of the Week #13
By Beppe Colli
words, as spoken by a sound engineer - presumably, Rhett Davies - to signal the
start of the recording session, immediately followed by a loop of a piano
arpeggio, are the first thing one hears when listening to the Quiet Sun album
album I bought, fresh off the presses, and already greeted by very favourable
reviews, in August, 1975 at the reduced price of £1.75. In fact, in those days it
was customary for Island to release those albums that, while recorded cheaply,
appeared to face a "risky" commercial outcome, in a
"mid-price" line, called HELP, at a price that was about 60% of the
full price. (The same thing happening with the commercially "controversial"
album (No Pussyfooting), by Fripp & Eno.)
many positive reviews from 1975 greatly differed from those rejection letters
that record companies had sent the group at the time it was still an active,
and hopeful, entity. (The letters appear in the CD edition released many years
later by Expression Records.)
group of young, hopeful musicians in 1970, by the time of the release of
Mainstream, Quiet Sun featured two musicians that were quite well-known:
bassist Bill MacCormick, greatly appreciated as a member of Matching Mole - the
group assembled by former Soft Machine Robert Wyatt - on their two studio
albums; and guitarist Phil Manzanera, a fine instrumentalist who was also a
star as a member of Roxy Music. A group whose enormous popularity in the United
Kingdom was quite difficult to perceive at the proper scale when looking from
the Continent, or the U.S.A.
members completed the quartet: keyboardist Dave Jarrett, who by the time of the
1975 recording was a full-time university teacher; and drummer Charles Hayward,
not really well-known at the time, but about to become quite popular, in an
"underground" way, for being a member of such groups as This Heath and
meets Soft Machine, but without the saxophone" is the best I can do in
order to describe the music played by Quiet Sun, though I'm perfectly aware
that my definition is far from satisfying. Recorded in the spirit of doing
mostly "first takes", with just a few overdubs, showing a fresh
quality in the performances that doesn't reveal that the group is for the most part
playing "vintage" material, Mainstream is an album that one can still
listen to with great pleasure today.
the album was not recorded in 1970, the actual recorded performances greatly
benefit from the more advanced skills group members had acquired in the
intervening years. Hayward's drums are a joy to listen to (please, a moment of
nostalgia for a world where people called you on the phone just to say
"I've listened to a record that features a fantastic drummer"), and
so are the others; the featured repertory is varied; Phil Manzanera's guitar is
timbrally versatile, while avoiding any excess.
appearing "later", the Quiet Sun album reveals what had happened
"before". After the group split, Manzanera hit the jackpot when
becoming a member of Roxy Music, whose debut I remember as being quite
controversial, and not only for reasons of style. (I have to admit that seeing
the cover of their debut album when, after school, I passed in front of a
record shop whose window had displayed Patto's first album not too long before
didn't appear as a good omen about what was to come.)
inclinations combined with group format were the foundation of Manzanera's
guitar approach in Roxy Music: not a lot of "soloing", but a lot of
"texture". In doing so, Manzanera was greatly helped by the presence
- both instrumental and conceptual - of Brian Eno, whose approach to the
still-young instrument called the synthesizer was quite different from the
prevailing use of the time (just listen to the VCS3 intro to Matching Mole track
Gloria Gloom, whose sinister atmosphere is bound to remind one of the Todd
Dockstader masterpiece titled Quatermass). Besides, Eno started treating and
filtering Manzanera's guitar, greatly enhancing its timbral possibilities. Something
that obviously worked as an encouragement for Manzanera's experimental attitude.
perfectly able to work as "leader", in those days Phil Manzanera was mostly
a "team player". From the list of albums he worked on at the time,
I'll single out those first two albums released by Brian Eno after leaving Roxy
Music: Here Come The Warm Jets (1973), and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
(1974). Both fine albums, both original in their way, whose impact today
appears to be muted by the huge amount of work Eno did later, but that in my
opinion deserve a fresh listen.
the confusion created by Roxy Music's leader, Bryan Ferry, when deciding to
start a solo career in parallel to his work with the group, Manzanera found the
time and the people to record his debut solo album: Diamond Head (1975). At the
same time, he also recorded the Quiet Sun album I talked about earlier.
my opinion, Diamond Head's only weak point is a lack of coherence. Which also
could be said of Eno's first two albums. The point being that the human voice
acts as a kind of "glue", giving a sense of "coherence"
even when "poly-style" is the dominant character, and Eno's voice is
highly recognizable. While Manzanera doesn't sing (even though, like some of
his illustrious colleagues, he possesses a quite unique "voice").
head is the kind of album that is both pleasant and interesting to listen to.
On vocals, Robert Wyatt, Eno, John Wetton, Bill MacCormick (his first recorded
performance as a vocalist), and, in an important cameo, Doreen Chanter.
combines Robert Wyatt and almost-"ambient" guitars. Diamond Head is
an instrumental piece that in time will become a kind of "signature"
tune for Manzanera. The Flex, featuring Andy Mackay on saxophones, reminds one
of Roxy Music. Same Time Next Week is a very cerebral piece of "funky"
music. Big Day and Miss Shapiro are Eno 18k. East Of Echo, Lagrima, and Alma
come to us from the Quiet Sun repertory.
the album features Paul Thompson from Roxy Music on drums as an anchor; on bass,
former King Crimson John Wetton is an excellent instrumentalist.
plays a lot, but he's very often "invisible", proving himself to be a
mature player. Here I'll have to mention album final track Alma, whose closing guitar
"solo" is an atypically "heroic", almost Crimson-sounding,
moment that takes the album to its brilliant close.
unexpectedly (Internet was not even on the horizon), I saw a magazine review of
an album I knew nothing about: 801 Live. Reviews were enthusiastic, the
instrumental part was excellent, the featured names being: Eno, Manzanera,
MacCormick on their usual instruments; a totally unknown Loyd Watson on slide
guitar and vocals; former Curved Air Francis Monkman on electric piano and
clavinet; and a 19 old boy, Simon Phillips - whom I found again in a short while,
playing on How's Tricks by Jack Bruce - on drums.
album mix sounded quite "American" to me, the rhythm section really
coming forward. When paired with Simon Phillips's astonishing drums ("Who
the fuck is this drummer?", my colleagues asked me every time I put one of
the tracks on the air), Bill MacCormick uses a degree of aggression that's more
typical of Jack Bruce than his usual performing approach. Everybody plays
admirably, of course. (Strange to notice that nowadays this album is quite
forgotten. For no real reason, I'd say, the album being quite "entertaining".)
featured repertory is what one would logically expect: something by Eno, something
by Manzanera, something by Quiet Sun, plus covers of The Kinks' You Really Got
Me; and the Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows.
have to confess that I had great expectations for 801's new album, and I hoped
that the group would deliver. Well, deliver they did: both their albums - Listen
Now (1977) and K-Scope (1978) - greatly exceeded my expectations. But - of
course! - there were changes in the weather.
under the name Phil Manzanera/801, Listen Now appeared a lot later than what
one would logically expect, given the quite favourable reviews that greeted
their Live debut. According to the album's liner notes, recording sessions
lasted one year and a half, though the real recording sessions did not take
this long. But Phil Manzanera was again busy with both Roxy Music and Bryan
Ferry; while Eno had many projects cooking. It's not too strange, then, that
when listened to as a whole, Listen Now can appear a bit too heterogeneous.
said that, I have to say that I regard Listen Now as one of the finest albums
in my collection; an album that today can be regarded as an archetype of music-making,
and a clear demonstration of what studios and engineers in the United Kingdom
could produce and record in those days.
Now features the many styles we've come to expect from those involved. Highly
skilled instrumental performances. A perfect cast. A recorded sound that can be
quite moving or very chilling. A perfect sound placing in the stereo field
(most of the music featured in this article was engineered by Rhett Davies).
mood of the album is sinister, dark - under those Grey Skies that Stewart &
Gaskin will sing about a short time later; the scenery, Orwellian, starting
with the cover. So, the album is more "of its time" than many albums
released the same year.
was quite surprised to read very shoddy reviews that talked about this album as
"old stuff". Why?
in cases like this, the culprit is "punk", and those changing times. The
sad truth is that Eno had left the building, and since many rock writers were
only interested in 801 as a Eno project, the moment he left, they left, too.
course, I know nothing about contracts and the like. I assume that all
"shared work" came out as 801; an album where Eno didn't do much, and
didn't sing, came out as Manzanera/801; and one where Eno did not appear at all
came out as Manzanera. I could be wrong.)
ideas about Brian Eno will not be part of this writing, if only for reasons of
length. But it has to be said that Eno understood perfectly what was required
to stay afloat. Clothes so extravagant as to make him visible on a stage he
shared with quite taller colleagues. Pictures taken after shampooing, those
"duck beak clips" still in his hair. A few "ribald"
interviews. Those who were not present at the time cannot even begin to guess
how potent the deflagration of the bomb "I'm a non-musician". Having
said "bye-bye" to 801, Eno started collaborating with David Bowie, on
the Low album.
could the other members of 801 offer the press?
Now is an album where Bill MacCormick and his brother Ian - in those days a
successful music journalist at the New Musical Express under the name Ian
MacDonald, later as the writer of a beautiful book titled Revolution In The
Head: The Beatles' Records And The Sixties - weave a socio-political narrative
that's lucid and aware.
track Listen Now presents a sinister scenery combined with an arrangement that
closely resembles the Temptations as produced by Norman Whitfield. A
"funky" bass guitar, very fine vocals, former King Crimson Mel
Collins being perfect on a sax soprano solo, and later as the "big band"
that takes the song to its close.
19 is a lively track, quite resembling the Beatles/10cc, featuring Simon
Phillips on drums, could have been a hit single in a parallel universe.
is for this writer the only weak track on the album, an instrumental - I hope Phil
Manzanera will forgive me for saying this - that to me sounded like a jingle
for Coca Cola.
And Order is a tense picture, with a fine guitar solo, and a fantastic final
fine instrumental moment of great clarity and brevity, Que? works well as an
Of Light, a song that in spite of its title appears to live inside a deep fog,
where of course dangers abound. Great vocal work, excellent "filigree"
guitar by Manzanera.
Speed is an instrumental that's maybe a bit out of place here, but of a great
quality. Simon Phillips on drums, Francis Monkman on keyboards, Bill MacCormick
on electric bass, plus former 10cc Kevin Godley's "heavenly voices".
sad episode, but a change of scenery anyway, Postcard Love opens with a
great-sounding solo guitar on the verge of feedback, great piano by Eddie
Jobson, a quite restrained vocal performance, Simon Phillips only playing
is the right moment to talk about the vocal parts, and the drum sound, on this album.
Lead vocals are for the most part sung by Simon Ainley, who will tour - also on
rhythm guitar - as part of the "slim" line-up that toured for just a
few dates in support of the album. Both on its own, and in combination with
Bill MacCormick, Simon Ainley's voice gives this album a "British" mood
that perfectly complements the melancholy of the featured stories.
are played by two excellent musicians. While Dave Mattacks is his usual self,
Simon Phillips is the revelation. It was already apparent that, in his
"turbo" mode, he had few peers. But what is really astounding is the
measured approach he chose for the songs, a trait that the engineering and
production work skillfully highlights with great use of dynamics, some tom
passages appear to "come out" of one's loudspeakers.
track, That Falling Feeling, with lyrics by Ian MacDonald, is a frightening
moment that's bound to leave listeners speechless. A "Floyd-sounding"
episode, also in the guitar solo, the song combines "fat"-sounding
toms, a perfect snare, cymbals with phasing, and voices that sound as moving
inside a deep fog. Not really "heaven-bound", Kevin Godley's
"heavenly voices" take the listener to the brink of... something.
one year later as an album by Phil Manzanera, K-Scope immediately appears as a
very different kind of album. A different studio, different engineers - the
album was recorded at the personal studio of Chris Squire, the bass player from
Yes - also a different way to feature the rhythm section, with the drums placed
"inside" the sound, making the tension audible but more
most important change is in the vocal dept., with Tim Finn (and his brother
Neal, later in Crowded House) from Split Enz (a group produced by Manzanera) replacing
Ainley. Finn's way of singing gives the songs a more "unstable"
dimension that greatly changes the mood of the music, although Side Two, featuring
Bill MacCormick as solo vocalist, takes the listener towards climates that
resemble those featured on Listen Now.
album that's more homogeneous than its predecessor, featuring a few
instrumental moments that appear to be better integrated in the whole, in the
end K-Scope sounds even darker and more neurotic than Listen Now due to its
more "compressed" sound. Provided my memory works, I remember an old
interview where Bill MacCormick talked about a mix that was done in a hurry in
order to have the album released sooner, but of course I can't say if this is
the real/only reason for such a different sound.
very Manzanera-sounding melody, an instrumental track called K-Scope, is the
album opener. A great performance by Simon Phillips, very fine keyboards, a
lively Mel Collins on saxophone.
by Ian MacCormick, Remote Control is a side of a "punk" single with
pushy drums by Paul Thompson.
Crisis is a bitter-ironic tale - if I understand correctly, the lady the
narrator is in love with destroys the Cuban Revolution by giving Fidel Castro the
"wrong" suggestions - rich with a subtle element of tension coming
from the drums. Very fine piano, bass and guitar in a "reggae" mode,
fine close by Manzanera on solo guitar.
many drugs at the disco" could be an alternative title for Hot Spot. A
perfect mix of vocals - Kevin Godley & Lol Creme are back - and an
assertive guitar solo by Manzanera.
Side One, Numbers featuring John Wetton on vocals is not what could have been.
listen to Side Two.
other side of the "punk" single, Slow Motion TV inhabits a quite neurotic
mood, and is as "punky-sounding" as a track featuring a very fast
piano and a baritone saxophone can be.
guitars played with echo, assertive bass, and drums that very skillfully
underline the mood, Gone Flying presents a "toxic" landscape, with a
great synth "slowing" at the song's close.
is another fine instrumental, quite fast, with fine work by Simon Phillips giving
the perfect backing to Phil Manzanera, whose guitar work here is more aggressive
than his usual.
in two parts - the first featuring synthesizer, soprano sax, bass, and vocals;
the second sounding quite tense, with a nervous rhythm guitar, loud bass, superb
accents on the snare and the hi-hat - Walking Through Heaven's Door is the real
album close, a highly dramatic moment that will stay with the listener for a
unknown reasons, the liner notes appearing on the cover of the CD edition I own
add John Wetton as playing bass to the line-up of Walking Through Heaven's
Door, something which is not present in the liner notes to my original LP from
1978. I recently saw that this piece of (dis)information transmigrated online.
In my opinion, the instrumental touch is without a doubt Bill MacCormick's.)
brief instrumental piece You Are Here, composed and played by Manzanera, ends
the album, as a kind of "ear cleaner".
that my information at the time was far from complete, I think I can say that
while reviews of Listen Now had mostly been on the lukewarm side, those about K-Scope
were of the "not terribly interested" variety. New music was still
welcome, but only when coming from new names: the Police, Dire Straits, Elvis
Costello, Joe Jackson.
know how the story ends. Roxy Music got back again, and sold gazillions. Bill
MacCormick assembled a new group, Random Hold, and then left music. Simon
Phillips is still one of the busiest session men around. Mel Collins is back in
King Crimson. Somebody died.
unusual, after a fine career as a honest worker, with good results in the
"Latin"-influenced climates he got to know thanks to his mother, and
having contributed to albums by Pink Floyd and David Gilmour, Manzanera hit the
jackpot for the second time.
hit No Church In The Wild, by Kanye West and Jay-Z, sampled and slowed the
start of Manzanera's penned K-Scope. Hence, a fine check, mucho popularity, and
a new cover of... No Church In The Wild that one can listen to.
Beppe Colli 2021
| Mar. 7, 2021