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|THE 'LISTEN NOW' PRESS
|In 1975 PHIL MANZANERA, until
then known to the rock audience chiefly as poll-winning guitarist with the
enormously successful ROXY MUSIC, emerged from a brief bout of frenetic
activity in the recording studio with two albums of disturbing originality -
"Diamond Head", a solo-venture of self-penned instrumentals and songs (the
latter in collaboration with such luminaries as Robert Wyatt and Eno), and
"Mainstream", a MELODY MAKER 'Album Of The Month' nomination, featuring Phil's
pre-Roxy unit QUIET SUN.
Such was the critical and commercial enthusiasm for both records that Phil was back in the studio before the end of the year, working on backing tracks for the follow-up to "Diamond Head". However, events were to conspire against a repeat of the rapidity with which that album and its companion-piece had been produced. Always ready to lend aid when asked - in 1974 alone he appeared either as guitarist, co-composer, or producer on Roxy's "Country Life", ENO's "Here Come The Warm Jets" and "Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)", BRYAN FERRY's "Another Time, Another Place", JOHN CALE's "Fear", and NICO's "The End" - he found himself constantly interrupted by invitations to play elsewhere.
First there was "Slow Dazzle", another album with Cale, then "Siren", Roxy's fifth album, and a huge quantity of touring with the band - eventually to result in the 'live' album "Viva!", for which Phil personally went through the tapes of every gig Roxy had recorded. Then there was producing SPLIT ENZ, a New Zealand band he'd caught during Roxy's 1974 tour of the Antipodes, followed by his part in the presentation at the Albert Hall of Stomu Yamashta's "Go" in partnership with STEVIE WINWOOD.
Despite the pace and fullness of his career, Phil had managed to put sufficient work in on his own album when yet another project intervened, cancelling the sessions set for final mixing. This was THE 801, an apparently random collection of "star" instrumentalists who - and this must surely be a 'first' in this field - belied all expectation by appearing at the 1976 Reading Festival as a genuine GROUP, not only avoiding all the usual pitfalls of competitive self-indulgence and token audience pleasing, but producing music with a coherence and scope of its own.
"The musical highpoint of the weekend", said JOHN PEEL. "The most interesting and adventurous music of the day", said New Musical Express. Later, when "801 Live" (a recording of the band's third and final gig at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall) was released, the superlatives flew thicker and RICHARD WILLIAMS devoted his M.M. column to a rave review of the band which he astutely praised for their controlled eclecticism, singling out in particular the visionary reinterpretation of The Beatles '66 classic "Tomorrow Never Knows".
But 801, at least in its initial guise, was regarded by the participants merely as a testing-ground and no attempt was made to hold the original line-up together. Slide-guitarist LLOYD WATSON returned to his semi-professional life in Peterborough, drummer SIMON PHILLIPS joined the Jack Bruce Band, keyboard-player FRANCIS MONKMAN went back to sessions and harpsichord recitals, and ENO headed for Berlin to join David Bowie. At this point BRYAN FERRY asked Phil to come with him on his world tour. He agreed - and the final sessions for the solo album were put back until July 1977, at which time "Listen Now" was at long last completed.
Released in September, it will be credited to Phil in collaboration with THE 801 and, for the occasion, a new line-up has been organised to handle 'live' performances. Of the originals only two remain - Phil and his long-time colleague from Quiet Sun BILL MACCORMICK (bass, vocals). Together, on and off, for ten years, they met at Dulwich College in South London, playing in several groups before leaving school to form QUIET SUN in 1970. Phil was from Colombia via Cuba where, as a child, he'd witnessed the entry into Havana of the triumphant freedom fighters of Fidel Castro. He was a thoughtful guitarist, onto the serpentine double-tracking of Randy California, a form-conscious player with a brand of mingled spontaneity and deliberation reminiscent of George Harrison.
The college equivalent of a university activist, Bill progressed from disaffection to vocals to drums to bass which he took up at the inauguration of Quiet Sun, once it was realized that nobody else could play the bass-lines he had written. Living close to the legendary Dalmore Road home of the Soft Machine, they played several dates with Robert Wyatt's SYMBIOSIS and, when 1972 saw the departure of Phil to Roxy Music and the big-time, Bill was Robert Wyatt's choice for a bass-player in his new band MATCHING MOLE. While Phil toured and recorded with Roxy and wrote "Amazona", Bill toured and recorded with Matching Mole and wrote "Gloria Gloom" with Robert.
Matching Mole folded, shortly after their second album ("Little Red Record") when Robert Wyatt suffered an incapacitating accident. Meanwhile, Roxy Music went from stride to stride. Bill played on Eno's "Here Come the Warm Jets" and got into local politics; Phil toured the world and co-wrote with Bryan "Out of the Blue" and "Prairie Rose". As soon as the original tension had relaxed and he had some time to himself, Phil invited Bill, along with Robert and Eno, to guest on his solo album "Diamond Head" and join in a specially reformed Quiet Sun to record the compositions that were to become known as "MAINSTREAM". The material - with the exception of "The Flex", "Big Day", "Miss Shapiro", and "Diamond Head" itself - was all derived from Quiet Sun, one song "Frontera" gaining a new Spanish lyric from Robert Wyatt.
Returning to the post-"Siren" Roxy, Phil recorded backing-tracks for "Listen Now" whenever he could. Bill did some studio work with Gary Windo, who he'd known since the days of Symbiosis and had worked with on Robert Wyatt's "Ruth is Stranger than Richard". While Phil awaited the expected break-up of Roxy Music, Bill went to America and interviewed Senator George McGovern for Streetlife, not knowing that the paper had already gone bankrupt.
Finally, THE 801 found Phil and Bill back in the same group. When it disbanded, it was only a matter of time before it would be reformed. This time Eno won't be there (once again he's collaborating with Bowie) and Simon Phillips too is absent (contracted to Jack Bruce). Replacing Francis Monkman on keyboards and singing will be DAVE SKINNER (ex-Uncle Dog, ex-Clancy), whilst another Dulwich rocker, SIMON AINLEY (lead vocals, guitar) was included in the 801 line-up. Finalising the line-up, on drums will be none other than The Great PAUL THOMPSON, powerhouse of Roxy Music.
"Listen Now" itself consists of nine tracks - all but three featuring vocals from Simon and Bill backed by a more or less fluid line-up of other musicians. "Initial Speed", "Island", and "Que?" are instrumentals during which the omnipresence of Phil Manzanera on composition, production, and guitar comes into its own. (NB at certain points, one can witness the first use outside 1OCC of Godley and Creme's synthetic secret, the fabled "Gizmo"). Of the remaining songs, three, "Postcard Love", "Law and Order" and "City of Light" were written by Manzanera and MacCormick and three "Flight 19", "That Falling Feeling", and "LISTEN NOW" itself by Phil with Bill's brother, Ian.
PHIL MANZANERA DISCOGRAPHY:
QUIET SUN - MAINSTREAM
LISTEN NOW - 23rd Sept. 1977
FLIGHT 19 - 9th Sept. Single
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