…very few of those musicians who passed through the ranks of what they affectionately called the ‘Man Family Jungle’ are still with us, sadly, This set, however, is a fine tribute to Mickey Jones, Deke Leonard, Clive John, Phil Ryan, Will Youatt and the rest of the departed Man Men, as we might say. They did us, and their country, proud.
With all possible respect paid to the likes of The Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics or Super Furry Animals, to a certain group of listeners (of a certain vintage), there will only ever be one truly ‘legendary’ Welsh band – that being Man, who somehow transplanted the West Coast of America onto the West Coast of South Wales, and managed to retain a remarkably consistent identity despite a startling fluidity of line-ups. The reason behind both of those points could be said to largely come down to the same thing: the willingness to ‘jam’, or extrapolate a studio foundation in the live setting, and the commendable willingness of all who passed through their ranks (often more than once) to subsume their own individual egos and become part of the all-important ‘Manband’ collective. There is some magnificent musicianship and marvellous soloing to be found whenever any incarnation of Man stepped onto a stage, but you wouldn’t find much in the way of grandstanding, or for any one musician to dominate proceedings. Such was the root of their distinctive appeal and also one of their most engaging qualities.
Despite the reputation Man enjoyed as a live band, their onstage recorded legacy during their peak years was steady, yet never really delivered a definitive release, in the manner of, say the Grateful Dead’s Live Dead, Deep Purple’s Made In Japan or Yes’s Yessongs. Before they split for the first time in late 1976, their highest profile live album was Maximum Darkness, recorded with John Cippolina of Quicksilver Messenger Service, which was excellent if not the most representative document. There were also the early recording Live At The Paget Rooms, half of the double album Back Into The Future, various appearances on the low-profile Christmas At The Patti and a memorable side they contributed to the Greasy Truckers’ Party double. Thus it is that this four-CD set (plus two DVDs), rounding up all of the available BBC session and ‘In Concert’ recordings is so essential – there are a few live-in-the-studio radio sessions in between the live in concert broadcasts, but for the most part this plays like a live overview of the band’s career, chronologically from January 1972 through to the Reading Festival appearance of the reformed band in 1983 – and it is studded with magnificent performances.
The first, and earliest, set here, a two-track In Concert broadcast from 1972, gets the ball rolling brilliantly with a lengthy delivery of the crowd favourite Spunk Rock – which developed from a five-minute studio piece under the title of Spunk Box (quite!) into an extended live number often hitting 25 minutes. The early track Romain, detailing some heavy-handed policing in Belgium, completes that live set, before the disc is rounded out by a three-song Sounds of The Seventies set from the following February, which provides the hilarious and surreal The Brazilian Cucumber Meets Deke’s New Nose and a definitive performance of Life On The Road, originally perhaps the weakest moment on that year’s brilliant album Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day. The second disc ups the ante with two sessions (for John Peel and Bob Harris respectively), bookending the two lead tracks from that Be Good To Yourself release, C’Mon and Bananas – and it must be said that both are brilliantly played, with C’Mon in particular perhaps the finest performance of that classic track I’ve heard. The Bob Harris session following that includes an early performance of the track which would become Scotch Corner on 1974’s Rhinos Winos and Lunatics, still at this point called God Gave Us Turtles, together with a stupendous version of Romain which far outstrips the rendition on the first disc, good though that is.
Disc Three brings us a John Peel session from October 1974, and then another six-song In Concert recording from January 1975. There’s some material from the Slow Motion album featured here, plus a definitive take on the oddly-titled 7171-551 from Deke Leonard’s Iceberg solo album. Two songs from Loughborough University in 1976 then take us seven years into the future with a seven-song set from the reformed band’s Reading Festival appearance in August 1983. With Terry Williams by this time doing great business in Dire Straits, ex-Gentle Giant drummer John ‘Pugwash’ Weathers joined Deke Leonard, Mickey Jones and Martin Ace in a classic four-piece reunion, first appearing for two nights at the Marquee in London as part of the venue’s 25th Anniversary celebrations, which led to a more permanent reformation (no surprise, as I was present at the second of those nights, and it was an extraordinary atmosphere). Weathers gives the band a hefty kick up the backside, and there is a much heavier rock edge to the performance here; it’s a double edged sword at times, not really suiting C’mon so well for one example, but on the other hand Spunk Rock is the best I’ve heard it, and Romain and Bananas also come off really well for the energy boost they get.
That’s the end of the CDs, but that’s far from all in this exhaustive collection, as we get two DVDs as well, sweeping up some must-see TV appearances along the way. Disc Five has three songs from two separate Old Grey Whistle Test spots, as well as a brilliant find – a 25 minute documentary about the band on a BBC Schools programme in 1973 – yes, really! Finally, Disc Six contains the footage from the 1976 farewell show at the Roundhouse in London, and is absolutely essential viewing. It’s hard to believe that a band so obviously at a musical high point were about to pack it in – but thank goodness they later relented and brought us a couple of decades of further great music.
The Manband – they were an institution which we will not see the like of very often – and certainly not under the Man banner, as very few of those musicians who passed through the ranks of what they affectionately called the ‘Man Family Jungle’ are still with us, sadly, This set, however, is a fine tribute to Mickey Jones, Deke Leonard, Clive John, Phil Ryan, Will Youatt and the rest of the departed Man Men, as we might say. They did us, and their country, proud.