Some people do not consider Manfred Mannís Earth Band (MMEB) to be a progressive rock band. For those who doubt about that, I can advise you to listen to strong albums like The Good Earth, The Roaring Silence and Watch. From the latter the band released a DVD that they simply labeled Watch The DVD. They released it in 2008, exactly thirty years after MMEB made the album. The largest part of this DVD is a promotional film shot at the Workhouse, Old Kent Road, London in 1977, made to promote MMEBís Watch. Because of the upcoming punk movement, they must have thought the album needed some extra attention in the record stores. The Roaring Silence, made previous of Watch, contained the US number one hit Blinded By The Light written by Bruce Springsteen. Manfred Mann tried to maintain this success by making an album that people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean would love.
On the above-mentioned promotional film, we can enjoy the rather radio friendly songs. You watch the band play on a sort of live stage, but when you listen to the music, you will soon discover that it sounds exactly the way it was recorded on the original album. Playback, indeed! However, it is still great to see MMEB in action playing songs as Davyís On The Road Again and Mighty Quinn, while a fake audience is screaming. You can hear the screaming on the original recordings as well, because both tunes were recorded during live performances. Thank God, they didnít use the single version of Davy, but the long version with the outstanding MiniMoog solo. On the other hand is it strange to see the band play the short single version of Bob Dylanís Mighty Quinn. Bad luck, because now we cannot enjoy the fabulous synthesizer and guitar solos of this old sixties Manfred Mann-hit. The other tracks sound more commercial. We see and hear great guitar solos performed by Dave Flett. Those solos made Chicago Institute and California sound more interesting for prog heads.
When you watch old recordings, itís always amazing to see how people change. Nowadays, most musicians of MMEB are bald, but on this video drummer Chris Slade wears a Kung-Fu ribbon to keep his long hair together. That is also the case for Chris Thompson and Manfred Mann who now wear hats to cover up their baldness. It looks a bit funny actually to see them thirty years younger wearing old-fashioned clothes. However, they make incredible music and that is of course the quintessence of this DVD.
When you watch the entire show after witnessing the entire interview with Manfred Mann in 2008, you might get a strange feeling come over you. Mann speaks frankly about subjects probably no one ever heard before. He states that Chris Thompson once proposed to fire the entire band, so together they could make more money. He also mentions that Chris Thompson hated Chris Slade. That was probably the reason that an almost completely different line-up played for the Austrian TV in 1979 for the Ohne Maulkorb-special. This show contained an interview with Mann as well. Here he stated that a live show must differ from a studio recording. Indeed, the versions of Davyís On The Road Again, Spirits In The Night, Donít Kill It Carol, Marthaís Madmen and Mighty Quinn are incomparable to their original versions. During this performance, the guitar and vocal parts are most of the time done by the late Steve Waller and Chris Thompson and they just sound excellent. We can watch several animations made by Ian Emes. He made them for Marthaís Madmen and for On Dry Land/Fish Soup as well as we can see on the promotional Watch video tape. At the time, Manfred Mann found these animations very important. He spent a lot of money to create something special for the audience. The big hit Blinded By The Light is not featured on this Austrian TV special, but you can watch a playback version on the Watch tapes.
There is a smaller version of this fine document of the bands original Watch-tour program booklet. This booklet features pictures from those days, their entire back catalogue, bios of all members and some background information about the making of this DVD. MMEB released in the past several other fine DVDís with nostalgic material. I hope in the future, we can expect more of those releases, because they certainly add something to one of the finest progressive rock bands still around. Probably not in HD-quality or in 5.1 surround, but who cares?
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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