Saturday 17 October 2009

Manfred Mann @ Beverley Road Baths, Hull, 1967

HULL, 1967

Wednesday, 11th January 1967, and the Hull University Union
‘Coming-Up Dance’ was held at the Beverley Road Baths.
For your 12/6d fee you got three bands – The Small Four,
The Kodiaks, and chart-topping Manfred Mann.
The event opened at 9pm and closed at 1am. I was there…

‘Psychedelic Freak-Out time’ jeers Mike D’Abo as a burst of inconvenient feedback escapes Tom McGuinness’ amp. As if. ‘There’s one Manfred’ as Paul Jones had pointed out on “Cock-A-Hoop” near the dawn of their collective career, ‘but there’s five Menn’. Helpfully going on to list them by name on his cheekily self-mythologising “The One In The Middle”. In terms of heavy R&B-Jazz credibility that first five carried the greater weight. But the string of Pop hits that ensued – and there were a lot, inevitably eroded some of that exclusiveness. The second men, with D’Abo as a frailer prettier replacement as the ‘one in the middle’ not only readjusted into an altered, but still recognisable continuity, but, falling back more on the UK industry’s Pop professionals rather than Jazz-R&B originals for their songs, they nevertheless crafted intelligent Pop of some considerable musical merit. And when they’re booked for the Hull University ‘Coming-Up Dance’, the twelve shillings and six-pence fee doesn’t seem an out of the way extravagance. Beverley Road Baths, an imposing brick-&-sandstone block on the main north road out of Hull, periodically hosted Pop events. I saw several. Wending through admission and the changing-room area, the pool itself, presumably drained – but can you be certain? was boarded over with a temporary floor that retained a considerable degree of suspect springiness, especially when the beat provoked a bopping audience-response that achieved a near-tsunami bounce. The two support bands, The Small Four and The Kodiaks pass without exciting too much interest.

And Uh-huh, it’s the Manfreds. Just like on all those TV slots. Only the Five Faces Of Mann were not the same men of the self-referential Homeric “5-4-3-2-1”. A new record label, HMV to Fontana. Jack Bruce had been a temporary replacement for original member Mike Vickers, now he’s gone too, with Klaus Voorman on bass – the guy who drew the ‘Revolver’ cover. They were also briefly augmented by a horn section including Lyn Dobson and the esteemed Henry Lowther. But “Just Like A Woman” proves an unconvincing introduction. The much more assured “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” or the later “The Mighty Quinn” were both from Dylan’s ‘Basement Tapes’ so direct comparison with the originals were not immediately possible. Not until the bootlegs some time later. And even then the tight Manfred versions pack a punch. By contrast, Mike D’Abo’s ‘amphetamine and pearls’ pales against ‘Blonde On Blonde’, and his improvised ‘I guess I love you girl’ destroys the narrative structure anyway. Asked to name his favourite among the many artists who’d covered his songs, Dylan once claimed – not the Byrds, but the Manfreds. It might be true, who knows? Or it might have something to do with the fact that they were charting one of his songs at the time, and by bestowing his approval on its sales he was helping his own writer royalties?

And things get better. Mike Hugg might resemble Marty Feldman’s less-afflicted younger brother, but his musical invention, clear through to theming TV sit-com “Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?”, is awesome. The sweetly tuneful album track “Each Other’s Company” is an anti-celebrity celebration of ordinary lives – ‘it’s not that she’s special, it’s just that she’s mine’, while their smart jazzy instrumental take on Tommy Roe’s “Sweet Pea” proves their chops are still as sharp as ever. And “So Long Dad”, which inexplicably failed to chart later in the year, is a complete sixties class-aspirational movie in just under three minutes. Of course, when he wrote it, Randy Newman was using American reference-points, but – just as the Animals anglicised and northernised Cynthia Mann & Barry Weil’s “We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place”, the Manfreds give the song a one-act ‘Up The Junction’ east-London slant. Newman is at his most slyly observational, sketching a lyric-portrait characterisation of the low-life opportunist made good, hooked up to a rich girlfriend called Jane. Adding sociological weight as he returns to his quaint old blue-collar hometown, ‘quaint no more, just older than before’. He stomps up the stairs and down the hall ‘to my Daddy’s door’. With a playwright’s ear for nuanced dialogue, their one-sided conversation operates on satiric levels, ‘I think you’ll like her Dad, and I hope you do’, then dismissively ‘but if you don’t, that’s alright too’. Dad’s opinion doesn’t really matter either way. Jane’s uncle owns a bank, D’Abo expressively teases out his fliply patronising tone as ‘I think I’ll try my hand at that’, the unobtrusive effects investing the capsule-tale with visual depth. Finally, of course, the trendy couple won’t live around here, because ‘the smoke makes Jane’s eyes tear so bad, and we can’t have that’. Almost as an afterthought ‘we’ll write you where we’re at’, drop by – just ‘be sure to call before you do’. With the Pop revolution making the class system more porous than ever before, with a nouveau riche aristocracy of Pop stars, sports stars, clothes designers, and Angry Young Northern novelists with regional accents, not to mention predatory ‘Alfie’s taking advantage of it all by social-climbing to their ‘Room At The Top’, remaking the social landscape, “So Long Dad” was a song perfectly of its time.
Meanwhile, as Paul Jones was off being even more ludicrously teen-sweet, pouting “I’ve Been A Bad Bad Boy” over sweeping strings, the Menn were well into their second life. Manfred swaying behind his keyboards, with his slightly intimidating Beatnik gone-cool carried over from some BeBop parallel universe. Always seeming older, although he wasn’t, much. While Mike D’Abo, in a lace-ruffed shirt, is sniping “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James”, another social-vignette. Although Ray Davies is correctly regarded as the chronicler of the Well-Respected Mr Pleasants of Suburbia, the Manfreds add the sneering frustrated-romance element of the love-object choosing safe domesticity over the presumably more trendy life-style he’s offering. The ‘Mr Jones’ in the original lyric-draft was altered in view of the departing Paul, to avoid potential misunderstanding.

Then, ‘Psychedelic Freak-Out time’ jeers D’Abo as a burst of inconvenient feedback escapes Tom McGuinness’ amp. To hoots of derision from the band. As if.

So, a good night. But the next time I come here, it’s to swim.

1 comment:

Ada Wilson said...

Hi Andy,
Hope all's well. When did you write this?
Not 1967 obviously, but is there a case for writing about pop mythology as opposed to history?
Have you ever come across Dave Peace at all? Fellow Ossett chap. I think he did for football culture with 'Damned United' what maybe you could do for pop.
Just thinking out loud.
Very best, Ada