Obituary: Colin Manley

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The Independent Culture
"COLIN MANLEY was brilliant," Paul McCartney said during an interview on BBC Radio Merseyside in 1988. "He was the finest guitarist around Liverpool in the early 1960s and he could do all that Chet Atkins stuff with two fingers. A lot of the lads tried to play like that, but only Colin could do it really well."

McCartney knew Manley from their schooldays together at Liverpool Institute. While Paul and George Harrison became Beatles, Colin Manley and his schoolfriend, Don Andrew, formed the Remo Four. Manley later recalled: "Paul left school in 1959 and would not consider any other job but playing music. Don and I went after jobs right away and it was only after a couple of years that we decided to pack it in. Paul didn't think like that at all - he wanted to play and that was it."

With the vocalist and guitarist Keith Stokes and the drummer Harry Prytherch, the Remos played around dance-halls and clubs on Merseyside. They are particularly remembered for their instrumentals and their green suits with shocking pink linings. Many Cavedwellers recall the Remo Four outclassing the Shadows one night in 1961 at the Cavern. "I can't dispute that," says Hank Marvin, "we had a bad night. The Remo Four were excellent and a far better proposition than us."

Manley was always experimenting with his sound. In 1959 he ordered a Bigsby tremolo arm from America which he attached to his Hofner Committee guitar in order to emulate Duane Eddy's twangy guitar. A year later he was entranced by the wah-wah effects on Chet Atkins's "Boo Boo Stick Beat" and ordered a DeArmond foot-pedal. With these accoutrements he could emulate an orchestra playing "The James Bond Theme".

In 1962 the Remo Four went fully professional for a tour of US airbases in France. The line-up changed to Manley, Andrew, Phil Rogers and Roy Dyke with two vocalists, Johnny Sandon (who left the Searchers to join them) and Ellen Bee, who got engaged to six servicemen during the group's six months away.

By the time they returned to the UK, the Beatles were becoming known nationally and the Remo Four quickly secured a contract with Pye Records. Manley played his new Fender Jaguar on "Lies" (1963), which he also wrote. He used the wah-wah footpedal on the B-side, "On the Horizon" - the first British record with this effect; it was followed by the Beatles' "I Need You".

The Remo Four were signed to Brian Epstein's NEMS organisation, working as backing musicians for Cilla Black and others. With Tommy Quickly they made the Top Thirty with "The Wild Side of Life" in 1964. Manley said of this period,

We used to go on with Tommy for a short spot just before the Beatles. We couldn't hear the music we were playing because the fans were in such a frenzy. They made almost the same noise for Tommy as they did for the Beatles. I could have played in a different key to everybody else and nobody would have noticed. John Lennon let me use his 12-string

Rickenbacker for the introduction to "The Wild Side of Life". When we finished our spot, we'd come off and I'd give it back to him. I could tell by the look on his face that it was all too much for him. It was like being in the bird house of a zoo, greatly amplified.

Also in 1964, the Remo Four released a blistering version of "Peter Gunn". Duane Eddy commented, "It's absolutely wild and I loved it. It takes guts to play it without a sax!" Don Andrew left the Remo Four in 1965, and then the group were obliged to leave on tour. Manley recalled,

NEMS was well-organised by show-business standards. We had itineraries and wage packets and hotels were booked for us. After a couple of years, NEMS told us that we owed them some enormous sum of money - and we also owed back taxes. The only answer was to go to Germany to work it off.

Manley, Rogers and Dyke were joined by a keyboard player, Tony Ashton. They were very successful and experimented with extended jazz pieces at the Star-Club. Their jazz-rock album, Smile (1966), was ahead of its time and it was in Germany that Manley discovered what could be described as "rock 'n' dole": "The Arbeitsamt was a government service which would arrange gigs for us. There was no middleman and tax was deducted at source. It was terrific." They returned to the UK in 1967 and were produced by George Harrison for the soundtrack of the film Wonderwall (1969). In 1998 a fine, unreleased track from the sessions, "In the First Place", was found and issued.

The Remo Four broke up with the advent of a splinter group, Ashton, Gardner and Dyke, who had a Top Ten hit with "The Resurrection Shuffle" (1973). Manley found work as a Dakota for Billy J. Kramer and a Blue Flame for Georgie Fame and spent some years with Clodagh Rodgers and then Freddie Starr.

For the past 15 years, he was a member of another 1960s Liverpool band, the Swinging Blue Jeans, who showcased his guitar wizardry. In 1992, he played a sensational version of "Sleepwalk" at a Remo Four reunion in Liverpool. In recent years, he had made a supreme effort to shed weight. The Blue Jeans' lead singer, Ray Ennis, commented, "He's leaving us inch by inch." Although very ill from cancer, he was able to see his daughter, Julia, performing recently in the musical Smokey Joe's Cafe.

Colin William Manley, guitarist: born Liverpool 16 April 1942; married (one son, one daughter); died Liverpool 9 April 1999.