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The Six Decades of Manfred Mann
In the last two or three years several new artists have discovered the music of Manfred Mann and included it in their own work. These include The Prodigy / Stand Up (One Way Glass); Massive Attack / Black Milk (Tribute) and Kanye West / So Appalled (You Are, I Am). Remixed versions of the Earth Band's Blinded By The Light and For You have entered the German charts by Michael Mind and Disco Boys. This is evidence of the lasting legacy of Manfred Mann.
Manfred Mann’s career has now spanned a remarkable six decades as he approaches his 50th year in the UK music industry. While his star has waxed and waned (at least from a UK media perspective) he has continued to build bands, record new music, collaborate with fellow musicians and tour to the present day. From the outset Manfred has been best known as an interpreter of other performer’s material, selecting often obscure or undiscovered tracks and adding his own interpretation, often resulting in a very different take. Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Mike Heron, Sting, Paul Weller, Del Amitri, Super Furry Animals plus many more have all been given the Manfred treatment resulting in many memorable singles or album tracks.
Arriving in the UK in 1961 from his native South Africa, Manfred quickly established himself and was soon working with Mike Hugg, forming The Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers. With the addition of Paul Jones and a move to performing R&B material, the stage was set for their emergence onto a national stage. Signing a contract with EMI’s HMV label a change of name was suggested, Manfred Mann had arrived.
The breakthrough for the band came when they were invited to write the new theme tune for the TV show “Ready Steady Go”, the song co-written by Manfred with Mike Hugg and Paul Jones was ‘5-4-3-2-1’ and it established the band who would register consistent chart success throughout most of the rest of the Sixties. Three UK Number 1 records, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” (also a US number 1), “Pretty Flamingo” and “Mighty Quinn” cemented their place in the pop firmament. However the pop ‘straight-jacket’ restricted the band from expressing their own tastes and would eventually lead the break up in 1968.
As a reaction to the years of pop success, Manfred and Mike Hugg formed Manfred Mann Chapter Three is 1969. The band was to be shortlived, suffering under its own self imposed rules. “It was a conscious decision to turn our back on what we’d been doing, but we had too many anti-pop rules; no guitar, we had only to write our own songs.” Two free form jazz albums were recorded which had little pretence at any commercial value. Despite the ‘failure’ at the time, these albums when re-evaluated at more than 40 years distance do contain some remarkable music and ‘One Way Glass’ has been sampled by The Prodigy for their track ‘Stand Up’ which has received considerable air play, especially as backing for many TV programmes since its release.
The demise of Chapter Three led to the formation Manfred’s next band – the Earth Band – they first played together in March 1971. With the shackles of the Chapter Three rules disposed of, the band developed its own style which has evolved constantly since then. Earth Band have lived up to their name, touring the States, almost all of Europe and as far a field as Australia during their 40 years existence. An eponymous first album was released in 1972. A year later saw Manfred returning to the charts with the single “Joybringer”, based on Gustav Holtz’s “Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity”.
Earth Band hit the headlines in 1976 with the release of the album “The Roaring Silence” and the hit single “Blinded By The Light” which provided the band with their 2nd Top 10 UK single and a Number 1 record in the US. Despite this success and a culmination of 4 years touring of the States, it was at this time that the band turned their back on this major market. “We went around America for siz weeks, with me not seeing my children, and came back with $1500 dollars in my pocket – on a Number 1 record! We didn’t break the market, just had one big hit. So we were never really famous in America.”
By the time of the next album release, ‘Watch’ in 1978, Punk had arrived and the new wave had supposedly consigned Manfred and his Earth Band to history in the UK. However the different musical tastes on the continent offered a new market, in particular Germany. ‘Watch’ was the best selling album in Germany behind Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Over the next 8 years a steady flow of albums saw the band touring extensively in Europe.
A brief hiatus in the late 80’s saw Earth Band off the road. The purchase of a 70+ year old song book of American Indian tribal chants inspired Manfred to develop his personal masterpiece ‘Plains Music’. Of all the material he has recorded over the years “it’s the only thing I can listen to that’s reasonably natural, not trying to be anything. The other stuff I keep hearing how I should have done it differently!”
Earth Band re-emerged into the spotlight in 1991 and have continued to tour to this day. Whilst the output of new albums has diminished, they have toured regularly with Germany continuing to form a significant part of their rota. Manfred has no plans to hang up his keyboard, “Count Basie rocked till he dropped, Beethoven rocked till he dropped, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald…it doesn’t seem that odd that people should play music for their lives, if that’s what they do. Pop, rock and jazz is the music of the 20th century, certainly the last half, and the best music will last. I started off being a musician and I’m carrying on being a musician. As long as people will pay to see us do gigs, I’ll perform.”