Guy Manning: The Unknown Wordsmith

ProgSphere recently completed an interview with Guy Manning of… well, Manning! He was fresh off of a recent appearance with his band at the Rites of Spring Festival in Gettysburg, USA, so in retrospect it would have been a good idea for us to ask him how it went. Not to worry though, there’s plenty more spoken of in here, such as his album’s concepts, some of the stories he’s written about, curry, and cats! Please enjoy.

Dan: First of all, thank you for agreeing to do this interview, we know you must be very busy, what with the recent appearance at RosFest (that I was unhappily unavailable to attend) and the fact that you are busily working on a new album. Would you like to tell us about this new album? Is it going to be similar to past albums?
Guy: No problem. Nice to be asked. Every album I do hopefully is slightly different and has got a different dynamic to it. And not ALL of them are concept albums (See later). This new one CHARLESTOWN has a large multi section piece at its heart and a wider array of instruments used in its arrangements. It has an instrumental on it (the first one since “TALL STORIES…” back in 1999). 2 more rocky orientated pieces and also 2 lighter more acoustic based pieces which act as album links (rather like For Absent Friends or Harlequin from Genesis’ Nursery Cryme). I have tried to use the current live band more on this recording (including real drums) and this is the reason it is taking rather longer than usual to complete it. It should be released later in 2010.

Dan: We understand that you’re a multi-instrumentalist. Would it be feasible to give us a list of every instrument you can play? Or would there not be enough room on the blog for that?

Guy: I don’t play THAT many really! Guitars (Acoustic 6/12/Classical & Electric), Mandolin, Bouzouki, lots of Keyboards, Sampled Drums, Percussion, Vocals.

Dan: What instruments do you consider the most fun to play, and what instruments do you consider the most fun to listen to? Personally, my top two are the Hammond organ and the flute. The latter especially if played by Ian Anderson or Joe Farrell.

Guy: Not sure I can distinguish. I like to play the acoustic guitar because it feels natural to me but I get a lot of fun out of my keyboards (Hammond, Moog, Tron etc) and often this can be the catalyst for writing.

Dan: Speaking of Ian Anderson, we have read somewhere that your favorite Jethro Tull album is “A Passion Play”. Why do you not submit to the majesty that is “Thick as a Brick”? CONFORM! In all seriousness, “Thick as a Brick” is probably one of my favorite pieces of music ever made, and I just can’t feel the same way about “A Passion Play”. Not that I’m trying to attack you, but what is it about the latter that makes you love it so much?

Guy: TAAB is magnificent what is NOT to like? But it is slightly flawed at the start of Side Two IMO. I don’t know why I like APP so much. I just do. It is more disjointed but has more challenges in it I think and colours. It also hit a time in my life where it resonated. I think we all have those albums that are special because of the times in which we first heard them. The fact that they also toured it less and I was able to see both of the ONLY UK shows they ever did helps seal the memories for me.

Dan: As an aside, I rank Jethro Tull albums as follows: Thick as a Brick > Heavy Horses > Songs From the Wood > Aqualung > Stormwatch > Roots to Branches > everything else. If you were forced to to create an arbitrary ranking for your favorite Jethro Tull albums by an annoying interviewer, what would it be?

Guy: My own Top 5?
A Passion Play
Thick As A Brick
Songs From The Wood
Stand Up
But it is a HARD choice as I love Benefit, Roots, Heavy Horses, War Child, Minstrel as well.

Dan: I apologize for all the Tull questions if you’re sick of them by this point, but I just can’t resist speaking of them to a fellow Tull fan. So, for one last one, how would you say influences from The Tramp fit into your music?

Guy: Well for starters, the use of flute as a lead instrument I guess. We are lucky to have Steve Dundon with us (who has played with Mick Abrahams). Our joint love of Tull brought us together and he can play in that familiar ‘overblow’ way if asked to as well as provide the more traditional flute tones. Also, I grew up knowing that the lead person can stand up there sing and play his acoustic guitar within a full band setting because of Ian.

Dan: Naturally Tull can’t be the only music that has influenced you. What else is there?

Guy: MANY! Tull, early Genesis, Roy Harper, Al Stewart, John Martyn, Lindisfarne, Hatfield & The North, Caravan, Renaissance, Alice Cooper, Wishbone Ash, Jefferson Airplane… A long long list!

Dan: Skip this question if you have already mentioned Italian Prog to your heart’s content. If not, however, tell us how you feel about it. Tell us some of your favorite bands/albums. Right now I am actually listening to “Come In Un’Ultima Cena| by Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso as part of a playlist I made of Banco and PFM.
Guy: I do not get a lot of time to hear new music as I am too heavily involved (annually) in my own writing and performing, BUT… For more recent artists, I do have a soft spot for MAGENTA and (of course) BEARDFISH! Of Italian bands I too love PFM and BANCO (just got the new PFM remasters this week). Every now and then a new music comes along which I love, Jeff BUCKLEY springs to mind when GRACE came out.

Dan: I believe you worked on an Italian Prog-influenced projekt (sorry, couldn’t resist) with Andy in the past. Could you tell us about “La Voce Del Vento”? (I believe this means “The Voice of the Wind” in Italian, something like that?)

Guy: Simply a vehicle for Andy Tillison and I to work on some music together (not as MANNING or THE TANGENT).

Dan: Sorry for spending so much time talking about other people’s music, but I hope you have enjoyed speaking about it as much as I hope to enjoy reading about it. Anyway, now I would like to focus on some of your albums. For starters, which would you say is your favorite if you had to pick (because of this insistent interviewer), and why?
Guy: A hard choice as I have not made my own “SGT. PEPPERS” or “DARK SIDE OF THE MOON” yet IMO. I will try share which albums have importance for me personally. If I had to pick an album that has been perceived to be the most representative of my works, it would be “SONGS FROM THE BILSTON HOUSE”. A good collection of songs! The ‘concept’ (if there is one) is that all the songs take place/are set in a single room of an old run down house (over the years). This is not a true concept album IMO just a way of giving the overall collection of pieces a central theme. “ONE SMALL STEP… (Parts I-VIII)” from (ONE SMALL STEP…)” is a large acoustic based piece, because I wanted to write an extended suite around that instrument (like Roy Harper’s “One of Those Days In England”). “NUMBER TEN” has my most successful long piece “The House On The Hill” on it. It just seemed to flow well and is a favourite in the live set.

Dan: Could you tell us something about the stories you have written about your albums? I understand most of them are “concept albums”, and I find it very interesting that you have made so many. Because so many are, I feel like it would be more logical to ask you, which of these albums are NOT concept albums?

Guy: The vast majority of my songs tell narrative tales, so I am not sure how to include all of these… I’ll pick some highlights:

In terms of creating true ‘concept’ albums there have been 2 – “THE CURE” and “A MATTER OF L:IFE & DEATH”. These 2 followed narrative storylines (like The Lamb Lies Down…)

THE CURE – is about our impending chaos and destruction under Mans guardianship. It focuses on 2 central characters, the Patient and the Doctor. The Patient hears voices in his heads and has visions of another World; the Doctor wants to cure him of these. I cannot give too much away… Write to me off line if you want to know more about the story!

A MATTER OF LIFE & DEATH revisits the character of ABEL MANN that I first introduced on the “TALL STORIES…” album. Abel is a man who having committed suicide finds that he has to write his own life story down in a journal before being allowed to ‘move on’ .

The ‘AMOLAD’ album explores this story in far more detail. What brings him to his end and what happens next…

“The House On The Hill” (from NUMBER TEN) is about bending Time & Space, Life & Death to retrieve a lost love (A happier version of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’!)

“Ragged Curtains” (From THE RAGGED CURTAIN album) is about Mans relationship / symbiosis with Sea & Stone.

“Holy Ireland” (Parts 1-5) (from TALL STORIES FOR SMALL CHILDREN) was all about the ‘troubles’ in Ireland but works equally well discussed the impact and destructive nature of any institutionalized or fundamentalist religious views when approaching war/terrorism.

“Pillars of Salt” (From SONGS FROM THE BILSTON HOUSE”) is about the sad passing of Sixties idealism.

“Antares” (From SONGS FROM THE BILSTON HOUSE”) is about a young girl placing a candle in the attic window facing out to Sea so that her father & brother (fisherman) could always see the way home. At the same time as this light goes out to Sea, star light from the giant red Star Antares travels across the Universe and mixes with the candle light in the room. Our own mortal light (like the candle) is brief, but the star light is eternal.

There are many many more stories on my albums though!!

Dan: Speaking of concept albums, how you feel about the term “concept album”. Who do you think made the first rock concept album anyway, The Beatles, Frank Zappa, or someone else entirely? One last thing: How do you see the evolution of the concept album? Clearly the idea has changed considerably since it was first created, since the original “concept albums” were incredibly loose in structure, and they only began to have a real story slightly later (with Tommy, etc).

Guy: To me the first was “TOMMY” as it told a narrative story. IMO Sgt. Peppers etc were collections of great songs linked under a “container concept” rather like my ANSER’S TREE album (which had a song for each member of the same family) or “…BILSTON…” with its songs in rooms idea.

Dan: Could you tell us something about your story-writing process? Do you write your lyrics first and then write the music? Do any writers inspire your lyrics? I myself am partial to Orwell and Twain. If not authors, perhaps musicians? If not musicians, perhaps types of cheese? I myself am partial to Camembert and Cabrales, among others.
Guy: Ideas come from wherever they come from!! (He said enigmatically). I can get an idea for a story or a piece of a lyric or even a song title OR I can get some keyboard chords, a rhythm pattern etc… It just sparks ideas which are then developed further and are taken to the point at which they end. I do not really get ideas from other authors I think, but I am sure that I have been influenced by reading… Blake, Wilde, Orwell, Philip K. Dick! I do not eat alot of cheese either… Being a bit dairy intolerant, but I am sure that I have written many a good song after a great curry!

Dan: To paraphrase Nick Park, the creator of Wallace and Gromit: “England is a nation of dog lovers”. With this in mind, I must ask you. Do you love dogs? I sure do! My old dog, a wonderful Norwegian Elkhound, died of cancer last winter, and we are still mourning her loss despite having adopted a new dog (this time a German Shorthaired Pointer).

Guy: Sorry, never had a dog. I have currently 3 CATS!! I find them easier to look after with long hours tucked away in the studio! Lazy animals to be sure but good to pet!

Dan: I think I’m done with my questions, but you’re free to add anything you can think of!

Guy: I am still a relatively unknown artist in the World even having released TEN albums of my own which have always been critically very well received. I do hope that changes! MANNING (the band) is currently enjoying a much higher profile such as being invited to perform at the UKs famous Cambridge Rock Festival and the prestigious Rites Of Spring Festival 2010 in the USA. We hope to play more and get out there to meet people who have not heard of me/us.
The brand new album is a ‘tour de force’ which we hope to reign in, mix and release this year. Let’s see where that takes us!

Dan: Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview. We hope to talk to you again soon!

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