Review – Man: Life On The Road – On Air 1972-1983 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Man are a band of who you have almost certainly heard, yet may be largely unaware of for various reasons. Their style and sound encompasses both progressive and psychedelic leanings along with a smattering of West Coast sounds. Think of a Welsh version of Grateful Dead and you won’t be a million miles from their influences and their missive.

I became aware of Man through their rather splendid 1975 album ‘Maximum Darkness’, a live set recorded at The Roundhouse in North London, a show which also featured John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service as a guest guitarist.. This one album was highly regarded, especially by my school friend Peter who had also influenced me with his bizarre yet enticing recommendations, ZZ Top’s ‘Fandango’ live album and Foghat’s ‘Energized’, among others. He was also a huge Uriah Heep fan but this was his favourite, becoming an admired piece of work, its classic cover and excellent grooves making for a rewarding listening experience.

This new boxset from Cherry Red captures much much more of that sound and era, the sets are spectacular, really capturing the essence of Man who were always a far better band live as that was where they excelled, truth be told. Some bands are far far better live than on record and that was definitely the case with Man. Live they were a force of nature, stretching songs to the max and turning in excellent performances which is why they released so much live material as they were at their best on stage.

This set has 4 CDs and 2 DVDs of live performances. Okay, there is a bit of overlap but that doesn’t really matter, especially if you are a fan like me. I never saw Man live so this is an opportunity to rectify, in part at least. The set is compiled from recordings made for the BBC and covers the period 1972 to 1983. This includes favourites like Spunk Rock, Romain, Life On The Road, C’mon and Bananas, the sound is good throughout and you can hear their influences clearly. I especially like the longer tracks where improvisation is given free rein. There is some very fine music on display here, great dual guitar lines, good slide guitar and a very solid rhythm section prowling things along.

Very noteworthy is the track God Gave Us Turtles that was unreleased at time of recording and later surfaced as the epic album track Scotch Corner on the ‘Rhinos Winos and Lunatics’ album, here it is in embryonic form. Also laudable is the live recording of Man’s 1983 Friday Night Rock Show coverage of their Reading Festival performance from August of that year, with great versions of Spunk Rock, C’mon and Bananas. There’s also a great set from The Rainbow on DVD and the long thought lost BBC Schools documentary from 1973. Man were more of an albums band, their music did not fit the mainstream well. It was too hippyish and drug fuelled to fit easily, although it was popular with students and hippies, their ever changing line-up didn’t help much either.

I also really enjoyed the last performance from The Rainbow in 1976 that later emerged on the album ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ in 1977, their last album before they reformed for The Marquee shows in 1983 and The Reading Festival show. It’s great to have a film of that performance where they are a bit looser and less restrained.

I have to say this set really grows on you as you familiarise yourself with it and it will appeal to fans of Man far more than the casual listener, although it does serve as a good way to get a taste for the band as most of their more accessible tracks feature here. For me though, I’d start with ‘Maximum Darkness’ and work forward from there as most of their albums are worth hearing.

With excellent music, a great booklet and two great DVDs of performances, what more could you ask for? I’d certainly recommend this to listeners as it is an excellent and comprehensive collection compiled with a lot of affection and attention to detail.

Released 7th October, 2022.

Order from Cherry Red here:

Man: Life On The Road – On Air 1972-1983, 6CD Box Set – Cherry Red Records