The Welsh band Man are the closest Britain has come to the free-wheeling spirit of the psychedelic groups that came out of San Francisco in the mid-1960s, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Formed in Swansea in 1968, Man have gone through a multitude of line-ups, with Micky Jones, guitarist and founder member, the only constant.
Described as "the greatest improvisational guitarist in the world" by his fellow band-member and guitarist Deke Leonard, with whom he forged a formidable partnership, Jones was an imaginative, intuitive player who helped turn Man from a struggling group more popular in continental Europe than Britain into Melody Maker cover stars and regulars on the university circuit.
The ultimate people's band, Man built a strong cult following and eventually made the UK charts with the double set Back Into The Future – their seventh album – in 1973, followed by the excellent Rhinos, Winos + Lunatics in 1974; Maximum Darkness – a live album featuring Quicksilver's guitar hero John Cipollina as special guest, in 1975; and Welsh Connection (1976), the last studio album they released before a seven-year hiatus. Jones was at the helm when they returned for a triumphant appearance at the Reading Festival in 1983. He was forced to retire through ill-health in 2005.
Born in Merthyr Tydfil in 1946, Micky Jones started as a drummer but switched to a Hofner Club 40 guitar when he was 13 after his father, who played lap steel guitar, showed him a few chords. He left school in the early 1960s and was apprenticed to a men's hairdresser, though that proved short-lived, as his constant gigging with The Rebels and then The Bystanders interfered with the day job.
A five-piece able to reproduce the harmonies of the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys thanks to Jones' falsetto, The Bystanders were hugely popular in South Wales and in 1965 issued a single, "That's The End", on Pylot, a small Welsh independent label, before signing to Pye, for whom they recorded half a dozen singles, though their opportunistic cover of "98.6", the dreamy single by the American singer Keith, lost out to the original and only spent a week in the Top 50 in February 1967. Their recording of "When Jesamine Goes", written by their manager Ronnie Scott (not to be confused with the jazz club owner) and Marty Wilde, was eclipsed by The Casuals' version the following year.
The Bystanders began to explore new horizons and ditched their repertoire of covers and their mohair suits. With the addition of Leonard they became Man, a psychedelic outfit with a short and simple, hippie-parlance name they surmised would look big on posters. The notoriously square management at Pye had no idea what to do with this group, whose 1969 conceptual debut album Revelation included the song "Erotica", on which the radio plugger Anya Wilson simulated an orgasm, thus earning the single a UK ban and a chart placing in France.
Following the release of 2 Ozs Of Plastic With A Hole In The Middle on Pye's progressive subsidiary Dawn, Man moved to the much more sympathetic and liberal regime at the UK office of United Artists run by Andrew Lauder, and hit their stride with the arrival in 1970 of drummer Terry Williams, later of Rockpile and Dire Straits. Their new manager Barrie Marshall also played an important part, even if his tactic of keeping the band on the road in Germany or the Benelux countries didn't stop them changing personnel on a regular basis.
Often tripping as much as their audience, Man took the listener on epic journeys with extended jams such as "Bananas" – built around a heady guitar riff and the lyric "I like bananas 'cause they've got no bones / I like marijuana 'cause it gets me stoned" – and "Spunk Rock" – which took up a whole side of Greasy Truckers Party, the double album recorded at a charity event at London's Roundhouse in 1972 which also featuring Man's label-mates Brinsley Schwarz and Hawkwind.
Admired by the US promoter Bill Graham and musicians of the calibre of Frank Zappa, and referred to as "the Welsh Allman Brothers" by eager promoters, Man were best experienced in concert, or on the Live At Padget Rooms, Penarth budget album (also 1972); Christmas At The Patti (1973), a double 10-inch album documenting a festive event, recorded with offshoots and associates Ducks Deluxe, Help Yourself and Dave Edmunds; or the live half of Back Into The Future. On that album's tour de force "C'mon", Jones showcased the perfect combination of feel and technique that was his hallmark, his guitar wailing and soaring over the Gwalia Male Voice Choir.
In 2002, Jones was diagnosed with a brain tumour and left Man. His son George replaced him and played alongside his father when he briefly returned in 2004. The current Man line-up remains a family affair, featuring Seventies mainstays Phil Ryan (keyboards) and Martin Ace (bass), his son Josh Ace (guitar), James Beck (guitar) and René Robrahn (drums), and is still gigging, justifying Jones' humble belief that "Man belongs to those who play in it."
Charles Michael Jones, guitarist, singer, songwriter: born Merthyr Tydfil 7 June 1946; married (one son); died Swansea 10 March 2010.
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