The Witchwood, Ashton under Lyne

Wednesday March 13, 1996

I've seen the Man band here several times, but there was more than the usual excitement about this gig, since it would be the first time I'd seen them since Terry Williams returned. Maybe there was a touch of apprehension there too, who knows.

As can be seen from the set list above, the band haven't made any other radical changes, at least on the surface. As the evening progressed, some minor variations became apparent - the tone of some of the guitar playing seemed slightly different, but this is incidental. So, the opener C'mon still acts as warm up, with Jones flexing his fingers to good effect on the intro, with maybe more input from Martin on bass than usual. Overall, I thought it a bit sloppy, but given the circumstances of not having played too much recently, and working Terry back into the flow of things, I wasn't too concerned... But... it was in the break between the first and second songs that I did get worried. The stage at the Witchwood is a pretty small affair, and Deke had some trouble getting installed behind his keyboard, then his mike stand had to be moved, plus the general problem that seated back there he seems slightly away from the action. Well, the delay was considerable, and the band seemed to lose momentum, and never really got it back all night. This logistical puzzle of Deke's was never really solved, and though Martin made light of it, ("We've given the crew the night off"), I sensed that it was not making things any easier. I like Deke's keyboards, and think they definitely add to the overall sound of the Man band, but something needs to be done to help keep the flow going. I hope this will not be apparent on stages with more room; still, they don't play the Albert Hall much these days, so it's something they need to think about.

Enough about stagecraft. The music overall was probably no better than average for a Man gig, but as noted already, they are working Terry back into the swing of things. I don't know if this can excuse the mess they made of the vocals in Call Down the Moon, where they seemed to lose their bearings altogether, and Deke ended up doing lead vocal on the last verse, but generally they seemed tight as ever, with just the detail being a bit slack. The most obvious change was in Ride, which lost its lengthy slide intro, and I thought there was more improvisation during the bridge section of Drivin' Around.

So the main question - how was Terry ? Relax, he was fine. His drumming has more light and shade to it than Pugwash, but this is a case of different, not worse, in my opinion. The one thing that did worry me slightly was the inclusion of Many are Called, Bananas and Romain in the set. The return of an old trouper must make it very tempting to trawl the back catalogue for material which is more familiar to all. I prefer them to look forward - or at least, if they have to include older songs, take the opportunity of freshening up tunes we haven't heard for a while - Kerosene, Scotch Corner, Hard Way to Live... there are plenty more.

So I'm not too worried. I fully expect to see some improvement next time.

An alternative view...

First time we've seen the band since Convention III - nearly a year. Terry Williams back on the drums. Excellent gig last time at Ashton. Room packed with people tonight. Everything to look forward to. And? Patchy, patchy, patchy. Again and again they got some momentum going, everything on track, and again and again they lost it.

Most of the "old" stuff is working fine - even those which have had a revamp since last time we saw them. "C'Mon" suffered from the mix (being first, it often can), but nonetheless had a nice new feel (Terry?) to both the intro and the slow bit in the middle. The intro to "Many Are Called.." was lost against the crowd noise, but then the band went on to lose it big time with some dodgy vocals. However, they did get back on course with a superb "on the beach" bit in the middle. This seems to revert to "Prelude/The Storm" more and more as time goes on. Even the crowd shut up and listened. "Ride & the View" was the best of the lot, but no intro! Someone just stole 10 minutes of my life! Together, tight and much more like it. And, some nice drum fills that gave away that Terry was on the drum stool.

Conversely, most of the "Call Down the Moon" stuff was definitely not working. Timing and harmony all too often right out of the window. "Call Down the Moon", "The Girl is Trouble" and "The Man with X-Ray Eyes" all suffered badly. "Drivin' Around" was the best of the new - but even that wasn't anything like until Deke's keyboard explodes (metaphorically, I hasten to add) and he ditches it for Micky's Gibson.

There seemed a general air of indifference - a lack of enthusiasm. I suspect some conflict going on behind the dressing room door, but only the band can comment on that. My view? It's all down to that keyboard. Deke hopping between guitar and keyboard is just not working. Just the mechanical act of switching now seems to completely disrupt the flow of the set. More fundamentally, I remain convinced that he is not happy sat at the back, stashed behind a PA cab. Deke's place is up front, with a Telecaster round his neck. Explode that keyboard for real, and get him back where he belongs.

On the positive side, I have seen the band like this before, and the next gig was absolutely storming. Roll on Hebden Bridge on April 20th.

Mark Davies

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