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Phil Manzanera

+ {801} + {The Explorers} + {Wetton/Manzanera} + {Manzanera & Mackay} + {Nowomowa} + {Quiet Sun}

Together with Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Andy Mackay and Paul Thompson, lead guitarist PHIL MANZANERA was a stalwart member of Britain’s best-loved glam-rock act ROXY MUSIC. From early in 1972 (when he replaced David O’List), these arty in-vogue fashionistas took the UK and later, the US market by storm with such classic-rock 45s `Virginia Plain’, `Street Life’ and `Love Is The Drug’. But during spells away from “the same old scene”, MANZANERA (born Philip Geoffrey Targett-Adams, 31st January 1951, London, England) took on the mantle of prolific project and solo star in his own right.
One can trace protégé Phil’s roots back to when he just six and learning Spanish guitar in Cuba, having been raised by in various parts of the Americas by his Colombian mother and his much-travelled English father. It was his time spent in Venezuela, aged only 8, that he experimented with the electric guitar and his exotic rhythmic surroundings. Attending public boarding school in Dulwich College, he formed various outfits towards the end of the 60s with playground buddies Bill MacCormick (later of MATCHING MOLE with ROBERT WYATT), Bill’s brother and lyricist Ian MacDonald and future THIS HEAT drummer Charles Hayward. Settling with name QUIET SUN and enlisting Dave Jarrett on keyboards, the jazz-infected prog-rock act went unrecorded during the brief tenure, although, when ROXY MUSIC took a hiatus in 1975, Phil would re-group his old chums to cut the NME “Album Of The Month”, MAINSTREAM {*6}; the fact that ENO was involved might’ve just swayed opinion. At least two tracks (MacCormick’s `Mummy Was An Asteroid…’ and Hayward’s `Rongwrong’) found their way on to subsequent releases by MANZANERA’s other project 801.
Delivered a matter of months earlier, Phil’s first proper post-Roxy set DIAMOND HEAD (1975) {*6} dented the UK Top 40. On board this express train of a record (as the LP cover shot depicts), the genius guitarist was joined by a stellar cast of musos, namely, all his ROXY MUSIC (including newbies Eddie Jobson and John Wetton), QUIET SUN (on the instrumental `East Of Echo’) and ROBERT WYATT. While the latter sung in Spanish on opener `Frontera’, Wetton (and Doreen Chanter) on `Same Time Next Week’, the ENO/MANZANERA combination produced two others songs `Big Day’ and `Miss Shapiro’.
Spurred on by a trio of top-notch concerts, culminating in an appearance at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on the 3rd September, duly recorded for an album, 801 were born. MANZANERA, ENO, bassist MacCormick, Francis Monkman (on keys), Simon Phillips (drums) and Lloyd Watson (slide-guitar) were all credited on the sextet’s accompanying record, 801 LIVE (1976) {*7}. Together with Phil’s aforementioned showpieces, the highlights for most pundits and punters were ENO threesome `Sombre Reptiles’, `Baby’s On Fire’ and `Third Uncle’, while there was two ENO-sung covers in The BEATLES’ `TNK (Tomorrow Never Knows)’ and The KINKS’ `You Really Got Me’.
PHIL MANZANERA and 801 – lead vocalist Simon Ainley and in part Ian MacCormick/McDonald preferred over Watson – sounded a tad subdued and slick by comparison when they returned on their first and only studio set, LISTEN NOW (1977) {*6}; ENO turned up as a guest alongside GODLEY & CRÈME, Tim Finn (of SPLIT ENZ). The dreamy `Island’ was set aside pop-rock pieces like `City Of Light’ and the single `Flight 19’, and for most part, although effective and creative, it glistened without any glam.
Noteworthy for the dual songwriting role of sidekick Bill once again and the inclusion of Tim Finn (and his brother Neil on backing), SPLIT ENZ cohort Eddie Rayner (keyboards), Wetton, Phillips and sax-player Mel Collins (of BRAND X), solo outing K-SCOPE (1978) {*7} addressed the problem of catching up with the day’s saturated new wave scene. From the cod-reggae of `Cuban Crisis’ to the punk-y `Remote Control’ and `Slow Motion TV’, the shift towards a cooler and solid sound was thankfully greeted with respect everywhere except in the sales department. The subsequent lure of reuniting with his old buddies in ROXY MUSIC was too much to turn down; their return to the limelight on massive hits such as `Angel Eyes’ and `Dance Away’ helped keep the bank manager at bay, at least until their final days in ’82/’83.
Stripped of all the session-player overheads and basically down to MANZANERA alone (bar Wetton on one track), PRIMITIVE GUITARS (1982) {*6} was an introspective ethnic-fusion set of groove-friendly songs taking in his time in South America (examples `Caracas’ and `Bogota’) and South London (`Europe 70-1’ and `Europe 80-1’).
Finding a suitable replacement for FERRY was going to be hard for ROXY MUSIC to achieve, and rising from the ashes, both Phil and Andy came up with a near clone in James Wraith, plus in turn, a new name for their joint album project, THE EXPLORERS (1985) {*3}. Sadly, apart from okay tracks like `Lorelei’ and `Venus De Milo’, their typically-predictable 80s art-rock set couldn’t find a friend and a subsequent second effort was shelved. MANZANERA & MACKAY (1990) {*4} continued to work on regardless (but without the moniker), lifting some past works from two of their most recent US-only albums, CRACK THE WHIP (1988) {*4} and UP IN SMOKE (1989) {*4}; one other collaboration was Phil’s combination with John Wetton in the Geffen-released WETTON/MANZANERA (1987) {*3}.
The guitarist found the 90s a little daunting at times, but solo albums such as SOUTHERN CROSS (1990) {*5} – featuring Tim Finn, again) and the low-key 1988-released soundtrack NOWOMOVA: THE WASTED LANDS (1999) {*5} re-issue, gave him some renewed interest. Of his several post-millennium sets, the star-studded 6pm (2004) {*6} and 50 MINUTES LATER (2005) {*6} – the latter with ENO and WYATT in tow – produced the best results.
Putting his exotica Latin American jazz-rock hat on for FIREBIRD V11 (2008) {*5} and CORRONCHO (2010) {*5}, MANZANERA fans were well aware his “rock” days might be stuff of legend. 2015’s THE SOUND OF BLUE {*6} was yet another exploration into sonic expressions, although with the killing voice of the RHIANNA-like Sonia Bernardo on both `1960 Caracas’ and `No Church In The Wild’ (the latter guitar piece once sampled by KANYE WEST & JAY-Z), Phil had found a talent he should nurture further. While the “treated” `In Conversation With Andy Mackay’ track had all the hallmarks of an ENO project, the “Shadow-y” production values on nocturnal opener `Magdalena’ and the title track go into the realms of overdrive and overkill.
Sandwiched either side of a sophomore CORRONCHO 2 (2017) {*6} set (showcasing, of course, the talent of Bernardo), workhorse MANZANERA dropped two concert sets alongside his Sound Of Blue Band: LIVE AT THE CURIOUS ARTS FESTIVAL (2016) {*6} and LIVE IN JAPAN (2017) {*6} – the latter performed at Billboard Live, Tokyo, 2 July 2017. There was, however, as one could imagine, an abundance of overlap tracks from his current combo beside several re-vamped opals from his ROXY MUSIC heyday; `More Than This’, `Love Is The Drug’ and `Take A Chance With Me’ among them.
© MC Strong 1997/GRD // rev-up MCS Apr2012-Jun2019

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