Guy Manning CDs

Title

Label/Cat No.

Year

Length

Cascade

Cyclops  CYCL105

2000

64'05

Cascade

CASCADE

Track list:  Walking In Cascade (5.42); By The Book (A Pop Song) (6.19); Tears In The Rain (5.07); Catholic Education (5.48); Hushabye Mountain (3.03); Lead Me Where You Will (6.52); Flight 19 (5.55); The Night And The Devil (5.52); Owning Up (5.41); The Time Of Our Lives (6.11); Winter (7.35).

It's been just over a year now since I explored Guy Manning's previous work, 'The Cure' and, although we're running a little behind the times here since 'Cascade' has already been available for a while, I am delighted to say that this album represents another very powerful offering.

Having explored the concept formula on his last outing, this album has the more traditional singer / songwriter approach and it is one that should carry wide appeal.  For a start, Guy Manning is one of those artists with a voice that it is difficult not to like.  His manner is easy going, his tones soft and reassuring and the result is a sound that can effortlessly wash over you, while at the same time still managing to impart its message. The song writing itself often seems to take a down to earth approach, and it is often very easy to empathise with the feelings and moods conveyed.  On the occasions where the subject matter is perhaps a little more obscure, there is still the joy of simply being part of the experience while trying to figure out the underlying meaning!

Similarly the music itself is played in straightforward fashion without undue fuss, for much of the time good use is made of acoustic guitar with gentle keyboard backing, but he is never afraid to crank up the power when it is appropriate to do so ... And this is one of the beauties of this album: everything is in proportion and well measured, creating a varied and subtle mix with no room for ego trips or excess.

Although Guy himself seems to turn a hand to most things, providing the main vocals as well as playing various guitars, keyboards, bass, drums and mandolin he has, nevertheless, assembled a first class team of musicians to
assist with the task at hand.  The complete lineup includes the talents of Laura Fowles (sax and vocals), Gareth Howard (guitars); John Hobson and Simon Baskind (drums and percussion), Jonathan Barrett (bass) and Neil Harris (additional keyboards).  Angela Goldthorpe of Mostly Autumn also puts in a welcome appearance playing flute and recorders.

The first track 'Walking In Cascade'  leads in with a very brief spoken section with a slightly eerie backing that, Twilight Zone-like, sets the scene nicely for what follows.   From here a soft repeating keyboard phrase forms the main pattern on which the song is built, casting a spell which holds you and does not let go.  The vocals are delivered in a drifting lazy manner, while hazy keyboard patterns, punctuated by bass and percussion, create a warm restful ambience. Just as you think it could not get better, it does and in the closing section of the song we are treated to a beautiful saxophone passage which is simply the icing on the cake!

'By The Book (A Pop Song)' on the other hand pushes in a very different direction.  This kicks off in a slightly raucous manner with a ringing telephone followed by punchy drum beat over which saxophone and then keyboards cut in.  The main body of the track is pretty up tempo, containing hints of the kind of pop sound that emerged with some of  the late seventies, post-punk bands and the use of synth sounds in particular has a Gary Numan flavour.  Mixed in with this are more overtly progressive references accentuated by heavy use of the Hammond organ.  Lyrically the song is quite interesting, particularly in the way it makes use of many familiar childhood images.

Less successful to my mind is 'Tears In The Rain', which while it jingles along pleasantly with vocals and acoustic guitar to the forefront, ultimately failed to grab my enthusiasm.  The main part of the song works well enough, but the chorus grated and, were it not for the rather nice mandolin playing adding a degree of texture, I think this would have passed me by completely - but then you cannot expect to like everything can you?

Any misgivings I may have been harbouring at this stage were quickly laid to rest by 'Catholic Education'.  This has an insidious rhythm which I found to be vaguely reminiscent of 'Badge' by Cream.  There are many dark undertones that seem to run beneath the surface and the excellent use of  violin helps to reinforce these feelings.  The synth sounds again take us back to the late 70's and early 80's pop acts: in turn, emphasising the brilliantly executed lead guitar work which, while very understated, has a much heavier edge.

'Hushabye Mountain' had an immediate familiarity that caused me to check the writing credits - and only on seeing that this song is written by Sherman and Sherman did I realise why!  The song is a lullaby that was originally sung by Dick Van Dyke (although feel free to correct me if I'm wrong here) in the film 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang', but please don't let that put you off in any way.  This is a great song, and given the Manning treatment it has a new lease of life.  The musical box effects and use of stirring orchestration make this a real joy to listen to.

Right from the start 'Lead Me Where You Will' has a harder, punchier feel with plunging bass line and swinging sax sounds.  The track features some very nice muted Hammond touches and the addition of Laura Fowles' vocals provides a good contrast to Guy's voice.  Of particular note however is Angela Goldthorpe's woodwind contribution, particularly in the latter stages where this is set against a very melancholic violin backdrop which works very well indeed.

One of my favourites on the album is 'Flight 19' - this song deals with the disappearance of a flight of aircraft from the US Naval Air Station at Fort Lauderdale in December '45 - which is often cited as evidence for the existence of the Bermuda Triangle, although thankfully this song does not deal in any such speculation.  The fact that many young men were lost in what probably amounts to no more than a tragic accident forms the basis of the song, and it delivers such a profound sense of sadness as to be very moving.  The sense of solemnity and tragedy kicks in with the opening church organ sound - repeated at key intervals - against which soft bass and percussion cut in.  The keyboards soon change to a more string oriented sound before the level dies right down.  As the vocals come in the instrumental backing is initially kept to a minimum, but as the song progresses the levels start to gradually pick up once more, but it is always the vocals that hold the key to the song and they are emphasised in fine style by the muted playing style.

Picking the spirits up again is the warming, bluesy sound of 'The Night And The Devil'.  Hammond is used here to good effect, and the song also makes nice use of backing vocals.  Once again the saxophone work on this track
stirs the soul but, as I have now come to expect from this album, there are no over the top lead runs here, just confident, well proportioned playing that adds to the overall sound without stealing the limelight.

I am tempted to suggest that 'Owning Up' could be considered as a modern day folk song - particularly in view of the acoustic guitar and vocal style employed.  Though I tend not to like making direct comparisons to other musicians since this can so easily create the wrong impression, I have to suggest that anyone who frequented the Marquee in the early 80's and who remembers Rog Patterson and Twice Bittern (or Twit Bison as they were affectionately known) will be on pretty familiar territory here.

'The Time Of Our Lives' is one of those songs that can affect you differently depending on how you choose to interpret it.  My interpretation of the song is that it is taking a look back at the seemingly endless, carefree days of childhood - but whether this is viewed in terms of fond nostalgia or with a sense of regret for times that will never come again, is open to question.  I make this point because when listening to the song the playing is such that it can evoke feelings of great joy or sadness depending on what frame of mind you are in when you approach the piece, a fact which I find both surprising and remarkable!

Bringing the album to a close we come at last to 'Winter', which combines all the best elements of what has gone before in terms of keyboards, flute, saxophone, bass and percussion - not to mention great vocal work,  resulting in what for me was a truly uplifting experience.

Having already given a big thumbs up to 'The Cure',  I have continued to be impressed by Guy Manning's output and, had I heard this album in time, it would certainly have featured as one of my top albums to be issued during 2001.  This is a beautifully rounded work, featuring well written songs that really seem to strike a chord, and in the final analysis it is a superb album to simply sit down and listen to.  'Cascade' is another fine album from the Manning stable and it comes highly recommended !

Simon     4th February 2002

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