Man Life On The Road On Air 1972 to 1983 Box Set Review

MAN – Life On The Road: On Air 1972 – 1983 (4CD/2DVD box)
Cherry Red / Esoteric

Haven’t Cherry Red Records been doing a marvellous job with these clamshells of late? And this one is no exception.

We’re off to a good start before we’ve even started, as this set nicely combines three things that are to be loved. Firstly is the packaging, a clamshell with 6 card sleeves enclosed, 4CDs and 2 DVDs, and a nice booklet (well annotated). Second there’s Man, a Welsh progressive rock band who formed in the late 60s and produced some very fine (and often Jammed, certainly live) spaced and heavily West Coast influenced (thing Quicksilver Messenger Service) spaced prog / hard rock, and thirdly, live at the BBC sessions.

From the 60s, right up to the present day, the BBC has been very important in promoting new music in the live setting, whether on stage or live in the studio, Look at the Bob Harris and John Peel, and the Old Grey Whistle Test. During the 60s there were restrictions on needle time, rules negated by live performances, thus the BBC session was born. And as many a BBC session has proven, it can bring the best out of a band, in fact it could make and break a band, and some artists thrived on it.

Formed from the ashes of Welsh vocal harmony group The Bystanders, who themselves were veterans of the BBC live broadcast, Man made the most of the live setting and in true psychedelic West Coast fashion, the took prog rock in an explorative jam direction. I can’t be the only person to have wondered what they were smoking.

The first disc here kicks off with two tracks from the BBC Radio 1 In Concert session at the Paris Theatre, London, 1972. Featuring the classic line up of vocalists/guitarists Micky Jones and Deke Leonard, bassist Martin Ace and drummer Terry Williams, the set opens with the 19 minute Spunk Rock. When the band come together this a rocking and engrossing track, but at times it wonders, with the bass sounding disconnected, as in playing a different song. But when the 4 are mentally in tune, it’s jam rock at its best. Romain is a good track, and has a blues / boogie feel.

By 1973 (two Sounds Of The 70s tracks), Ace and Leonard were gone, in came Clive John and Will Youatt, along with pianist Phil Ryan. The Brazilian Cucumber is a bit more spaced out, and a nod to Pink Floyd’s Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast. Life On The Road a solid psyche rocker.

Disc 2 opens with a 1973 John Peel session (more line-up changes ahoy), and A Night In Dad’s Bag is a mix of prog, glam and uptempo nonsense. Completely bonkers but a very enjoyable listen. Let’s face it, you see a band live, you want entertaining. Job done. By the BBC Radio 1 In Concert performance a few days later Deke Leonard was back in the fold, and opening track Bananas (the band’s “Classic”) is introduced as the new Welsh national anthem. The studio version was edited for an EP release but this 13 minute live version is just perfect as is. The same line-up gave is a Bob Harris session early 1974 and another version of Romain. I’d forgotten how good this track is, and there’s no issue with more than one version.

Disc 3, and the first three tracks are from a 1974 Peel Session. Back as a four piece (keyboard players came and went), the 10 minute Many Are Called Few Get Up is more a solid hard rock number with a whimsical nod. Also on this disc is a six track BBC Radio 1 In Concert set from the Paris Theatre, London, January 1975. The set opens with the excellent 7171-551, different but just as good as the version that opens the Maximum Darkness live album originally released 8 months later, and an album popular amongst the Now Spinning fraternity. The band are tighter than on the first disc, and the audience more enthusiastic. The issue with some BBC shows is that the audience were clearly pulled in with little or no idea of who or what was going on. Not here though.

Disc 4 opens with two tracks from Loughborough University 1976 and a short version of Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, a number with country and Beatles undertones to the West Coast psychedelic prog. Then there’s 7 tracks from the BBC Radio 1 Friday Rock Show recording of the 1983 Reading Festival performance. Matin Ace back into the fold here, and the set tailored to the audience, with nothing running over 8 minutes. I’d have been worried that Man were the wrong band for Reading 1983 but going by the audience reaction, they fitted right in. Cracking version of Romain too.

On to the DVDs and disc 5 opens with the Old Grey Whistle Test performance of Ain’t Their Fight, November 1973. Then there’s Man’s First Seven Inch Record, a documentary recorded 1973 and broadcast 1974, a mix of live, studio and interview. Not just one for fans. It’s a good insight into rock life and recording back in the day.

The disc is completed by two tracks recorded for the Old Grey Whistle Test, January 1975.

Disc six, the second DVD, is a live show from the Roundhouse, 1976. A farewell show, the band (frequently) reformed, this is a great period piece. Man are a band of many live albums, but to get the full video too – bingo.

First and foremost his is essential for The Man Band and anyone with an interest in space/prog and/or West Coast rock.

But equally importantly, it’s visually, sonically and mechanically a great package, a sensible and well annotated booklet and each card sleeve details tracks, dates, location and line-up on the rear, and with the inclusion of the DVD / visual material, it is a lesson that SO many could learn from. Does what it says on the tin – properly. If you can’t match this, you’re only doing half a job.

Wonderful.

Joe Geesin | Now Spinning Magazine

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