Geoff Mann: Remembering the life and times of a rock music original

Sunday 10th February 2013

Paul Keeble offers a myriad of memories about his band-mate and friend, GEOFF MANN

Continued from page 1

Someone once attempting to describe our music, described the rhythm section (Gary and myself) as the string keeping the balloon of Geoff's proggy noodlings and experimentation within sight of the ground. And John's "lead and atmospheric" guitar-playing? A ribbon round the neck of the balloon adding colour and energy. Fair enough. At the time I think we were just enjoying the creative process of making music together and the different parts seemed to fit together well. The particular mix of styles and influences generated a sort of rock with prog overtones and is perhaps reflected in the varying lengths of song: two minutes to over 20. It helped that we were already in or near our 30s, so we just did what we liked, with any starry-eyed notions or aspirations to be "commercial" long since gone, and we never took ourselves too seriously. Or in the words of that eminent English philosopher, M Jagger: "It's only rock and roll". But we liked it, and fortunately so did some others.

Geoff Mann:  Remembering the life and times of a rock music original

Geoff's between song banter was legendary, and often very funny, with occasional flights of surrealism, but ready to make a serious and thought-provoking point when needed: just like off-stage in fact. It featured insults of the rest of the band and crew, mostly, for some reason Andy ("Andy has been named the face of '91. Ninety-one ferrets in a bin-bag". "Andy has just had plastic surgery: a bucket was melted over his head."). The rest of us got mentions for dress-sense (lack of), musical ability (lack of), facial features (prominence of) and Karl our sound engineer for some reason kept getting likened to a wildebeest. Plugging our recordings could involve extolling the virtues of an album sleeve as a hat, with modelling, or a CD case as an ice-scraper for windscreens. All done with a smile and much affection. Audiences loved it.

Sometimes Christians would come to one of our gigs in a pub or club (they tended to be the ones in anoraks round one table drinking orange juice) and struggle to understand why we didn't "preach the Gospel". Our explanation was that the landlord or manager had booked us to entertain his customers. We felt as a matter of integrity our first job was to do that to the best of our ability. But we did not leave our faith at the door. Some of the songs contained lyrics which were fairly explicit (a couple were straight worship songs), and all were written from a Christian worldview. I've already mentioned Geoff's between-song chat and he would sometimes use this to drop in some subtle (or not-so-subtle) nuggets, couched in his unique style. One that sticks in my memory: "There are some things that only some people get to do - like carving your name on the side of a passing submarine. Other things we all get to do. Like die. This song is called. . ." (It's the way he told them.) The rest we would leave to the Holy Spirit, and there were a number of occasions where people would sound us out afterwards about something that had made them curious. Hopefully more went away wondering and trying to put their finger on what was different about this band (apart, that is, from the ugliness and appalling dress sense of its members that Geoff would frequently draw attention to.)

The theology behind this was one of the band as a parable. Just as Jesus used a form of entertainment of his day - story-telling - and give it an extra meaning, so we regarded a live music event in the same way. We are told that Jesus "only spoke to the crowds in parables", but we also read of people coming to him afterwards and asking about what he had said. They had cottoned on to there being something else going on, and to those he revealed the secret of the Kingdom of God. It's all in Mark 4. At Christian-based and owned events we would be more explicit, but at secular ones that was how we communicated. We were not evangelists: we were musicians who happened to be Christians.

This bit of theology would have been one of many Geoff and I hammered out over a pizza or drink or on a drive home as we put the world to rights or shared deeply about our own faith, doubts and struggles. "It's not that simple" became our catch-phrase. 20 years on, I still miss those discussions and I remember Geoff as a generous interlocutor who would listen and give time to the other person, and not be obviously waiting for a pause or breath to jump in with his view or story.

When Geoff was a curate he preached at my daughter Alannah's baptism (trivia note: it is her giggle that appears on the intro of "Find Your Feet"). His opening words were: "'Alannah' is Gaelic for 'beloved'. Her dad's name, Paul, is Gaelic for 'face like a bus crash'." Whereupon, one of our church members who assiduously took notes on the sermon each week, firmly set down her notepad and pen. Everyone else (including some family and friends who were not used to being in a church) laughed, and relaxed - ice broken. One of the things I liked about Geoff was that he was always himself, his love of God obvious, his spirituality natural and spontaneous. He was not one to switch into some sort of "spiritual mode" when entering certain buildings or doing certain things pertaining to the religious. In fact his finely tuned sensitivity for the ridiculous and bizarre served well to prick any balloons of pomposity - religious or otherwise - that he came across.

Geoff Mann:  Remembering the life and times of a rock music original

He could be scatty, late, forgetful, but never malicious. Time spent with Geoff involved a lot of laughter, affection, honesty and depth of sharing. He was a good friend to me and many others and is remembered with a smile. We had joy, we had fun, we had. . . hang on, name that tune.

On The Edge

Young man said he'd make his mark
But all the marks were made on him, scarred
Outside and within
Old man stares into the dark
What did real life do to make the fantasy better?
High ideals dissolve in time
Victim waiting for a crime
Out on the edge

He used to say he'd change the world
But now the world walks by and he
Can't even change his mind
Hopes and wishes one by one
Shed like clothes as he goes thirsting
For love
We learn to make our deals with life
We try so hard but some just don't survive
Out on the edge

He's in another world somewhere
I crossed the street and left him there
Out on the edge CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Paul Keeble
Paul Keeble lives in Manchester and has been a long-term Cross Rhythms reviewer.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Mark Mackley in Chorley, Lancs @ 19:53 on Mar 26 2019

Fond memories of Geoff Mann Band playing S. Martin's College in Lancaster in the early 90's. I was one of the Entz Crew who helped the band set up/pack away and somewhere I still have the CD that I bought.... It was a great evening, fondly remembered.

Posted by Alistair Brown in Leeds @ 20:15 on Sep 21 2015

I went along with four friends to see Geoff at the Hull Adelphi. It was a great night, after the gig he came over and sat with us and sang "One of the green things". A very underrated musician and song writer, a positive inspiration during my misspent youth. God bless him

Posted by James Mann in Abertillery, Wales @ 21:02 on Apr 22 2013

As Geoff's son I feel that I need to pint out that Dad had no leg to stand on when it came to dress sense as he wore paisley clerical shirts! And also that I really enjoyed the article, as Paul is very aware, we love him and his family very much and still enjoy seeing them socially! Oh, and for those wondering, yes, blizzare does indeed run in the family!

Posted by carl (ozzy) in alderley edge @ 07:00 on Feb 15 2013

i knew Geoff from his Salford days i used to listen two twelfth night in his cellar, and had a good few cups of tea with geoff, he used to lend me his wem copycat hah thanks geoff fantastic guy, miss ya

Posted by Stephen Waldron in Pontneddfechan, S Wales @ 18:04 on Feb 14 2013

I first met Geoff in 1977 in Manchester. Paul K, the reviewer, is a very good friend and I love the completeness and detail of his memories and recollections of Geoff. He has captured his 'larger than life' nature. Geoff was one of the very few people I've met who change your life just through the encounter. Paul fails to really highlight his artistic genius; he was perhaps one of the most brilliant fine artists I've had the good fortune to meet. He could paint anything with anything: from oils to acrylics to charcoal to crumpled up paper. A man of pure joy and goodness, overflowing with creativity, and an inclusive sort that drew people into a new world.

Well done Paul. Thanks for the memories.

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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