One of the undoubted highlights so far this year for all ZigZaggers has been the long-overdue visit of John Cipollina to these shores, and if he turned out to be a more eccentric and flamboyant performer than some of us had imagined, he was still great... a true guitar hero. He of course toured over here as a temporary member of the Man Band and it is to them that we must offer our thanks, first of all for bringing Cipollina over here and secondly for committing one of their gigs onto vinyl. Maximum Darkness was recorded 'live' at the Roundhouse on May 26th and is probably the best 'live' album we're going to hear this year, not just for Cipollina's frequent bursts of imaginative playing, but because of Man themselves who show up superbly the best I've heard from them in a long time. Guitarist Micky Jones in fact outshines Cipollina for at least half of the album with his tight melodic riffing and inventive solos, and their sensitive choice of material demonstrates both how immaculately precise they are as a band and also how they can expand a number at ease making room for extended solos and for Cipollina to lay down his embellishments.
The album opens with '7171-551', a Deke Leonard song to be found on his Iceberg album, and a perfect example of Man as a tight, powerful unit: a simple melodic guitar riff, a strong, very basic rhythm (Terry Williams' drumming is brilliantly effective throughout by the way), and a lengthy Micky Jones guitar solo. The other two tracks on side one, 'Codine' and 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You' not surprisingly bring Cipollina more to the fore than anywhere else on the album. Both numbers were of course standards in the early Quicksilver repertoire and although they're on neither of that band's first two classic LPs, they are to be found on a motion picture soundtrack album called Revolution (United Artists UAS 5185) which although deleted is worth keeping an eye out for as it also contains original tracks by Mother Earth and the Steve Miller Band. 'Codine' is a great song, definitely one of the most delicate and explicit written on the subject of drugs and Cipollina handles most of the guitar work very much in the manner of the Quicksilver version: lots of huge, almost dissonant chord work and jagged licks. 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You' is equally impressive and far too good a song to be left dormant all this time.
The second side contains two old Man favourites, 'Many Are Called, But Few Get Up' and 'Bananas' and those of you in any way familiar with their work will already have a pretty good idea of what it sounds like. Man fans will love it, while Quicksilver freaks can only ponder as to how it would have sounded if Cipollina wasn't mixed down almost out of it. Apparently however he was inadvertently out of tune for most of the time so maybe it's just as well we can't hear him.
Lastly a word about the excellent sleeve at a time when most record companies seem to be packaging albums in receptacles no more imaginative than bus-tickets. The front cover is beautiful: a blown-up shot of Cipollina's colourful guitar with lettering by the eminent Rick Griffin. Amazingly enough though, this is not the original design intended for use as Griffin at first came up with a cartoon drawing of two mice which somebody pointed out looked remarkably like Walt Disney characters. On checking with the Disney organisation it was found that the cartoons did in fact bear more than passing resemblance to two characters used in a Disney cartoon about fifty years ago and never shown since. The said organisation did however require a ludicrous amount of money for copyright, therefore successfully putting a wet blanket over that idea. A shame, but no matter, this sleeve will do just fine. Inside (it's a gate-fold sleeve), there are plenty of tasty pics, a dedication to the memory of Ralph J. Gleason, Tom Donahue and Peter Ham, and a deserved name-check for Frame, promoter John Curd, and ZigZag associate Jake. Good people, beautiful packaging, and above all, dynamite music... be good to yourself and get it.- ANDY