“If this is not a hit dear,
sue Warner Bros!”
The Story of the Making of
‘Man From Manhattan’
It was a Friday evening in mid-January 1976. I was at Sarm East studios in London on the final day of recording ‘Man From Manhattan’. After extinguishing my spliff in the parking lot, I entered the control room of studio 1, located an unassuming little chair in a corner of the dimly lit room and sat there watching the surrealistic scene unfolding before me.
…and here I was now, making a record with Freddie Mercury of all people!
There were 3 of us in the control room that night: myself, Mike Stone (Queen’s recording engineer) and a wiry figure with jet black hair, black nail varnish on the fingers of one hand, wearing a black silver studded bomber jacket, black satin jeans and white clogs, a.k.a. Freddie Mercury. He was listening to the final mix of ‘Man From Manhattan’ through the giant studio speakers… I had a feeling of derealization. What was I doing there? How did I get there? It seemed like only a short while ago, I was living in a caravan in Birmingham with son Tom and wife Marjatta, writing songs and wondering how the hell I was going to promote them… and here I was now, making a record with Freddie Mercury of all people! Fate moves in mysterious ways! The playback ended and, after a few seconds of silence, Freddie turned to me and said, “If this is not a hit dear, sue Warner Bros!”
“If this is not a hit dear, sue Warner Bros!”
My dad had an ear for music. He had a tasty little record collection, containing records by Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and the rest… As a 13-year-old, I don’t suppose I appreciated it too much, my ear was tuned to rhythm and blues, skiffle and rock n roll…
As a 13-year-old, I don’t suppose I appreciated it too much, my ear was tuned to rhythm and blues, skiffle and rock n roll…
And then it happened! One night at a local youth-club disco in Bournville (next to the chocolate factory), the DJ blasted out a record that shook my booty, gave me an “eargasm” and fired my imagination… ‘Please Please Me’ by the Beatles was IT! I bought the record and played it non-stop for hours/days. I think seeing the names Lennon/McCartney on the songwriting credits was the spark that lit the flame that ignited my desire to write songs. I learnt 3 chords on a guitar that my mum bought me and I was off and running, writing little Beatle inspired ditties for my newly formed band, ‘Wings of a Bat’.
The songwriting developed and I started recording my songs on a Grundig 2 track tape recorder. Whenever I had recorded about 6 titles, I took the train from Birmingham to London and hit the streets, knocking on doors of music publishers all over London in search of a publishing deal. After numerous train trips to London, I finally got some interest from Chrysalis Music, they sent a posse up to Birmingham to hear a gig I was playing in the city. They were impressed enough to offer me a 5-year contract as a staff songwriter and with the royalty advance, I left Birmingham to live and work in London. I was 25 and felt like I had the world at my feet.
They were impressed enough to offer me a 5-year contract as a staff songwriter and with the royalty advance, I left Birmingham to live and work in London.
I was 25 and felt like I had the world at
I was now able to record my song demos at Chrysalis’s studio in the basement of their Oxford Street offices. These demo’s were sent out to various recording artists and bands in the hope of achieving a song cover. After a few months, the staffers at Chrysalis Music suggested that I record my own songs, find myself a manager and get a recording deal… This wasn’t in the script, but it occurred to me that it might be a good showcase for my songs, so I decided to give it a shot, thinking it would be a very long shot… I met David Minns who became my manager/agent. He took my song demos to various record labels in the hope of securing a recording deal for this reluctant recording artist… and then, the inconceivable happened, before I’d even had a chance to yawn, I was offered a recording contract by Warner Bros records.
The album was launched with a gig at Thursday’s club, Kensington, London in October 1975. The band that night included Phil Collins on congas, Jack Lancaster on saxophone and Robin Lumley on keyboards. Midway through the second song of the set, from the stage, I saw my manager David Minns enter the club with someone who looked like Freddie Mercury…and as it turned out, it was Freddie. So, I found myself singing and playing guitar with Phil Collins on my left and Freddie Mercury on my right, at the side of the stage… No pressure then! We played ‘Man From Manhattan’ in the set, which was a newly written song, not on the album.
And so began the beginning of a great adventure! … Before the ink had dried on the contract, I was recording my songs at Trident studios in Soho, London. My rhythm section was Phil Collins on drums, Percy Jones on bass, John Goodsall on guitar and Robin Lumley on keyboards, collectively known as ‘Brand X. Gary Moore on slide guitar and Jack Lancaster on saxes guested and we recorded an album and titled it ‘The Eddie Howell Gramophone Record’.
I found myself singing and playing guitar with Phil Collins on my left and Freddie Mercury on my right, at the side of the stage…
No pressure then!
“Freddie turned out to be a spirited, kind and decent human being…”
After the gig, I met Freddie who seemed to like my new song ‘Man from Manhattan’…
After the gig, I met Freddie who seemed to like my new song ‘Man From Manhattan’, we got talking and he offered to produce it. A crowd of us adjourned to a floating boat restaurant on the river Thames to celebrate. As we all sat around the big wooden table, Freddie stood up to propose a toast, he raised his glass of bubbly and said, ‘This is a toast to Eddie, it’s his night’, which I thought was pretty big-hearted of him. That was the first of many occasions I’d witnessed his generosity of spirit. However, over the coming days I became slightly apprehensive about him producing the song, because of his definitive style, I was concerned that it would end up sounding too Queen-like, especially with Brian May guesting on lead guitar, but decided it was an opportunity not to be missed, as at the very least, it was sure to be interesting and besides, Freddie turned out to be a spirited, kind and decent human being, as well as the inspired and inspirational musical maestro that people across the globe came to know and love. Fortunately, he and I were big John Lennon fans which gave us a nice musical connection.
I recall being impressed as he played through ‘Man from Manhattan’ on the first day’s rehearsal, his feel was spot on.
Recording time was booked at Sarm East studios in London. We did some pre-production work at Freddie’s flat in West London where he lived with girlfriend Mary Austin. The small main room was dominated by a Yamaha grand piano, … I recall being impressed as he played through ‘Man from Manhattan’ on the first day’s rehearsal, his feel was spot on. We had a few of these rehearsal sessions before recording. On the drive to the studio each day he reveled in playing his ideas for backing vocal harmonies and answering phrases on his mini cassette recorder, which was his constant companion.
From day 1, his enthusiasm was plain to see and he quickly took control of the Sarm East sessions while routining the song on piano with Jerome Rimson on bass, Barry DeSouza on drums and myself on acoustic guitar.
On day 2 Brian May came to record his guitar parts and the musical rapport between him and Freddie was evident. Brian had written this theme for the solo that perfectly captured the essence of the song, I think he nailed the main melody line on the first take. He added some layered counterpoints and all of a sudden, a little gem of a guitar solo was born. I recall Freddie smiling like a proud brother while watching Brian play.
On day 3 a couple of Warner Bros bigwigs flew in from L.A. after discovering that one of their artists, namely myself, was making a record with Freddie Mercury. They arrived at the studio at the appointed time, looking forward to meeting Freddie and probably hoping there might be some sort of deal in the offing, or at least a red carpet. But Mr Mercury was no fan of record company executives and kept them waiting in reception for an hour or so.
But Mr Mercury was no fan of record company executives and kept them waiting in reception for an hour or so.
The irony was that they were paying all the bills and picking up all the tabs for the making of the record, but that fact seemed to be inconsequential. When he finally granted them an audience, it was all bonhomie and back slapping and it was obvious that Freddie relished playing that particular power-play game.
There was never a lull in recording, apart from late lunchtime trips to the Shazam Indian restaurant in Brick Lane.
There was never a lull in recording, apart from late lunchtime trips to the Shazam Indian restaurant in Brick Lane. Everyone in the studio was invited to these extravagant feasts and there always seemed to be a lot of people in the studio around lunchtime, – I wonder why? At the end of each meal, Freddie picked up the tab and I recall naively thinking how generous it was of him to pay for everyone, until I later discovered that these gastronomic curry delights were being charged to my Warner Bros expense account ….so in the end it was I who was picking up the tab… and it didn’t come cheap!! That’s showbiz folks…
The finished record had a heavy Queen influence with Freddie and Brian on the track…