Phil Manzanera’s Sound of Blue
There’s a story behind the version of “No Church in the Wild” that appears on Phil Manzanera’s new album, and the guitarist tells it to here, in an interview with the Independent. In brief, Jay-Z and Kanye West sampled a guitar riff Manzanera had invented for the title track of his album K-Scope in 1978, and turned it into a track on their mega-hit album Watch the Throne. The result: Phil’s biggest payday in some time, although when they asked his permission, he’d just about forgotten the track existed.
He repaid the compliment by recording his version of their version, and including it on The Sound of Blue, which is out this week. He and his band premiered some of the tracks from the album last night at what he described as a friends-and-family gig in the basement of the Gibson guitars showroom in Eastcastle Street, near Piccadilly Circus. The set opened with some pleasant instrumentals, including one multi-sectioned piece featuring his old Roxy Music team-mate Andy Mackay on alto saxophone, appropriately titled “A Conversation with Andy Mackay”. But it really took off when Manzanera introduced a young London-based singer named Sonia Bernardo for two songs, the second of which was “No Church in the Wild”.
The first, “1960 Caracas”, referred to a scene from Manzanera’s peripatetic boyhood, which was spent in various parts of South America and the Caribbean. A dark, low-riding rhythm supported the title phrase, chanted by most of the band along with Bernardo as she tossed her long black hair and hoiked up her skirts in a manner that had the audience, men and women alike, reaching for their camera-phones. You could say she’d already made an impression.
But it was with “No Church in the Wild” that she really came into focus. Against that now fiendishly memorable guitar riff, supported by the bass guitar of the redoubtable Yaron Stavi, the drums of Javier Weyler and howlingly soulful Hammond effects from Paddy Milner’s synthesiser, she crooned and ululated with strength, control, conviction and a really enormous amount of presence. I love the track on the album (here is a Vimeo clip), but in person it revealed itself in three dimensions and full colour. When it was over, you just wanted them to play it again.
In an enjoyable show, those two songs made an impact out of all proportion to their brief duration. Sonia Bernardo is 24 years old and she comes from Portugal. It’s hard to imagine how she can be stopped.
* The Sound of Blue is released on Manzanera’s own label, Expression Records.