How did you spend the 60s? Trying to develop a Liverpudlian accent? Discovering the painful truth that, however much you dieted, you would never be as flat-chested as Twiggy? Maybe stuck in a boring office, wishing you could join Scott Mackenzie in San Francisco, and wear a flower in your hair?
Grand Opera House
October 25, 2016
Well, I spent it envying my sister. She was old enough to go out to the Concorde Club in Southampton, following a band called Manfred Mann, while I lay awake waiting for her to come home and tell me all about it. I was desperate for the time when I would be old enough to go and see them too.
Long before then, they split up – but this week, after 50 years, I finally got to see them live. It was worth the wait.
So many hits. My Name Is Jack, Mighty Quinn, Ha Ha Said the Clown, Pretty Flamingo – along with the quieter, darker songs like Come Tomorrow, Handbags and Gladrags, and a superb Smokestack Lightning, the first track on their very first album.
I was especially thrilled to hear my absolute favourite, Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James. If only I had paid more attention to its lyrics, I might have avoided two mismatched marriages and two inevitable divorces.
Paul Jones displayed time and time again that he is, in Mike D’Abo’s words, “the finest harmonica player in the country”.
D’Abo’s not the only one to think so – Jones was awarded Harmonica Player of the Year at the British Blues Awards in 2010, 2011 and 2012. His breath control is outstanding, not to mention his stamina.
Just as I wrote about the acts in the Solid Gold Rock ‘n’ Roll Show ten days ago, these guys are clearly still performing because they love it. Tom McGuinness was grinning from ear to ear for the whole show, and Paul Jones’ obvious delight with the volume of singing from the audience was simply very endearing.
Their enthusiasm powers them through a runtime of well over two hours, plus interval, with every member of the band getting at least one solo.
Mike Hugg’s beautiful keyboard piece, and Simon Currie’s matchless sax and clarinet breaks, were absolute heaven. Rob Townsend delivered an old-fashioned proper drum solo, with such power and attack (after two hours on stage) that I was left open-mouthed in admiration.
Not all of the highlights, however, were provided solely by the Manfreds, as the wonderful PP Arnold joined them on stage in each half of the show. I was very much looking forward to hearing her, hoping she would still be as good as she used to be. I am thrilled to report that she did not disappoint.
Her voice has just got stronger and more assured over the years. Her range is extraordinary – her rendition of Angel of the Morning was worth the ticket price all on its own. Like the Manfreds, she was having such a great time performing. The feel-good atmosphere was fantastic.
Also joining the party was Zoot Money, best remembered for his big hit, Big Time Operator, and It Never Rains But It Pours, which he wrote for Jimmy Witherspoon.
He was quirky, funny, wild, his hair apparently operating independently of the rest of his body as he attacked his keyboard. His duet of It Takes Two with PP Arnold blew the Marvin Gaye/Kim Weston original out of the water.
Whether you remember the 60s or not, whether you have no idea who the Manfreds are or not, you will have a fantastic time if you get the chance to see them next time they come. As our young usher said, “I’d never heard of them, but I’ve listened to them rehearsing – and they’re good, aren’t they!” I don’t think anyone who was there could have disagreed.