30 October 2003
Way back in the early sixties, Manfred Mann had a scholarly late-night series on the old Southern Television station, where they explained who (say) Howlin’ Wolf was, then did Smokestack Lightnin’. It was a rehearsal for Paul Jones’ blues radio shows fifty years later. I first saw them at the Disques A Go-Go in Bournemouth, probably in the same couple of months as The Who and Rod Stewart & The Soul Agents.
My next encounter was January 1967. It was the Coming Up Dance at Hull University, in the plush Co-operative Society Ballrooms in Hull. I went with four other guys, crammed into a newish red MG1100 (the driver’s dad was a car dealer). We couldn’t park anywhere, and I had the bright idea, having worked at theatres), of just driving into the “Artiste’s Car Park”. So we drove right in. There were hordes of girls in there and a phalanx of policemen. I suddenly realized that the front seat passenger had a Manfred Mann goatee beard and I had a lugubrious Tom McGuiness moustache. Then they all started beating on the roof in the pissing rain. Frantic policemen waved us to the stage door. We ran in, one took the car keys from the driver, we ran through the back stage area, paused, checked around, then sidled purposefully through the door into the ballroom. We didn’t pay. We wondered if the REAL Manfred Mann would be allowed in. They were. They were great, and I met my girlfriend of the next four years.
So on to 2003 and a good two and a half hour show, with Paul Jones, Mike D’Abo, Alan Price, Colin Blunstone and PP Arnold on vocals. First off, Paul Jones is frighteningly young-looking. There has to be a Faustian pact – at 61 the guy looks early 30s maximum. Second, seeing them together proves that he is the better of the two Manfreds vocalists. Each guest did 4 songs- two in each half of the show.
I’d recommend this tour highly as a fun evening of hits. As Paul said at one point, “we could keep playing hits till midnight.”
The star – by a mile- was PP Arnold. Thirty-five years on, she sounds exactly the same in both Angel of The Morning and First Cut is The Deepest. A rarity, as on both she improved significantly on the originals. I’d rate her as the best female soul singer I’ve seen. She duetted on “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” (A song she had performed as an Ikette and a song which Manfred Mann covered) with Paul Jones, and they had a laugh as she kept giving it more until she went past his range for responding and he had to give up. In the interval I went to the foyer to get an autographed CD (the newer Immediate Anthology, First Cut), and told her I’d got both hits as original singles, bought on release. I said, “I hope you’re going to wipe the floor with the Sheryl Crowe version in the second half,’ and she said ‘Just watch me. That’s exactly what I’m gonna do …” And did she do it. Wiped it backwards, forwards and sideways. She said, ‘Does anyone know the Sheryl Crowe version? Well tell her … (full power) “The First CUT is the deepest,” Then she did the same for Rod Stewart. Phenomenal. If only she’d done her Ab Fab special version of This Wheel’s On Fire.
Next best was Alan Price with wonderful laconic patter. As he hit “House of the Rising Sun” I remembered Dylan saying it was the inspiration to go electric. The organ part probably prompted him to get Al Kooper over to the Hammond on “Rolling Stone” that day! He did the O Lucky Man! song tremendously, as well as “I Put a Spell on You” which he had a cover hit with in 1967.
Colin Blunstone? Stunning on She’s Not There. Ill-advised on What Becomes of The Broken Hearted.
Paul Jones- a long, long audience singalong on Pretty Flamingo, a great Come Tomorrow. Good throughout. A bit hyper-active in playing harmonica in the background when not singing.
Mike d’Abo did an audience singalong on The Mighty Quinn (I never thought of it as audience participation before), and furthered The Band connection with John Simon’s My Name Is Jack, as well as an excellent Just Like A Woman and Handbags and Gladrags. They both nodded at their solo careers, Paul Jones with the pretty awful song High Time and d’Abo with The Foundations hit Build Me Up Buttercup.
There were too many solos, including a two or three minute bass solo in Where Did Our Love Go? that didn’t take off from the song, nor go back to it, technically impressive as it was. And a five minute drum solo from ex-Family man Rob Townsend harked back to the early 70s (and sounded just like every drum solo of the early 70s). Instrumentally, the band sound a bit stiff ranging towards turgid, but there isn’t room in the renditions of hits for any looseness. Mike Hugg and Tom McGuinness keep in the background. And sitting down on the drum riser to swig some Evian whenever someone else is soloing looks “uninvolved”.
But a fun evening. Do catch this package if it comes your way.