain) but I’m sorry to say they just didn’t ‘do it for me’ back then, but it was early days (by the way, download the Po90 freebie compilation album, link at foot of page. It is rather good). Back in September 2002, Guy posted a link on Usenet to an impressive sample MP3 from the forthcoming The Ragged Curtain album, thus taste buds were suitably whetted.

Two things instantly struck me on first listening to The Ragged Curtain; firstly, Guy Manning is a strong songwriter with lyrics and some melodies stylistically akin to Tull’s Ian Anderson; secondly, Guy’s vocals at times sound remarkably similar to that of Mr Anderson. The short ‘intro’ track, A Ripple (From Ragged Curtains), features acoustic guitar and strings finishing like one of those typical Tull intros, say to something like that for Heavy Horses. The next five tracks are about relationships and are bundled under the banner of The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell (a situation I have experienced!). Various voice-overs unobtrusively make brief comment about personal experiences of relationships on each of these tracks. The first of these, Tightrope, starts and ends in a Robert Palmer fashion with a slow funky Floyd Animals mode middle section, and features some great sax courtesy of Laura Fowles (Mel Collins, eat your heart out). The love song, A Place To Hide in the latter section has a Camel air to it but again it could be because of Laura’s great sax. At this juncture I should point out that Guy Manning plays a multitude of instruments from keyboards and all things string to drums and  percussion, but as the album also features Rick Ashton (bass), Jonathan MacDonald Binns (drums), Neil Harris (keys and percussion) and Gareth Harwood (electric guitar) it is hard to tell (apart from Laura Fowles sax) who is responsible for any particular instrument on a track. Needless to say, whosoever is playing at any particular moment knows what they are doing and they do it well. Where Do All The Madmen Go features a great Brian May type guitar and ends with an amusing snippet of guitar similar to the intro to Mott The Hoople’s All The Young Dudes. Stronger, which could have been written for Bryan Ferry, is a song about coming to terms with the reality that the relationship is or was going nowhere and whilst dwelling on the nice moments, they in themselves are/were not enough – time to move on. Of course, I wouldn’t suggest for one minute that one should put this track on repeat just before you announce to your lover that she or he is about to become an ‘ex’, or would I? The final track that falls under The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell is What is It Worth?, a superb song with poignant lyrics, Ian Anderson style vocals, occasional elements of Floyd and Tull (this time, Passion Play) that would be worthy of stretching to 20 minutes instead of a short 5 ½ mins.
Next up is the track I heard prior to the release of this album, The Weaver Of Dreams. Again there is a strong Tull influence and also, perhaps, a touch of The Divine Comedy. The lyrics would make Ian Anderson proud and the guest appearance of Angela Goldthorpe (Mostly Autumn) on flute is worthy of Crimson’s Ian MacDonald.

 The final track, Ragged Curtains, is a 25-minute epic covering eight ocean related sub-titles staring with Flow and ending with Ebb. If you like 70’s Tull, Genesis, Camel, Caravan and even 90’s Grace (the band from Stoke, not the pop persona) there is every chance you would love this one. Andy Tillison-Diskdrive (Po90) joins the band on organ and analogue synthesiser on a couple of sections which with Angela Goldthorpe’s flute adds to the classic 70’s prog ambience.

 Like many good albums, The Ragged Curtain takes a couple of listens to fully appreciate the mix of styles and genres, Guy’s distinctive voice and intelligent lyrics. Musicianship is strong throughout and arrangements are well thought out. At the very least, I recommend you check out the samples available on Guy Manning’s website.

 Jem Jedrzejewski