Well at long last I can tell you that the box I have been whining on about for the last two or three
years, is about to be released. I have not yet read the final proofs, or checked the artwork, but Helen tells me that I will be able to, sometime in early May (with release now planned sometime in
June). (This is almost as exciting as Doctor Who being back!) Mind you she didn't say which May!
It is hard to believe that this project started almost five years ago when I met with Steve and Helen in a pizza house at the Elephant and Castle. A
year or two later and pretty well on schedule, Ian Tompson had mastered the four CDs. All the notes and pictures had been put into a rough design format and sent to the professionals to be done properly.
Then came all the delays.:
Firstly came the compilation album Evolution. I had at one time planned to call the box that. But absolutely nobody, including me liked it! Evolution
was aimed at the non-fan and was required at that time for commercial reasons. It's worth having for the DVD and brilliant cover alone. It could
have represented the 'Ultimate Best Of', but sadly the choice of tracks on the two CDs was not particularly inspiring, resulting in one or two important tracks being left off.
This does not really matter as most of it has been done before anyway. Another good reason for owning a copy for your collection is because
this album is unique. It is to date the only one to include both 60's and Earth Band music. Steve and I talked about doing a Dylan songs album,
spanning Manfred's entire career, which I would love to do. Now the box is at last happening, maybe we will get to do that as well one day.
The next delay, which I minded much less, was to make way for the superb and innovative '2006'. As I have observed before this is Manfred's
best studio work in a long time. It is a well crafted album full of strong music with a couple of tracks crying out to be put out as singles.
If I get my way (which I probably won't) the box will be called 'We Have No Past', I liked this title because as well as clearly not being true, it sums
up Manfred, who even now does not like to look back, listen to or discuss his back catalogue. In an odd way it is why I liked the various different
incarnations of Earth Band. It was always changing, moving forward and trying different things. My title would have been subtitled 30 years of
MMEB. 'Thirty three years of MMEB' does not have the same ring to it! (Ed. As you'll hear when you finally get your hands on the album, 'We Have
No Past' is also a reference to a line in one of the previously unheard songs on the set – very clever Andy!).
(Ed. Since writing this, the title has been confirmed as 'Odds And Sods (Mis-Takes and Out-Takes)' a title Manfred himself has chosen).
So to the set itself:
CD 1 is called
In the Beginning (or at least it was last time I looked.) In some ways this is the most exciting of the four CDs. It is largely made up
of music that until a very short time ago was thought to have gone forever. Here you have three tracks from the aborted Manfred Mann Chapter III Volume 3 including Mike Hugg's 'Messin' up the Land.'
The Chapter III tracks are followed by much of the unreleased 'Stepping Sideways' album (which pre-dated the eponymous first album), which I
hate to point, out would have been one hell of a good debut album, if admittedly not all that representative of what they were doing live. Mind you I
don't think any album really was until 'Messin' and 'Solar Fire' anyway. So this first CD contains some of the rarest and most sought of Manfred
recordings ever unearthed and no, I do not think I am exaggerating! It is also fascinating to hear how the old Chapter III was slowly evolving into a
cross between Mike Hugg's early solo work and the future Earth Band.
is my attempt to churn out some of the better known stuff in a more imaginative way. We forget how big Manfred got to be in the States, so I
have taken this as my theme. As well as a few US only releases I have been able to include 'Summer in the City', recorded for use on a US version of Masque but never released.
CD3 'Brothers and Sisters'
features many of the diverse collection of vocalists we have enjoyed over the years. Whilst most of the songs
here are familiar to you there are two gems hidden away on this CD. Unreleased Chris Thompson tracks were hard to find. 'Better Place' written
by Mick Rogers was one of the few I unearthed. (Forgive the pun and possible alternative title!) The other is a rare gem indeed, being one of the
songs from the sessions on which Gary Dyson sang. He is also on 'Summer in the City'. At the finish of this CD is 'Martha's Madman', one of my
personal favourites, sung by Chris, Mick and Noel. What an incredible and unbeatable combination of vocalists that was.
is the one I am most pleased with. This starts with the studio version of 'Instrumedicine Song', for me a perfect recording, which could not be
bettered no matter how many alternative mixes I found. From this point onwards, not one track here has ever been released before. There are
studio tracks from 'Plains Music', 'Soft Vengeance' and '2006' sessions. There are a number of live tracks including the two most breathtakingly
good live takes ever from 1993. The first of these is 'Pleasure and Pain', the other 'Dirty City,' both recorded in the days when Clive Bunker was on drums.
Doing the box set must represent one of the high points of my involvement with Manfred and the fan club. There have been many others I am sure
and I may talk about a few of them in a future Yawn. This project is very special however. Manfred let me explore the Workhouse for material.
Ian Tompson not only produced and engineered the whole thing, but was always around to help and advise. I probably shouldn't tell you the next bit but hell I'm going to anyway.
It helps to know, if you don't already that a DAT is a very small digital tape. In the studio there would be a shoebox full of these things, just for one
song. There in the shoebox were countless slightly different versions of that particular song to choose from. We also went through loads of live
versions of some songs to choose the one we wanted to go on. Big Moog fan though I am I would still have preferred a piano solo version of 'Castles', but you can't have everything.
So it was quite a long process if an enjoyable one, listening to everything. Then I was left to decide what should go on and what shouldn't. Ian
gave good council, but I still hung on to a few things I badly wanted on the finished version.
At last we had a rough version that sounded like it would work. After a bit more fine tuning of the tracks included and the running order, it was all
sent to Manfred for his approval. After a nail biting few days Manfred came back with just a couple of changes. There was a mix he didn't like
(neither did I.). This was changed for a better one, although still not the one I really wanted. He also asked us to leave off a live version of 'Quinn',
because he felt it had been done too often. Apart from these minor changes the box was left very much as I wanted it.
To further illustrate his support for the project and his desire to make sure that his fans get something really good, Manfred recently sent an
unreleased track from the last album called 'Hillbrow', to bring the story right up to date. In the meantime Helen and co have given me buckets of
help to get all the notes right. I have a tendency (which I strongly deny) to repeat myself, apparently and I repeat myself apparently, which I strongly deny!
Sadly there is very little left of the earlier years because of the studio fire. Almost nothing survives pre Tango, and many masters were destroyed.
It was a magic moment when I received the catalogue of Manfred's stuff from the U.S. studio. I must have looked through it a couple of times at
least before the penny dropped. First amongst the list of familiar songs were the 'Stepping Sideways' tracks. The Chapter III tracks were even
more difficult to spot straight away. Even then I couldn't believe it. There was another of those long waits until we got the stuff sent over to listen
to. I was expecting a note back saying that they had thrown out the tapes a month ago.
Lots of people out there sent me clippings and other information to include in the notes. I found out a few very interesting things, whilst putting the
book together. I hope they haven't been edited out! Anyway I know you have waited a very long time for this (so have I), I just hope you all thing it has been worth the wait.
Farewell to Ian Tompson
Some of you may not know his name (where have you been) but will
have undoubtedly seen Ian if you have been to an MMEB live gig in the past 15 years. Ian has been Manfred's keyboard technician, tour manager, record producer and many other things over this time. In mid
April Ian 'retired' from life with the EarthBand to pursue his own career, setting up his own studio and working with Jools Holland. Ian has been a great help over all this time and he will be missed by the
band and fan club alike. We all wish him well for the future.
That's all I want to say this month, don't forget to check out the