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Progressive Rock Interviews

Guy Manning

Interviewed by Josh Turner
Interview with Guy Manning from 2005


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

You have so much great material on your albums. Do you plan to perform this material live anytime soon?
Well, I'd love to, but the 'band of musicians I use are so, so busy, getting them together to rehearse is a nightmare!
MSJ: The new album seems to chronicle a man's journey. Can you tell me what this theme is actually about?
Ok…on my "Tall Stories…" album I wrote a suite called "The Fall & Rise of Abel Mann?"... it told of a man driven right to the end and contemplating suicide whilst standing on the ledge of a building. In the end, he jumps but is carried up and away finding himself in a darkened room with a desk. He sits at the desk and begins to write in the leather bound journal ready for him there. He writes down the story of his life so that he can be forgiven, redeemed and move on.
So move along a few years... I had songs which seemed to follow a familiar narrative trail, and so I set about creating this concept album which basically tells us of the story written in the journal by Abel and what happened next.


To make the bonds even more tight between the two works, I included theme variations from the first in the second and also repeated lyrical forms and melodies.

MSJ: Is the name Abel Mann supposed to be a play of words, is this based off an actual person, or is it a little of both?
I think there are times when there is a part of Abel Mann in all of us (hence the pun on the name).
MSJ: I really like the new album, but "The Dream" is my overall favorite. It has so much energy and the beat is quite engrossing. I also like your submission to the "Kinnections" CD. The song "Top of the Mountain", which to my surprise is actually a previously unreleased demo, is quite good. Can you tell me about these songs and what you may have done differently with them?
"The Dream" is the song about Abel staring out on his "voyage" in life, so full of hope and ambition. Nice fiddle work by Ian Fairbairn and the lovely haunting faraway sax floating notes across the middle section really makes it work for me "Top Of The Mountain" is about the duality of Man and God. The differing viewpoints from 'up on high' and from 'down below'. But even with the juxtaposed vantage points there is still Faith (on both sides). I wrote it as part of the AMOLAD sessions but thought it not ready to go on that album.

MSJ: Out of all the songs you've produced, what are your favorites and which ones make you most proud?
Hmm... very tricky to answer as these change a lot. If I was to list what I thought of as my best ones:

1. "The Candyman" from "Tall Stories..." is a very personal one for myself and my children.

2. "The Last Psalm" from "Tall Stories..." I liked the FX and the way it moves through its sections.

3. "Songs of Faith" from "The Cure". Just love to play this one - it is stirring.

4. "Nobody's Fool" from AMOLAD… just a nice song really.

5. "Ragged Curtains" from "The Ragged Curtain". This long suite just seemed to have a good balance and work well.

6. "The View From My Window" (from album of same name)… a 'sing-along' but serious song about how the West treats the East with plenty of eastern instruments on it.

7. The new epic I am writing - "One Small Step" is probably my most intense and ambitious piece ever!

MSJ: Will your next album follow a theme as well?
Only the big 30+minute suite which examines Mans' obsession with getting out there into Space without a thought for the consequences. If we ARE to start booking our holidays out there in the Galaxy… then we'd better leave some of our 'baggage' behind (Aggression, greed, violence, bigotry etc.)
MSJ: Your music is truly progressive with numerous segues and many types of instruments ranging from fiddles, cellos, mandolins, and sax. Could you describe your songwriting process? How do put these ideas and instruments together to formulate such cohesive music?
Depends really… sometimes I'm just strumming some chords and singing and I get an idea. Other times I'll put a rhythmic pattern down and play around over the top of it. Sometimes it is just a phrase or an idea for a song title that inspires. For the new album, I asked my friend Ed Unitsky to create me some artwork to inspire me with ideas for songs. He dutifully did and the results will be the next album and album cover.
So I suppose it's a bit like my own "Pictures at an exhibition". The songs for the new album are:

1. The Mexico line

2. Night Voices

3. No Hiding Place

4. In Swingtime

5. One Small Step…

MSJ: It is hard to gauge what influences your music, because you do have a unique way of composing music. It seems classical music has had a big influence on you and your music is certainly progressive rock as well in the vein of Genesis and Yes. Who would you say are your musical influences?
Loads!! Beatles, Jethro Tull (no surprise there), Genesis, King Crimson, Yes, Caravan, Hatfield & The North, PFM, Al Stewart, Gentle Giant, Roy Harper, Lindisfarne, Alice Cooper, Beethoven, Peter Hammill…

MSJ: How did you decide you wanted to become a musician and when did your involvement in music begin?
I started to play (with some sort of purpose) when I was 13.
I had had the usual piano lessons before that, but hated them and then I found a beat up old Spanish guitar to twang on!
MSJ: In addition to guitars, vocals, keyboards, and drums, you play the mandolin. How did this become a part of your music?
I wanted to play other things other than the guitar and was awful on the sax and flute (and one leg)! But I always liked folk (and of course Ian Anderson is a huge influence)… so I picked one up and liked it immediately. However, it is not really the sort of instrument you can feature a lot... I like to use it for adding textures.
MSJ: How did you learn so many instruments and where did the choice stem to pursue them all?
Just experimentation really and the desire to have a wider arsenal of instruments at my finger tips to use in the arrangements, as I saw fit.
MSJ: The others in your band, Laura Fowles, Gareth Harwood, Rick Ashton, and all the guests on your albums are very talented. How did you meet these musicians?
Laura I met through Pav Chana who played percussion on "Tall Stories" (and later TVFMW). They had a jazz duo thing going and I needed a sax player. She came; we really hit it off ad she has stayed ever since bless her. I think she enjoys the music as something a bit unusual or different plus we are like an extended family when we do get together so we are very close. She also attracts the most attention when we do play live. I mean, the rest of us are just dog ugly! Gareth. I first met when he was playing with Andy T. in Parallel or 90 Degrees. I was really impressed by his electric guitar work. When he was at a loose end a year later, I asked if he'd help out on electric for the live band… and he has stayed ever since... bless him! He gets frustrated with me sometimes when I ask him to play things that he believes no one in their right mind would want to play... but over the years of working we have learnt to compromise so he gets his Mick Ronson bits in there and I get my Fripp & Hackett!

Rick was a friend of our old drummer John Hobson. I needed a bass player quickly and Rick stepped up to the plate. He is great to work with, down to Earth, takes no crap and works hard (but enjoys himself)!

MSJ: Can you recall any Spinal Tap moments that have occurred in your musical career?
Not sure. There have been loads! I was once in band and we wanted a thunder flash effect so we got this big banger and put it in bucket at the back of the stage. It went off on cue and shot straight up in the air coming down and just missing my keyboard stack. We also performed a crucifixion on stage as part of the 'act' which was fun.
MSJ: I'd like to get an idea of some of your current tastes.
Well "current" is a funny word with me as the stuff I tend to play is older material. Of the 'newer' acts about (apart from the TANGENT of course!) and I class newer as being in the last 10 years!...

…I like The Flower Kings, Magenta are quite good, IQs new one is really good too. Jeff Buckley's Grace album is essential to everyone's collection!

But I tend to look back to the era that made me want to listen and love music (70's).

MSJ: What's the last CD you purchased?
Last new CD (i.e. just released…) I purchased was Dark Matter by IQ, but I have the new Springsteen on order. However, I am going through a period of collecting those lovely Mini-LP CDs and so I have acquired quite a few of those recently.

MSJ: What is the last concert you attended as a fan?
Peter Gabriel - Growing Up tour - fantastic! But off to see Van Der Graaf Generator in London in May 2005 and then Todd Rundgren in June.

MSJ: I would like to ask you about some of your favorites. What is your favorite album?
Oh come on! Just one?? Here are some I would have to have on a desert island with me:

Thick as a Brick + A Passion Play -Jethro Tull

Bullinamingvase - Roy Harper

Past, present & future - Al Stewart

Tales from Topographic Oceans -Yes

The Rotters Club - Hatfield & The North

Foxtrot - Genesis

Solid Air - John Martyn

In The Land of Grey & Pink - Caravan

Grace - Jeff Buckley

Dixie Chicken - Little Feat

Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin

Larks Tongues in Aspic - King Crimson

Welcome To My nightmare - Alice Cooper

…oh, I could go on all night!

MSJ: What is your favorite band?
Hmm… Jethro Tull I guess (if I must pick but one)

MSJ: I would like to ask about some favorites that are not specifically related to music in order to get an idea of other influences that might be affecting your music. What is your favorite movie?
These are hard! Here are some…

'Close Encounters of The Third Kind'

'Play It Again, Sam'

'1900 / Novecento'

'Cinema Paradiso'

'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy

'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'

MSJ: What is your favorite TV show?
Well I loved: 'Babylon 5'

'The Prisoner'

'Roots'

'Smallville!'

MSJ: What is your favorite book?
Too many! "The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde

"Ender's game" Orson Scott Card

Most of Philip K. Dick!

'The Lord of the Rings'

MSJ: I have a quirky question that I like to ask. It helps me to identify with the artist. Do you have any pets?
Yes, a cat called "Stinky". 6 goldfish, 2 stick insects and a budgie called "Ziggy".
MSJ: Before we wrap up, is there anything you would like to say to your fans at this time?
Don't like the word "fans" really... but to those who have taken some time out to listen to my music and hopefully enjoy it… A Big Big Thanks!
 
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