Initially formed by members of two Welsh progressive, psychedelic, blues rock outfits, MAN and Sassafras, Son of MAN are now as much of a family as they are a band. With the group’s lead guitarist, George Jones, forming the group in commemoration of his father , Micky – lead guitarist and linchpin of MAN for much of their nearly five-decade-long existence – Son of MAN’s roots are undoubtedly ancestral, but seeing how well the five-piece communicated with each other on an artistic level during their raw, flashy jams at Cambridge Rock Festival alludes to a deep-rooted chemistry as musicians that nears an almost familial degree of artistic understanding and cohesion. From the glistening slide guitar and luscious hums of synth that support Richie Galloni’s triumphant, soaring vocals over the chorus of ‘The Circle’, to the squalid accents that give way to the gritty, blues-driven chug of ‘Guiding Hand’, to the off-beat bursts of grumbling guitar that bolster the ethereal keyboard chords of ‘Short Sharp Shock’, it would seem as if everyone in Son of MAN knows exactly how to play to the other members’ strengths. Even amidst the extended eruptions of proggy solos and improvisation, there is a palpable reverence for the raw emotiveness of blues and soul music, as anyone could tell you from the expression on Galloni’s face during ‘Otherside’, wherein the singer seemed to be having a religious experience during the impassioned apex of the chorus. With the hard rock trudge of ‘Soul to the Road’ brandishing a rumbling, phasing guitar tone that mimics the roaring of a car engine, it would seem as if the destination of the driver in the song’s lyrics is the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, given the rigid blues framework that ties together even the more prog-infused passages. As the band wrap things up with the beloved MAN classic ‘Spunk Box’, during which George Jones exhibits his most impressive fretboard gymnastics of the entire gig throughout the solo, we are reminded that, even if you strip back the bells and whistles of their indulgent jams and intricate musicianship, Son of MAN retain the fervent, uncompromising passion of the blues that provides a revitalised take on the Welsh rock and roll scene.
Following their set, I was fortunate enough to sit down with lead guitarist George Jones and drummer Bob Richards, both formerly of MAN, to discuss the recent happenings of Son of MAN and any future prospects for the group.
So, first things first, this is, what, your second or third time at Cambridge Rock Festival?
George Jones: Third.
Bob Richards: Yeah, our second was last year and our first was 10 years ago. I know it doesn’t make any difference to anybody, but I remember because I bought myself a Sparkle Premier drum kit on the 10th anniversary of our first performance here earlier this year. I’ve got too many kits, but there we are.
So, of course, since your performance last year, quite a lot has transpired for the band, both good and bad, so looking back on the past year since you were last at Cambridge Rock Festival, do you feel that the band is more learned or has a newfound purpose or sense of direction?
GJ: I just think we’ve become a lot closer as people. Since we did our last gig here, we did our album launch and we began playing the album in its entirety on tour. So that was the beginning of not necessarily pushing the MAN stuff away, but saying “hey, look, this is what we do, we write our own songs as well”. We were a bit worried, me and Bob, when we started writing for the band because we were thinking, “oh god, are people going to enjoy this?”, but it went down really well and people enjoyed it for what it was, in that it’s got the MAN sound, but it’s fresh and different, it’s more concise and punchy.
BR: Yeah, we’ve got loads of influences and we’ve all contributed to the writing and stuff, and we’re just really proud of how fantastic it sounds.
That’s interesting because that leads onto a question I wanted to ask, in that, of course, with Son of MAN being comprised of members both from several other bands and from multiple generations, do you find that there’s a certain level of compromise that has to be made, or do you meld together rather seamlessly?
BR: Well, George and myself were in MAN for a while, so we’ve got that shared heritage anyway and we’ve played these MAN songs many, many times. I mean, [George] was 19 when he joined MAN and he’s done several tours as well, even since he was a youngster, and it’s in his blood as well, so when we get together and play, the old members specifically moulded into our new form. For instance, we shortened some of the songs, as we thought some of the longer sections might lose some people, and made them more concise to help bring in a new, potentially younger audience. And that’s why, as George was saying, the songs from the new album are more concise and punchy.
Okay, so from what I can tell, the release of your first album has potentially given a second wind to your feelings on where the band’s going. So, in terms of the writing of future material, are you wanting to keep to your roots, push out into new territory, or strike some balance between the two?
BR: Well, when it comes to writing, we just write and if it’s good and we like it, then that’s it. I mean, ideally, if it’s got a great groove and a great hook and a great melody, then that’s all we want.
GJ: Yeah, for us, it’s just about writing a good song. The instrumentation and the solos and the rest of it, all this comes secondary to just writing a solid song. It’s all about the song for us.
BR: And we had a rehearsal the other night and we just started jamming something. Then, just from some eye contact and shouting out to one another stuff like, “keep that going”, “try this”, “change back”, something starts coming from it, so we recorded it all. So, just from a jam like that, there’s the seed of some new numbers there.
GJ: Yeah, that’s how some of the tracks on the last album were recorded. I would come in with something, we’d jam it and Richie would basically scat over it or come up with some lyrics on the spot. I remember then going on holiday and I was sat there by the pool, listening to his scat lyrics and thinking, “actually, that’s quite a good line that he sang there”, so I took that and made the rest of the song out of it. There was an idea there, there was a theme, and it was just about weeding that out.
BR: It’s an organic process. When we were in the studio, George said to me at one point, “I can’t come up with a line for this”, so he threw the pen and paper at me and said, “come up with a chorus for this”. Then Mark yelled out a line, then Richie would have a line and then I would have a line and we’d all have ideas for lines and a chorus would come out of playing off one another like that.
GJ: It makes publishing a nightmare, though.
Yeah, when you were on stage and you were introducing the songs by saying who wrote them, it wasn’t until then that I realised just how dispersed the songwriting is throughout the group, but I also didn’t realise that you play off one another quite so much.
BR: Absolutely. I mean, from a drummer’s point of view, these guys are fantastic because, if I come up with a song, a lick, a lyric, they say, “yeah, great, let’s have a crack at it”. Other bands might just think, “oh, well, he’s just the drummer”, but these guys are fantastic for giving me that space. Whether it’s a line, a riff or a complete song, they embrace it and it’s fantastic.
Yeah, I get that feeling because, although there are some elements from prog in your music, it still retains that raw, bluesy feeling.
GJ: Well, at the end of the day, that is the crux of everything. Black American music, that’s where it all comes from.
BR: Son of MAN really is a great band when it comes to our abilities as musicians because we all gel and that translates on stage, and we had a blinder tonight.