King's Head, Pebmarsh
Like a lot of pubs, the Kings Head at Pebmarsh isn’t a natural music venue. The makeshift performing area is in one corner of the pub, which can be only partially seen from the bar area, thanks to a wall. However, the organizers Pete and Richard did a pretty good job of overcoming the schematics of an ancient building and by the end of the night the well-worn open stage format (men with guitars, one after another) had successfully created a spirit of togetherness and enjoyment in an isolated Essex pub.

The PA was quite loud but Pete and company were constantly adjusting the sound balance by way of a small mixer on a stool which then fed into the main amp. There was even a monitor speaker! Very rarely did anything cause sonic offence, at least to these ears, so when Pete, Richard and Andy (on djembe) kicked off with Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’ there may have been much volume but the players were listening to each other and a professional standard was achieved.

Kevin got up and did some nice picking. I did some of the quieter songs from my new CD, which went OK. Matt played and sang and was joined by Clive, who really belted out the vocals and then did some great songs of his own. Later Matt and Clive did Joe Jackson’s ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him?’, their enjoyment and commitment obvious. Pete asked me to do a song I composed in 1987. I obliged. Then Richard sang David Bowie’s ‘All the Young Dudes’ – he was a young dude himself when it was a hit – and nearly everybody joined in Christy Moore’s ‘Ride On’ at 5 to midnight. It was enough to bring a tear to your eye.

Man in 2008
The following evening, The Musician pub in Leicester was the venue for a one-off gig by the Welsh rock band Man. In existence since 1968 with a 7-year break from 1976-83, the ‘manband’, as they are affectionately known, have been through many transformations. The dual guitar roles, occupied for many years by Micky Jones and Deke Leonard, are now capably filled by Micky’s son George and Josh Ace, whose dad Martin is still the band’s bass player, having originally joined in 1970. Bob Richards has been Man’s drummer for little over a decade and Phil Ryan, who played a big part in some of the band’s classic 70s albums, is now back in the ranks on keyboards.

It was hard to hear the singing or the keyboards throughout the gig. Martin asked the crowd at one point “Can you hear the singing at all?”. The audience replied in the negative. so Martin asked the sound man “Got a broken mixer, have you?” “No”, the engineer replied, “it’s just that the guitars are drowning everything out”. “OK, we’ll try and play a bit quieter for you then”, said Mr Ace sardonically.

As is usually the case at a Man gig, the band’s instrumental playing, extended guitar/keyboard solos over repeated riffs, all underpinned by the peerless Ace/Richards rhythm section, whipped up a storm in a way that only this band can.

The band have been playing the songs ‘C’mon’ and ‘Bananas” for decades, but very rarely with the keyboard player who helped to create them, so the crowd was thrilled to hear Phil Ryan’s sublime organ and electric piano playing on these numbers. He even sang the dreamy ‘Something is Happening’, a lovely combination of hippy-ish lyrics and Welsh progressive rock from 1976.

It wasn’t the band’s fault that the guitars were too loud. On stage you have no idea what the sound is like out front. But it’s interesting to note that the age-old problem of instruments overpowering voices wasn’t solved by a professional sound man in a famous venue, yet a bunch of good old boys in East Anglia – at the Pebmarsh music night – had it licked.