The sun is shining. A client postponed his appointment so off with the suit and on with the shorts. I could go out
and catch some sun, play with the trains, bang a piano concerto on the ipod or perhaps some Michael Brecker,
but oh no, Nigel has just reminded me that it is a very long time since the last Yawn, so I'm stuck inside in a darkened room, typing like mad. Fear is a terrible thing.
I feel a bit of a fraud because I seem to have done little on the Manfred front for such a long time. I haven't listened to an album or a live concert in what
seems like ages. Occasionally though, my mind drifts back to the summer of 1997. MMEB were playing a motor cycle festival somewhere in Germany and I
was lucky enough to be on the road with them. We had lost Noel, and Mick's guitar had no strings on it but that was all reasonably normal.
Noel is extremely good at getting lost. He probably doesn't realise, but it is a special skill. I remember being with them in Germany just before Christmas one
year. All the crew had gone ahead to the next gig and I had been charged with one simple job. Make sure the band get there in time to play. All we had to
do was take a train to Frankfurt and changed to another train which would take us to our final destination.
We had time to kill at Frankfurt. Manfred and I sipped mulled wine by one of the Christmas stalls on the station whilst having a highly cultural conversation
on the origins of Christmas. The debate was around the theory that modern Christmas tradition has far more to do with Charles Dickens and Prince Albert
than Jesus. At the same time we were both keeping a watchful eye on Noel just in case he simply vanished into thin air.
At last we got on to the train. One final count, everyone was there and I could relax. Ian Tompson who always seems such a nice chap, had threatened
me with a long slow death should I fail in this simple task. Then just as the train picked up speed as we moved out of the station, Noel stepped out of the carriage!
Anyway back to the bike festival in 1997. MMEB were at the very top of their game. The music was fresh, vibrant, exciting and sometimes a little
experimental. Since 1972 they had probably been one of the best live bands in the world. In 1997 they were simply awesome.
When the band unexpectedly reformed in the early nineties, I could not believe we were getting a second chance, and what a second chance it was to
be. There will always be the cynics who believe that all the best times are in the past. The new band with Noel McCalla on vocals captured both the
nostalgia of the old order and the excitement of something new, and something different. The set was a carefully thought out mix of old stuff and songs new, at least to this band.
Mick was even better than he used to be, if indeed that was possible, Steve Kinch stamped his authority on the bass, and the legendary Clive Bunker from
Jethro Tull and Aqualung, added to a strong rhythm section. Best of all we got to hear some Moog solos again. If you had told me then that it could get
better still, I just wouldn't have believed you. Even now I reckon 'Dirty City' and 'Pleasure and Pain', from CD4 of the box, are amongst the best live
recordings I have ever heard from any band. These two tracks just ooze atmosphere all over the place. You can see the lights, feel the heat. You are there
in the middle of an enthusiastic crowd, every time you listen. The band is tight and the music never fails to move.
Impossible though it seemed, they went on getting better and better. Chris Thompson returned and for a brief moment in time, there was a rock band touring Europe with three of the finest rock vocalists around.
I was not pleased at first when I heard that Chris was coming back. This was not because I don't like Chris. I think he's absolutely brilliant. Without a doubt
Chris is one of the all time great and sadly hugely underrated rock singers of our time. It was just that at the time I felt MMEB had moved on and CT's return
was unfair on the new boy and just would not work. I could not have been more wrong, if I had taken a course in how to be more wrong. What an incredible combination of talent that was.
I remember spending a happy weekend with my son Thomas, who would be about nine at the time, in a rehearsal studio somewhere in London, whilst the
band prepared for the European tour to promote 'Soft Vengeance'. There was a good vibe within the band.
Since the Millennium the set has changed little. Even when the excellent '2006' finally escaped the studio, only 'Mars' and a semi acoustic version of
'Demons' ever got the live treatment as far as I know. Manfred is right. People going to a gig once in awhile will want to hear most of the stuff they play
anyway. There is nothing worse than going to see your favourite band and not hearing all the live classics.
That being said, one of the things I loved and still love about Manfred as a musician is that he constantly looks forward, pushing out new ideas, taking
risks, never standing still and yet to me MMEB seems in recent times to have become frozen in time. For most fans that is probably no bad thing. Nostalgia is
a huge part of our lives, a condition I promise you that gets worse as we get older and let's be honest one of the reasons an MMEB concert is there for
many of us is to bring back all those happy memories. Music is a powerful tool for evoking previous chapters in our lives.
Fans of any band or long running cult TV show will always have a personal favourite time, almost always set firmly in the past. Some MMEB fans will hold
an unwavering belief that the first band was the best, others will insist the period around the 'Roaring Silence /Watch' band with Dave Flett was. I have in
the past, droned on about how wonderful the 'Somewhere in Afrika' tour was. Often this can be as much to do with an association with happy times in our lives, as it is to do with the music.
It's also about moods. Sometimes I will dig out the terrible Philips cassette of a Chapter III gig recorded in Manchester in about 1969, in front of a
surprisingly enthusiastic audience. The organ solos opening 'Travelling Lady' and 'Quinn' are powerful stuff. Then I start to wonder why Manfred doesn't
play more organ these days and start to listen to organ solos from the 'Five Faces of Manfred Mann'. On another day I go back to a jazz mood.
The thing is am I falling into the trap I mentioned earlier. Are all my best bits in the past? The answer is I don't think I am. The thing about Manfred's past is there have been best bits all over the place.
The band has a new drummer. It is farewell to Geoff Dunn a thoroughly nice guy and without question an extremely accomplished drummer. I have always
known he was very good. I once even played some stuff to a brilliant drummer at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), who confirmed that Geoff
was a fine and technically excellent percussionist. You see as far as MMEB is concerned for some reason, it has never worked brilliantly for me and not
being a musician, I could never explain why. Manfred's comments on the web interview perhaps offer an explanation for my misgivings. Whatever our own
individual views may be, I'm sure you will all join me in wishing Geoff all the best for the future.
I do know he had a big following out there who will be very sad he's gone. I am confident they will argue that my ramblings are more rubbish than usual
and on this occasion they are probably right. The thing is change is never easy. I can remember being gutted on hearing the news of some personnel
changes over the years. Even the record company didn't think Paul Jones could be replaced and how wrong were they? I was gutted when Mick left. I
kept reminding anyone else who cared that they needed two blokes to replace him. Bit if Mick hadn't left back then, perhaps we would never have got to hear the voice, Chris Thompson. How bad would that have been?
The point is whether you like it or not Earth Band has changed again. I find that very exciting. Change now and again is a very good thing. Change opens
up new opportunities. For the first time in quite a while, we don't know quite what to expect. Early feedback from fans, who have been lucky enough to
see the new line up, is very exciting. Of course I understand completely that it can't possibly get any better than it was in the past, best live band and all
that, or can it? I have long since learnt that this little band is full of surprises. Everyone has their favourite moment in time. It is so easy and also fun to
spend time looking back at past glories. It's even more fun to be able to look forward again.
We have other things to look forward to as well. I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to mention here, so if this bit is blank you will know exactly just how little that was!
First of all we have the new album. For me this is the most exciting thing and all the signs are it could be out this year. Please don't hunt me down and take
revenge if it isn't. From what I can gather, this is very much a Manfred solo album although various familiar faces may contribute in the end. It started out as
a kind of jazz instrumental thing, but that was a long time ago and now it's grown into something different. I personally can't wait.
I can't pretend I didn't have mixed feelings about the Status Quo gigs. If I'm honest the idea of my band being special guests and not the main act doesn't fit
comfortably. However listening to the Manfred web interview is interesting. What it does mean is that a hell of a lot of people in the UK are going to get to
see this band and as Manfred points out, many will suddenly realise how bloody good they are. Who knows the British media might even take notice at long last.
Behind the scene Steve and Helen continue to work very hard to bring archive material out. I hope you guys and girls out there realise just how incredibly
indebted we are to these two. A few years ago all this would have been an impossible dream. We didn't even have a good live album, never mind DVDs.
Next up will be the 'Watch DVD'. I did drop a big clue in the last Yawn, although that was so long ago you probably don't remember. The DVD will be made
up from the footage the band filmed to promote the album at the time. From what I have seen the quality is really good, taken from a master copy. On top of
this, there is an excellent and insightful interview with Manfred by our very own Mr Stanworth, which throws up a few things I didn't know. There is talk of
another incredibly, unbelievably exciting bonus, but as it is not yet confirmed I can say no more. The possible release for the Watch DVD is late 2008, but
(there's always a but!) as you all know, this could easily get pushed back. Steve has another equally exciting DVD lined up for 2009.
So what has been going on musically in my life if I haven't been doing much Earth Band? Well thanks to a special friend, I just enjoyed watching Paul
McCartney banging out all the old Beatle's classics a week or so ago at Anfield, and it was absolutely brilliant. For goodness sake, I used to walk down
Penny Lane every night when the record was out. For my money, 'Live and Let Die' is the best Bond theme ever. The atmosphere was electric and the
famous Anfield football ground was in fine voice. I enjoyed the Zootons very much and the Kaiser Chiefs were all right. I do really like some of their stuff.
There was no doubt that night that Liverpool was the capital of culture. For those who watched the reality TV show, Peter Kay introduced Paul by pointing out that Britain really does have talent.
And speaking of culture my sister was sixty and had a party which turned out to be a concert. Stevie Jennings-Adams from the RNCM sings beautifully in
various jazz bands for which my son plays piano. She is really an opera singer and performed songs from many different operas, accompanied by
Thomas on the piano. She also talked passionately about the pieces she performed. I did manage to sneak their beautiful version of 'Somewhere over the
Rainbow' in amongst all the culture. I have seen this version reduce grown men to tears it is so moving.
If you like some classical piano (No I ain't going to plug my boy for once) check out Sophie Cashell, who also played at the party. Sophie is amazing. She
won the television show Classical Star last year, and has an album out in October. Incidentally whilst on the subject of what is broadly known as classical
music, and having listened to quite a lot recently, I am amazed at how many of these so called classical composers have stolen stuff from Manfred!
Thomas also has a new jazz thing going, just sax and piano which is surprisingly good. Last but by no means least I have another round of concerts to
look forward to, culminating in the Royal Northern College of Music Big Band with Colin Towns. Check out his big band version of 'I am the Walrus' when you have a minute. Now that's culture.
Incidentally we now have a large concert venue in Liverpool, The Arena and thanks to another special friend I am going to see Queen there in October.
For now I think I may go and listen to a bit of MMEB, probably that brilliant moog solo from 1981 with the amazing climax, even better than the one on the
Budapest DVD and that is saying something. (First heard that when we were driving home from York in a black BMW after a very happy family day out.) Or
I might listen to some of the African stuff, (My first marriage was on the rocks. I found great comfort sat in a bean bag with headphones on listening to this
wonderful album. It was my import copy, found quite by chance in Penny Lane records months before its UK release.)
Or maybe having downed a glass or two of a very smooth red wine, perhaps I am mellow enough enjoy the simple beauty of 'Plains Music'. (Plains has the
odd effect of helping you to feel happy and content and at peace with the world.) Sometimes when nobody is looking I even play all the old hits from the
sixties. Some happy and some sad memories come flooding back.
I was in Anglesey with my best friend Mark when 'Do Wah Didi Diddy' was number 1. My mother was very ill when 'Just like a Woman' came out; Mike
D'Abo's first outing with the band. Jonathon King brought out the same song at the same time and I hated him for it. I remember the house in Doncaster
where I played the Manfred Mann single 'Living Without You', trying to work out if this was a step backwards or a step forwards. I probably thought it was
backwards if I'm honest. Manfred was going to call the album 'Stepping Sideways.' Now in retrospect we can see it was the beginning of a mammoth step forwards.
Music is a wonderful thing and I know I could not live without it. As far as Manfred is concerned, there is already so much to choose from, and so many
memories to unleash. The great thing is that it still keeps on coming, just keeps getting better and better and remember, we are living today, tomorrow's
memories. Nothing lasts forever. Enjoy it whilst you can. Happy listening and I will try to do the next yawn a bit quicker, promise. Obviously it won't be as good as they used to be!
Andy Taylor from somewhere in the European Capital of Culture June 2008
PS There is a fabulous little venue in Birkenhead called Pacific Road. We saw the Blues Band there a few months ago. It would be a great venue for MMEB
and that would bring some real culture to Merseyside in 2008. Well I can dream can't I?