The Manfreds are at the Ipswich Regent tonight, read the interview here

The Manfreds. Photo George Bodnar

The Manfreds. Photo George Bodnar - Credit: Archant

Celebrating 50 years of hits, The Manfreds’ Paul Jones, Tom McGuinness and Mike D‘Abo talk to Event’s Martin Hutchinson.

Expect all the hits tonight

Expect all the hits tonight - Credit: Archant

With hits like Doo Wah Diddy Diddy, Mighty Quinn and Pretty Flamingo, Manfred Mann was almost ever-present in the charts from January 1964 to July 1969. The three aforementioned hits were all chart-toppers, the first also topping the US charts; and they also garnered an impressive tally of 10 Top 10 hits.

The band was originally formed as The Mann-Hugg Blues Band and after the inclusion of Paul Jones on vocals, their record company named them Manfred Mann after their South African-born keyboard player.

Their first hit was 5-4-3-2-1, a song especially written as the theme to the music show Ready Steady Go.

Mike Vickers and Tom McGuinness joined and the band was complete.

The latter switched from bass to guitar in 1966 and another change was the departure of Paul Jones for a successful solo career and the introduction of Mike D’Abo.

In fact, Jones had announced his intention to leave in 1965 but “being the gentleman he is”, remembers McGuinness, “said he wouldn’t leave until we had sorted out a replacement”.

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The band split in 1969; Manfred Mann formed Manfred Mann’s Earthband and the other band members went on to successful solo careers.

McGuinness formed McGuinness Flint with drummer Hughie Flint. The band also included the songwriting partnership of Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle and they had hits with When I’m Dead and Gone and Malt and Barley Blues before McGuinness formed Stonebridge McGuinness.

Jones contacted him in 1979 knowing he had a love of the blues and they formed – just for laughs – The Blues Band.

After 18 albums and more than 30 years, they are still going.

Then for McGuinness’ 50th birthday in 1991, he decided – as a special celebration – to try to get the original Manfred Mann back together to play at his party.

He partly succeeded, the only band member who couldn’t make it was Manfred himself as he was away touring.

Speaking from Bath while on tour with The Blues Band, McGuinness tells me: “We had a ball and thought we could do something with it, so we went on the road as The Manfreds.”

One thing the band is noted for is the fact they survived – and indeed continued to thrive – after the departure of their lead singer in 1966.

Jones wanted to have a solo career, with his place at the mike stand taken by Mike D‘Abo.

The band celebrated its 50th anniversary a couple of years ago and are touring again, comprising original Manfred Mann members Jones, McGuinness and Hugg along with Rob Townsend who also drums for The Blues Band, Marcus Cliffe on bass and Simon Currie playing sax and flute.

This time round they have D‘Abo back with the band for another 50th anniversary tour.

“That’s right,” he tells me. “It’s a new 50th anniversary to celebrate 50 years since the first chart entry with 5-4-3-2-1.”

He hasn’t performed with the band for about 18 months, explaining: “The band do more work than I want to do and the 50th anniversary tour I did with them a couple of years ago was supposed to be my last tour.

“I’d got a couple of young children and I wanted to be more of a ‘hands-on’ dad.”

When D‘Abo isn’t touring with The Manfreds, they concentrate on the earlier era with Jones and play a more jazz-blues orientated set.

“I’m more of a blues singer really,” says Jones, “so when we don’t have Mike in the line-up we only do the earlier stuff; but we always play the number ones that Mike sang on.”

D‘Abo chips in: “Yes, they always return to their jazz-blues roots when I’m not there. I’m more associated with the ‘pop’ chapter of the band.”

Does having two lead singers onstage cause problems?

“Paul is a more out-going performer,” says D‘Abo. “More of a showman, but we both play to our strengths.”

“That’s correct,” agrees Jones. “When Mike sings, and we tend to do alternate songs, I like to think that he is more dominant. I enjoy playing harmonica and doing the backing vocals to his songs.”

“If I’m being honest,” D‘Abo says, “when I’m with them and we’re doing all the hits, the set has more colour and more diversity. I think my presence brings in a broader spectrum of material. Also, these days, I’m not officially a Manfred – I’m more a ‘special guest’. There’s definitely room for both of us and everybody’s happy.”

This will probably be the last time we see him with The Manfreds though.

“Yes, I don’t intend doing any more tours. Although I am really looking forward to playing with them again. I actually think of myself as a full-time songwriter (among his credits are Handbags and Gladrags and Build me Up Buttercup), hoping to get another hit. I’m also writing my autobiography.”

The last word – as usual – is with Jones.

“I’m really looking forward to this tour and it’s great to have Mike back this time. It’s thrilling to go through hit after hit and seeing the audience with huge grins,” he says grinning himself. “You can’t beat it.”

The Manfreds will be appearing at the Ipswich Regent tonight.