Friday, July 31, 2020


O, shame the poor wag who suggested the name of the album was a suggestion to the band. Cripes, they aren't that ugly, are they? Hardly Slipknot territory, or the Straitjackets, both those bands clearly victims to the horror of looks only their mothers could love.

(OK, I accept the above may not even be the same line-up as for Masque, and who would? But it is an awkward cantilever to my introduction of an anecdote. Back when my brother was at Uni in the late 60s, and Manfred Mann, as in the then incarnation of his eponymous band, was always riding high in the charts, he too employed on of those natty beard without 'tache numbers. And specs. One day, at Glasgow's Central station, he was shouted at by two girls: "ooo, look it's Manfred." And then they ran off. That's it.)

Manfred Mann, the band, had a pretty damn fine career, littering the charts with singles and getting a rare accolade from Bob Dylan, who had suggested they did the best versions of his songs. (To be fair, have you heard the original of Mighty Quinn?) Having exhausted initial vocalist Paul Jones, who moved onto worlds bluer, and then Mike D'Abo to songs poppier, Mann ditched the band, bar drummer Mike Hutt, for the singularly unsuccessful Manfred Mann Chapter Three. The rest of the band had meanwhile largely found a home in the brief burst of joy of McGuinness Flint. You would think that would be that for the South African piano player.

However, against the odds, Mann bounced back. Always more a jazz noodler than teen delight, prog rock was just the vista his vision required, and the Earthband plunged, fully formed, into the charts with a cover, this time of a 'new' Dylan, one Bruce Springsteen. The song? Blinded by the Light, that perhaps the only part of the lyric discernible to young boys intent on singing along.

Masque was astonishingly their thirteenth (!!) album, and the last ahead of a temporary hiatus, between 1987 and 1996. Unsurprisingly, as is the way of all all warhorses, he pulls a version of the band around to this day. But Masque was the first to really catch my ear. Having been a huge fan of the Nice and ELP, where Keith Emerson would fuse classical pomp with rock, Mann too liked to weld these opposites, his ambition having always been to put out a rock version of Gustav Holst's The Planets Suite. Annoyingly the executors of Holst's estate continued to put a block on this, as they had when the idea was first aired to them years earlier. So only one track, the opener and single, Joybringer, gets the direct lift and a composing credit for Gustav, with other tracks merely alluding to occasional planets, and hints of their musical inspiration. (In fact, Jupiter/Joybringer had had a first lick of paint back in 1973, when Mann first came up with the idea, released as a non album single.) Planets Schmanets, on side two, probably sums up Mann's opinion of the executors. Confusingly, interspersed there are songs with credits to sources as disparate as Horace Silver, Paul Weller and Michael Murphey. It makes for quite a milky way of influences, all in all. If you can keep up the canter between styles, it is well worth the ride, perhaps also explaining the title, each "masque" being applied as the band skip from the classics to 1940s big band jazz to synth pop to singer-songwriter staples. Phew!

Here are the two versions of Joybringer, 1973, above, and 1985, below, for comparison.

So now you know who the Masqued Mann really was!

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