Since joining the DPRP in October 2005 one of my greatest pleasures has been to review the three most recent albums from Guy Manning. Guy is the genuine article, a gifted songwriter, multi-talented musician and a highly respected artist boasting a prolific output. To some he is the man behind Manning (the band name he adopted following his debut for reasons revealed in the interview) with nine albums to his credit in as many years. To others, along with his good friend Andy Tillison, he is a member of The Tangent and a key contributor to their latest album Not As Good As The Book. He is of course both and more as he discloses during our lengthy conversation. I say conversation when in fact my contribution was minimal allowing Guy to talk freely and passionately about matters closest to his heart, not least his music.
Following the release of Manningís excellent Songs From The Bilston House in November of last year I received a message from Guy suggesting we get together for an interview. I naturally leapt at the chance but Christmas found me in the grip of a virus and at the beginning of this year Guy suffered the same fate. So it was one rainy evening at the end of January when we finally met up at Guyís house on the outskirts of Leeds, England. My journey had been relatively trouble free thanks to Guyís directions which in attention to detail were almost as meticulous as his music. The door was answered by Julie King, Guyís partner and vocalist featured on the latest albums from Manning and The Tangent. From that evening onwards she will also be remembered by this weary and hungry interviewer as a gracious host and a wonderful cook.
I was shown into the lounge which was dominated on one side by a huge TV screen. More impressively opposite was the largest CD collection imaginable which took up almost the entire wall. Guy soon entered sporting a Peter Gabriel t-shirt and we settled back to await the arrival of his friend and Manning guitarist David Million who would be joining us for the interview. As we sat and chatted he revealed his passion for classic progressive rock, most notably Jethro Tull, Yes and Van der Graaf Generator. He also displayed a knowledge interest and respect for his contemporaries including The Flower Kings, Neal Morse, Magenta and of course The Tangent. When you speak to Guy in the flesh his distinctive voice sounds exactly as it does when he sings on album.
Following Davidís arrival, and a hearty dinner prepared by Julie we finally made our way into Guyís home studio just across the hallway. Guy directed me to a high stool with a microphone positioned in readiness. He and David sat in anticipation a short distance away surrounded by an array of guitars and keyboards. I suddenly felt very nervous could this be an opportunity to audition for the next Manning or Tangent album? Given my limited musical abilities there was little chance of that! Coming back to reality I decided it was high time to get the interview underway. For the following two hours, with contributions from David, Guy talked openly and honestly about his music displaying a sharp wit and the occasional frustration at the lack of recognition.
~ Recording ~
DPRP: Guy, nine albums in nine years plus your other musical involvement, thatís quite a formidable output by anyoneís standards. How do you balance the music with the day job and your personnel life?
Guy: I tend to write a lot of songs at night and sleep during the day at work (laughs). No, it is a difficult balance but the thing is if I wasnít driven to write the songs I donít suppose I would find the time for it. Thereís an inner drive that makes me come into the studio and do some bits and pieces and try things out and write songs and play. Thatís changed over the years because obviously when I was a lot younger I would be playing the guitar or keyboards all day long. We would be playing, never recording because we didnít do any of that. So youíd end up just playing and playing and bashing out songs all day long with your friends. But now the recording side has taken over so I come in here and end up putting bits onto tape. Not playing really I pick up the guitar do what I have to do and put it down again, same with the keyboard. I donít spend a lot of time like I used to playing the guitar or playing the keyboards. I play to order and when I need to write something on a keyboard I work those parts out. But you find the time because you want to do it, when I donít want to do it anymore and I canít be bothered Iíll just stop. Sometimes I think I have stopped and I think well thatís it, here I am and I canít think of another thing to write about. Iím a middle aged man in a boring job and itís not really the great source of material for an album. Well it could be but itís already just now been done. So apart from having a crisis in mid life or something that shakes you out of that it becomes something that you need to do.
YouTube Trailer for A Crisis in Mid-life
I like playing guitar and I like playing in a band but because of home life itís become very difficult to play in a band. Itís not the Beatles where weíre all living in the same house you have to get people to come in over distances to play. But the recording studio here is just a doorway through from the hall into this little room and I can lock myself away in here and write so thatís what I tend to do now. But you do it because thatís what you need to do and if I didnít do it Iíd go completely crazy and bored. If I won the lottery I would not be going out to work in the day. I would be taking us on tour and putting the money into getting the music a bit more exposure and trying to get it somewhere. But as I get older I realise that Iím not going to be able to do that forever even if the Rolling Stones do, I canít. The days of jumping in a Bedford van and going down the M1 sat on a mattress in the back are over for me. There has to be a level of comfort. When I go to see a concert I donít want to stand up for 2Ĺ hours, I want to sit down and really enjoy the concert. Itís just an age thing. So in answer to your question, you balance it because you have to, itís a necessity.
~ Song Writing ~
DPRP: Where do the inspirations come from for each album and the songs you write?
Guy: Crikey, have you got all night (laughs)? The first album should be your best because when you come to make it you must have gone through all the songs and thrown all the crap ones away and ended up with all the really brilliant pieces left. The second albumís always difficult because youíve run out of all your good songs on the first album and find out youíve got to write another one. Inspirationís a funny thing, I donít know where it comes from and to be perfectly honest I donít delve too deeply into where it comes from. I hope that when I pick up the guitar I can write a good tune and I hope that if I get an idea for a song title or a lyric or something that just strikes my fancy I can use that idea as a springboard to start from. But some days I do and some days I donít and inspirations for the albums over the years have come from many sources. ĎTall Stories For Small Childrení was the title I decided my first album was going to be called when I was still at school in 1972. It took until 1999 to actually make it but I knew what the thing was going to be called, Iíd already got the song titles. Some of the songs Iíd been writing for some years to get there and I had loads of cassettes as you do with songs that Iíd composed and recorded on an old two track tape recorder with one microphone. So I had those and I wrote some others.
When I came to do ĎThe Cureí I wanted to write a concept album so I had this idea with a really strange story, thatís how that started really and decided that was going to be it. ĎCascadeí I wanted it to be not like ĎThe Cureí which was dark and moody, I wanted it be a lot lighter and more pastoral. So I made it more poppy, up-tempo and lighter. And when I came to do ĎThe Ragged Curtainí it was the first time we were allowed to go into the studio so I took the drums into Fairview Studios in Hull and we wrote. I happened to get the inspiration for that swimming on my back on the Greek island Rhodes. We used to go on the beach everyday and I used to go into the sea and float around on my back with my eyes closed trying to relax. They tell you when you go on holiday youíre supposed to take the time out to relax, so I do it. So I got this idea of the sea and the sand and all the rest of it and ĎThe Ragged Curtainí came from all of that plus the first part was songs that I had accumulated about the break down of a relationship, my first marriage as it was.
When I came to do ĎThe View From My Windowí I had an idea for a song all about dreams and being asleep and the strange things that happen to you. I started to write some autobiographical songs littered through all the albums starting with ĎTall Storiesí. ĎCandymaní was written about my kids and ĎOwning Upí on ĎCascadeí was about a relationship Iíd had with a girl when I was younger and the things that happened as a consequence. The break up of the relationship in ĎThe Marriageí was somehow related to my first marriage which wasnít too successful so it comes from anywhere.
Funny enough now Iíd done ĎBilstoní Iíve found thereís more autobiographical songs on ĎBilstoní than anything else Iíve ever done and I donít know why that is. It didnít start out that way and it certainly wasnít intended to be like that but it just seems that every time I had the idea for a song it turned out to be something that either Iíd done or was about me, apart from the song ĎBilstoní. ĎThe Calm Absurdí is about me trying to write love songs which I cannot do for the life of me. ĎIcarus & Meí is all about me when I was younger trying to bash out those songs when you form a band. ĎSkimming Stonesí is about my father and the last few days of his life and me. ĎInner Momentí is a personnel song which I wrote for Andy (Tillison) about going out on a journey and finding yourself and coming back. ĎUnderstudyí is all about me growing up and the pressure I was put under by my family to adhere to the family regime and the way we have to live and all the rest of it and how I rebelled against it.
So these songs just came from nowhere and I donít tend to sing about them really in the first person a lot of the time. If I put them in the third person it makes them more mysterious and interesting because theyíre about someone else rather than podgy me. So to answer your question it can come from anywhere. Ed Unitsky sent me some paintings to look at and ĎOne Small Stepí was born out of that. I was looking at that picture of the guy used on the front cover in his holiday shirt standing on the edge of the planet and it made me think about going into space and going on holiday and all the rest of it. So who knows where it comes from? I donít know, I think we should get some ideas from Dave.
David: Iím just a guy who plays guitar. Iím a single instrumentalist, I donít play anything but guitar and even thatís not as well as I would like. But Guyís been a source of encouragement and the inspiration factor for me was getting home from a session here. Itís quite hard because heís a slave driver and youíre creating very complex pieces and its digital. So you canít get anything wrong and Iíd never had that discipline thrust upon me so it was quite frustrating, do it again, do it again. Iíd get home late and tired because it was after midnight and then Iíd be powering up my basic software and I started writing after I meet this fella here. So the inspiration is actually endless and my stuff is quite amateur in nature but Iíve posted it on the web and Iím quite happy with it and proud of it.
Guyís not aware of the inspiration he spreads out amongst the people around him because heís moved on to the next thing and the thing that inspired him is almost incidental to that. But for me it was very focused. But itís funny, I think inspiration means different things and if you listen to some of the tracks as someone who can just appreciate the music itíll inspire you in a different way. Itís evocative, and if itís autobiographical to Guy by the time it translates across to the audience itís still inspirational but inspirational in a different way. It has a completely different meaning. So if you listen to ĎUnderstudyí and a lot of people have said how much they like it, it would be interesting to get a bunch of people together and say when you listen to it and enjoy it what did it make you think? It inspired me just to play and itís improved my musicianship no end.
~ Songs From The Bilston House ~
DPRP: Itís interesting that you should touch upon ĎUnderstudyí because thatís certainly one of my favourite tracks on ĎBilstoní an album which for me is one of your strongest and I can see a progression through your albums.
Guy: Iím glad you feel that way obviously I do. Some people think itís great and Iíve looked at things where you can get score ratings and people whoíve marked ĎOne Small Stepí, ĎA Matter Of Life And Deathí and ĎAnserís Treeí as five stars marked ĎBilstoní as three. And some people think itís five and everything else has been one. Itís a funny thing different albums mean different things to different people. Youíve got to be in the right mood for it and somehow it strikes a chord and once itís got you itís got you. An album thatís good is one that gets its hooks into you and doesnít let you go. Iím hoping ĎBilstoní is one of those. I think there have been good songs on all the albums Iíve done and some of them have been executed better than others. I think Iíve managed to pull off the arrangements better in places and Iíve certainly managed to pull off the recording better. The equipment I had in 1999 was quite primitive against what Iím actually using now. So some of it sounds quite dated, not because the songs are no good, because the arrangements and keyboards and drum sounds and samples I had werenít up to scratch. But you do what you can at the time.
But ĎBilstoní is getting some good reviews and I hope it continues to do so. Whether I do another one thatís better or worse I donít know I never go out to try and better the last album I just try to write an album. I just try to write some songs and they happen to all fit together. ĎBilstoní I look at it and think yeah thereís a pretty good collection of songs there. Some of them for me are better than others Iíve got my favourites, everybodyís got their favourites. I like ĎUnderstudyí as well, I think thatís a strong one and thereís a few others I think are really, really good. Thereís a couple where Iím thinking yeah theyíre OK but theyíre not my favourites, theyíre on there because they have to be. But these are the ones I want you to listen to. Itís these that I think are the guide to it, this track and this track are the ones. But people say thatís not my favourite track, my favourite track is this one. And I think come on why that one, itís the worst on the album!
David: Guy was working on ĎAntaresí which doesnít feature any guitar, or not mine, and it was nice to sit back and I could be quite objective about it because I wasnít really involved in it. Itís probably my single favourite song off the whole album. But what really made it topical at the time there had been that awful tragedy off the Scottish coast with a Norwegian ship and a father and son had been onboard and the ship had capsized. There had been this really terrible accident and it had gone down really, really quickly and they died. That was around about the time Guy was working on the song at the back end of the process. I said to Guy do you realise how spooky that is because ĎAntaresí the song itís about the sea and itís about somebody thatís gone and ultimately isnít coming back. Thereís that really sad sort of strand running through it and it really hit me as I was listening to this story on the radio. Iíd been listening to one of the rough cuts of ĎAntaresí because I carry the discs around with me when Iím learning all the stuff so when I get here I Know what Iím going to be doing. I said to Guy thatís really spooky and when I heard this story it was quite a tearjerker and the ĎAntaresí refrain just came straight to my mind. Thatís what I mean about inspiration it inspires you to think about things that are directly related to the theme or theyíre unrelated but very powerful. Thatís the weird thing about music it does that to you doesnít it. That was a funny thing. Whatís the word for that? Thereís a word for it when somethingís very sad it creates thatÖ..
David: Yeah, itís a very sad song but itís a beautiful song. I love that song.
~ The Concept Album ~
DPRP: There is a concept that underpins ĎSongs From The Bilston Houseí. Itís set in a house and itís about the people that inhabited the house. Is it important for you to have that overall concept to contain the songs?
Guy: Drat, youíve found me out. Iím a child of the 70ís. I was born and lived in the 60ís and really started to get into music in the late Ď60ís early Ď70ís and that was the emergence of the progressive rock movement and specifically the emergence of the concept album. People hadnít really heard of concept albums before that. I liked the music to be brilliant and I liked the artwork to be good but I liked something else. I was always very fond of ĎThe Lamb Lies Down On Broadwayí and ĎTommyí they had something that bound them together. Other than being brilliant songs there was something else about it that just made it come together as an organised whole. And I suppose itís became a little thing that I do now really but it certainly didnít start out like that for the first few albums. I mean obviously ĎThe Cureí was a concept album that was telling a story in three acts but nothing really happened up to ĎA Matter Of Life and Deathí which was again another concept album. I was telling a narrative story that weíd started some time ago and it was telling what happened next or reiterating part of the story that started on ĎTall Storiesí so that became a proper concept album. When I came to do ĎOne Small Stepí because the actual title track was so long being over thirty minutes it really took up the bulk of the album. The rest of it was four supporting pieces so ĎOne Small Stepí really had one concept and it had this idea of man in space and all the rest of it.
Then I came to do ĎAnser's Treeí and again I had various songs and I thought well Iíve got all these songs is there anyway I can bring them all together? They all seemed to be songs about people, different people in different stories telling tales about people and so I thought well what can we do. It was actually Julieís idea she said these people, why donít they be part of the same family and I thought thatís a good idea, thatís a good way of doing it. Then all the other ideas came (clicks his fingers) once the light went on suddenly family trees, the song titles were going to be names of people with dates, that was it, that was their song title and the whole thing just flew together. It made it far more exciting to think of it bucketed together in that form and thatís what I liked about it. You could have heard the songs individually and hopefully they would have stood up on their own merit but having them as part of this overall thing, there all from the same family, the family tree of how they all got there it adds something to the spice.
Its like looking at the album cover from ĎTopographic Oceansí with it on your knee while your listening to it and looking at all the pictures or ĎThick As A Brickí looking at the newspaper. Itís that sort of excitement I wanted to try and bring back a little of. So when we came to ĎBilstoní the idea for the album was when Dave and I were both at the Summers End Festival in 2006. We stayed in this hotel outside of Bilston with (Norwegian prog band) White Willow and we had some nice chats into the early hours with White Willow they were greatÖ.
David: And with Barney the Macaw.
Guy: Yes, Barney the Macaw who lived in this big cage in the middle of the room. And every time we went out of the hotel we drove up to a T junction and turned left to Bilston and we did this a couple of times backwards and forwards for the day. Right opposite the T junction was this big house, boarded up, double fronted with a sign on it ĎDonít enter here the last person diedí. When you see that staring at you youíre bound to think, I wonder what they died of and who was the last person that went in? And I thought thatís interesting you could have some stories about all the things that have happened in that house. And thatís it, a simple idea and it just binds it all together. Songs can stand on their own quite happily but you can think of them set in a particular room which we did. ĎInner Momentí is set in the hall, ĎPillars Of Saltí is set in the music room, ĎSkimming Stonesí in the master bedroom. Then you suddenly have this floor plan of the house with all the rooms and songs happening in each one. So it just holds it together in a nice container and I like that little extra something. People that donít buy the CD will just hear the songs on the radio. Thatís good enough but if you buy the CD you get that extra bit. If I do another album I might think of another container but its going to get a bit trite after a while. If you box it up into an album about fruit the first songís going to be called ĎAppleí and the next one Bananaí.
David: Yeah, but I think itís great. I know what a concept album is but Iíd never worked on one. On ĎAnserís Treeí I came in right at the end but for ĎBilstoní I was right there from the point Guy looked across the junction and saw this house. He probably made a crack at the time, thereís a song in that house. We were kind of busy but when we did the first session and I said have you got a theme going and he said yes itís around the Bilston house and I said right. We used to start the sessions off and I say something like, which room are we in today Guy? So the whole experience of recording was you entered the house and I could visually picture myself in it. So I would say this bit could be about the pantry and Guy would say no letís be serious. Weíre upstairs in the back bedroom looking out on the garden and thereís some childís toys and you could literally physically picture what was going on. It didnít influence the music you played but it wasnít like coming in cold and talking about stuff and how did you get on today. It was straight into the room of the house. It was an eerie experience but I thought it was very good it brought the whole thing together. So when Guyís trying to get you into the mood and capture the essence of what the trackís all about for me it was a lot easier. I needed it but Laura (Fowles) she just turns up and plays because sheís a genius (laughs).
Guy: Lauraís done every album since ĎThe Cureí and I would say her total session time for each album is about two hours. When you listen to the parts sheís done and the vocals sheís done itís quite miraculous. She walks in and says what do you want here a sax solo (mimes sax playing)? Do you want a bit of singing here and do you want it like this? And out she goes, two hours worth and sheís done. ďThanks Iíll see you next yearĒ and thatís it. Dave on the other hand, eighteen months worth of effort went into ĎAnserís Treeí and thatís just the bits we left out (laughs). So itís interesting. Thatís why concepts are fun for me, it just keeps me interested. Itís not because I think itíll sell more albums I just like it as fun. Itís a novelty for me and it gives you something to talk about. I like the songs but whatís behind the ĎBilston Houseí whatís it all about?
~ Album Artwork ~
DPRP: I suppose part of that is the album artwork and you mentioned there the packaging and the look of the album when you went back to ĎTopographic Oceansí and thatís obviously something thatís been very important on your albums. Not just the cover but when you open up the booklet there is all the wonderful artwork to go with it.
Guy: Yes, and I think were getting better at it now because the earlier attempts were me. ĎTall Storiesí through to ĎThe View From My Windowí I did all the artwork really and itís a bit cack-handed. Basically itís me and Photoshop getting acquainted with one another and some of itís not bad. Of course when I was on Cyclops Malcolm (Parker) wouldnít do anything colour to keep the costs down. So the booklet was colour outside, black and white inside, which made it quite challenging to get something interesting in grey. When we went to ProgRock (Records) I was able to start using Ed Unitsky who had obviously done The Tangent and The Flower Kings work. He found it quite frustrating because he likes to go off on a flight of fantasy. Heís an artist and wants to create where as Iím saying no Ed, itís about this fella so I want a picture of him sat at this desk and a picture with a Raven in it. Iím actually giving him the storyline because Iím trying to create a backdrop for the songs. In other words if you think of the songs as the play then the artwork is the empty stage waiting for the song. Pull back the curtains and thereís this scenery. So I wanted to create the mood of the music in the booklet especially with ĎA Matter Of Life And Deathí.
ĎAnserís Treeí yeah we still did that but they were more and more peculiar but they were all trying to say something about the lyrics. They were all related to the songs and the same with ĎOne Small Stepí which as I said started the whole ball rolling. With the picture of that guy on the front I said right heís in a Bermuda shirt so I want a suitcase there so the suitcase arrived and so did this little dog for some unknown reason whatsoever. I said we need something over here and a bath with a clown arrived for no reason but thatís Ed you see he brings things out of nowhere. So Iíll leave that in but whatís the guy doing? Heís looking out into space, heís got a suitcase, and heís got a Bermuda shirt on. Heís obviously going on holiday and thereís this fixation of wanting to colonise everywhere and wanting to go off into space. People are booking flights around the Moon and starting to put their money down for the first Mars trip. Why are we so keen to get out there, weíre such a mess as a race and weíre so keen to spread our litter through the universe and it all came from that picture.
So the artwork is extremely important and this time with ĎBilstoní I decided it was time for a slight change. I wanted the album to sound more modern than the other ones which have a more Ď70ís feel. This oneís also got a 70ís feel but itís got a more modern production. I worked on trying to get some of the sounds a bit more peculiar than just the organic sounds we were using before. My daughter Rosie, who provided the kiddieís pictures for ĎTall Storiesí in 1999, is now 9 years older and is a graphics artist so I said how do you feel about having a go at this? She said right, Iíll take on the project if you pay me. What a girl, sheís her fatherís daughter (laughs). So we worked on ĎBilstoní and basically all I said is Iíd like a house and a floor plan of some sort. After that she went off with a camera taking shots of derelict houses and rooms and using light and brought it all together and I think itís absolutely splendid. Itís a really good job and itís given it what it needs. Its got all that atmosphere, its got a more modern feel to it than the more fantastical previous three albums which were more, not cartoony, but more magaziney. This is more grounded in a modern art approach. The pictures look like art in places with the light and shade and the colours she uses, blues and greens, itís just fantastic. And the whole thing goes together to provide the gloomy claustrophobic atmosphere of the house. Perfect, what more could I ask? And sheís cheap as well folks so if anybody else wants an album cover please get in contact with me because sheís very good and sheís looking for work (laughs).
DPRP: I would agree, its fantastic artwork and I guess that Ed was a hard act to follow but sheís done a wonderful job. You mentioned there the gloomy interiors but I particularly liked the optimistic final shot which is actually looking out through the open door of the house to a lake if I remember.
Guy: It is, and ĎInner Momentsí is about setting out and taking those first few footsteps out of the door on a journey thatís going to take you somewhere. So it was very important to me that a) that was the last song and b) we had it looking out. The only other shot with an external setting is ĎLost In Playí which is the garden. That has to be there because of the content but everything else is set within the house. The candles, the sofa and the Beatles poster on the wall itís all quite evocative of the songs and it does it proud, its wonderful stuff. Very proud I am of her for that.
~ Laura Fowles ~
DPRP: Speaking of female involvement with the album we talked about Laura earlier and all her work on your previous albums and also live. Would it be fair to say that Laura was less involved with ĎBilstoní than previous albums and I guess Iím thinking of ĎAnserís Treeí?
Guy: Well yes and no. She could have been more involved if Iíd written more sax parts. The problem with me is I write what I write and if there happens to a lot of saxophone in it she gets to play a lot and if there isnít, she doesnít. It just so happens that these songs didnít need a lot of saxophone. Itís just the way it came out. It wasnít Iíd better write the sax parts out because sheís not around. Each song is taken on its own merits, what does it need? As Dave said ĎAntaresí doesnít need electric guitar so thereís no point pushing it in there. Each song has to be arranged for itself and it just so happens that there is not a lot of saxophone parts. Bit more singing from her this time maybe, but less saxophone. But the next album might be smothered with sax. The saxophone is a funny instrument if you overkill it and put it in too much it becomes less of a feature. Apart from Van der Graaf Generator I canít think of any other band that can ensemble a saxophone into it. A saxophone usually does a solo itís not part of an ensemble. On this particular album the parts just werenít there to provide for her really. So it wasnít a conscious effort it just happened that way. She would have happily done more.
DPRP: Weíve got Dave with us of course who provides some fantastic guitar work on the album certainly some of the best playing Iíve heard during 2007. Another instrument that was strongly featured was the fiddle. Was that a conscious thing Guy?
Guy: Well yes it was but youíve got to work out whoís doing what. Thereís two types of violin on ĎBilston Houseí. Thereís the fiddle you get on things like ĎInner Momentí and thereís the more classical sounding violin which you get on things like ĎAntaresí. The fiddle is Ian (Fairbairn) and the violin is me. So there is a lot of violin but there definitely in two different camps. So every time you hear folky fiddle thatís Ianís work and every time you here orchestra cellos and violins thatís me doing my samples and things. It just turned out that way and I quite like that evocative violin sound. Iíd used it a bit on the ĎWilliam Barrasí song on ĎAnserís Treeí and I just like that very sad sound. On things like ĎAntaresí I wanted it to be very dramatic and melancholic and that was perfect. Again there werenít a lot of scrapey fiddles on this one, only where I could put them. There is a fiddle solo in places and Ianís song is definitely ĎInner Momentí where the fiddle in that song is absolutely wonderful.
But again itís what does a song need, and I get people in. If itís the flute Iím going to need Steve for this one, if its guitar I need Dave for this one and for saxophone I need Laura. Or I donít need anybody it depends on who does what, itís a funny thing. Are all the keyboards Andy (Tillison)? No theyíre not. Are these keyboards Andy, yes they are. Thereís a lot of things we do and the idea is you judge it as a whole and arrange it so that all the parts make the song. You think if you left one out it wouldnít quite be as good. Thatís why some of them are quite difficult to perform because theyíre like a lattice work with one instrument resting against another. So in answer to your question you use the songs as vehicles for the instruments and visa versa.
~ Arranging ~
DPRP: I suppose in classifying your music it could loosely be described as coming under the prog rock umbrella. I certainly think your music is a lot more varied than that however with different textures and Iíve read all sorts of descriptions including jazz, folk and blues and suppose thatís because theyíre all in there. Not so much in the style but the different instruments you use and some of those weíve already mentioned and a lot of those we know come from yourself. Also you seem to be able to write some really good parts for soloists. Again we talked about the fiddle playing, the flute playing, the saxophone and the electric guitar and everything else. How important is to you to bring these different ingredients into your music?
Guy: Well thatís how it works. If I was a better player I wouldnít need to worry so much. The music doesnít rely on each of the instrumentalists being the best of breed what it does rely on is having good feel and being able to interpret it. My songs are all written round the part that if you dissect them there all pretty simple but thatís what I like. If you take ĎDark Side Of The Mooní apart itís absolutely simple and believe me I have done, and weíve played it. Itís not hard to play ĎDark Side Of The Mooní but when you put it all together thatís what makes it sound brilliant. So it doesnít rely on people being maestros it relies on them being able to put in a good performance, getting a good sound and a good feel. I act as a sort of musical director. Sometimes Iíll say thatís got to be like that and Iíll try and explain why. Other times I think something needs to happen here, a guitar solo or fiddle solo needs to happen there. Iíll say that bit was OK, I like that bit, the first bit wasnít quite as good, why donít you try funking it up or something. Weíll go through those processes to get to the end. Iíll say yep thatís the one, or itís so close I donít want to replace it but thereís a little bit there I donít like so if you can just put another track along with it and weíll cut and paste that into place.
You end up with some things that are stitched into place and some that are true performances. The art for me is you canít tell which is which and I think its getting harder to tell which bits are manufactured. Some of the solos were never in that order or in that place theyíve just been moved. And I think oh, I like that bit and thatíll be the best way to start it so weíll move that to there and move that round here. So I look at the songs like a tapestry or a mosaic. I take pieces out and try and fit them in so it sounds like a cohesive whole. But it does actually rely on people like Dave putting the performances in because without the performances Iíve got no building material. So itís important we get it right and sometimes I am dictatorial. That has to play that tune, the guitar has to do that bit and the fiddle has to do this bit. Other times Iím less so, but I have to say that Iím in control all the time arenít I?
Guy: I know what Iím doing or I know where Iím trying to go. Itís a matter of how much patience Iíve got before I explode.
David: Thereís room in there to interpret. Itís funny because sometimes Guy will say I want you to play this like Mick Ronson when he was playing with Ian Hunter. So how was that then? Your immediate reaction is I need to dig the album out from Guyís extensive collection but there isnít time. So you mess around until you get something approximating the sound. When Guyís happy with what youíre playing the sound level will go up and youíll have a crack at playing a solo. Itíll be ghastly and then youíll loosen up. The hardest part is when Guy says now play that and he sits here and Iím sat where you are with the amp. Heíll say go on and itís a bit like trying to go for a pee when your dadís watching and you just want to hide (laughter from Guy). Sometimes youíll turn round and face the other way and itís quite an intense experience because if you were brought into a major orchestra and Simon Rattle said play a bit of violin for me youíll crap yourself. Itís quite intimidating because however modest Guy is about his music and what heís capable of, when your part of it you know how big a deal it is. I think that a lot of other people that listen to the music know the same thing so when youíve survived all of that you come out the other end and thatís what gives you the biggest buzz of all.
Guy: Iím still alive. Iíve made it (laughs)!
David: Julieís waiting outside and says are you all right love, have a cup of tea youíll be fine. The St Johnís Ambulance is waiting (laughter from Guy and me).
Guy: (Putting on a broad Yorkshire accent) Eh-up love, weíve got another corpse in here (laughter from David and me). Can you wheel in the next player please?
DPRP: Maybe thatís something to put on the bottom of your CV Dave. I played on a Guy Manning album and survived, Iím still here to tell the tale.
David: Yes (laughs). Iím going to put it on the website.
Guy: The Spinal Tap of Leeds!
David: The best thing of all thereís no ego in the process. Guy doesnít put his ego on it. Itís a managerial job that he does and heís quite firm. We leave all the humour outside, itís really intense. Itís harder than when Iím working and thatís demanding. At the end of it you realise why you did it and itís strange because you donít know what the end result will be. Guyís a sneaky bugger. I did some Tom foolery guitar and it was deliberately wooden top playing. He recorded it and used it on the end of ĎLost In Playí and that was me just hamming. It wasnít meant to appear anywhere and I canít remember why I did it but Guy had wound me up. It was like Mark Knopfler on some kind of drug and when I heard it I said youíve used that piece and youíve juggled it. So what Guy thought was a brilliant performance Iíd fabricated. I am Arnold Schwarzenegger as Terminator. Iím a cyber guitar player!
Guy: Itís not that bad.
David: Yes actually itís not that bad.
Guy: How do you know itís you?
~ Andy Tillison ~
DPRP: And I guess another important collaborator for you on your own albums and your work elsewhere, especially The Tangent is Andy Tillison and I know he had a large input production wise on the ĎBilstoní album.
Guy: Yeah, we were lucky because he was here. He offered his services basically. He said Iíve got some free time on my hands why donít I have a crack at doing this, so I said OK and we had long arguments about it. Weíve been friends for 25 years or more and we can still have a damn good argument about music and the way we see things. His way of recording and dealing with musicians and writing is different to mine. When we put it together hopefully we get the best of both. I hope that The Tangent albums when Iíve been working hard on them are the product of us both working together, debating the merits of various bits and coming up with the right answer but we do have arguments about it. As a keyboard player heís second to none. Heís the best keyboard player Iíve ever played with. I donít care what people say he could hold his own against Rick Wakeman. I think he might argue against Keith Emerson, he might have a bit of a struggle he thinks but I think heís up there with the best of them. I think heís a fantastic keyboard player. Heís got a great ear for music. He can hear things that I canít but then again I can hear things that he canít. Especially around the vocals and things, which I spend most of my time putting on The Tangent, apart from all the acoustic instruments.
~ The Tangent ~
Guy: Iíve put a hell of a lot more on this album (Not As Good As The Book) folks than I have before because I was allowed to (laughs). Thatís because I was here and because I was co-writing. Andy had the songs but he was looking for help with the arrangements. I managed to get stuff in so Iíve got bouzouki, mandolins and all sorts of things on this new one. Iím just trying to get my list of instruments longer than his you know (laughs). He had to cap it all, he actually played motorbike! Weíve got a song on there that actually features a motorbike as a musical instrument. He was revving it in time to the music so he had to go one better. Iím trying to put some orthodox instruments in and heís got the Moog synthesizer, the Hammond organ and the Suzuki 5000 or whatever it was as an instrument (laughs). So our relationship is close, but we do see things differently and we do argue but we always come together to do it.
We argued about ĎBilstoní and the way it should be and the things he wanted to do with it. I didnít like some of the things he was doing and he didnít like the way I was talking to him about the things he was doing. We have arguments but having said that ĎBilstoní is a well produced piece of work and thatís mainly down to Andy I think. He took the ideas and things I said and he worked them and he came back and heís pretty good at doing that. I like to look at a problem and say I wouldnít do it like that, so letís try to do it like this. Or an alternative suggestion, why donít we keep your original ĎUhí but try and do another take and see which you prefer. Thatís my kind of approach, letís try it out and see. Some times that gets in and sometimes it ends up on the cutting room floor.
In the end with The Tangent albums, Andyís king. He sits there and says thatís in thatís out you know. It doesnít matter how many parts youíve recorded or what youíve done. Even if you think thatís the best bit on the album itís going to go in the bin and thatís the way it is. With my albums the roles are reversed and sometimes I think he might find that a little more difficult (laughs). But he did a sterling job on ĎBilstoní and on the keyboards and drums. He did the drums as well, and the production. We spent a long time looking at it because I wanted it to sound different. I wanted it to sound more modern and punchy and I think itís got that. Our working relationshipís not over yet. Thereís a new Tangent album coming out in March, Iíve got my copy in the other room. Itís great; people are all ready saying itís the best. Andy was worried about this one, heís gone out on a limb, weíve tried to make the sound more modern. Itís still the Canterbury jazzy Tangent sound but this oneís less Genesis and more Gabriel if you know what I mean. Itís mature, itís moved on in years, its using other sounds. Its not monophonic anymore itís polyphonic in places with some of the things weíve done. A lot more acoustic stuff on it, a lot more acoustic based instruments all round. The emotional input into this album for The Tangent is far more striking than the other albums.
Itís a far more personnel album this one than the others. Andyís very good at empathising with a third person narrative like ĎIn Earnestí from ĎA Place In The Queueí where heís able to convey the story of a World War II pilot after the warís ended. And ĎLost In Londoní which is his own experiences of going to London to try and get a recording contract in a funny, amusing way but brilliantly put together. On this one thereís far more about the way he thinks about the world and a lot of the themes on the album are all about getting older. Thereís lots of songs about young kids but thereís not many songs about 40+ year olds. We wanted to try and redress the balance a little bit and say this is the sort of thing thatís bothering the middle age man or woman you know (laughs). This is our crisis in mid life, this is what itís all about and things did not turn out as they should. Itís just not as good as the book; the things weíve done can be a little bit disappointing. Itís done in quite a meaningful way and I think when you actually hear this album itís quite a piece of work. I think itís going to take more time to get into the bigger pieces but I think itís worth it. The melodic content and the lyrical content are quite good on this one and I like Andyís lyrics at the best of times. I think heís really done it well; heís put more emotional input into it. You do get involved with The Tangent looking at it as a project, but with this one he invested a lot more of himself in it.