Gig preview: The Manfreds at Leeds City Varieties

The Manfreds.
The Manfreds.
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BACK in the sixties, Manfred Mann was a hit-making machine, from 1964 to 1969 they were almost ever-present in the charts due to such classic hits as 5-4-3-2-1, Doo Wah Diddy Diddy, Pretty Flamingo and Come Tomorrow.

Their music was so good that they survived a change of lead singer when Paul Jones left in 1966 for a solo career and was replaced by Mike D’Abo.

Their music has remained timeless due to the undercurrents of jazz and rhythm and blues that was infused into their music.

After splitting in 1969, the band (without Manfred Mann himself) reformed in 1991 as The Manfreds and have, since then, continued to enchant audiences around the world with the music from this well-respected band.

So happy are the members to be still playing this music, three of the original band: singer Paul Jones, keyboard player (formerly drummer) Mike Hugg and guitarist Tom McGuinness are still plying their trade, along with long-standing members drummer Rob Townsend, bassist Marcus Cliffe and Simon Currie on flute and sax.

Sometimes they are joined by Mike D’Abo for tours – but not this particular tour.

The 2015 tour is concentrating on the jazz and blues ingredients of the bands’ music, and it is rather apt, as the original band evolved from a jazz band as founder member Mike Hugg tells me during a break in the soundcheck for their first date.

“We grew out of a jazz band that Manfred and I had which wasn’t really doing very well.

“I met Graham Bond, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce at Alexis Korner’s club and we were blown away by the music and I suggested to Manfred that we might try it.”

Thus was The Mann Hugg Blues Brothers born.

“It was very exciting music and we added horns, then Mike Vickers came in, so the band just grew.”

Even though they were a blues band, Mike was heavily jazz orientated.

“My main influences initially were the likes of Miles Davis and Ray Charles, really the blues side of jazz.”

Then another piece of the jigsaw fitted in.

“We met Paul (Jones) and we were introduced to a wider spectrum because of his blues background.”

With the addition of the ever-smiling Tom McGuinness, the band was complete and they never looked back.

But with them having the ‘heavier’ side of jazz and blues in their mix, I wondered whether the band was pleased from an artistic standpoint that they were known for their ‘pop’ hits.

“Well,” says Mike philosophically, “if we hadn’t had those hits, I wouldn’t still be touring.

“Seriously, of course we were glad. We had a great time, it was a very exciting time back then.”

In the Sixties version of the band, Mike played drums but now he is the keyboard player. Why the change?

“I’d always played piano even before Manfred Mann,” he explains.

“When we split me and Manfred formed a band called Emanon (‘no name’ backwards), and I was writing a lot of the music on the piano, so it seemed right for me to switch.

“Also,” he adds ruefully, “just after we split, the van which had all my drums in was stolen. I’d love to know where they are now.”

For this tour, the band will be concentrating not only on the hits, but on the jazz and blues aspect of their music.

“We can’t ignore the hits, but we’ve dug out a few numbers from the past that we haven’t done before. It’s been interesting for us playing these songs again and it will be a change for the fans as well.”

A number of The Manfreds also tour as The Blues Band, but Mike isn’t one of them.

“No, I keep myself busy. I’ve got my own studio and I do a lot of writing.

“I’m compiling loads of songs and I’m trying to write another hit single.

“In fact, Simon (Currie) and I have just done an album with just sax and piano – it’s quite relaxing music.

“Also, I love playing the piano and I practice every day.”

After the UK tour, there’s no rest for the band.

“We’re going to Australia in July to do some shows there.”

And don’t worry if you don’t catch them this time.

“We’ll be continuing the UL tour in the autumn.”

The Manfreds will be performing their many hits and some less well-known gems from their formidable catalogue at the City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds on Thursday May 14. Tickets are available from the Box Office on 0113 243 0808.

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