Given they had most of their hits before I was born or not long afterwards, Manfred Mann were never part of my youth – unlike the vast majority of tonight’s audience. However, I’ve long had a soft spot for many of their hits, not least the iconic theme tune they created for Ready Steady Go – again not part of my youth but I’ve seen enough clips to get a warm glow of nostalgia. A short trip along the coast to Eastbourne’s cavernous Congress Theatre then was therefore in order.
They can’t use the name Manfred Mann any more because the actual Manfred Mann has been happily ensconced in the world of prog since the collapse of the original band at the end of the 60s. But the lineage of this modern-day version, who have been gigging since the 90s, is impeccable. It includes Mike Hugg and Tom McGuinness from the original band and not one but both original frontmen, Paul Jones who was lead singer from 1962 to 1966 and Mike D’Abo who replaced him as lead singer from 1966 to 1969. Added into the mix are Jones’ long-time Blues Band colleague, Rob Townsend, on drums, bass-player Marcus Cliffe and saxophonist Simon Currie.
I had high hopes, especially after witnessing a highly-enjoyable gig by Paul Jones’ other main outfit The Blues Band a few years ago. It all seems to start off a little stilted, however, as they rattle through a number of hits – the two lead singers taking it in turns depending upon who was on the original single. Jones explained that a gash to the forehead had taken him off to Eastbourne A & E that afternoon so maybe that had something to do with it – but even D’Abo’s voice seemed to be a little under strain and he was shouting rather than singing the main refrain from ‘Ha Ha Said The Clown’. I don’t like giving bad reviews, especially for such an esteemed institution of British pop as the Manfreds – but it all seemed to be a little lacking in energy. Then Jones announced that they would be finishing the first half with a blues classic that was the very first track on their very first album – and the band launched into an absolutely stunning – and smoking – version of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightning’. The Manfreds seem to move into a completely different gear for this and I was optimistic for the second half.
The second set did not disappoint at all. We got more hits like ‘Semi Detached Suburban Mr James’, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and ‘Fox On The Run’ but also some numbers, while not Manfred Mann hits were certainly part of the family tree: Paul Jones’ solo hit ‘I’ve Been a Bad Bad Boy’ and the McGuinness-Flint classic ‘When I’m Dead and Gone’.
Always an important component of the original band’s persona there was also far more of a jazz vibe to the second set, which really saw the band getting into the grove musically. The advertised special guest, Georgie Fame, could not make it due to illness and so in his stead the band brought out Zoot Money who entertained the crowds with a few numbers and self-deprecatingly referred to his one and only hit single. He proved a worthy last-minute replacement and was hugely entertaining.
After finishing the main set on a high with a sing-along version of ‘The Mighty Quinn’ the band were back for an encore with a final song that was a surprise to no-one – giving us all a blast and a communal sing-along of ‘Doo Wah Diddy’.
While it seemed to take a little while to get going this ended up being a great concert from some great icons of the 60s.