The Specials Page

Interview by Remco Schoenmakers with Guy Manning

Laura, John, Guy

It is a hard time for talented musicians to draw the attention of the progressive public. With so many releases coming out yearly, it is hard to separate the good from the bad. One of the surprises of the last two years is Guy Manning. Formerly involved in Parallel or 90 Degrees, Manning decided to go solo. However, he has not cut the ties with his former band members at all: Andy Tillison still appears on his first two solo albums and Guy may soon return the favour. His first solo album Tall Stories For Small Children was quite a revelation to me personally. The music has the intensity a lot of other prog music does not have. It was actually able to move me. The same holds true for the second album, The Cure, which is a bit heavier on the keyboard side. Recently he has released his third album Cascade, a more moody album with a central theme of spirituality, and his fourth album is already on its way. It seems like Guy has reached a creativity peak. Time for DPRP to ask Guy about his live, loves and struggles.


Guy Manning Remco: Guy, things are not always equally easy for musicians nowadays. Can you support yourself and your family (we know from Tall Stories... that you have at least two children) with music alone? If not, what is your profession.
Guy: Much as I would love to do this full time, I have a day job too. I work with Computers! I've been in IT since the 80's and now manage development and support teams I have 3 kids! (the "Tall Stories.." cover art has the picture of all 3 on it)
Remco: Oops, missed one, sorry! ;-). It must be quite a job to have a daytime job, create music, give gigs and have a family.... do you consider yourself a work-a-holic?
Guy: No, not really. But music is me..I have to do it and so for that reason, I can always find time! To 'run' a band (..administration) is a nightmare however!! Getting the right musicians together and dealing with their extra curriculum activities (other bands, sessions,work shift patterns etc) is awful. In the 'old' days, we'd just meet up and play (for fun as much as anything else) but as you get older, other commitments take priority. Rehearsal scheduling with a part-time band is not to be recommended!
Remco: You seem to be quite a multi-instrumentalist, playing guitar, keyboards and vocals all very well. What is your favourite "instrument" of the three and why?
Guy: I started playing the acoustic guitar first and so feel very at ease with it now, but have always loved the power and textures of keyboards. Andy TD (see later) always said that my keys work was better, but compared to him I still come "close but no cigar!" Vocals..umm..I love to sing..always have..and always liked big vocals/harmonies too. I try (again) to create texture with the voices and my vocal range has changed over the years (though I still have a very large range). So the answer (vague as it is ) is ALL THREE at differing times/parts of the creation process.
Remco: Your albums are quite complex on the narrative site, and the lyrics often are extremely personal. Doesn't it scare you to expose yourself like that in your tracks?
Guy: Interesting...The short answer is "No, it doesn't". I think the hardest thing, for any writer, is finding something to say (especially in this genre). I don't write the "..I met you last night and I love you..." type of lyric..unless it actually happened to me, and even then I might make it 3rd person or allegorical! I love story telling..and I perceive/hear music very visually. The personal songs (Castaways, The Candyman, Owning Up, Stronger etc.) are equally as important to me as the dramatic Epics. It is a chance of catharsis and a chance to express it all in a definitive statement and hopefully, strike a chord/share something with the listener. In a way, the narrative pieces are easier to construct being bound only by language and imagination. The lyrics are tremendously important to my songs and I have had quite a few discussions with people who say that they like the melody but haven't bothered to read/take in the words at all. "The CURE" was a different proposition, as I had to create a linear storyline (Concept) and keep to the narrative.. The storyline is quite complex and I hate making it too easy for the listener and so people are still writing to me asking what it is all about!
Remco: You have worked more with the guitar/vocal combination on Tall stories.. and more with keyboard tapestries on The Cure. This resulted in descriptions in various reviews for Tall Stories as more singer/songwriter oriented, whereas The Cure was considered to be more "progressive rock" (whatever the definition of that may be) this a conscious evolution you are taking with your music?
Guy: The songs are the songs really... and some like "The Last Psalm" from 'Tall Stories..' is not really Singer/Songwriter whereas "Falling" from 'The Cure' might be..I don't see them as different. I write music...sometimes from a guitar base other times from a keyboards base and they take on whatever flavour they need to be before they are through evolving, organically.'Cascade' is not a concept album and is similar to both its predecessors in places and radically different in others! These pieces of music are whatever the listener wants them to be (I'm not keen on labels..)



Remco: On Cascade, you do not use too many (electric) guitar, and it is much more quiet than the previous two. Was that a conscience choice?
Guy: Out of the eleven tracks, five are without electric guitar. The electric guitar is only featured where I believe it fitted in ( a number of the tracks are more acoustic orientated) I write pieces of music and create a mood, now either that is where an electric can work or not (Owning Up, Hushabye Mountain, Time of our Lives, Tears In The rain etc). The electric would not fit there at all. I expanded the repertoire of acoustic instruments (flute, recorders, mandolin, cello) this time, to express a direct contrast to the darker previous CD. It somehow better fitted the mood I wanted to attain and the atmosphere of quiet assurance (and less sound effects too).
Remco: You have always worked closely with Andy Tillison of Parallel Or 90 Degrees fame. However, on Cascade, Andy is not present. How come?
Guy: This is tricky to answer. There are absolutely no problems between Andy and I (and we chat nearly every day)..our histories (through Gold Frankincense & Disk-Drive, the "No More Travelling Chess" Project with Hugh Banton and into Parallel Or 90 Degrees Mark 1 etc.) have always tied us closely together. Now this can be good (as we support each others work vigorously and listen and comment on it during its creation etc.) but it also has a down side (e.g. I am constantly referred to as 'ex-Po90' or 'Po90 sidekick' etc. and the first CD (TALL STORIES FOR SMALL CHILDREN) was widely perceived as a SOLO album by a PO90 member! (...which obviously was not the case). I changed from Guy Manning to MANNING on the subsequent CDs, to stop the 'Singer/Songwriter' and Solo Artist tags. Andy is so good a musician and friend that working with him is always a pleasure and also very easy. He helped out a lot with "Tall Stories.." but contributed less to THE CURE (time factors and PO90 work)and I was playing most of the instruments anyway. I decided to do CASCADE without him ( he was busy anyway) and was very pleased with the end product, plus I now had a 'working band' of other musicians from the tour that I'd done, to help me out. As for the future..well..Andy has heard the demos for "The Ragged Curtain" (new 2002 CD) and wants in (as he really likes it)..and I will return the favour on his "Tangents" Solo CD
Remco: That's good to hear! Apart from Andy and Angela, are there any other guest musicians on the next album? And is there anyone in particular you would like to do some work with (i.e. who is your idol ;-).
Guy: The people I grew up listening to and admiring were The Beatles, Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra,Roy Harper,John Martyn,Gentle Giant (..and a cast of thousands more!!!)..So, of course if Ian Anderson or Peter Gabriel want to come down and jam anytime..that would be nice. Later, Andy T. got me into Van Der Graaf Generator and Peter Hammill and we both got a chance to work with Hugh Banton and discuss it with Peter H. on the "No More Travelling Chess" CD and gig. "The Ragged Curtain" will be based around the core members of the live band plus Angela..(..and Andy T perhaps) but who it grows and is recorded, other people may join in as required/available.

Prog Life and Live


Remco: You talked about how hard promotion is and how difficult it is to reach an audience. But that, of course, is true for every band. At DPRP for instance, we review a couple of hundred albums each year of bands that want to attract attention. Only a handful actually does catch my personal attention (you were one of them, hence this interview ;-), let alone the general (prog-)audience that doesn't want to spend money on 150 mediocre albums a year. Does it really surprise you that it is hard to become "known" ?
Guy: No!
1. Technology has moved at a pace since the 60's! Anyone with some money, an idea and ability can produce a great sounding album at home now and so there are many many albums out there that unfortunately no-one will ever hear as a result of the deluge
2. The way people listen/appreciate music has changed too (I feel). I used to go out and see bands that had practiced and rehearsed and played live in order to improve their skill/craft. The recordings that resulted, were polished and lean. But many folks today don't really go out to see original bands anymore, they might prefer Karaoke or Tribute acts. The attention span has been reduced and there is little time to actually sit and digest complicated music (unless one makes an effort to do just that). That is not to say that brilliant pieces of music can not be constructed purely in the studio, all I am saying is, that in earlier times, the limitations e.g. length of vinyl album side, lack of samplers and multi-timbral keyboards etc. meant that musical/vocal arrangements had to be really worked and polished to create a fabulous end product (..instead of just pressing a button to get an orchestra patch/drum sample)
3. Music is easily downloaded from the Net and some might say is therefore more transitory and less important (..because it is free??)
There are still people out there who want to hear new music and want to be engrossed, encapsulated and bewitched by it..and it is these people that we hope to reach.
The problem is this..if you have a reasonable album to do you do it without recourse to a lot of big money? You can play live (but it seems as though this is on the decline in the UK..see above). You can publish on the Net and hope that people will be caught up enough to buy the real thing Publish and be damned! I'm not sure what the answer is, especially if you have to pay the bills too! I go and see The Flower Kings and admire them greatly, but even so, they are still relatively 'small potatoes' and have to 'knock on doors' to sell (..even though they are brilliant..) so what hope for the rest of us?
Remco: You are finally able to play some gigs. How are they coming along? Do you enjoy them?
Guy: I love to play gigs! I just hate the arrangements, packing up,setting up, packing down etc. associated with a small band on the road. I wouldn't mind if I was the harmonica player..but taking two multi Keyboard setups, Electric and Acoustic Guitars & Backline plus PA system is tiring! We are in rehearsal now for the 2002 gigs (feb time) and they are sounding great. Gareth Harwood (who joined in time to do CASCADE) has made a huge difference to the sound. Previously I could only play half the guitar parts (and mainly the acoustic ones). Gareth (who actually is ex-Po9o!!!) is a very talented Electric Guitar player and has brought in more power and solidity to the overall sound. We are having to work hard this time, as we need to add CASCADE material into the set list and also rehearse up "Ragged Curtain " tracks because I want us to work these pieces and then record them together as an ensemble in the recording studio (whereas usually I have written everything and we then overdub the 'real parts' on and take out my guides)
Remco: We need to see you here in Holland as well! Any chance?
Guy: Andy keeps telling me what a great time he has had in Holland playing the festivals etc. We would dearly love to come across for a tour and this is being discussed as we speak. Andy & I are also talking about the possibility of a joint PO90/Manning set of dates next who knows!

The Future

Remco: You are already working on a fourth album. Are you getting into a kind of rhythm now of producing an album every year?
Guy: I suppose so. I am grateful that CYCLOPS feel able to release my CDs, but they do take a while to be written, arranged, recorded, produced, artwork created etc. (..which I have done alone really up to now). To get a release annually, you have to start early! With "The Ragged Curtain" pieces, they came together very quickly and I was on a roll (I think this one will be the best one yet..) The main centrepiece "Ragged Curtains" is almost 26 minutes long so far. but the other supporting pieces are equally complex. I am also limiting myself to writing for a set 'lineup' this time ( as I envisaged the touring band rehearsing these songs up) plus adding in some more challenging parts for Angela Goldthorpe from 'Mostly Autumn'. Angela played Flutes & Recorders on CASCADE and we had a great time. She has agreed to play on "The Ragged Curtain" as well and also to do a one-off gig with us (..hopefully...Mostly Autumn tours etc. permitting)
Remco: Where do you want to see yourself in five years time, what do you hope to have achieved?
Guy: I will still be writing and recording (and hopefully) still releasing CDs. I'd like to have some sort of following/fan base who enjoy my music and will keep me on my toes. I am proud of all my albums and the work I have contributed to Po90 etc. and want to continue. The chances of any of my CDs challenging Michael Jackson for a No.1 album slot are remote though as this genre has been somewhat forgotten by the majority and derided in the Press (..I mean even Spocks Beard and The Flower Kings..struggle..) I will continue to try and write honest, engaging music and hope that someone out there likes it!
Remco: I hope so too! Thank you for the interview.


Guy Manning
Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals

Rick Ashton
Bass Guitar

Gareth Harwood
Electric Guitar, Backing Vocals

John Hobson
drums & percussion

Laura Fowles
Sax, Keyboards, Backing Vocals & Percussion

Neil Harris
Keyboards, Backing Vocals


Tall Stories
"Tall Stories For Small Children "

"The Cure"


The Ragged Curtain
"The Ragged Curtain"



Manning's Record label

  Manning at DPRP:
CDelight "Tall Stories For Small Children" :
Review "Tall Stories For Small Children" :
Review "The Cure" :

December 2001 - Dutch Progressive Rock Page