An Interview With Mike D'Abo

Posted on: 17 October 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Manfred Mann's second singer talks to 50connect about touring with the Manfreds.


Alongside the Stones and the Yardbirds, the Manfreds were major players on the 1960s music scene, scoring a run of hit singles including If You Gotta Go, Go Now, Do Wah Diddy Diddy, 5-4-3-2-1 and Mighty Quinn.

Mike D'Abo, who went on to write Build Me Up Buttercup and Handbags & Gladrags, joined the band in 1966. Original singer Paul Jones had left to pursue a solo career.

Now both singers perform together with the Manfreds. It's certainly a novelty for anyone who remembers Paul Jones and then Mike D'Abo on Top of the Pops to see them sharing a stage.

Unlike many re-formed bands that consist of only one or two original members, without the lead singer, the Manfreds reunited in 1991 with both singers, original members Tom McGuinness and Mike Hugg - now on keyboards, rather than drums as you might remember him - plus newcomers Simon Currie, Wayne Elliot and Rob Townsend.

"We pride ourselves on having about 60 per cent original membership," says Mike. "The only one who we don't have is Manfred himself because he still has Manfred Mann's Earth Band and chooses not to be a part of what we do. But to see Paul Jones and myself on stage gives it an authenticity because we're the guys who sang the hits."

Between them, the pair had 15 top ten hits and today they are happy to be sharing the stage.

"Paul Jones had solo hits, I worked as a songwriter and Tom McGuinness had hits with McGuinness Flint, so in an entirely Manfreds evening you'll actually get 20 hits that we have in some way contributed to. That's a pretty good track record."

"We've known each other for years and it's what you might call a healthy rivalry. Paul's the boss - the ringmaster as I put it - he's the ultimate showman and I play sort of second fiddle off him. When I do my band I'm the boss, but when it's the Manfreds I'm sharing the limelight with Paul and the other original members."

Those who did the spadework to make Manfred Mann's name in the early sixties aren't afraid to remind Mike, now 62, that he's the young pretender.

"From time to time I get reminded that I was the new boy who wasn't there when they kicked the whole thing off, so I have to know my place," he laughs.

After a nerve-wracking start stepping into Paul Jones' shoes, and becoming famous overnight, Mike grew in confidence. Unusually, the band had more or less as many hits with each of its singers, which is probably why the duo works so well.

"My first record Just Like A Woman went into the top ten and we had eight top ten hits consecutively. We became more popular in Europe, although we never got a number one in America, like Paul did with Do Wah Diddy, but we had a top ten hit with The Mighty Quinn. So it was fairly even."

Mike's style and the group's adaptability enabled Manfred Mann to overcome Paul Jones' departure.

"We became a different group. It had started off as an R&B band and by the time I joined it was turning into more of a pop group. We were experiencing the psychedelia of the late sixties and so we moved with the times."

The ManfredsThe Manfreds are currently returning to their R&B roots on the Maximum Rhythm & Blues tour.

"The idea behind the tour is to have two or three guests. We've worked with Alan Price before over the last 10 years, and we toured with Maggie Bell about two years ago. It's going to be great because she and Alan Price are going to do some duets."

Initially a founder member of The Animals, British singer/songwriter Alan Price has enjoyed a successful career in music, film and theatre spanning over 40 years. His solo career highlights include I Put A Spell On You, Simon Smith And His Amazing Bear, The House That Jack Built and a memorable score for Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man!

Former Stone The Crows vocalist Maggie Bell was hailed as the British Janis Joplin and managed by the infamous Peter Grant. She cut her first solo album, Queen of the Night with Jerry Wexler and her unique soulful voice has seen her work with Jimmy Page, Denny Laine, The Who and Rod Stewart amongst others.

Mike is planning a duet with the winner of the 1971 Melody Maker readers' poll for Best Female Vocalist, who is returning for her second consecutive tour.

"Maggie Bell and I are going to do a duet of Hold Me, which was first a hit for PJ Proby in the sixties, but she revived this song with her friend B.A. Robertson in the eighties."

According to Mike Maximum R&B gig-goers can expect about five songs from each guest, and as many hits as the Manfreds can fit in.

"The only problem when we tour with guests is we have to cut down what we play because we've got to make room for them. In whatever time is left we'll slot in as many songs as we can. Paul and myself will each sing all our familiar hits."

Mike and the Manfreds certainly don't get bored singing those sixties songs.

"We get the same charge out of it, year in, year out. The difference is that in the sixties we were all young, flavour of the month and new on the block. We felt completely part of the current music scene, whereas today we're not and don't claim to be. I suppose our appeal is more the nostalgia aspect."

A Manfreds concert is not simply a chance to indulge in nostalgia however. The band always injects new sounds into the mix.

"It's important to play the songs in a way that the audience recognises so they sound more or less as you remember them, but we also like to throw in new little quirky bits. It's a challenge to get the right mix because people want to hear what they've come to hear and yet we don't want them to walk out and say, 'It's just like the last time I saw them.' Hopefully we get the balance right. We like to keep it fresh so we always try to introduce something new."

"On the Mighty Quinn for example we've just rehearsed a new little twist to it in the middle where it's completely unlike the record. We've given Paul a harmonica solo in the middle, then made it quite a rocky, bluesy song, and we stop the song for the audience to sing because everybody knows these songs by heart anyway."

Aside from the Manfreds, Mike takes centre stage with his aptly named Mighty Quintet.

"We're a party band, which I've been doing for about 25 years. We play at weddings. We're the sort of band who gets everyone onto the dancefloor and hopefully keeps them there."

"I play the Manfred Mann hits but also other hits from the Beatles, the Searchers and the Rolling Stones, so we are a sort of sixties band. It goes down really well, especially at parties, because whatever age group your guests are, from 18 to 80, they'll all know the stuff like Pretty Woman and the hits we play because that era is acknowledged as the classic, with great party music."

Mike himself is responsible for writing that wedding party staple, Build Me Up Buttercup.

"That always goes down very well because it was a hit in the sixties, and since the film There's Something About Mary was released in the late 1990s that's become a huge new sort of party anthem."

Handbags & Gladrags, recorded by Rod Stewart and the Stereophonics, was also penned by Mike. He's had country hits in America too. He keeps writing songs but says it's tougher to get a hit these days.

"To get the exposure and get a recording artist to cover one of your songs has become much harder, but I'm still always writing in the hope that I can get more people to record my songs. I am a prolific songwriter and I'd say that 95 per cent of everything I've written has never been heard by anyone, but you have to be greatful for the hits when they come along."

One of Mike's songs, called Love Is Like A Crescendo, is receiving an unexpected airing on a Cliff Richard boxset.

"A couple of weeks ago I discovered that Cliff Richard recorded one of my songs in 1969, which I never knew because it was never released. I'd pitched the song around to people like Petula Clark and whoever, and it must have fallen onto the desk of Norrie Paramour who was Cliff's recording manager."

"Now Cliff has put out a boxset including a CD of all the tracks that he's never released, so it's finally coming out, 39 years after he recorded it. So you never know with a song."

Mike writes all the time, as inspiration can come to him anywhere.

"Sometimes to go and drive up to Newcastle to do a gig when I'm halfway through a song is a real distraction. I'd rather stay at home. I get ideas as I'm driving and I'll write down little lyric notes and things on a notepad, then pick up these bits of paper two days later and say, 'What? Ah yes, that's it.'"

He describes songwriting as his first love.

"I've never stopped, since I wrote my first song in about 1962 when I was at school. People like Paul McCartney, Phil Collins and Bowie keep writing. It's something that's in your blood, that becomes second nature if you're a songwriter and you get musical ideas coming into your head, that's what you do."

"That's why a lot of these people keep recording. Nobody listens to my recordings much these days, which is a shame, but it doesn't mean that I say, oh well I'll stop doing it. I just do it because it's my natural creative outlet."

40 years on, the musical journey of Mike D'Abo and the Manfreds is clearly far from over.

Cherry Butler

Web Links

Maximum Rhythm & Blues tour dates 2008: www.flyingmusic.com/Maximum-Rhythm-N-Blues-Autumn-2008/tour-dates

Mike D'Abo's official website: www.mikedabo.com

The Manfreds' official website: www.themanfreds.com

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