Never a prominent part of rock landscape, Finland is mostly known for its outcrop of prog ensembles in the ’70s and metal formations in the ’90s, with the ’80s often overlooked. Yet it was in that decade that Jyrki Manninen, also known as Muddy thanks to his blues bent, emerged on the scene to proceed within two decades to a higher league. A member of WISHBONE ASH from 2004 to 2017, when the guitarist turned 60, Muddy proved to be not only a perfect sparring partner for Andy Powell but also a solid songwriter whose pieces helped the band regain their former glory. No surprise, then, in Manninen’s songs being the focus of his "Long Player" album, released right after the veteran parted ways with the group he served for for quite a long time. This impressive records and the circumstances of its arrival seemed like a good excuse to finally speak to Muddy.
– Muddy, “Long Player” is a long-overdue album. I’m sure there’s an entire cache of songs you’ve written over the years. So why it’s only now that you’ve come up with a solo record?
That’s because WISHBONE ASH were always on the road – we did about 150 gigs a year: we played for four or five weeks, then I got home for four weeks and then I was off again – so I really didn’t have the urge to do anything between the tours. When you get home from a tour, for the first couple of weeks you’re just tired, after that you start reloading your batteries and then it’s time to go on the road again, so I didn’t have that much time. Also, with WISHBONE ASH I had an outlet for my songs, so I didn’t have the need to do a solo album until after . I offered the band a lot of songs that I’ve written, but they didn’t fit in the general picture, so I kept them in my drawer. But about two years ago I started thinking, “Okay, I’ve got enough material now so I can actually release these songs and do a solo album just to get them out my system.” Which I did.
– Well, I saw you on tour. I was speaking to Andy, and the three of you were in that small room on your computers.
Yeah, the usual thing, that. The bands go on tour now, and nobody drinks and nobody fucks around – everybody just stares at their computers and iPhones. Sad! (Laughs.) I’m joking. With the modern technology, when you’re on tour, you’re able keep in touch with your friends back home and with your family, which wasn’t the case when I started with WISHBONE ASH in 2004; we didn’t even have… Well, I had a mobile phone then, but you couldn’t use it in the States, so every time I wanted to call back home I had to use the hotel phone, the landline, and it was extremely expensive! So every time I got home from a tour, I would be looking at an enormous phone bill. But that’s the way it goes nowadays.
– Was the band’s unwillingness to accept your new songs the reason for your leaving?
There were several reasons for me leaving because I was with the band for 12 years, and I started feeling quite restricted about the musical direction which had to be the way it was in the ’70s: there had to be twin-guitar harmonies, and you couldn’t use other instruments – Hammond organ, saxophones and stuff like that – only in the background, so the songs wouldn’t scare the old fans away. I began to feel that was extremely limiting my musical preferences. As you can hear from the tracks on my solo album, there’s quite an eclectic mix of songs, and they couldn’t have been on a WISHBONE ASH album. But there were some other issues as well, regarding songwriting, so eventually I thought it would be better to start doing something else. We decided that we didn’t see us working together anymore.
– Which of the songs you submitted for the band are you most proud of?
Oooh… My first album with WISHBONE ASH, “Clan Destiny,” was a sort of introduction for me, so I wasn’t that confident with my songwriting and I started getting better with the “Power Of Eternity” album. I think its title track [“The Power”] turned out pretty good, as was the title track on "Blue Horizon"… But what was the album before that? ["Elegant Stealth" – DME] I can’t remember any of those songs anymore. I like the stuff on “Blue Horizon” which I co-wrote with Ian Harris; there were some moments which I think captured the vintage WISHBONE ASH feel quite nicely, like “Tally Ho!”.
– And which of the classic songs you found most interesting to play?
I loved playing “F.U.B.B.” from… What was the album called? It was released right after Laurie [Wisefield] joined the band, that’s got the guy with a cricket ball.
– “There’s The Rub”!
Yes, “F.U.B.B.” was on that, and it was a really complex instrumental which I really enjoyed playing. But I think my favorite WISHBONE ASH album would be “Pilgrimage”: when I started playing in bands when I was a teenager, we did cover some of it, we tried to play “Jail Bait”… Another song we did was “Blowin’ Free” from “Argus,” but I never really got into it. “Pilgrimage” has that bit of a jazzy vibe in some of the songs, and the general production of the sound is more to my taste.
– You mentioned that you found the twin-guitar format restricting. So how would you compare this method to a solo guitar approach?
I don’t find the format of twin guitars restricting because you can do a lot of stuff with it; it was the type of music I found a bit limiting. This format gives more flavor to the songs: the idea was to kind of have horn section aligned with two guitars, and it’s always been very interesting. I listened to THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND who had that American, more bluesy approach to twin guitars; and then there were bands like THIN LIZZY and WISHBONE ASH. Another band which had a huge influence on me was an English group called JADE WARRIOR: they had a huge influence on my thinking about arranging songs because they had long passages, where the guy [Tony Duhig] was playing twin-guitar lines – but he was very melodic and quite different from the rock approach. I have to say their Island records, especially the one they did with Steve Winwood ’ anchor=’jawa2′], are my all-time favorite albums, and I still listen to them a lot. Thanks to the modern technology, I had the pleasure to get in touch with Glyn Havard who was the bass player and singer in the early version of JADE WARRIOR; I had a chat with him on Facebook (laughs) and it was really nice to say to him how much their music still means to me today.
– You have a few prominent guests on “Long Player”: did you get to know them through WISHBONE ASH?
Yeah, probably, but… To be honest, I didn’t make that many contacts while being in the band because it was pretty much Andy’s enterprise – he was managing the band and, quite often, did the interviews by himself – and sometimes it felt like it was not a twin-guitar band: it was Andy and the rest of us. Well, Jenny [Darren] came through WISHBONE ASH in a way, because our bassist Bob Skeat got in touch with her, and she asked him to play on her album, and that was how I got involved, too. Hughie Flint came through Tom Leary who was also doing stuff on Jenny’s album. And I got in touch with Gregg Sutton through mutual Facebook friend, Tony Rowe.
– You actually played with them in the studio, or was it all via Internet?
There actually wasn’t a band playing; mostly, it was done separately. I did most of the guitar tracks – some of the acoustic stuff and some of the stuff that you don’t really need to play that loud – at home, and then I used a local studio to do the overdubs. In that studio we also did the drums and other overdubs – you know, fiddle and Hughie’s percussion. Gregg Sutton’s track [“Danger Zone”] we did in L.A., though, about two or three years ago, when I flew over there. He was about to come to England then to do a tour, and I was interested – I wanted to meet him and see how we’d get along – so we did some writing, and I spent about a week or ten days in California. It was really nice; Gregg’s a fantastic guy and I love him. We recorded the basic track, just the two of us: he played acoustic guitar and bass, and I did the guitars – and then he sent me the backing tracks and vocal track to England. He’s a great singer and one of the best songwriters I know – he does very simple stuff, but it’s always done in the right way. We wrote three songs together I guess, but his tour didn’t pan out the way it should have, as the management wasn’t on top of things, so we did only three or four gigs before it fell through. But I still keep in touch with Gregg.
– So you didn’t intend to write everything by yourself?
No. I wrote most of the songs, but I just picked up the ones that I really liked as well as the cover of BREAD’s “Guitar Man” because I’ve always liked it and I tried the rockier approach to it. David Gates is a brilliant songwriter; I don’t like all of his stuff but some of those are just perfect pop songs, very melodic. I love songs, I’ve always been a lover of songs. No amount of flashy guitar playing can save the tune if it’s not a proper song.
– You didn’t think about covering Elvis Presley’s “Guitar Man”?
(Laughs.) No. Maybe on the next album! Is that the one where he’s got Jerry Reed playing on acoustic guitar?
– Yes, that’s the one. But back to BREAD’s piece, it was the only one which you sang yourself.
That just happened because I noticed that it fits my range. I’m not a good singer. I do a bit of backing vocals and stuff like that, and this was one of the things I had to start doing when I joined WISHBONE ASH. I’ve always wanted to sing but I never really had the courage to do it. And I don’t have any idea about my vocal range, so “Guitar Man” was just a random thing that I began singing along with and went, “Hey, I can actually sing it!”
– You also play with other people, and you recorded with Ben Granfelt, your predecessor in WISHBONE ASH.
Yeah, when he does an album, he always asks me to play a solo on one track, and I’m glad to do it. Ben’s a great guitar player and a good friend of mine as well. On his latest album [“My Soul To You”] I played some lap steel, and that track [“This Is Love”] turned out really nicely; his wife is doing a great vocal on it, and it’s got an easy groove. I loved doing that. Ben and I were in a band together in the ’80s, called GRINGOS LOCOS. I started it in 1985-86, when he was working in the local guitar store, and I got to know him. He was very young but he was a good player already then, so I asked him to join. We ended up recording three albums; we had a deal with Atlantic Records; Tom Dowd was producing one of the albums… So it was a nice experience which lasted four or five years, and then we packed it in and started doing something else.
– Another band you’re involved with is HIPKISS. Do you consider it your main project or something on the side?
At the moment, that’s my main band. We’d been doing work with Patsy [Gamble] for five or six years, and I find it a very fruitful relationship. It’s a good band; they’re all lovely people and good friends. It’s an outlet for another kind of me, because I like different kinds of music, and there’s soul and a bit of jazz influence in this band. I enjoy writing songs for them, because I can express the different side of me through that.
– It’s interesting that you refer to HIPKISS as “them” – not “we”…
I mean me and Patsy are the main songwriters, but it’s a band that I’m an official member of – it’s not my solo project nor Patsy’s solo project. And there’s one more band that recently started and which I’m really excited about: it features Kevin Moore and Tom Leary. Kev does vocals and plays bass – he’s on my album, sings the last song there [“Swan Song”] – and Tom, who’s on my album as well, plays fiddle, mandolin and weird stringed instruments. And we got Sean Randle on drums who’s a local guy here, in Painswick. We’ve been writing songs and doing demos now for about a month – we started in June, and we’ve already got seven or eight tracks of original material. That’s going to be a combination of my rock guitar playing, Tom’s folk influences and Sean’s jazz background – he’s also interested on North African rhythms – so it will be a nice mix of different styles. We haven’t got a name yet; as always, that’s the hardest thing to come up with when you start a band. We’re trying to get a proper record deal and an agency who could start promoting gigs for us, so I’m hoping that would turn into a realistically working unit.
– And you don’t work with Jenny Darren’s LADYKILLERS anymore, do you?
No, I left the band. I didn’t think it was the direction I wanted to go in – a sort of hard rock, AC/DC-like thing – and I found it rather stressful. But I’m doing this project with Melanie Denard [of MADAM COMPANY] who’s flying over to the U.K., and we’re going to do a two-week promo tour, going around and playing duo stuff. That’s another exciting thing, because she’s a fabulous singer and can easily do that sort of bluesy, Paul Rodgers material.
– Is it a Scandinavian in you who prefers steady environment or is it your personal method of work?
Uh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. I’ve got nothing against working hard, but I prefer to keep the emphasis on the big lines and not make a storm in a teacup with small things. I’m writing songs and thinking about doing another solo album in the future, but it’s a slow process – that’s how I do things.