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+ {The Bystanders}

If one counts their primary years as The Bystanders, Welsh prog-sters MAN have just cracked the half-century mark, an achievement probably only bettered by The ROLLING STONES. Okay, there have been a lot of extra personnel streaming through their ranks than the lippy Jagger & Richards squad, and hands up from the Valleys who hasn’t joined MAN, but in the words of one of their best tracks: “Many Are Called… But Few Get Up”, no stone has been unturned by original singer Deke Leonard, remaining alumnus Martin Ace and anyone who performed with the band.
Formed in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales in 1962 as close-harmony beat group The BYSTANDERS, whose earliest line-up consisted of Micky Jones (guitar), Clive John (organ), Ray “Taff” Williams (bass), Jeffrey Jones (drums) and lead singer Lynn Mittell (aka Gerry Braden); one solitary 45, `That’s The End’ was delivered by Pylot Records in February ‘65. Duly based in nearby Swansea, Mittell preferred the life of a comic to that of a singer (he’s since become Owen Money, and has an MBE to his name), his berth taken by Vic Oakley when they signed to Pye subsidiary imprint, Piccadilly. Produced by John Schroeder, the mohair-suited covers combo, The BYSTANDERS, never really achieved much in their half-decade together, but for a minor hit, `98.6’, which rival Keith (aka James Keefer) took further into the charts. A similar pattern went the same way in 1968 when `When Jezamine Goes’ (penned by MARTY WILDE and Ronnie Scott) flopped for the quintet but strode up to No.2 when issued (as “Jesamine”) by The Casuals. Yes, it was time for a change in direction – and the birth of MAN was upon us.
Amalgamating with another Welsh group, The Dream (although not in one fell swoop), singer/guitarist Roger “Deke” Leonard superseded Oakley. Subsequently moving upstairs to Pye Records, MAN released their debut album, REVELATION (1969) {*7}, a conceptual affair dealing with, er… man’s evolution that contained the European hit, `Erotica’, a groaner banned in Britain for its simulated orgasmic sounds – think “Je T’Aime” backed by BRAINTICKET.
MAN’s sophomore effort (for Pye’s Dawn splinter), 2 OZS OF PLASTIC WITH A HOLE IN THE MIDDLE (1969) {*7}, was another to embrace the West Coast psychedelic sound of bands like QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE. Ambitious, bluesy and fitting into the harder-edged progressive space-rock scene, the two-chord axe assault of `It Is As It Must Be’ predated BLACK SABBATH by a matter of months, while the hopefully, Aussie-inflected, follow-on track, `Spunk Box’, was jam-packed; `Prelude’ – `The Storm’ (medley) was another beautiful creation.
Early in 1970, former Dream merchants Martin Ace and Terry Williams were respectively drafted in to replace Ray and Jeff. This fresh line-up featured on their eponymous third, rather self-indulgent set, MAN (1971) {*7}. Through manager Barrie Marshall, Liberty Records/United Artists had stepped in at short notice, and the pick of the bunch were surely `Romain’, `Daughter Of The Fireplace’, and extended pieces `Would The Christians Wait Five Minutes? The Lions Are Having A Draw’ and the 20-minute curtain-call, `Alchemist’; the other track involved, `Country Girl’, was of The NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND mode.
Already established as a consummate live act, MAN delivered their fourth album, DO YOU LIKE IT HERE NOW, ARE YOU SETTLING IN? (1971) {*6}, which contained the acid-tinged classic, `Many Are Called, But Few Get Up’ and other lengthy treasures, `Love Your Life’ and `We’re Only Children’.
As a quartet, when Clive joined Iorwith Pritchard & The Neutrons, a live show was issued to limited patrons; AT THE PADGET ROOMS, PENARTH (1972) {*6}. Around the same period, MAN also recorded live Various Artists album, “Greasy Truckers Party, Volume One”.
The handful of LPs that followed were minus Martin Ace and solo-bound DEKE LEONARD, although Clive was reinstated, alongside newbies Phil Ryan (keyboards; ex-EYES OF BLUE, ex-PIBLOKTO) and Michael “Will” Youatt (bass/vocals; ex-Quicksand). Almost rush-released as not to lose momentum from the flurry of personnel re-shuffles, BE GOOD TO YOURSELF AT LEAST ONCE A DAY (1972) {*7}, boasted yet another lengthy jewel, the funky, toke-friendly `Bananas’, plus three other groove-busting dirges in `C’Mon’, `Keep On Crinting’ and `Life On The Road’.
MAN finally reached the Top 30 in 1973 with BACK INTO THE FUTURE {*8}, a double album that saw guitarist Alan “Tweke” Lewis take the place of Clive John, but only on the jam-extended live-at-the-Roundhouse second disc. While grandiose self-indulgence graced marathon run-throughs of `C’Mon’ (segued on the back of Welsh choir trad piece `Sospan Fach’) and `Jam Up Jelly Tight – Oh No Not Again (Spunk Rock ’73)’, the studio half was a little more adventurous. The flighty title track probably affixed an idea in Steven Spielberg’s noggin, and with the driving `Ain’t Their Fight’ and `Never Say Nups To Nepalese’, MAN could well’ve been mistaken for a “Krautrock” combo.
Long-serving fans had become accustomed to the comings and goings of MAN members, and 1974’s RHINOS, WINOS + LUNATICS {*8} was no exception. Probably curious to find out how Deke was re-fitting inside the quintet, a quintet that comprised Micky Jones, Terry Williams, plus seasoned ex-HELP YOURSELF newcomers Malcolm Morley (guitar/keyboards/vocals) and Ken Whaley (bass), the set also cracked the Top 30. Opener, `Taking The Easy Way Out Again’, was lifted for a single, but it was in the band’s creative psych/prog detours such as `Kerosene’ and `Scotch Corner’, that produced the goods for the fans.
Without short-stopper Morley on board, the prolific MAN just kept on rolling. However, when SLOW MOTION (also 1974) {*6} stalled outside the Top 50, the nomadic navigators of the Valleys were right to sense there was a change on the horizon. As with American country-psych devotees WISHBONE ASH, MAN were slightly diluting their own rock franchise for that of West Coast acts; tracks such as `Rainbow Eyes’, `Day And Night’ and `Rock And Roll You Out’, arguably the exceptions to the rule.
The most astonishing of MAN’s persistent personnel upheavals came with the addition of QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE figurehead/hero, John Cipollina. The guest guitarist stayed for only one album, the Top 30 live set, MAXIMUM DARKNESS (1975) {*8}, while Ryan was posted missing having been again superseded by Martin Ace. Showcasing only five exhaustive pieces, including the definitive climactic versions of `Many Are Called…’ (Terry Williams, we salute you!) and `Bananas’, alongside Deke’s contribution `7171-551’, BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE’s `Codine’ and an old QMS nugget, `Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ (made famous by ‘Zeppelin), the Cipollina experiment worked for the majority of fans.
Once again though, line-up re-shuffles again dogged MAN. Ace had moved on to The MOTORS, his berth filled by Phil Ryan (keyboards) and John McKenzie (bass; of Global Village Trucking Co.) for the truly disappointing Top 40 swansong, THE WELSH CONNECTION (1976) {*4}. Splitting shortly after farewell gigs that December at The Roundhouse (recorded as ALL’S WELL THAT END’S WELL (1977) {*5}), DEKE LEONARD continued to surge on in a solo career (with MAN members) until he, Micky Jones, Martin Ace and drummer John Weathers crawled out of the wreckage for a live-at-the-Marquee LP, FRIDAY 13TH {*5}, released in January 1984.
For the proceeding decade, the same MAN line-up was still going strong, as studio albums THE TWANG DYNASTY (1992) {*4} and CALL DOWN THE MOON (1995) {*6} were worthy of inspection and testament to their longevity. Always a band for sniggering titles, and adding drummer Bob Richards to the fold, the not-so-cryptic ENDANGERED SPECIES (2000) {*4} and UNDRUGGED (2002) {*4} kept the band alive; the latter was MAN’s take on the “unplugged” generation with an acoustic revision of past classics and a few covers, among them a middling rendition of The BEACH BOYS’ `Sail On Sailor’ and an unnecessary run-through Hoagy Carmichael’s `Georgia On My Mind’.
Without the enigmatic Leonard, Martin Ace now seemed to have full control, while a line-up that included his son, Josh Ace (guitar/vocals), Gareth Llewellyn Thorrington (keyboards/vocals) and Richards, took MAN beyond its usual climes on umpteenth set, DIAMONDS AND COAL (2006) {*4}. If fans were up in arms with this new evolutionary MAN, then there was another just around the corner in the shape of pub-blues set, KINGDOM OF NOISE (2009) {*6}. In its wake, when bad news comes in threes, past members Micky Jones, Clive John and Ken Whaley, all died of cancer-related illnesses in March 2010, August 2011 and May 2013 respectively.
Sticking with the same line-up that heralded their previous set (Martin Ace, Josh Ace, vocalist/keyboardist Phil Ryan, vocalist/guitarist James Beck and drummer Rene Robrahn), MAN released their first album in nearly six years, REANIMATED MEMORIES (2015) {*6}. Flitting between country-rock (on `The Ballad Of Billy Lee’, `We Know’ and `One More Ride On The Waltzers’ – all featuring the steely B.J. Cole) and soft-prog-rock (on Ryan’s 10-minute `In Time’), all five members create their own backward travelogue while looking out to a hazy horizon.
Undoubtedly the one-time driving force of the band, DEKE LEONARD died on 31 January 2017.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD / rev-up MCS Jul2013-Feb2017

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