GUITARISSIMO

Who am I?

  1. I was born in London in 1951.
  2. My Father was a diplomat.
  3. As a result, I grew up all over Latin America.
  4. Guitar is my instrument.
  5. The first band I was in was called Pooh And The Ostrich Feathers.
  6. For the world of performance I chose my Columbian Mother’s surname over my double-barrelled English one.
  7. My musical life changed after I answered an ad seeking a ‘Tricky Dick lead guitarist’.
  8. Though I didn’t get the gig then, I did replace successful applicant David O’List a little later.
  9. I once made two albums simultaneously; one with a band and the other under my own name.

 *

Phillip Targett-Adams was working in a Travel Agency in 1971. The part-time band he’d formed at school had evolved from its AA Milne beginnings into a tight and inventive progressive outfit called Quiet Sun. They did some gigs, wrote quite a lot of interesting music, and utterly failed to get a record contract.

By 1972 Quiet Sun had been mothballed. Phillip Targett-Adams had eased his way into Roxy Music and was about to participate in their debut recording, his guitar often manipulated by noise-maker and knob twiddler Brian Eno. The guitarist had also morphed into Phil Manzanera, a name emblazoned on no fewer than two dozen albums across the following decades.

This is the story of the first Manzanera solo album and its unexpected studio sibling.

Diamond Head Mainstream

In 1974, having released four successful albums in three years, Roxy Music took a break. Though the reason was primarily to facilitate the burgeoning solo career of lead singer and maestro Bryan Ferry, the temporarily unemployed members of the band found themselves mulling over that immortal rock phrase, ‘I have my own album to do’.

Brian Eno, meanwhile, had not been idle since leaving Roxy Music in mid-1973. He had produced his own engrossing and entertaining first album, Here Come The Warm Jets. There had been collaborations and an LP with Robert Fripp, some studio dates for the nascent producer and quite a lot of scratching around in search of inspiration for his (truly difficult to birth) second album. He also visited Germany and struck up a warm musical connection with Messrs Rother, Roedelius and Moebius who were recording and performing as Harmonia. Eno even joined the progressive electronic krautrockers on stage for a chunk of their Hamburg concert.

When Eno returned to London, he immediately hooked up with his erstwhile Roxy colleague Phil Manzanera to help the guitarist with his debut solo album, Diamond Head. Manzanera had assembled a pretty useful help desk already: Paul Thompson and Andy Mackay from Roxy, bass player Bill MacCormick from Quiet Sun, John Wetton (currently in the second incarnation of King Crimson) and blow-in Robert Wyatt (Soft Machine, solo). Plus Eno, of course.

Mr Manzanera relaxing after a hard night in the studio

Mr Manzanera relaxing after a hard night in the studio

That Manzanera and crew produced not one, but two albums in lightning quick time says as much about the guitarist’s work ethic as his ability to move between (and in synchrony with) a diverse array of musicians. According to Eno biographer David Sheppard, Manzanera “would record his solo album in the main studio during the day and adjourn to the smaller upstairs facility in the evening” to work on the Quiet Sun album, Mainstream [p.195]. This sounds like a process requiring enormous stamina as well as a double dose of musical flexibility. The former is not in question, but the latter was not, perhaps, as big a transition as one might imagine.

Quiet Sun CD re-issue

The detailed and entertaining notes accompanying the 2011 CD re-issue of Mainstream reveal the secret.

Mainstream opens with… ‘Sol Caliente’. The tune being played on echoplexed fuzz guitar might strike fans of Diamond Head’s ‘Lagrima’ as familiar. In fact, ‘Lagrima’, ‘Frontera’, ‘East of Echo’, and ‘Alma’ all derive from an extended Quiet Sun composition – Phil Manzanera’s ‘Corazon Y Alma’ [‘Heart and Soul’] – written in late 1971.

If you listen to ‘East of Echo’ (Diamond Head), you encounter three or four Quiet Sun references now placed in their original context by Mainstream.

So this was not like an exercise in leaping from pop to polka or prog to punk. The two projects were intimately related both via the involvement of the same musicians (all of the ’75 edition of Quiet Sun are on Diamond Head and Eno is on both albums) and compositionally.

Let’s round out the gig with a tour of each album.

Manzanera - Diamond Head

Diamond Head opens with a penetrating vocal from Robert Wyatt on the Spanish language ‘Frontera’. Opening with a song in Spanish was both a statement and a gambit, but Manzanera pulls it off thanks mainly to Wyatt’s hypnotic performance. The title track has both Eno (‘Guitar treatments’) and his replacement in Roxy Music, Eddie Jobson (‘All strings, Fender piano’) and is a romantic instrumental featuring Manzanera’s keening guitar. ‘Big Day’ has the first of Eno’s vocal contributions and is reminiscent of his own solo work of the time. Andy Mackay’s sax turns instrumental ‘The Flex’ into a soul-boogie workout where the Stax-styled over-dubbed horns are spiced up by the leader’s guitar interlude. Energising.

I used to be wary of albums where the vocalist changed, thus risking continuity and fragmenting the sound. On Diamond Head we have already heard Robert Wyatt and Brian Eno warbling by the time John Wetton (and co-vocalist Doreen Chanter) deliver ‘Same Time Next Year’. So perhaps we should blame my prejudice and not those able singers for this being my least favourite track on the album. Phil’s solo is cool, though.

Eno’s second co-written song, ‘Miss Shapiro’, opens side two with great verve and a surreal lyric; the song was a highlight of the later 801 Live album. ‘East of Echo’ is the aforementioned connecting tissue between Diamond Head and Mainstream – a punchy progressive instrumental. I love the sparse atmospherics of ‘Lagrima’, the short Latin-tinged instrumental featuring Manzanera’s guitar and Mackay’s pensive oboe. ‘Alma’ introduces yet another vocalist (Bill MacCormick) for a colourful art-rock finale. Moving from ‘Alma’ to the Quiet Sun album segues very well indeed.

Quiet Sun - Mainstream

Quiet Sun’s Mainstream has to be one of the most under-rated progressive albums of the 70s. Of the reputable books on the genre in the Vinyl Connection library, two omit Quiet Sun altogether while the others make brief passing references. Positive references to be sure, but just a handful of words. In his wide-ranging and enthusiastic (though poorly edited) guide to progressive rock, Charles Snider redresses the balance a little, noting the album’s eclecticism and energy; he uses the word ‘manic’ (p.209). You can hear his point. Opener ‘Sol Caliente’ (‘Hot Sun’) commands attention with piercing distorted guitar over an arpeggio piano figure before the band kicks in. The drumming of Charles Hayward is varied and limber. Indeed, the whole ensemble display impressive chops through shifting time signatures, changes of pace and variations in mood.

Keyboard man Dave Jarrett contributes most of the rest of side one; the tense tricksy three-part ‘Bargain Classics’ cuts to ‘R.F.D.’, a reflective piece where the plaintive melody is voiced uneasily by what sounds like a VCS3 doing distorted organ over the top of delicate electric piano.

In the Marvellous Song Titles League ©, an eternal champion is side two opener ‘Mummy was an asteroid, daddy was a small non-stick kitchen utensil’. The arresting opening riff shifts into polyrhthmic dance territory… OK, you could only shimmy to this if you have a black belt in yoga but it is like an intricate dance between guitar and rhythm section in bassist Bill MacCormick’s piece. ‘Trot’ arrives via gentle crescendo, building to another fine Manzanera guitar outing before the piece shifts into something reminiscent of Return to Forever circa No Mystery.

The final piece is the only vocal on the album. I agree with Snider that Charles Hayward’s delivery evokes Robert Wyatt a little in this (almost too) clever song. If you clock the title ‘Rongwrong’ as the name of a Dadaist magazine published by Marcel Duchamp and ponder a sample lyric, you’ll get the idea:

Meanwhile I’ll stay at home, listen to Schönberg in the bath

and leave you to the geometry of my laugh

After all the action and fireworks, I like the way ‘Rongwrong’ (and the record) finishes with an upwards, uncertain piano cadence.

Quiet Sun were not mainstream yet deserve to be known more widely for this single, excellent album.

 *

AFTERWORD

I have not been an uncritical fan of Phil Manzanera’s individual solo albums. Indeed, when the Manzanera mood struck I usually reached for the 1986 CD compilation that gave this article its name. This entertaining disc takes a refreshing approach to the contractual ‘Best of’ album by collating curated pieces from five LPs into extended suites. It is very satisfying and highly recommended for those dubious about adding another ‘must complete’ artist to their purchasing inventory.

But for the past week I have been flogging my battered vinyl copy of Diamond Head and enjoying it hugely. Maravillosa!

Phil Manzanera - Guitarissimo

SOURCES

Phil Manzanera – Diamond Head [E.G. Music, 1975]

Quiet Sun – Mainstream [Editions EG, 1975]

Phil Manzanera – Guitarissimo 75–82 [EG Records, 1986]

Quiet Sun – Mainstream [Expression Records, 2011]

David Sheppard [2008] On Some Faraway Beach: The Life & Times of Brian Eno. Orion Books, London.

Charles Snider [2007] The Strawberry Bricks Guide To Progressive Rock. Strawberry Brick, Chicago, IL.

 

23 comments

  1. Aussie-Byrd-Brother · · Reply

    Wonderful article, Bruce! I only have `Mainstream’, and oddly it was only a fairly recent addition to my collection! I’m going to give it in a spin on my way into work right now! You speak with such passion and satisfaction of the album that I’m going to appreciate it even more now, and give it the repeated listens it deserves.

    Like

    1. Thanks Michael. I do hope you enjoy it and please post any reactions here afterwards.
      To be honest, I was quite surprised how much I enjoyed Diamond Head this time round. Perhaps recent Eno-excursions have helped!

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  2. Diamond Head is still a favorite along with 1977’s Listen Now (which is technically an 801 album).

    Manzanera is so underrated when the accolades for great rock ‘n’ roll guitarists get tossed about. I’m glad his work with David Gilmour is bringing him some notoriety these days.

    His recent interview on Johnnie Walker’s Sound of the 70s (BBC 2) is available thru May 24, 2015 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05rkcgn), but Manzanera doesn’t appear until one hour into the program.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Did I actually write notoriety? How about “notice” or “acclaim” instead?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In full agreement with you on that. Manzanera is versatile and inventive and deserves ‘notice’ ‘acclaim’ and respect. Cheers.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Found this one very intriguing. Besides Roxy Music, my only real Manzanera experience is a 1991 album he did with one-of-a-kind Peruvian-born bolero singer Tania Libertad called “Boleros Hoy,” which the wife and I love. Looks like that ’86 compilation is something I should take for a ride.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Though not normally a fan of compilations (who decides? and why?), this is one I can recommend. Good luck searching it out. You can always back fill the albums later!

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  4. How interesting. Funnily enough I always wondered what the train album sounded like – I have bid very small amounts of money on used copies on eBay once or twice, without netting it.

    This does intrigue me too – I had never even heard of Quiet Sun at all. Plus on the solo album, anything with Robert Wyatt on it just has instant merit for me; plus Phil M was a damn cool looking man in his pomp.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d imagine Diamond Head might be more your cuppa tea than Mainstream (the latter has lots of progressive twiddly in parts). Strange cover on the Manzanera solo – never been able to work out whether there was some meaning or reference. An American train? Say wa’?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know what you mean I do just really like the picture though. I’ll keep an eye out for this one.

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        1. With you on that too. Quiet Sun is one of my favourite covers.

          Designer Nigel Soper found the image in a book by French astronomer Flamarrion (what a great name!) at his local Hammersmith library. Soper hand coloured the black and while image.

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  5. I’ve never actually heard any of Manzanera’s stuff outside Roxy Music, but now I’m very much intrigued! That Diamond Head record sounds really pretty interesting and, to be quite honest, that cover makes me want to buy it. Like now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Something about boys and trains?
      J, your list must really be quite diverse and interesting. And long!

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      1. As Johnny Cash said: “I’ve got a thing about trains”. And yes – that list is fairly diverse. And growing by the day!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Seems like something I need to investigate further. I’m going to go knock on Rdio’s door this morning and see if they have any trains I can catch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good hunting, JH. From what I know of your tastes, I think both would have things to offer. Quiet Sun as a sonic connection with the so-called Canterbury scene (Soft Machine, Hatfield, Caravan etc) while Phil’s album sits nicely with early Eno.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now I really need to find these.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. […] Original Post: May 2015 […]

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  8. I read this awhile ago and then I found Diamond Head yesterday and I am really enjoying it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear that. Thanks for the follow up!

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  9. […] like Phil Manzanera a lot. He’s appeared at VC before, and just recently I enthusiastically purchased an upgrade copy of the excellent Primitive […]

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  10. CB followed Phil around on his various trips. I guess i never followed too good because I missed ‘Quiet Sun’ or ignored it. (And I wouldn’t have ignored it). A treasure for me to look forward to. Why I peek in on you Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s terrific, CB. Look forward to hearing your responses to Quiet Sun in the fulness of time…

      Liked by 1 person

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