Mandu – To the Shores of his Heaven

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Ever since record companies worked out that by labelling an album as a “lost classic”, there has been no shortage of contenders, thus guaranteeing a seemingly endless series of reissues, all promising the potential listener a new experience into the furrows of an artist’s genius. To the Shores of his Heaven is, I’m glad to say, one of those reissues which lives up to expectations, and more. Released on the excellent Aztec Music label, who have done a superlative job in preserving Australia’s popular (and not so popular) musical heritage, the story goes that Chris Moraitis (aka Mándu), an unknown singer/songwriter who’d performed in a number of groups throughout the late ‘60’s early ‘70’s, arranged a meeting with label chief John Blanchfield, who was so impressed by what he heard that he signed him up there and then. The only obstacle was that Mándu didn’t have a band. Blanchfield soon began the process of assembling an ensemble of first rate musicians that included Phil Manning, an accomplished guitarist who’d learned his chops with renowned blues outfit Chain; bassist Barry Sullivan, from the Wild Cherries (Lobby Loyde’s old outfit); drummer Gary Young (Daddy Cool), plus a few others who no doubt welcomed a challenge and an extra pay cheque.

Released in 1974 I’d say that Mandu, as Moraitis preferred to be called, took a leaf out of Bowie’s book, who only a couple years earlier had unleashed upon the world a new rock and roll life form, in the guise of an androgynous alien junky, better known to us earthlings as Ziggy Stardust.

Let me say that I’ve listened to a lot of albums in my life, and this was one of the few so called “forgotten classics” that on first listen made me put down what I was reading and pay attention. The title track makes for a superb opener, the rhythm section are excellent, while Mandu’s semi-castrato vocals soar above the ever changing tempos. Simply wonderful. “Traveller” is next. Some plaintive piano and violin float in at the beginning in what remains an existential journey which cannot easily be described. “Milk Bar Cowboys” starts off with some funky percussive calisthenics, before suddenly changing tact, with a wind section interlude, before acoustic guitars fall in and interweave with the string instruments, which deliver an almost cinematic quality, while we the listener ride off into the suburban sunset with “Hi Ho Silver”.

“To a Friend” is a touching love song, reminiscent of Van Morrison, full of la la las and tender strings. At this point things get a bit strange, and perhaps a little dull, after all the excitement of side one, where after some sweeping string parts, Mandu sings about his “Darlin’”, although I cannot fault it as a song. Likewise with “We Ran Across the Sky”, another number full of teary violins and some melancholic harmonica at the end.

Apparently the album wasn’t selling, so the band regrouped in the studio to record a version of The Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter”, issuing it as a single, in the hope it might generate some interest in the LP. As far as translations go, it’s a corker, and such a great way to end what is otherwise one of the most unique and underappreciated albums of its era. Not long after its release “Mandu” would retreat into obscurity, reappearing only on a couple of Lobby Loyde records over the next few years, before finally disappearing from the music scene altogether. Whatever happened to Chris Moraitis is anyone’s guess. Not even Aztec seem to know.