Composer, author, lecturer, guitar teacher

Of Mann and men

I had an interesting evening Monday night up in London courtesy of a Faber night at the Social club. Barney Hoskyns was promoting his recently published book on Led Zeppelin, which has received good reviews. The Zeppelin book shelf is not exactly unoccupied, but it seems that he has managed to bring some new material to light, presenting the band’s story through an oral narrative constructed from hundreds of interviews. Barney invited respected music journalists Keith Altham and Charles Shaar Murray, and Swansong insider Phil Carlo, to share some of their memories and views of the band. I particularly enjoyed listening to Keith, who had some amazing tales to tell, and simply exudes the vibe of the 60s London rock scene. He interviewed anyone who mattered on the music scene, including doing the last interview ever with Hendrix a couple of days before he died. For more about Keith try this link to Rock’s Backpages: which you can read even if you’re not a subscriber.

Also in attendance was Dave Lewis who publishes the long-running and ever-improving Tight But Loose fanzine and runs the tbl website. If you like Led Zep both website and magazine are essential. Dave is currently doing a day-by-day countdown to the cinema screenings of the 2007 O2 Arena gig.

Musically this past week I’ve heard a Greatest Hits of 60s band Manfred Mann. MM (as I’ll call them) are one of those 60s bands that have never been taken up and written about by rock critics, so they don’t loom large in rock histories. But they’re one of those groups who were constantly on British pop radio during the 60s and were as much a part of the everyday sonic tapestry as bands like the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who, etc. Primarily a singles band, none of their LPs has much of a reputation as a classic album. They mixed pop with R’n’B and a little light blues, their sound owing as much to electric organ and piano as electric guitars. Their covers are usually not very good (they did merely average versions of  ‘Oh No Not My Baby’, ‘I Put A Spell On You’, ‘Just Like A Woman’,and  ‘With God On Our Side’) with one exception: Dylan’s ‘Mighty Quinn’ which they made as much their own as Hendrix made ‘All Along The Watchtower’. They were good at high-spirited pop songs such as ‘54321’, ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’ and ‘Pretty Flamingo’. Their greatest moments came in the later 1960s with the hits ‘Semi-Detached Suburban Mr Jones’, ‘Ha! Ha! Said The Clown’, ‘Ragamuffin Man’, ‘My Name Is Jack’ and ‘Fox On The Run’, where the songwriting is brimming with hooks and melodic and harmonic twists. These, along with ‘Mighty Quinn’, deserve a permanent place in 60s pop history. In the early 70s they changed into Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and did a fine cover of Springsteen’s ‘Blinded By The Light’.

While I’m thinking about 1960s bands I should mention that on Friday  September 30 The Times newspaper carried a wrap-around photo of the Who to promote Pete Townshend’s autobiography. On the reverse of it there were chord songbook transcriptions of three of their 60s hits done by yours truly (though not credited). So I finally made the cover of The Times … facing in … 😉

On the classical front I’ve acquired another 5 recordings of the Nielsen Sixth Symphony (which I mentioned a few posts back) and have been working my way through those. It’s very interesting what an effect slightly different speeds and emphases can have, and also the amount of reverb on a recording – which can blur some details even as it makes others sound better.

I’ve also been making more notes toward what I hope will be a book on the symphony. This meant trawling through the reviews of a couple of years of a magazine called International Record Review. I was partly looking at the frequency with which certain composers have their music re-recorded. Among the most recorded in the symphonic tradition are people like Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Mahler. There are a handful of recordings of most of their symphonies coming out every year. This would be amazing if you took as an analogy in the rock field that there were new versions of Abbey Road or Dark Side of the Moon coming out every few months!


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