Watford Colosseum Saturday 22nd November 2014
Manfred Mann & The Manfreds formed in 1963 with Mike Hugg on piano and Paul Jones on vocals and Harmoinca. As Manfred Mann they had their first hit, 5-4-3-2-1 in 1964 shortly before Tom McGuinness joined the band. Mike D'Abo took over from Paul Jones on vocals in 1966 and after a string of hits by 1969 the band was sadly no more.
As luck would have it, 30 years later at Tom's 50th birthday party the guys came up with the idea of getting the band back together, although this time without the eponymous Manfred Mann. Now this suburb 60s rhythm and blues group are enjoying their reformation, which has lasted longer than it did the first time round, and are back on tour again, playing 24 dates in November alone; pretty impressive by anyone’s standards.
As the band take to the stage there is a sense of total interaction with the audience, Paul Jones in particular communicates brilliantly throughout. The guys who are all excellent musicians in their own right, performed some of the most memorable songs from the era, including Pretty Flamingo, Do Wha Diddy Diddy, Ha! Ha! Said The Clown, Fox On The Run, My Name Is Jack, Mighty Quinn, Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James and their last hit - Ragamuffin Man. Throughout the show there is video backdrop featuring the band in their heyday which compliments the contemporary performance perfectly.
PJ's voice is still great and at 72 he can still hit some pretty impressive falsetto notes! Those of you who listen to his fantastic BBC Radio 2 blues show will already know that he is a mean harmonica player, but live his playing takes on a different level and is really incredible. He performs a heartfelt rendition of Maxine Brown's Oh No! Not My Baby and I'm Your King Pin (B side of Hubble Bubble) and the fantastic Howlin Wolf tune Smokestack Lightning from Manfreds first album The Five Faces Of Manfred Man - cue red hot harmonica playing from PJ and some excellent guitar work from Tom.
Paul shares the vocals with Mike D'abo who took over from as lead vocalist in 1966. They have a natural rapport which is shown through their humour and energy, most younger bands would be hard pressed to copy. Mike D'abo is not only a brilliant singer and songwriter and also wrote the Classic Handbags And Gladrags recorded by Chris Farlowe, Rod Stewart and The Stereophonics to name a few. A song as well known as Handbags can lose its power over time and become guilty of being done to death, but it was so nice to hear it sung by its composer, so there was no danger of that happening here. The band gave an reworked version Mike's song Build Me Up Buttercup, playfully re-titled Ballad Me Up Buttercup, originally sung by the Foundations. He also sings the full version of Dylan's Just Like A Woman, which is rarely heard. You could hear a pin drop.
Tom McGuinness of McGuinness Flint fame takes up the vocal for two songs, performing Malt And Barley Blues, (that he reliably informs us, was kept of the No1 slot in the charts by Clive Dunn's Grandad!) later he picks up his mandolin and give us the superb When I'm Dead And Gone which hasn’t dated despite being over 40 years old. Towards the end of the set the band play If You Gotta Go, Go Now sadly another track that lost out on the top spot to Ken Dodd's Tears – there is no justice!
I had an inkling that The Manfreds would be good, but I didn't expect the dynamism and energy that that oozed from the stage. They didn't just trot out the old tunes as a cover band might have done, they owned the stage and the songs. By changing the arrangements of some of the songs and starting the second half with an acoustic set they were able to keep the songs fresh and contemporary.
These consummate professionals put on an incredible show and are a real credit to the musical world and a joy to see live, they deserved the standing ovation. They were even humble enough to rush out to the front and sign anything and have a chat too! At truly enjoyable evening, don't miss them!