Filling Big Shoes, How Mike d’Abo Joined Manfred Mann
by Geoff Ford
Growing up in the sixties, the music of Manfred Mann was always a familiar sound over the radio, so I am looking forward to the opportunity to see The Manfreds on their autumn 2021 Maximum Rhythm N’ Blues tour, should conditions allow current restrictions to be eased.
I was, therefore, delighted to have the chance to speak to vocalist Mike d’Abo, who replaced Manfred Mann’s original front man Paul Jones in 1966. These were big shoes to fill, and Mike did just that, wonderfully. The transition was almost seamless, the momentum was maintained and the hits just kept on coming.
“We’ve been performing regularly since (guitarist) Tom McGuinness’s 50th birthday in December 1991,” Mike told me, looking ahead to the prospect of getting back on stage. “(Promoters) Flying Music have given us a tour around every 18 months, ever since 1996, under the heading Maximum Rhythm N’ Blues.
“The difference is it was postponed from October of last year, lockdown has changed all that. As a result of COVID 19 and the lockdown, we haven’t played a gig, as The Manfreds since January of last year in Denmark, so I will be looking forward to it.”
These days, Mike shares vocal duties with the man he replaced, Paul Jones, with each of them taking the lead on the hits on which they originally sang. Paul Jones was the vocalist as Manfred Mann first found fame with the single 5-4-3-2-1 and the number one hits Do Wah Diddy Diddy and Pretty Flamingo. With six top ten hits under their belt by mid-1966, Manfred Mann were one of the UK’s leading pop groups, right in the thick of the sixties pop revolution.
Meanwhile, the young Mike d’Abo was the keyboard player, and principal song-writer, with A Band Of Angels, the group he formed with his pals at Harrow School. This was, he explained, along way from the spotlight he was about to be thrust into.
“That was an incredible change in so many ways, a real culture shock. I was obviously following Manfred Mann. I’d followed all the hits of the fifties and rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis, Jerry Lee and Little Richard. I loved that and then we went into the phase of Cliff Richard and Neil Sedaka and Orbison. We formed a school group at Harrow, called A Band Of Angels, in 1960 and turned professional in ’64.
“Unbeknown to me, Paul Jones had given his notice to leave Manfred Mann because (guitarist) Mike Vickers had left and Paul apparently said ‘If he’s leaving, I want to go to.’ He and Manfred didn’t communicate terribly well. They’d done Pretty Flamingo becoming more established, to Paul Jones’ disgust, as a pop band. He hated Pretty Flamingo.
“When we made our last record as A Band Of Angels, I was suddenly elevated to lead singer. I wasn’t the singer, I was the keyboard player who wrote songs and who sang. I knew I could sing but it wasn’t until the last record called Accept My Invitation, which was released in 1966, which actually dented the charts and, on the Melody Maker chart, came in at about number 48. It’s still regarded as a Northern Soul hit and it featured me singing because everyone said ‘D’Abo, you wrote the song, you’d better sing it!’
“So, we did a (BBC) television show called A Whole Scene Going and also on that bill was Manfred Mann. They saw the playback of us having just recorded our little piece with the me to the fore and they all looked at each other and thought this guy could be a contender.
“Manfred asked for my phone number and, within a week, I’d had lunch with him, Mike Hugg and Tom McGuinness and their wives. The subject was raised about the possibility of me replacing Paul. I was sworn to secrecy and I couldn’t tell a soul about it. I had to jump through various hoops, pass auditions and get screen tested. Eventually they took a chance with me and, at the same time, pulled in a lovely guy, a soul-mate of mine Klaus Voorman, who played bass.
“He replaced Jack Bruce who had been with the band. He asked ‘Who are you?’ and I told him I was supposed to be replacing Paul. He replied with something along the lines of ‘If you’re the new singer, then I’m definitely out of this band!’ Mike laughs. “And so, he went to join Ginger (Baker) and Eric (Clapton) who became Cream.
“I was pretty overwhelmed and got off to a very nervous start but somebody’s got to do it. I couldn’t possibly turn it down but I did feel pretty inadequate because I’d never been taken away from my keyboard before. Manfred had made it clear, ‘Just get up the front and sing.’”
Mike’s first single with Manfred Mann was a cover of Bob Dylan’s Just Like A Woman, which peaked at number 10. The media made much of the similarities between Jones and d’Abo, both visually and the voice. D’Abo seemed tailor made for the role and was content to ignore the press and concentrate on delivering the goods.
Manfred Mann hit number 2 later in the year with Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James and, in 1968, topped the chart with another Bob Dylan song Mighty Quinn. In all, the Mike d’Abo era yielded Manfred Mann a further seven top 10 hits.
“It got easier as I became more accustomed to it. Of course, I knew Manfred Mann more in the RnB vein but I knew they didn’t want to go back to RnB roots. I wanted the rock n roll side of my voice to be heard but it wasn’t to be. The so-called ‘pop ditties’ were the right songs to do at the time and we kept having the hits, so I guess I did my job.”
D’Abo was, by now, a very talented song-writer. In 1968 he and Tony Macaulay co-wrote Build Me Up Buttercup which gave The Foundations a number 2 hit in the UK and top 3 hit in the US.
His most enduring composition, though, is Handbags And Gladrags. A minor hit for Chris Farlowe, Handbags has been covered by many artists through the years. Rod Stewart recorded the song on his 1970 debut album An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down and it became a huge hit for Stereophonics in 2001. “It was my way of saying to a teenager that there’s a lot more you need than material goods to sustain you through life, that there are deeper values.
“I never thought it would be a hit but I knew it was a good song. I couldn’t believe my luck when the Stereophonics covered it and (TV show) The Office decided to feature it. I’m frustrated by some of the interpretations, but every recording helps to pay the rent!”
While Mike was becoming a household name with Manfred Mann, Paul Jones began his solo career under the guidance of Richard Armitage who ran the Noel Gay agency.
“Funnily enough,” say Mike, “three of my former band mates went to work for Richard Armitage. Johnny Gayden, who was lead singer in A Band Of Angels, became Paul’s day-to-day manager and David Enthovan and Andrew Peter also went to join Noel Gay. I was on £50 a week, so I wasn’t going to become rich overnight, I got the fame without the fortune!
“Johnny and David left after two years because Richard Armitage said there was a young band he wanted them to look at, it turned out to be King Crimson. They decided there and then to leave and formed EG Management and within two years they’d got T Rex, Roxy Music and King Crimson and became millionaires! There was I on 50 quid a week and they were making a fortune!
“I reckon we probably have more to offer, professionally, than we had in the sixties”
“Paul and I never met until 1988, I think it was. Dave Dee was running the Nordoff-Robbins charity of music therapy and he got together a sixties line-up at Dominion Theatre. We were allowed to call ourselves Xfred X. And Manfred has basically been a pain ever since, forbidding us to use the name Manfred Mann. It wasn’t even his own name!
“When Tom became 50 we got a deal with Manfred to call ourselves The Manfreds and that’s when Paul and I started working together as sparring partners. He sings his hits and I sing mine. And so it goes on, until further notice!
“We’re not spring chickens any more. You continue to learn your craft and, luckily, I have been able to stay faithful to my voice. Paul sings incredibly well, he’s fit and healthy and has a strict lifestyle that enables him to suck and blow the harmonica all night. I reckon we probably have more to offer, professionally, than we had in the sixties when we were learning our trade but, of course, one’s not flavour of the month any more. A lot of people don’t even know we’ve been together all this time.”
Maximum Rhythm N’ Blues 2021 Tour Dates:
Thursday 14 October, Sheffield, City Hall
Friday 15 October, Birmingham Town Hall
Saturday 16 October, Worthing, Assembly Hall
Sunday 17 October, Portsmouth, Kings Theatre
Tuesday 19 October, Weston-Super-Mare, Playhouse Theatre
Wednesday 20 October, Barnstaple, Queens Theatre
Thursday 21 October, Bournemouth, Pavilion Theatre
Saturday 23 October, Folkestone, Leas Cliff Hall
Sunday 24 October, Southend, Cliffs Pavilion
Tuesday 26 October, Eastbourne, Congress Theatre
Wednesday 27 October London, Cadogan Hall
Thursday 28 October, Basingstoke, The Anvil
Saturday 30 October, Buxton, Opera House
Sunday 31 October, Dartford, The Orchard
Thursday 4 November, Guildford, G Live
Friday 5 November, Tunbridge Wells, Assembly Hall Theatre
Saturday 6 November, Reading, Hexagon Theatre
Sunday 7 November, Chatham, Central Theatre
Thursday 11 November, York, Grand Opera House
Friday 12 November, Stoke-On-Trent, Victoria Hall
Saturday 13 November, Halifax, Victoria Theatre
Sunday 14 November, Blackpool, Grand Theatre
Wednesday 17 November, High Wycombe, Swan Theatre
Thursday 18 November,
Salisbury, City Hall Postponed
Friday 19 November, Peterborough, New Theatre
Saturday 20 November, Ipswich, Regent Theatre
Monday 29 November, Liverpool, Philharmonic Hall
Wednesday 1 December, Gateshead, The Sage
Friday 3 December, Glasgow, Royal Concert Hall
For more information and tickets please visit Maximum Rhythm and Blues – The Manfreds With Georgie Fame Tour 2021, Official Concert Tickets from MyTicket.co.uk