Tag Archives: Manticore

September 6th 1973

“Bort Photos of Ghosts – Premiata Forneria Marconi – SMART, spesh Celebration”

Two reasons why I was attracted to this album by relative unknowns Premiata Forneria Marconi … or to give them their easier name, PFM.

1• This Italian group were ‘discovered’ by Emerson, Lake & Palmer and signed to the trio’s own Manticore Records.

2• One Sunday afternoon whilst listening to DJ Kenny Everett’s irreverent radio show on BBC Radio 1 he played the track “Celebration” a half-dozen times over and over.

The mix of ELP-ish keyboard stylings with flutes and strong drum work (plus vague yodels) reminiscent of Focus sucked me in straight away. In my humble opinion, “Celebration” was – and still is – a GREAT prog-rock pop song, worthy of classic status.

The album itself is actually a set of (“English”) reworkings of the band’s second studio album “Per Un Amico”, with new lyrics courtesy of Pete Sinfield from King Crimson. I hasten to add that these were NOT translations of the original Italian lyrics, but brand new words.

Opener, “River of Life” kicks off proceedings gently with lute and flute to the fore, eventually accompanied by a harpsichord. At around the 1:30 mark the gentleness briefly gives way to heavy prog-rock drums and then reverts to lightweight meanderings, with guitar work VERY reminiscent of Focus’ Jan Akkerman.

Celebration” is next. And it IS!

The title track, “Photos of Ghosts, follows. Like “River of Life” it swaps light and dark all the way through, its dominant piano/violin theme almost mesmerising. Sinfield’s lyrics leave a little to be desired though…

Black roses laced with silver by a broken moon.
Ten million stars and the whispered harmonies of leaves.
We were these.
Beside a dried up fountain lie five dusty tomes
with faded pasted pictures of love’s reverie.
Across each cover is written,”Herein are Photos of Ghosts”
of ghosts, of ghosts,
of the days we ran and the days we sang.

It’s twaddle really, isn’t it?

To make up for it, “Old Rain” is a beautiful, lilting instrumental.

Il Banchetto” is the only track on the album performed by the band in their native Italian. I know not why. Maybe Pete Sinfield had lost his Encyclopedia of ProgRock lyrical clichés that day?

Mr 9 ’till 5” is my second favourite cut on the album after “Celebration”. Predates Dolly Parton and/or Sheena Easton by years. The wild drums and violin perfectly compliment one another, whilst vocalist Flavio Primoli displays a certain charm in trying to pronounce words entirely foreign to him.

The album’s closer “Promenade the Puzzle” is very, let’s say, Jethro Tull-esque, both in its composition and lyrical content.

I know that when I got this album, I pretty much played nothing else for a while. As a result, it’s one of the handful of albums that I know extremely intimately, each nuance, instrument and note are always anticipated and expected.

Perhaps weirdly, I have never, EVER got into any of PFM’s many other albums. “Chocolate Kings”, “Cook” and more have been sampled occasionally but rarely enjoyed.


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June 7th 1973

“Bog broke at school. Melody Maker news – ELP split from Island, now on Manticore/WEA. Magninimous amount of revision achieved”

Who broke the bog?  Did I break the bog? Did the school only have one bog? All these questions and more are answered in the special blu-ray “director’s cut” of this blog, available from Amazon and other stylish retailers.

Even if I had spelled magnanimous correctly, does the word properly sum up the revision levels? I think not. Good job I wasn’t up for my English O-Level!

As far as I can remember, the ELP news was far from a huge secret at the time, the band eager own their own label… which is what Manticore Records was.

According to greek myth a manticore is a legendary creature similar to the Egyptian sphinx. It has the body of a red lion, a human head with three rows of sharp teeth (like a shark), and a trumpet-like voice.

Did Greg Lake think he had a trumpet-like voice? I’m sure there are those who agree with that. I suspect that the closest Keith Emerson had to the “body of a red lion” was after he’d spent a few hours down his local boozer. Carl Palmer’s dentist must hate him.

The manticore creature had already been seen on the inner sleeve of their “Tarkus” album, facing up the mighty armadillo tank on the cover. As in all Manticore vs Armadillo Tank confrontations, the tank prevailed.

If you want a giggle, here’s a piece of Manticore Records trivia, sure to win you several hundred pounds/dollars should it ever turn up in a pub quiz… in 1975, Manticore Records (home, amongst others, to ELP & Italian prog-rockers P.F.M.) was distributed in the USA by….. Motown! I kid you not. That must’ve made for some interesting management meetings?

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January 16th 1973

“2nd Maths Mock o’level – BLOODY hard” / “After two weeks of solid revision, had to do piles of copying up” / “Got Quid for Focus ticket” / “Got Tarkus tape back from Precision”

A diary entry that has made me both remember AND forget things in equal quantities.

Firstly, conveniently forgetting that my Maths mock was BLOODY hard (please note swearing, spelled correctly, for absolute emphasis), my brain is somehow farting over the phrase “copying up”

Don’t get me wrong, I recognise the phrase “copying up” from the days at school, I just cannot – for the life of me – remember what it relates to exactly. As several of my old schoolchums might be reading this… maybe they can shed a little light on it?

The thing I CAN remember – perhaps surprisingly – is with regards to that comment about getting ELP’s Tarkus tape back from Precision. (I must have had a faulty one or something?)

The compact cassette began life in the mid-60’s, designed by Philips, primarily/initially for dictation and personal recording use. It was introduced to replace the unwieldy, huge and non-portable reel-to-reel tape recorders which had been popular for some time. The cassette was therefore an early example of product miniaturisation as a result of consumer demand, something which still exists to this day. People only have to notice how small their mobile/cell phones have become in the the past 5 or 6 years.

In 1971 three things happened almost simultaneously that propelled the cassette into the forefront of commercial recordings and allow it to take on the LP’s dominance.

The first was that the 3M company rejigged the transport mechanism inside the tape shells, making the tape run cleaner and with less flutter.

The second thing was the introduction of chromium dioxide (Cr02)tapes, giving much improved and longer-lasting quality.

The third, however, was the most revolutionary.

Tapes invariably gave off a hissing sound when played back, the result of the tape moving across the machine’s heads. In 1966 an American scientist named Ray Dolby invented a professional noise reduction system for recording studios that all but eliminated that tape hiss. That system was known as “Dolby A”. Several years later he perfected a second version – Dolby B – that made high fidelity (hi-fi) a reality on home tape machines and cassettes.

The combination of all these factors – together with the sheer portability of the format – made the cassette market take off like a proverbial rocket. (However, it would be 1979, and the advent of the Sony Walkman that would take the format all the way to the moon)

I am digressing to tell the story of the cassette, but here’s the thing I CAN remember from this period in the seventies.

Lord, then Sir, Lew Grade

Record labels did NOT release their own tapes in th UK. Instead of manufacturing the cassette versions of their best selling albums, many licensed them out to Precision Tapes, a subsidiary of Sir Lew Grade’s massive ITC Entertainment Group. (Digressing a little:- Lew Grade was the man wholly responsible for bringing  shows like The Prisoner, The Saint, Thunderbirds and The Muppets to our TV screens!)

So, although the cassettes would carry the same artwork, credits and content, the sales and distribution of those tapes would be handled by Precision.

At least until the record manufacturers had tooled up their plants to churn out tapes alongside vinyl LP’s.

So, my “Tarkus” cassette was a duffer and I obviously had to return it to Precision – rather than Manticore/Island Records – for a replacement. The date being prior to the whole “sale of goods act” – which came into force in 1979 – that meant I could have merely returned the tape to the retailer for a new non-faulty one.

You know, when I actually remember something as intrinsic as this, I get genuinely excited.

(What’s the betting I have it all wrong?)

In one of life’s “chaos theories”, I would later work for the video offshoot of Precision Tapes – for a period of about two months in 1980. Worst job ever.

Hmmmn…. have I written anything about ELP’s “Tarkus”? ….. checks EFA70’sTRO search facility…. Oh…. I see I haven’t…..


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