Students Union, Manchester University

Saturday 31 October 1998

TicketAs usual, a bit of waffle before I get to the meat of the review: Man had played a few sporadic dates in the past months, but this was the first night of a string of a dozen or so dates in the UK, the closest they've come to a tour of this country in a while. Back around springtime, they had undertaken a tour of Europe which produced an excellent live album from its last night at the Star Club. Phil Ryan had been on that tour, and his keyboards added an awful lot to the sound of the Man band. Sadly, Phil was unable to make this tour because of his wife's illness, so something of a rethink of the set was called for. In some of the reviews I've done, I've grumbled that considering the vast back catalogue they have, it's a shame there hasn't been more variety in the choice of songs. A cursory glance at the list above, and you'll see my prayers were answered.

Contrary to what it says on the ticket, there was no support, and when the Man band ambled onstage, Martin was quick to praise the ambiance of Manchester University Students Union. "I'm glad to see it hasn't gone all trendy." I'll leave out his analysis of the backstage plumbing. As on the two occasaions I saw the band in 97, the set kicked off with Ride And The View, with the initial Deke/Micky guitar interplay cut to an absolute minimum. It was clear right away that there were no cobwebs to shake off after their layoff of a few weeks. There was more evidence of this with C'mon : I had began to think that they were using C'mon as a set opener as it was fairly undemanding, and gave them all a pretty easy way to get warmed up. What rot. They are still experimenting and finding new routes to take this piece down, and they easily met what might have been a challenge of not having Phil's keyboards to fill in some texture in the quieter parts. It's worth remebering that a jam of C'mon eventually metamorphosed in to Call Down The Moon, and eventually I wouldn't be surprised to see another song spawned from it. Do It had to do without Phil's keyboard intro, but the songs sounds perfectly OK without it. At this point, Martin mused on the difficulties of playing back as a four piece, speculated that Man as a three piece might be feasible, but if it were just him and Bob, forget it.

On to the first shock of the night : I instantly recognized the opening duelling guitars of Brother Arnold's Red And White Striped Tent, but could scarcely believe my ears. For those who don't know, it's from Two Ounces Of Plastic, in other words, the sixties. Nearly thirty years on, it still sounds just as good, and when Deke started blowing on that harmonica, (insert Lewinsky joke of choice here), the crowd's collective jaw hit the floor. During the days after the gig, I listened to that older stuff again, and you know, a lot of it is still pretty damn good. This was followed by another re-entry into the set, the Cipollina dedicated Wings Of Mercury. Not my favourite song from Twang Dynasty, but no less welcome for all that.

Ace was relishing the return to the boards, and regaled us with his thoughts on Natalie Merchant and colour TV. Actually, I have no clue who Natalie Merchant is, but was advised by my wiser and hipper companions that she was also playing in Manchester that night, and had been on TV the previous evening. Clear ? OK. Another oldie but goodie followed, as Deke sat behind his piano and belted out the chords for Manillo. It seems like a while since Martin has had a lead vocal at a live gig, and this piece, as well as providing a change of pace, really suits his voice. It's very inclusion was another shock to the nervous system though. Deke confided that he had been taking piano lessons from a Doctor John video ("you should see an improvement in about ten years time"), and Martin added a snippet about the American's table manners. With Martin at the mike and Deke at the piano, Man With X-Ray Eyes was next up, another one which has been dormant for some time, but was good to hear again.

How many more surprises could we take ? The biggest, and perhaps the best was yet to come... 7171-551. One of my alltime favourites by anyone, and an archetypal Deke Leonard song, it was worth the price of admission alone. Stupendous. The usual threesome to finish with were all exquisitely performed, but the sheer shock value of 7171 meant that for me at least, the evening's climax had come and gone.

Being the first date, I hadn't been too sure what to expect, but hell, these guys have been at it for years, and nothing in the performance could be faulted. A special word, though for Bob Richards : when he was drafted in 12 or so months ago, it was clear in the early gigs he was feeling his way, but now he is fully integrated and has established himself as an excellent drummer. At first I thought of him as being midway between Pugwash's brute force and Terry Williams's subtlety, but it is now clear he can do both. No shortage of power, and he has added his own touches of finesse where needed. He could be with the band for the next 30 years...


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