With a tour and live album, in which Man were joined by West Coast guitar hero John Cipollina, under their belt, the Welsh wizards should be on top of the world. But things aren't always what they seem... as GEOFF BROWN discovers...
"What d'you think of the new album then?" said Man's guitarist Micky Jones. Drummer Terry Williams sat there staring, waiting for an answer. I made a few non-committal grunts. "Yeah," said Micky, "I know what you mean." Terry nodded.
Man's new album, "Maximum Darkness," their twelfth, was recorded live at the Chalk Farm Roundhouse on the last nights of their summer tour. Ex-Quicksilver guitarist John Cipollina had joined the Welsh band for the whole tour after meeting them earlier in the year in California where the band had been notably successful.The marriage of Cipollina, Jones and Deke Leonard on guitars wasn't quite Quicksilver. The album obviously reflects that.
Mixing the live tapes proved difficult. "Three guitars for a start... a lot had to be dropped out. We didn't have enough rehearsals with John."
They had four days in fact. "It got tightened up by the Roundhouse, but it still wasn't tight enough to mix as it is and leave it. Cipollina himself was disappointing. "I think he's been outta touch. I don't think he was doing much in California. He was more or less the resident musician at the Winterland. Whatever band came along he'd play with them."
The album features two old Man songs from way back - "Bananas" and "Many Are Called But Few Get Up" - a Deke Leonard Iceberg cut, "7171 551", and two songs from Cipollina's background, Buffy St. Marie's "Codine" and "Babe I'm Gonna leave You".
"We would've liked to have done more, but we just had four days and those passed just getting to know the guy," Micky says. "It worked as an experiment. It wouldn't work as a permanent thing, whatever permanent is." (Man's personnel is the most fluid you'll find anywhere.)
"It blew a few illusions. I was expecting more as a musician. Everybody builds up something in their head about somebody. I had an illusion about him as a musician. It blew the illusions."
Was that Micky's view or the band's? "It's a collective impression. It'd be the same for a lotta people if Elvis came over here.
Personally, they got on fine with Cipollina. "Great, great. He always wants to play tricks, have a bit of fun. He's got these terrific stories he bumbles on about and he forgets what he's talking about. He's all 'Let's go 'n' party! Let's go 'n' blow up a car!' He's very conscious of it. He doesn't have to live up to it. It is him... he's interesting. He's a character."
On stage: "I think it was more difficult for me than it was for Deke. See, Chippo was on my side (of the stage) and he's got this great stack. And we don't play at his volume. Where Deke was he could hear me and Chippo okay. Where I was, standing right next to him, I couldn't hear at all. He wasn't very sympathetic, really, with other musicians."
"Not meaning-wise," adds Terry, "he wasn't trying to outdo anybody. He was just so loud that we couldn't hear each other even when he was playing rhythm. Like, when Micky was doing a solo and I wanted to do accents with him there was no way I could do it."
[Photo: JOHN CIPOLLINA with Man's MICKY JONES: illusions shattered]
But did Cipollina's style seem compatible with Man's. "He's changed. He's gone very heavy metal. All the numbers that he's writing now are very basic, heavy boogies," says Terry
"I don't think he realised what he was coming to. He didn't realise how popular the band was over here for a start," adds Jones.
To get down to specifics on the album, Cipollina doesn't play in "Bananas." (Terry: He was outta tune. I don't know whether he was panicking or what").
"There was some things, some numbers that he couldn't really get a grasp of. Like "Many Are Called," there's some weird things in that. He couldn't latch on to that and it was totally out of his feel to play that type of thing."
"I did a separate mix of 'Bananas'. Put the band down and John up. I am cruel - I admit that," says Jones, smiling an elfin smile.
"It shatters all the myth," adds Terry.
Since the end of that tour, four months ago, Man have done nothing. The bassist on those gigs, Martin Ace, has left as was planned from the time he flew out to California to replace Ken Whaley, who suddenly quit.
Now Martin has returned to his own projects with George, his wife, and Man are looking for a new bassist. They have a month to six weeks to rehearse - longer than they've ever had - to "get tight". Then they'll start filling out the date sheet.
In the four month layoff Man have been writing a few tunes. Micky is moving into a Gloucestershire cottage and Terry Williams, in a fit of temper, kicked in a glass door severing nerves and main artery in his left foot and losing part of a toe. "It was that or hit someone who might've hit me harder." So the time off hasn't been uneventful.
"It's really strange. After working solidly for four years and suddenly stopping. For quite a long time you don't know what to do with yourself. Play guitar, watch TV," says Jones. Man aren't advertising for a new bass player. They're depending on word of mouth.
A short list has been drawn up. "I imagine we'll have to do it by pin, like the old women do with the horses in the paper."
What they don't want is another stereotyped Man bassist. "We wanna get away from 'chunk-chunka-chinka-chunka-chunk'," says Terry.
"We need some new blood," says Micky, "to get me off, get everybody else off, so we need a bass player who's totally different from anybody who's been in the band before. 'Sfunny really, all the bass players that've come into the band you get the impression that they think they've naturally got to do what's been played before. We need a more melodic bass player."
"I know it's one chord," adds Terry, "and there's not much you can do on one chord, but you can lilt it instead of charging around on one note."
In Ken Whaley they had a bassist who was, by nature, a melodicist yet he subjugated that to the Man Sound. "We've suddenly realised that we've got a style. Lot's of people have said that we lack direction but I've realised that we've got a style, a typical Man thing. Now I've realised it, I don't want it," decides Jones. "Anybody who's got a style and they stick to that style it's gonna limit them. John has got a style. He's got a particular style and he's stuck in it. It stopped his musical progression as it would anyone who's got a distinctive musical thing and they play on it all the time. It's like having one religion. You stick to one religion. You're not taking in anything else."
"We want a bass player who plays like Paul McCartney, with a bit of Jack Bruce who can also sound like Jack Casady and whiff off like Phil Lesh," grins Terry.
Man not only seem trapped by sound but also by material. "Bananas," for instance, is well-worn, over-familiar. "Right," agrees Micky, "we were going to do a number called 'No More Bananas' you know."
The group's West Coast US musical roots are bands like Quicksilver, Steve Miller's Band. Both the Jefferson clique and the Grateful Dead have US Top 20 albums. So maybe not all the legends are crumbling? "We saw Starship. Grace Slick was good," offers Terry (this was before Balin rejoined incidentally), but they totally blew my image of the Airplane. They had a bass player in a silver lame suit! And silver boots! Down on his knees playing guitar!"
"Maybe that's why they're back in the charts," smiles Micky. "Teen appeal."
Melody Maker 4/10/75
Reproduced in The Welsh Connection, Oct/Nov, 2005