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February 25, 2021

Interview with Phil Manning of Chain

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Chain are one of the great Australian bands playing Bluesfest this year.

Bluesfest is on! The Chain Reaction!

Phil Manning picked up the guitar at 15. He’s been playing now for nearly 58 years. This year, Chain play the Byron Blues Festival. It will be a light on the horizon for the legendary Manning who just took out a Legend Award at the Victorian Blues Hall of Fame. For artists like Manning, although they are committed to their daily practice of playing, having 12 months with very little opportunity for live gigging has been weird.

‘I did a gig with Geoff Atchison – he was on before me and he said “Phil I am shaking in my boots”! I said, “I know how you feel!”. We are all out of practice playing on stage in front of an audience. That is the challenging thing – it’s part of your stage craft – to learn to get on and relax after having 9 or 10 months of doing nothing!’ says Phil.

‘I gave up drinking a year and a half ago, so I didn’t even have that added benefit of a few stiff drinks before I went on!’ laughs Manning, who took to being back in the spotlight.

‘It was nice to get on stage and play in front of people – it will be fantastic to be able to play Bluesfest, and considering the amount of effort Peter and all his staff have put in – it’s phenomenal.’

Phil echoes the sentiment of Bluesfest director Peter Noble, who was on Facebook earlier this week posting about the need for more formalised support for the music industry.

‘I don’t think people have enough appreciation of what a social responsibility musicians and entertainers have to the audience,’ says Phil. ‘It really is a thing that helps people cope with life. I did a gig in Sorrento and it was a great thing, and towards the end of the night I played a song from one of my albums – which is a love song saying “you can trust me” and there were all these people crying! It was astounding! I had people coming up saying the whole table was crying – even the guys – I realised it was very little to do with the song, it was more to do with some sense of relief from the people and being out of lockdown. I know in my case I was getting incredibly disjointed just walking around my local neighbourhood. You could smile and you couldn’t see if people were smiling back, I found it all incredibly dehumanising.’

But lockdown wasn’t a time when Manning and his Chain colleagues kicked back and did nothing. ‘Matt Taylor (lead singer) and I both individually made great use of this time. We have been incredibly creative, Matt had to work – he put out a book on his life called I remember when I was young – it was online, there were things that weren’t quite right, so now it’s out in hard cover – and Matt has a new solo album. And in my case I almost have a new solo album.’

‘During lockdown I forced myself to get up and do old fashioned practise, I am 72 and have been playing for nearly six decades, and your hands get pretty knocked about. You are always learning. It’s just magnificent – for something as simple as a scale of music – that people can take those 12 notes and turn it into an endless supply of songs and styles, and I always say, with electric guitar you can get 50 guitar players and give them a Stratifier and an amplifier and they will all sound different.’

One of the good things Phil sees coming out of the pandemic and its impact on the entertainment industry is the reintroduction of cover charges at gigs. ‘A lot of the venues around Melbourne that used to have free gigs haven’t been able to afford it, so they all have to put on a cover charge, which I think is a great thing!

‘I don’t do those horrible three hour gigs any more, but used to. You’d play three sets and you’d get to the end of the third set and a bunch of guys wander in and go, “Why are you stopping? Keep going!”.’

Phil is keen to be playing Bluesfest for 2021.

‘It’s a magnificently organised festival – I have done a bucketload of festivals in my life and Peter and his staff have it nailed. It’s always such a pleasure to be there.

‘We are looking forward to having Chain back together, this will be the first time we have played in years.w

‘I am the only original member from back in 1968 when Chain started – and then Matt Taylor joined in 1970 – the band has been going 53 years and Matt and I worked in the Bay City Union so we have been working together for 54 years – our relationship has lasted longer than my marriages!’

Chain are one of the great Australian bands playing Bluesfest this year.

For tickets go to bluesfest.com.au

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