Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Tom McGuinness

In and out of the the years with


Tom McGuinness first came to the attention of the punters after joining Manfred Mann, in 1964. He later formed McGuinness Flint and went on to join Paul Jones in The Blues Band and The Manfreds. He is still very much in demand today and tours regularly.

One of the elements that undoubtedly contributed to unique sound of Manfred Mann was Tom's National Steel Guitar.

TMcG: I still love the National Steel. I stll have the same one hanging upstairs in my music room. Sadly enough I went to the funeral, just a month ago, of the man who sold me that. (Mack McGann) He was an art director in one of the big advertising agencies, but he was also a very talented guitarist. Funnily enough, he has another connection to the Manfreds - he introduced Klaus Voorman to us. Klaus had stopped being a part of Paddy, Klaus and Gibson, one of Brian Epstein's groups of  good looking young men in very tight trousers, and of course Klaus was a very gifted artist. He was doing some work for Mack's agency and Mack heard that Jack Bruce was leaving and suggested that Klaus came in.

But to go back to the National, Mack found it in a junk shop in Brighton and had it renovated by a fine guitar repairer called Johnny Joyce. And then Mack decided it wasn't for him. I bought it and used on various things like, If You've Gotta Go, Go Now, Pretty Flamingo, Just Like a Woman, and Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James, as a rythm instrument - very much a strummed sound.

It's a very unversatile guitar and a pig to play but it's great for bottleneck guitar, which I have used it for on other projects.

WW: Why a pig to play?

TMcG: It's very difficult to play anything above the open chord positions with any precision. It's just hard to press the notes down. You need to put heavy strings on it for a start to make it sound better but the heavier the strings are, the more difficult to get around the neck and be fluent on it. It's also limited in its sound - it is quite difficult to coax different sounds out of it. It's a one trick pony but it is very good at what it does. I lent it to the great blues man, Sun House when he toured Britain and he broke it! It's a great claim to fame.

We discussed politics at some length. Tom is and always has been politically conscious, but I guess we should save that part of our talk for another time. However, Tom recalled that Shel Talmy (producer on the early Fontana records) on Manfred Mann had this to say:
"It was really difficult. They were always stopping in the middle of a take to discuss the situation in Bolivia".

TMcG: I know what he meant. We used to have furious discussions about Cuba and about Vietnam.

Manfred Mann was musically diverse and also a band that did not tear itself apart with petty squabbles. There is a case to be put that although the band worked well on a personal level, creatively they were beginning to look in different directions. I suggested to Tom that Manfred Mann had made an appointment at the crossroads with the Devil, but could not agree on which route to take.

TMcG: It was a band of people who had different musical interests. We were a feuding coalition. Someone would be heavily into what the Beatles were doing, someone else would be into what the Beach Boys were doing and somebody would be into Dylan. We would all be writing and listening to things like avant garde jazz. It was impossible to reconcile the musical interests of Manfred Mann at any point in the Sixties but in a way, that was the strength of it. However, nothing was that serious. We were only making pop music. I think we missed a good opportunity, in the band, with Mike D'Abo. When the album was becoming king and the single was becoming less important, we could have moved into that area and we didn't.

WW: I thought Mighty Garvey demonstrated that you were on the cusp of going somewhere interesting.

TMcG: I don't know about that.. I have never listened to it since back then, not because of Mighty Garvey but because I never listen to any of it. But I do know that we were really quite envious of a band like Traffic who really cracked the live act/album thing open and had hit singles. We somehow just got stuck into a self-imposed rut of churning out hit singles.

WW: I know this is a silly question but with the band being called "Manfred Mann", was Manfred the de facto leader?

TMcG: No. Very much not so. The band was called Manfred Man because EMI insisted on that name. The band had been called The Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers and occasionally the Man-Hugg Blues Menn (sic).

WW: Mann Hugg perhaps has certain connotations today...

TMcG: (Laughs very loudly) We never thought of that at the time. EMI actually said, "The Blues Brothers" is a terrible name for a band.

Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg formed the band. EMI insisted on Manfred Mann or no record deal. The band were very reluctant, including Manfred. (I wasn't there at this point, I joined a few months afterwards). Was Manfred the leader? No. But Manfred had one very tenacious quality, he would re-open arguments the next day when you thought everything had been agreed at attempt to pursuade you, yet again, of his point of view and occasionally he wore us down by attrition. In the same way that people wanted to talk to Paul or Mike because they were the singers, they tended to want to talk to Manfred. But we all shared the money equally and we shared the power and the responsibility.

WW: Any regrets?

TMcG: No. Apart from one tiny regret; I played bass when I first joined the band and my guitar playing slipped back a bit, but that is tiny. I have had a nearly 50-year career on the back of it, which I never expected and never aimed to get. If I hadn't joined Manfred Mann (and I joined as a result of Paul) none of that would have happened. And it was such fun! Being young, travelling around the world, having young ladies throwing themselves at you, having money flowing into your bank account, staying in nice hotels, eating good food and receiving the adulation of the public. Having hits everywhere. What's not to enjoy?

It always amuses me to read of "the stress of stardom - I must rush to the Priory immediately"
One of the subjects I wanted to cover was "When I'm Dead and Gone". In those days I scraped together 6/8d and bought the single. I still play it today and it goes down as one of my all time favourites. It all started with a mandolin on Tom McGuinness' wall.

TMcG: McGuinness Flint were rehearsing round at my house in Blackheath. I cannot begin to think how thoughtless I was and how generous my neighbours were. It is not as if we were in a detached house. No one ever complained and we were up there in the attic with a five-piece band and a two piece horn section. We broke for lunch, and my then wife,  served up a very nice lunch, and we put on the first Robert Johnson album. And we were listening and talking about his life. This was just a very general discussion over lunch. And when we had finished rehearsing - I don't think Graham (Lyle) had even picked up the Mandolin at this point - he said "Do you mind if I borrow the mandolin?" And he and Bennie Gallagher returned the next morning with the song. It's not exactly about Robert Johnson but it is partly inspired by talking about his life. It was one of those rare occasions when I thought, "That's a hit."

It was all there. We didn't need to arrange anything, we just joined in playing with them. We were also lucky to have Glyn Johns as a producer because he is great at getting a performance out of you and getting a good sound quickly.

WW: I listen to it, at a conservative estimate, about once every three months.

TMcG: It's not Sunset Boulevard at my house. I do not listen to my old records.

WW: "Ready for your close-up Mr McGuinness?"

TMcG: (laughing loudly) Exactly! I rarely listen to the old records unless there is a practical reason like we want to learn something and we haven't played it for a while. When I hear it, if I am out somewhere and it turns up on the radio, it knocks me out, as do some of the Manfred Mann hits. It is such a tremendous feeling to think of the pleasure that you have given other people. And made a few bob! When we do the hits show, and I get to do "When I'm Dead and Gone", the place usually erupts. People also come up to me and ask for it to be played at my funeral. (Laughing, again!)



1 comment:

Jim Baxter said...

I used to go to all the Gallagher and Lyle concerts at the Usher Hall in the early 70s. Even got meself a bass harmonica just coz BG played one.