A hint of Latin Lover

To most of the Anglophone world, the name Manuel evokes the harried Spanish waiter who had the misfortune to work at Fawlty Towers. But before John Cleese created Basil Fawlty, Manuel must have been a bit exotic, a name with a hint of the Latin Lover about it. How else to explain an act called “Manuel and the Music of the Mountains”? This Manuel was an extraordinarily successful band leader and orchestral arranger from the 1950s on.

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Wrong Manuel.

It is no surprise to learn that Manuel was actually a Yorkshire lad, born in Todmorden, a small town near Manchester. His real name? Geoff Love. And no, “Geoff and the Tunes of Todmorden” doesn’t have much of a ring to it. But here’s the thing: Geoff Love’s story was more interesting than “Manuel’s” could ever be.

He was born in 1917, the child of a black American father and his English wife. Think about that for a moment. Imagine growing up in Yorkshire as a mixed-race child in the 1920s.  Love left school at the age of 15, and worked as a mechanic – but he also played trombone, well enough that he become a professional musician, working the dance-hall circuit. After serving in the war, he studied orchestration and became a successful arranger working for major record labels. He arranged major works for Frankie Vaughn and Shirley Bassey, not to mention Laurie London’s version of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, which topped the US charts in 1957.

geoff love

Geoff Love. Image: Todmorden News

Again, remember that this is a black guy, and this is the 1950s.

So, Geoff Love’s success is an amazing story. Under the moniker of Manuel and the Music of the Mountains, he pumped out dozens of records. Many of them sold in the millions: he had one platinum and fifteen gold records.

Obviously, a lot of people loved what he did.

I have to admit it. I am not one of them. I have listened, with open ears, and it just not my cup of decaf cinnamon chai-latte. There is something about the way the string section often takes up the melody line, filling the aural space usually occupied by a singer, which grates. But that is only me, and millions of people think otherwise. Here is Manuel’s take on the Latin jazz standard “Perfidia”. Just listen.

  • Artist: Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains,
  • Album: Ecstasy
  • Track: B1 Perfidia
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: World Record Club
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: S/5246
  • Year: 1972

Many of the records discussed on this blog, along with more than 1000 other titles, are for sale on Discogs.

Breaking taboos

A little while ago I wrote about the Pizza Principle: do not judge the music of a country by the pizza named after it. The principle applies most obviously to Hawaii, where tourist clichés obscure a rich musical tradition. Discovering the wonderful steel guitar playing of Sol Ho’opi’i inspired me to be more open minded to Hawaiian music.

This takes a little effort – the covers of Hawaiian LPs tend to be a bit tacky – lots of pictures of palm trees and beaches, hula girls and frangipani blossoms. And its best not to read the liner notes:

taboo – primitive superstitions of an island volcano, woven into eerie lush tropical sounds. As the ear listens, the mind conjures ancient Hawaiian rituals, the days of Queen Lilioukalani’s monarchy, and then the Hawaiian Islands as they are today … Cosmopolitan Honolulu symbolises the impact of the white man on the island paradise, or more correctly, perhaps, the impact of the island paradise on the white man.

lyman sleeveAstonishingly, someone would have been paid to write this tosh. But ignore it, and the bubbling lava on the cover. There is some terrific music to be enjoyed. This is an extraordinarily inventive and engaging record, Taboo, by the Arthur Lyman Group.

Lyman, the father of Exotica as he is sometimes called, was a native Hawaaiin who played the vibraphone and a heap of other instruments which involved hitting things. He put a Pacific Island touch to jazz, and generally mucked around with strange instruments and sounds.

lyman group picYou would expect a jungle kitsch mess, but it isn’t. Lyman was a skilled and imaginative musician, the sounds he and his band members produced are unique and absorbing.

The LP Taboo was released in 1958, and was a major hit, reaching the top ten in the United States and staying on the charts for more than a year. This is the title track. Forget the nonsense on the sleeve, and just listen.

  • Artist: Arthur Lyman Group
  • LP Title: Taboo
  • Side 1, Track 1: “Taboo”
  • Format: 12” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Hi-Fi Records R 806
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Year: 1958