It is incredible to think of the fact that when this interview was done this band had already been active for six years, later transforming into the Earth Band who had touring plans in 2020 until the Corona hit us all.
Manfred Mann himself is 80 years old in October 2020 and older than all the members of the Rolling Stones, beating Charlie Watts with about a year. No talk about pension plans for these guys!
Mr. Mann plays it humble
Words by Keith Altham
MR. MANN, whose gold tooth flashes before he speaks, is one who improves with association. It takes time to discover what lies behind the frugal black beard and thin rims of his circular spectacles but the effort is worthwhile.
He likes to play with reporters in much the same manner as a child with a kitten.
He pats you metaphorically on the head, teases with a few rolled up replies and finally rolls them over to see if they will laugh when tickled.
Sometimes he gets scratched, of course, but then he heals easily and does not have to play again.
Some time ago “Manny” realised that his honest, brash South African approach (much like the Australian direct manner) was often misinterpreted as arrogance by the more reserved English.
His new way is to play it humble – “You’ve come to photograph us – really? All the way from Denmark? How super.” Or he simply admits conceit and thereby transforms it into mere pride.
After performing “Mighty Quinn” on “Top Of The Pops” in a crowded rehearsal room for example, he said:
“You know I just can’t help it. I got off that rostrum feeling incredibly, offensively smug to think that after all this time we can still come up with a. No. 1.
“Tom had this idea that we’d put an advert in the trade papers addressed to all our critics reading, ‘Yah Boo Snubs!'”
“That wasn’t my idea,” said Tom, who was wearing his two shilling leather jacket recently acquired in a jumble sale; his free scarf and 38 shilling national health glasses especially for the show!
“I know.” said Manfred, smiling. “but it was not a very good idea so I thought I’d give you the credit.”
Back in the Manfred’s dressing room I produced a copy of Neil Smith’s cartoon to collect reactions. Tom thought it hysterical, especially the detail on Klaus which identifies him with a letter from George Harrison asking him to design the Beatles “Revolver” album.
Klaus was especially struck by the tiny detail on the cover but thought their faces might be traced.
Michael was impressed by the detail and research into things like their drum pattern and even down to having them drawn in their typical clothes.
Manfred thought it clever but having a cigarette by him was a mistake — as he doesn’t smoke.
Manfred is anxious that the group as a whole should get credit for “Mighty Quinn” which is the first they have produced themselves.
This was made more obvious when a photographer wanted to just shoot Manfred alone.
Manfred politely requested that he return later when Michael d’Abo would be back from the doctors where he was having a painful boil attended.
Tom got very hung up on Michael’s boil and suggested the photographer could do a shot-by-shot picture sequence of it.
“Do you remember that old Jimmy Wheeler joke about this guy who had such an enormous boil he would invite his friends round to see it throb?” asked Tom.
The subject was hastily switched to the Manfred’s image as a group and their recent experience on a French TV show.
“We were so bottom of the bill you wouldn’t believe it,” laughed Manfred. “To give you some idea there was a grand finale with all the top Continental singers standing on podiums rather like winners at the Olympic Games.
“There was a procession of artists in a Winter Sports like setting, with everyone carrying banners and throwing snow balls.
“First came top names like Adamo and some French groups, then designers, artists, make-up assistants and finally those who were assisting Britain’s balance of payments deficit -`us’ — carrying a banner labelled ‘Pop Music’!”
Of course, it is one of Manfred’s ploys to under-sell his importance these days but he made the point quite objectively that “glamour” is a difficult thing for a group.
“If you are a solo artist you are a name to be called,” said Manfred. “Otherwise it’s ‘where’s the group?’ or ‘the group is on next.'”
“When the Johnny Hallidays come out of the studios there is a car waiting for them. When we go out there is a group bus!
“It is unfortunate that the honest attitude of a lot of groups to their showbiz existence has resulted in much of the star quality diminishing and the mystique disappearing.
Manfred himself is one of the first to attack the phoney aspects of “the swinging scene.”
“While there was a break in rehearsals my wife and I went out for a walk in the Montmartre district of Paris,” said Manfred.
“It was late evening and accordians were playing In the cafes and people were just casually strolling about the streets or sitting enjoying a cup of coffee in the bistros. It was a beautiful night — we just looked at some paintings and enjoyed the walk.
“When we got back to the studio there was ‘the jet-set’ sweating under arc-lamps and getting bad tempered. That’s what the swinging scene is all about.
“Life is time, for me — that is the time to be with my wife and children, the time to do what I really like.”
Manfred believes that “glamour” is often created by the public in their own minds. He thinks for example that the Manfreds have “an aloof intellectual” image and he is happy to foster that.
“Some people like Shirley Bassey have it naturally on stage,” said Manfred. “Some groups appear so ordinary and present themselves as ‘just ordinary blokes’ that they suffer.
People like Ray Davies have glamour through ordinary things. I`m sure people read of him playing football and think to themselves —”fancy Ray Davies being interested in something like that.”
Later in the studios I took up the subject of the Musicians’ Union decision to take action over session musicians playing on records attributed to groups.
“As a musician I should feel a little ashamed,” said Manfred, “but I can’t see what all the fuss is about. I’m sure the session musician would not want to go out and promote the records in clubs and ballrooms or go through all the publicity scenes.
“The session man may do nine or ten discs for which he receives a fee each time but he doesn’t share the risk if the record flops and the money spent on projecting the group is lost.
“This situation has been going on for so long I’m surprised it’s suddenly objected to the Love Affair’s disc on which the group can be hardly heard for the orchestra anyway.”
We ended the interview in the BBC club where Manfred became involved in a technical discussion with producer Colin Charman on camera shots.
Mick Hugg mentioned that he travelled all the way up to Manchester for “Scene” and they only showed a close-up of his left foot. Tom mentioned he recently played on “All Systems Freeman” and was not shown at all.
Someone asked Manfred where Michael was and Manfred replied distractedly, “Oh — he’s gone to have his lance boiled!” Which might be construed as a Freudian slip.