Mike d’Abo has been singing with The Manfreds (formerly Manfred Mann) since the mid-60s when he replaced Paul Jones in the band. With Mike as their new lead singer The Manfreds went on to have a No 1 hit with a cover of Bob Dylan’s The Mighty Quinn besides other hits as Ha! Ha! said the Clown and My Name is Jack.
d’Abo is a gifted songwriter – he wrote the hit Handbags and Gladrags which has been covered by a variety of acts as well as being used in the BBC TV series The Office.
As the band get ready to set out on their 60thanniversary tour I chatted to d’Abo about the band and discovered that there is a Yorkshire connection too. He told me that his mother was born in Yorkshire and other members of his family come from Kirk Deighton where he used to visit a lot when he was younger.
“In fact” he told me, “when I travel up the A1, I always stop off and have a look around the village. We used to spend our summer holidays at Filey too, I remember the sands and how big they were – and still are”.
So how, I asked him, will The Manfreds be celebrating the band’s 60th anniversary?
“We have the huge autumn tour coming up which we hope the fans will enjoy. Besides playing all the big hits, members of the group will also be performing their solo hits: I will do some of mine such as Paul Jones will be singing tracks such as I’ve Been a Bad Bad Boy and Tom McGuiness will be sure to play When I’m Dead and Gone.
“I enjoy being on stage and the reaction from the fans along with meeting them after the show. The things I am not too particularly keen on are worries about becoming ill and hoping that my voice does not let me down. Knowing where and when to eat can also become a problem as no two days are the same.
“This could be the last big tour I do with The Manfreds, in the future there is a possibility of me performing on the successful 60s tours which include artists from that period.”
Highlights of a long career
A 60-year career must have had a number of memorable moments. d’Abo shared some of his favourite highlights with me.
“I would say there are three main ones for me – the first was the lucky break I got joining The Manfreds. At the time I was in a group called Band of Angels, we wrote a track called Invitation that went on to become a Northern Soul classic.
“We were promoting the song on a TV show where Manfred Mann were also performing, Manfred seemed quite impressed with me to the point that he asked for my phone number. Within a few weeks he phoned me asking if I would like to become the band’s new singer as their original vocalist Paul Jones was leaving the band. I said yes and of course, the rest is history.
“The second highlight would have to be when Manfred Mann had a No 1 hit with The Mighty Quinn in 1968. For me this was extra special as it was my first No 1.
“The third would be coming through the two marriages and divorces that I have gone through and getting married again to my third wife. I had a vasectomy reversed which brought my new wife and me twins.”
A steady stream of memorable hits
One of d’Abo’s most memorable hits is Handbags and Gladrags. However, it’s not the only hit written by this tenured singer-songwriter.
The hit that has brought him the greatest financial gain was Build Me Up Buttercup which The Foundations had a big hit with – the song is still used on adverts today. He also wrote the jingle A Finger of Fudge that went with the famous confectionery bar TV advert!
“Handbags and Gladrags will probably be my epitaph”, d’Abo said. “The boss of the record label I was signed to at the time was looking for a song for Chris Farlowe to sing – the track came to me in a flash, I was playing the piano and the melody and words came to me like a muse sitting on my shoulder. I knew it was a special song, not a commercial one though. The song seems to hit an emotion with people.
“Rod Stewart heard the track and he recorded his version of the song, latterly Stereophonics covered the song which brought a new generation on board.”
Finally, I asked d’Abo what he thought of some of the new artists.
“I particularly like Ed Sheeran, though these days the market out there is totally different from what it was in the 60s; the style of songwriting and production has changed so much and is not really that creative. If you think back, there were The Beatles, The Everly Brothers, Stevie Wonder, and artists like Ray Charles creating something very special.”
The Manfreds are playing at the following venues in Yorkshire:
29 September – York – Grand Opera House
4 October – Hull City Hall
20 October – Halifax Victoria Theatre