Now you really can tell Man from the boys

MAN AND JOHN CIPOLLINA: "Maximum Darkness" (United Artists)

When John Cipollina's visit to England was announced earlier this year I made a conscious effort not to check him out.

For a start he was gigging with Man, and I'd never quite got into their brand of Welsh rock 'n' roll.

More importantly though, I reckoned there was no way the geetar man's picking could be as good in 1975 as it was on those Quicksilver Messenger Service masterpieces, and I didn't want any of my fond illusions shattered.

The world is made up of fools and idiots... and I happen to be one of them.

"Maximum Darkness" is the live album that United Artists took from the Man/Cipollina tour. Their press hand-out calls it "the souvenir of their legendary Easter concerts at London's Roundhouse", which it certainly it is.

But unlike most souvenirs you don't have to have been there to catch the vibe.

In Man, Cipollina found a band that let him stretch out like he hasn't done since 1969, and in return Mickey Jones and his boys found the inspiration for some very fine music.

To put it simply, I think "Maximum Darkness" is one of the best albums from a British band in ages. If you dug "Happy Trails" you'll love this, and if you got into any of Man's eleven other records you'll probably wear out three copies of this one before Christmas.

The biggest surprise is not the quality of the music, but the way it is played.

Cipollina and Man sound like one single band. How much this may result from some very clever mixing I couldn't tell you, but the sets could so easily have ended up with the Main-man himself out front of an awe-struck rhythm machine.

It's a tribute to Man that things didn't work out that way, and it's an even greater tribute to Deke Leonard and Mickey Jones that at times it's impossible to say for certain which of the guitars swirling across the speakers belongs to which set of fingers.

Cipollina soars with those characteristic tremeloed chords and those angular, metallic runs that climb the stairway to heaven. But the two Welshmen are right there with him, and almost get their knock on the door first.

The material is drawn mostly from Man's normal live repertoire, with the addition of Buffy St. Marie's "Codine", which almost every Bay Area band has played at one time or another.

There must have been a lot of rehearsing going on because on the more complex numbers like Deke Leonard's "7171-551" and the highly imaginative and exciting "Many Are Called, But Few Get Up" all five musicians are playing together with the kind of respect and sympathy for each other's ideas that some bands never achieve after years out on the road.

Man's music is typically British rock. Heavy riffs and fast changes are pinned down by Martin Ace's bass playing which pounds out the patterns rather than feeling for the chordal runs.

The vocals too, on "Bananas" in particular, owe more to Jon Anderson than Elvis Presley.

But Man are in complete control not only of what they play but also the spirit in which they play it. Terry Williams' drumming is very tight indeed, and it is because they can rely on his imagination and power that Man are able to stay on the right side of the musical smugness that haunts so many English bands.

Mickey Jones' various Man line-ups have often been termed the nearest thing this side of the Atlantic to a front-rank American band.

With John Cipollina to add that American edge that they've never previously attained, Man can carry such a reputation with pride. Except that after cutting an album like "Maximum Darkness" they don't need to be known as an ersatz American band. They're Man, and that should be enough for anyone

Chas de Walley

New Musical Express September 27, 1975

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Last updated: 14-Oct-2005