Mighty Garvey, by Manfred Mann

 

Despite some enjoyable songs and fresh performances Manfred Mann’s 1968 album still frustratingly fails to satisfy.

Side One
1. Happy Families – 2:18 (d’Abo)
2. No Better, No Worse – 3:02 (d’Abo)
3. Every Day Another Hair Turns Grey – 2:54 (Hugg)
4. Country Dancing – 2:53 (d’Abo)
5. It’s So Easy Falling – 3:20 (Hugg)
6. Happy Families – 2:09 (d’Abo)
7. Mighty Quinn – 2:52 (Dylan)

Side Two
1. Big Betty – 3:06 (Ledbetter)
2. The Vicar’s Daughter – 2:18 (d’Abo)
3. Each and Every Day – 2:47 (Hugg)
4. Cubist Town – 3:21 (McGuinness)
5. Ha! Ha! Said the Clown – 2:27 (Hazzard)
6. Harry the One-Man Band – 3:11 (Hugg)
7. Happy Families – 2:16 (d’Abo)

All-mighty?

Mighty Garvey

Mighty Garvey feels as if the Manfreds aren’t sure how to fill two whole sides despite having produced the wonderful Up the Junction soundtrack the previous year.   So here we have an album containing two hit singles (one released over a year earlier), three pastiche variations of the same song (Happy Families – a joke which palls after first listen), an obligatory nod to their R&B years (Black Betty – admittedly a rousing Side 2 opener), the unnecessary Country Dancing and Harry the One Man Band which falls upon its own insubstantiality when the entire song collapses into schoolboy giggles.  Even Mighty Quinn – which probably had to be on the album – feels slightly gratuitous; by the end of Side 1 we’re left hungry for substantial new material but are being invited to dine-out on a monster hit.

Yet, across six tracks by d’Abo, Hugg and McGuiness, Mighty Garvey comes up with worthwhile goods even although some feel slightly under-developed.

Mike d’Abo’s No Better, No Worse has a kind of jazzy vibe and a carefree/careworn ’60s feel thanks to wispy harmonies, mellotron-accordion and a flute break which is over all too soon.  Mike d’Abo does endearing feyness very well and this song is a good example.  The drums sound particularly good here.  Only the vogueish sudden volume turn-up during the fade detracts but that’s easily overlooked.

Better still is the flute and harpsichord of Every Day Another Hair Turns Grey, Mike Hugg‘s take on one of those ’60s ‘lonely people’ portraits. Of course it doesn’t have the observational bite or the compassion of a Ray Davies composition but I always enjoy imagining Mike d’Abo dizzily over-acting the lyrics ‘Mighty Quinn’-style.

 

It’s So Easy Falling has a lightness of touch, deftness of melody and a characteristic wistfulness.  Again, good sounding drums.

Over on Side Two, at last we have three consecutive tracks which are strong contenders and it feels as if Mighty Garvey might just step up to the mark towards the finish line, each track inspiring just a little more confidence.

The Vicar’s Daughter

I know some find The Vicar’s Daughter arch and twee but for me it’s an altogether delightful little vignette, economically well crafted and ideally suited to Mike d’Abo’s oh-so-English, boyish voice.  Harpsichord, sometimes with light band backing, evokes a bygone innocence, wrapping up the whole in a storybook-perfect bitter-sweetness.  Best of all, it’s McCartneyesque without sounding like Paul McCartney.

Even within such a short song, there are some pleasing points of detail across instrumental, vocal and lyrical departments.  Note the sustained mellotron, foregrounded for a few moments just before the final verse to prepare us for the song’s denouement.   Then we have Mike d’Abo’s enjoyable vocal mannerisms like his coloratura fanning-out of the contrasting words ‘kiss’ (‘I chased her round the church to steal a kiss’) and ‘world’ (‘perhaps now she’s a woman of the world’) which link the two lines together across different verses and underline the song’s innocence/experience, childhood/adulthood, past/present themes.   The cheeky rhyming of ‘daughter’ and ‘oughta’ is not merely endearing but a skilful piece of sleight-of-hand character painting.  An especially nice touch, and a unifying one, is the singer ‘getting near to wedding plans’ – it is his standing on the verge of adult commitment which prompts a backward glance to the innocent freedoms of childhood.

There is a definite art to neatly telling a story in song and The Vicar’s Daughter does it so well.

Each and Every Day

 

I do like a song with an unusual solo instrument.  Each and Every Day boasts a parping trombone, an adventurous choice which works brilliantly.  Deploying an unromantic instrument emphasises that, what is ostensibly a love song of sorts, is seen entirely from the male perspective.  It’s as much about his pride, his pleasure when ‘walking down the street’ and his youthful ‘can’t-quite-believe-it’s true’ as it is about the girl.  The trombone seems to tell you this.

Simon Dupree and the Big Sound’s cover, (re-titled Daytime, Night Time) is perhaps more persuasive and driven but the enjoyable rhythmic inflections and irregularities of the Manfreds’ version are absent and hence so is much of the charm.  If the trombone is there it’s very much buried.  I’d definitely go for the Manfreds’ version of the two.  Each and Every Day, along with Mighty Quinn, is the most infectiously appealing song on Mighty Garvey and could surely have been a hit single.

Cubist Town 

Tom McGuinness’s sole contribution, Cubist Town is the first and only time I was impressed and intrigued enough to want to hear a Mighty Garvey track again straightaway after it has ended. What a great title for a song! 

Cubist Town drew me in from the first listen but it’s taken me years to deduce what it’s (maybe) all about because for all its apparent strangeness, I think ‘Cubist Town’ is about a very definite scenario:  a man, perhaps reluctantly, attends a summer village wedding where his childhood sweetheart is the bride.   The wedding is busy, uncomfortably so, and he feels like a stranger in its midst, longing to float free of all the bustle.  He wonders out amidst the post-nuptial festivities to contemplate life’s twists of fate, of what has been lost and perhaps gained.  The town at night-time becomes an object of contemplation.  He thinks back to his childhood and the ‘yellow house the colour of the corn’ where his love once lived (when I hear that line I can almost see the house rising from his imagination out of the blueness of the night).  He is visited by unidentified spectres and thoughts he can’t articulate.  He witnesses it all passing away despite himself so that the final chorus of ‘Good night, cubist town, goodnight!’ is almost triumphant.  ‘Cubist Town’ becomes the music which fills his mind and at last he can bid the place – and the past – farewell.  I don’t think the vocoder is just a fashionable accessory here.  It’s like an inner voice, a third vocal alternative to the untreated vocals and the full group choruses and adds to the song’s sense of displacement.

Given its past-into-present themes, Cubist Town seems like an unwitting companion piece to The Vicar’s Daughter.   With its painterly sensibility, outsider perspective and carefully chosen palette of glockenspiel, flute and organ I can’t understand why such an enjoyably original piece of top notch psychedelic pop is not more feted.

Another two or three songs of similar ambition would have made Mighty Garvey an altogether sturdier beast.  But unfortunately, having left Cubist Town behind, Mighty Garvey’s potential drifts somewhat via the last three tracks and the album is all over in under thirty eight minutes.

Quite nicely Mighty

At its best, Mighty Garvey shows how the band had absorbed the sounds, styles and adornments of 1967 and used these to promote their own take on ’60s post-Pepper pop Englishness – quite inventive, often charming, sometimes fey and almost always melodic.

It’s just not quite as mighty as it might have been.

 

Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James

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