The Coal Exchange - Cardiff

Saturday 1 April 2000

Ticket Some gigs are important events for strategic reasons. Some gigs are hugely enjoyable events in their own right. This one fell happily into both categories. With the Man band back to a five piece as a writing and recording entity for the first time in more than twenty years, and with the first new album in five years recently put to bed at Rockfield, Man came to the Coal Exchange in Cardiff, a sizeable venue in an impressive building. You knew it was going to be a bit special. Strictly speaking, it's actually Cardiff Bay; I could be cute and make a comparison between a band which has been around for ages and are thought by some to be past their prime, but are now returning as a force to be reckoned with, and an area once run down and dilapidated, but now rebuilt and redmodelled as a thrusting, dynamic commercial development. But that doesn't quite work, since Cardiff Bay in April 2000 is just one big unfinished building site. Half the roads were closed, many of the others were culs-de-sac. So there goes a potentially useful metaphor.

Never mind... the bar proved to be adequate (well, nitrokeg), and a decent sized stage had a modest amount of lighting. Despite what you see on the ticket, The Groundhogs were conspicuous by their absence, but support was provided by a band whose name escapes me, and who played a solid, competent set of mostly covers. They were decently received, but considering this was a major home country gig, and the Welsh rugby team had beaten Ireland just a few hours earlier, the crowd would probably have cheered the wallpaper if asked to.

(Some of) the Man bandSo when Deke ambled on stage to play the first few chords of Ride, the reception was ecstatic. After a minute or so, the rest of the band strolled on, and the reception for them, that was ecstatic too. Pretty much the story of the night really... anyway, a great version, with Phil adding some funky keyboards which rather harked back to the original. Then came the first of the new numbers. In fact, I'll give the game away here and now - they played ALL the songs from the new album. This seems almost unheard of - to play a new album in its entirety - before it's even been released! If you were unsure about how confident they are with the new material, there's your answer. The first of the new songs, Love Isn't Love, caught us off guard as it started with the same sequence from Phil as Do It. Deke stayed at the mike for lead vocals on this on, a piece with a faint country swing, and to the band's credit this seemed the only time all night there was a bum chord - Phil being the offender, but everyone was all smiles anyway. I got the sense from some of the crowd during Hangin' On that there was some puzzlement - all this unfamiliar stuff at the start, and this piece in particular, an easy going ballad type with Micky singing lead.

Micky continued on lead vocals for Saints And Sinners, and the band were augmented by the new album's producer Dave Charles, who contributed some percussive accompaniment with some shakers, which blended perfectly with the calypso feel of the song. Face To Face provided the first real soloing of the night, with both Micky and Phil taking a turn while Deke took the vocals.

C'mon heralded what was probably the biggest cheer so far from the crowd, and they were treated to a full workout with this version. Phil's keyboards were heavily featured in the intro, and he also provided some great organ in other sections of the song. Deke Leonard performed his obligatory string breaking exercise, and the audience loved it.

Micky makes adjustmentsIt was a night of surprises, but few were greater than what came next, when Micky Jones disappeared temporarily to return with... an accoustic! He also took lead vocals on what was another medium paced piece, Tie Down The Wind, and Deke provided some excellent sympathetic fills, while Phil's keyboards were the main driving force of the song. Things began to return towards what passes for normality on the planet Manband, as Martin Ace solemnly announced they would be doing some fast ones, some slower ones, some medium paced ones... "But if you can't tap your foot to this one, you're fuckin' deaf". Victim Of Love was Martin's first vocal of the night, and I thought it was on this first live hearing, perhaps the pick of the bunch. Also the heaviest of the new material, it has a fairly complex structure with changes of tone which allow the band to display what superb musicians they are. While Conflict Of Interest is a track from the new album, it was already very familiar from a few years of gigging and an appearence on the Star Club live album as (in Princely terms) The Song Previously Known As Do It. It's been altered in that the synth takes the lead riff rather than Micky's guitar as has become familiar from performaces as a four piece, and for me this doesn't work quite as well. The odd lyric change, otherwise all present and correct.

Martin's other lead vocal from the new material Stuck Behind The Popemobile, is a more basic rocker, and of all the new songs, this one gave Micky most opportunity to solo freely. I had been wondering what old material would be jettisoned to make way for the new, and having thrown so much unfamiliar stuff at the crowd, it was probably a wise move to keep the real crowd pleasers in - so the regular set closed with a virtuoso performance of Many Are Called.

Phil RyanOf course, things didn't end there... the band returned, augmented by Tweke Lewis on guitar, who delivered a good, if studied solo, and Clive John on keyboards. It was getting slightly congested on stage, especially for Phil and Clint, but they persevered... what troopers. This seven piece stayed in place for Romain, and cleared the stage - only to return again (what a tease) for Spunk Rock, during which things got even more crowded as Micky Jones, showing admirable parental authority, insisted his son get up on stage (or more accurately climb up on stage from the front) and take over on guitar. The dutiful George obliged, and took his dad's Strat only to break a string. I don't think I've ever seen Micky Jones laugh so much. The guitar was taken off for running repairs, while Micky proceded to dance around the stage, even popping up behind the keyboards to helpfully add the odd chord. When the guitar was restored to six strings, George took it eagerly, and Micky was left as pure vocalist, with more dancing thrown in for good measure.

By the time they were off stage for good, it was gone one o'clock.

Overall... as I've already said, it's a bold step to play an entire new album live, but this can only reinforce how confident the band must be feeling right now. This meant there was less room than usual for drawn out soloing and jamming, and occasionally parts of the crowd seemed unsure about what was going on - but those who stayed until the end were amply rewarded. The playing generally, was as faultless as you could expect for a set dominated by new material, and it was impressive to see Bob Richards in his full glory with double bass drum kit and gong.

But it wasn't supposed to end there... the show was filmed and there were plans to release two videos, one of the new material, and the other of the older songs; however, for some reason, the project was cancelled. The promoter reckoned there were 600 in the audience, and you can be sure they all would have wanted a copy.

And if you weren't there... you would have wanted one too, wouldn't you?


There are pics from this gig in the Gallery.

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