Friday, 16 September 2011

Hidden gem: Volume 1 - Manfred Mann Chapter 3 (Vertigo)

Many has been the pop star who has subsequently 'grown up'. George Michael managed it with a degree of class, Britney didn't. Of course its not a new phenomenon, both the Beatles and the Monkees alienated some of their fan base in the 60s as they moved into a more adult sound but perhaps less well known is the transition of Manfred Mann from Do Wah Diddy and Pretty Flamingo to jazz laced progressive rock.

Manfred Mann Chapter 3 wasn't strictly Manfred Mann. True, it featured the South African born keyboard player that gave the band its name but the original band had actually split up in 1969 only for Mann to form this new band with vocalist Mike Hugg. This was a much more experimental proposition who focused on the 'time no changes' approach of jazz players, most notably Miles Davis and John Coltrane. This essentially manifested itself in off-the-wall saxophone solos in the spirit of free jazz legends such as Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. Their sound wasn't jazz though and they set much of the template that would influence subsequent rock acts such as King Crismson, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Their debut album somehow managed to fuse all sorts of influences from jazz, rock, progressive, psychedelia and folk to create a recording whose influence can still be heard today.

The album kicks off withTravelling Lady, moody and slightly gothic. What is immediately apparent is the use of horns to propel the song forward - a saxophone kicks in towards the end and one can sense the free jazz spirit. Snakeskin Garter is more psychedelic in feel. It doesn't feature the most profound of lyrics 'she wore a snakeskin garter' but it successfully pre-empts the sexual subject matter of hard rock that would explode only a few years later. Devil Woman is another track that while not blatantly sexist, certainly pigeonholes women with its talk of 'your poisonous tongue and your poisonous lips' and 'spinning your web all round my heart' - very much of its time.

Korekuf is a six minute instrumental track, freeform in spirit but it does contain discipline and direction. One of my favourite tracks is Sometimes. This is gentle and acoustic at the outset and wouldn't have been out of place on the Stone Roses' debut. The best track on side one though is One Way Glass, a song  that has arguably laid the template for the whole of Primal Scream's career with its throbbing bass, funky drums and psych vocals. The euphoric horns at the end of the track leave you wanting to punch the air, its little wonder it has been used on a number of compilations including Pete Fowler's Sounds of Monsterism Island.

The second half of the record is perhaps slower paced and more melancholy. Mister, you're a better man than I is typical as is final track Where am I going? which is at best bittersweet and at worst maudlin with its lyrics of 'the dreams I used to chase, having fallen from my eyes'. Ain't it Sad is notable for its use of a funky folk flute (try saying that after a few bevvies) while A Study In Intimacy is one of the more freeform and almost Zappa-esque tracks. It fades out halfway through only to fade back in.

This is an intriguing record despite it selling poorly at the time (the band would split up the following year). You can feel the creativity surging through it and the drug fuelled openmindedness of the times. It hangs together well as an album while featuring strong individual tracks and its influence can clearly be heard in many post acid house rock bands - well worth a listen and ultimately a purchase.

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