Stuart Constable's blog

A few words slung together

Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics

If you were hoping for something about rhinos, or wine, then I’ve sold you short, I’m afraid. There is lunacy aplenty, however.

The heading is the name of an album by Man, one of my most favourite bands. Man are on my mind because I’m reading Deke Leonard’s books about them. And, while we were in Cambridge, I picked up the boxed set of the ‘Original Album Series’ in Fopp, featuring five classic Man live albums, including Live At The Padget Rooms, Penarth, and The Greasy Truckers Party, which was organised in part by my friend Matthew Trustman.

The thing about Man is that they straddle everything I love about rock’n’roll, except for heavy metal. When I say rock’n’roll, I mean all of rock music, which includes heavy metal, prog, actual rock’n’roll (now called rockabilly for some stupid reason), punk, disco, jazz fusion, pop – you name it, it’s rock’n’roll to those of us who’ve been in it a long time. Even those overblown, strutting public schoolboys Queen qualify, at the pop end.

Anyway Deke Leonard himself described Man as a rock’n’roll band, and if he says so, then that’s how it is.

The most important thing about Man is that they are Welsh. They play British-style proggy rock music, but they are massively influenced by the West Coast scene of the US – people like Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and the good ol’ Grateful Dead, who are THE band for me. Even more than Pink Floyd. Man, for me, have a bit of the very best of everything.

I was introduced to them by my old friend Debby Cooke (now Luxton) whose sister Janet was going out with a bloke called Dexter, who was into Man. Clear? Also, Ian Campbell, a near neighbour of ours who we used to give a lift to school – he was the same year as Steve – was a Man fan and, as I recall, saw them at Wycombe Town Hall.

Ian used to come and wait in our kitchen and I thought he was dead cool with his long hair and loon flares. Which made it all the worse when I came down for school in a lather of excitement about some new shoes I had to wear, which were possibly Wayfinders, with a compass in the heel. Anyway, I marched into the kitchen going, “new shoes, new shoes, new shoes” in a silly voice, only to find Ian standing there looking vaguely bemused. I never really recovered.

As usual it took me a long time finally to buy an album, and the one I bought is still a Desert Island Disc for me: Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day.

What a wonderful name for an album. It has a fabulous cover and only four long tracks: C’mon, Keep On Crinting, Bananas, and Life On The Road. Bananas and C’Mon are both classic Man tracks.

One of the reasons it stands out for me is the sound. Warm, slightly fuzzy, but comfortable and friendly. Terry Williams’ drums especially have a soft but no less insistent sound that kind of defines the whole album.

It was recorded at Rockfield Studios, where a lot of my favourite albums were made, including Hawkwind’s Hall Of The Mountain Grill, and Kingdom Come’s Journey, two other Desert Island albums.

I’ve encountered bits of Man as I’ve pottered through my little music career. Storm Warning played the club in Swansea set up by Terry Williams and Clive John, and Pete Brown, who accidentally hired me as part of the Krissy Matthews Band, usually worked with Phil Ryan on keyboards. That’s not to say I MET Phil Ryan, or even depped for him, but I was aware of his presence when working with Pete. Phil was the man who played the signature solos on Bananas and C’Mon.

Ken Whaley, who toured with Man, including an ill-fated American tour, worked with my brother as a journalist for a while, on the Islington Gazette. He signed my recording of Man’s BBC In Concert session, which included the best version of Deke Leonard’s signature 7171551 I’ve ever heard. But again, I never actually met him.

Most recently, I met Deke Leonard, guitarist, singer, songwriter and chronicler of Man. Derek White (Storm Warning bass) and I travelled to Cardiff together to see Son Of Man, the band set up by George Jones, son of Micky, the man who was Man more than any other man. Deke was guesting with them.

Well they played some of my favourite songs, including Bananas and 7171551, and Deke was in fine form, even though he was in long-term ill-health. Afterwards, he signed two books for me and chatted to me as like an old friend. A lovely feller. Not more than six months later, he was gone.

As he said that night (in a rich Llanelli accent that covers a multitude of oaths), “Why do the Gods always take the good ones? Why don’t they take Brian Ferry? Fuckin’ ‘ell…”

Funnily enough, Deke is not on Be Good To Yourself. It’s Micky Jones’ voice and guitar you hear soaring above things after Phil Ryan’s joyous solo on Bananas.

That was the thing about Man. People came and went, and went and came again and no one really cared. They just wanted to make music together. How lovely.

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