60s hitmakers Manfred Mann: ‘I’ve sung this 10,000 instances and by no means appreciated it!’ – The Guardian

60s hitmakers Manfred Mann: ‘I’ve sung this 10,000 instances and by no means appreciated it!’ – The Guardian

Pop and rock

They’d screaming followers and transatlantic hits as a part of the 60s’ British invasion – an unlikely outcome for a band of jazz and blues heads. Nonetheless touring because the Manfreds, they give the impression of being again on one of many strangest catalogues in UK pop

Thu 14 Oct 2021 15.52 BST

In an workplace in the midst of Pinewood Studios, former members of Manfred Mann are discussing their EP The One in the Middle. It was recorded in 1964, on the top of their first flush of fame – between the primary and second periods for the EP, their single Do Wah Diddy Diddy had gone to No 1 within the UK and the US. However, despite that success, it’s excellent proof of how completely different Manfred Mann have been from their contemporaries in what was then known as the beat growth.

The EP incorporates a model of Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man. With the best respect to friends just like the Swingin’ Blue Denims, you didn’t get a whole lot of repurposed laborious bop from them. It additionally incorporates a Bob Dylan cowl, six months earlier than the Byrds launched Mr Tambourine Man and sparked a pattern for taking Dylan songs in new instructions. Manfred Mann, for his or her half, retooled With God on Our Facet as a type of epic southern soul-influenced piano ballad. After which there’s the title observe, a very early instance of pop music in self-referential, meta mode.

Within the tune, Paul Jones lists all of the members of the band and their instrumental prowess – “Tom McGuinness lays it down on bass” – however dolefully means that he’s only a fame-obsessed “fairly face” and the band’s promoting level: the audiences are solely there “to face round and see the singer wanting candy”. It appears to say one thing about the way in which pop is manufactured and Jones’s personal discomfort at discovering himself plucked from the subterranean world of London’s blues revival golf equipment and performing in entrance of screaming teenagers.

From left: Manfred Mann, Paul Jones, Mike Vickers, Tom McGuinness and Mike Hugg. Photograph: Jeremy Fletcher/Redferns

I’m increasing on this idea once I discover Jones – nonetheless ruggedly good-looking a number of months shy of his 80th birthday – wanting puzzled. “Oh no,” he frowns. “That tune was concerning the Yardbirds. I went to see them play in Richmond and I might see that each one the males within the viewers have been there for Eric Clapton and all of the females have been there for Keith Relf, who was, it have to be remembered, dishy. I assumed, there’s a tune right here.”

He initially provided it to the Yardbirds, he says, however for some unaccountable cause Relf took umbrage at performing a tune suggesting the Yardbirds have been proficient however he was only a little bit of eye sweet. “He mentioned: ‘I’m not singing that, that’s embarrassing’.” So Jones modified the names and sang it himself.

Nonetheless, maybe the purpose about their distinction nonetheless stands: none of their friends received to No 1 by recording a tune that satirised themselves and the entire means of attending to No 1. And, in equity, Manfred Mann do appear to have been lower from barely completely different fabric to the opposite bands that scored so many indelible hits within the 60s: 15 UK Prime 20 singles. Alongside a brand new best hits compilation, they’re nonetheless touring them this month, greater than 50 years on, albeit with out Manfred Mann himself – who nonetheless performs along with his subsequent prog outfit Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – and with a gentlemanly association wherein Jones shares the stage along with his alternative, Mike D’Abo. In Mann’s absence, they merely invoice themselves the Manfreds.

The preliminary lineup, identified briefly as The Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, began as a jazz quartet who “worshipped on the altar of Charles Mingus”, fashioned in Clacton by drummer and vibraphone participant Mike Hugg, and Manfred Mann himself, who had fled apartheid South Africa. They shifted to blues after an encounter with scene linchpin Alexis Korner, however jazz by no means actually left them: even within the mid-60s, they have been as wont to launch instrumental EPs that includes horn-solo-heavy improvisations primarily based round My Era or (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction as they have been chart-topping pop singles.

Jones joined in 1962, having turned down overtures from his pal Brian Jones to affix his new band, the Rolling Stones. “Properly, I assumed Brian’s concept that he would develop into wealthy and well-known was excessively optimistic,” he says, laughing. “Alexis Korner and Graham Bond weren’t making a residing from enjoying the blues, and Brian didn’t have any gigs in his guide. I had already requested Brian to be in my band, once I was an undergraduate, Thunder Street Inn’s Massive Secret, and I’ll always remember what he mentioned: ‘I don’t care to be in any band except I’m its chief’. That wasn’t why I turned him down, however stick that into Brian’s biography and also you get an image of him, and of the very unhappy story that got here alongside later.”

Paul Jones was, by his personal admission, a blues purist, who “by no means received rock’n’roll … so far as I used to be involved, music was a severe enterprise, it’s not a part of a rebel or a part of something. You probably did it for its personal sake. You wished to do Rooster Blues, you probably did it precisely like Lightning Slim, you wished to do Kansas Metropolis, you probably did it precisely like Wilbert Harrison.”

It wasn’t precisely a recipe for huge industrial success, and so it proved: the primary two singles by Manfred Mann – they modified their title earlier than signing to His Grasp’s Voice in 1963 – bombed. The breakthrough got here once they have been requested to put in writing a theme tune for ITV’s new pop present Prepared Regular Go! Looking back, 5-4-3-2-1 looks as if a really trendy type of single. Written to order, with all the pieces from its countdown to the size of its instrumental passages dictated by the present’s producers, it additionally featured a canny little bit of what would now be known as branding: the lyrics function the band’s title thrice, guaranteeing them a point out on each episode of the nation’s hippest music present. “It wasn’t sensible in any respect,” frowns Hugg. “It was simply doing what Bo Diddley did – , he sang a tune known as Bo Diddley. If we’d had any concept that was advertising, we’d have been method forward of ourselves.”

Hugg, D’Abo, Jones and McGuinness. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Guardian

Both method, it labored, catapulting Manfred Mann into the Prime 5. However when their follow-up Hubble Bubble Toil and Hassle – a fabulously uncooked slice of storage R&B – didn’t match its success, John Burgess, their producer, took decisive motion. “He more-or-less mentioned to us ‘Bands don’t write their very own hit singles – you’ve received to look exterior for materials,’” says Tom McGuinness. “And this was at a time when EMI had the Beatles! We have been allowed to do B-sides.”

In industrial phrases, their producer was proper, as evidenced by the success of Do Wah Diddy Diddy, beforehand recorded by US lady group the Exciters: for a second, Manfred Mann have been a part of the British invasion of the US. “A stretch limousine picks us up from the airport, and the radio is saying ‘Manfred Mann have simply landed, the boys shall be right here tomorrow’,” says McGuinness, smiling. “What’s to not like if you’re 20-something years previous?”

They noticed John Coltrane play reside along with his authentic quartet and have been launched to the Righteous Brothers backstage at TV present Shindig!, the Brothers informing McGuinness that Phil Spector had simply ruined their profession by placing strings on a forthcoming single known as You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling. The band’s enthusiasm for the journey was solely dimmed when the tour promoters introduced they have been including an area act to the invoice when their tour hit New York: the Exciters. “So that they sang Do Wah Diddy Diddy within the first half and we needed to sing it within the second,” says Hugg, sighing. “I used to be all the time vaguely embarrassed round them.”

Again within the UK the hits saved coming – Sha-La-La, Come Tomorrow, Fairly Flamingo, every a gleaming nugget of prelapsarian 60s pop – however so did the band’s misgivings: “Choose us by our B-sides say the Manfreds” ran the headline over one disconsolate music-press interview wherein readers have been directed to band-penned songs akin to With out You and What You Gonna Do? Ultimately, Jones stop. “I used to be introduced up in black music and that’s all I used to be actually all in favour of. I didn’t thoughts doing With God on Our Facet, however then extra Dylan songs began and I assumed: effectively, I like Bob Dylan, he’s excellent, however this isn’t what I wish to do. Then I left, ended up with the identical producer, and recorded different individuals’s songs simply as a lot as I did in Manfred Mann.”

Manfred Mann soldiered on, bringing within the Beatles’ chum Klaus Voormann on bass and D’Abo, previously the frontman of A Band of Angels, whose massive gimmick was that each one the members had gone to Harrow. He introduced with him a tune he’d written, the basic Purses and Gladrags, however, extremely, it fell sufferer to the band’s long-instituted no authentic songs as singles rule, and he gave it to Chris Farlowe as a substitute. One other of D’Abo’s compositions, the pop-soul radio perennial Construct Me Up Buttercup, went to the Foundations. “Tom and Manfred used to say ‘How do you hear it being carried out? What remedy?’ and I’d say ‘I don’t know – let’s play the bloody factor and see which course it takes’.” He laughs. “I felt my job was twofold: to sing what I used to be informed to sing and to maintain all people’s mortgages being paid.”

Manfred Mann on Prepared Regular Go! in 1966. Photograph: Ivan Keeman/Redferns

In truth, it’s spectacular how deftly Manfred Mann navigated the ever altering panorama of late-60s pop, releasing singles that hinted at a wide range of tendencies – psychedelia, Kinks-y social satire, post-flower-power rootsiness – with out ever totally committing to any of them. Typically, their singles have been unbelievable, not least the gorgeous, hazy (Theme from) Up the Junction. Typically, they have been maybe slightly too desirous to please. “Ha Ha! Stated the Clown,” groans D’Abo. “I’ve sung it 10,000 instances and I by no means appreciated it. Nonetheless, it was No 1 in Germany.”

Ultimately, they broke up, after a TV look in 1969, abandoning one of many 60s’ most intriguing, underrated again catalogues, the place variations of tunes by the Trendy Jazz Quartet’s Milt Jackson rub up towards indelible pop songs and difficult blues. “I bear in mind getting drunk with [TV presenter] Eamonn Andrews afterwards,” says McGuinness, “then getting exterior and hailing a cab and considering, effectively, that’s that. I’m going to should do what my expensive mum mentioned and get a correct job.”

Nonetheless, McGuinness was again within the charts inside a yr – When I’m Dead And Gone, the debut single by his subsequent band McGuinness-Flint, charted for 14 weeks and simply missed out as 1970’s Christmas No 1. It was the primary in a sequence of successes for former Manfred Mann members: D’Abo and Jones discovered fame as actors and presenters, whereas amongst different commissions, Hugg wrote the chic theme for the sitcom No matter Occurred to the Possible Lads? They reformed in 1991 for McGuinness’s 50th birthday and have toured ever since, balancing the conflicting impulses throughout the band: with D’Abo, they play the hits, when he’s not accessible, their set is “extra jazzy, bluesy, we stretch out extra”. Typically, they open these exhibits with Why Ought to We Not?, the doomy, jazz-indebted instrumental they launched as their debut single on the top of Beatlemania. “You may virtually hear the viewers going ‘eh?’, even now,” says Jones, with a smile.

The Manfreds’ Most Rhythm’n’Blues tour with Georgie Fame continues till Friday three December. Manfred Mann – 54321: The Biggest Hits is out now on Decca Data

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