Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

In 1969, songsmiths Mann and Hugg churned out commercial jingles for Michelen tyres and Ski yogurt before forming the heavier jazz-rock outfit, MANFRED MANN CHAPTER THREE, enlisting Bernie Living (alto sax), Steve York (bass) and Craig Collinge (drums); Tom formed McGUINNESS FLINT; MIKE d’ABO went solo and Voorman joined JOHN LENNON’s Plastic Ono Band. Together with a brass posse of Carl Griffiths, Clive Stevens, Dave Coxhill, Sonny Corbett and Gerald Drewett (Hugg’s brother Brian guested on acoustic guitar), the 10-piece secured a deal with the prog-addled Vertigo Records for the MANFRED MANN CHAPTER THREE {*7} set. Gone was the airy pop of their Brit-beat sound and in its place, a post-TRAFFIC big-band element highlighting a husky Hugg on wee gems, `Sometimes’, `Snakeskin Garter’, `Travelling Lady’, `Time’ and `Mister, You’re A Better Man Than I’.
Upgrading Brian John Hugg and swapping Griffiths and Drewett for tenor saxophonist Dave Brooks, VOLUME TWO (1970) {*5} rounded off an unconvincing period for the group which saw them explore prog values on the near 16-minute `Happy Being Me’, a Bitches’ Brew of a track cut to 4 minutes for a flop single. Incidentally, Mann played Moog synthesizer on URIAH HEEP’s 1971 album, `Look At Yourself’.
In the aftermath, Mann the organist re-emerged (minus Hugg), with the more ambitious and prog-friendly MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND (1972) {*6} set; the ensemble now trimmed to a quartet with Mick Rogers (vocals, guitar), Colin Pattenden (bass) and Chris Slade (drums). Arty rather than anything close to the edge of YES or ELP (bar `Prayer’), MMEB struggled to avoid the pitfalls of their previous incarnations, as the DYLAN/“Basement Tapes” track `Please Mrs. Henry’, the DR. JOHN borrowed `Jump Sturdy’ and the sunny-day cover of RANDY NEWMAN’s `Living Without You’ testified.
GLORIFIED MAGNIFIED (1972) {*7} kept their motor running while they headed on down the highway to preview their stomping heavy prog; another DYLAN cover (`It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’) was somewhat overshadowed by the riff-tidy `Meat’, `Our Friend George’ (very ATOMIC ROOSTER), the FAMILY-esque `Ashes To The Wind’ and KING CRIMSON-ish `Wind’.
The formulaic pattern was repeated for 1973’s MESSIN’ {*7}, an album which was built around the absent 10-minute, Mike Hugg-endorsed lead track. Pinning their chart hopes on yet another DYLAN song `Get Your Rocks Off’ (the title of the US LP version) and a sing-a-long of DR. JOHN’s `Mardi Gras Day’, MMEB had optimistic visions of becoming big again; Manfred’s WAKEMAN/LORD/EMERSON excursion to the centre of the keyboards was evident on the strident `Buddah’, while the under-valued Rogers was superb on `Cloudy Eyes’; incidentally, the cover of CHAIN’s `Black And Blue’ (an Australian combo) was substituted by a reading of JOHN PRINE’s `Pretty Good’ for the American equivalent.
Having struggled in their re-birth of sorts, MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND created their own arrangement on Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter Suite” (from The Planets) in the shape-shifting form of `Joybringer’, a Top 10 hit in autumn ‘73. Sadly not a feature on their fourth set (amid their switch to Bronze/Island Records), as on the cosmic concept of SOLAR FIRE (1973) {*7}, it was bypassed by the prog grooves of `Father Of Day, Father Of Night’, an unrecognisable DYLAN track (again!) played a la BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST style. If the EMERSON, the LAKE and the PALMER could play their joker cards with `Benny The Bouncer’ and `The Sheriff’, then the bark of MMEB’s `Pluto The Dog’ seemed tame by comparison.
A dry, barren period ensued for a few years, during which time accessible rock albums, THE GOOD EARTH (1974) {*6} and NIGHTINGALES & BOMBERS (1975) {*6} failed to reach their target audience. Even the gimmick-y give-away of a free piece of one square foot of “good earth” (bought from acres of land in Llanerchyrfa in Brecon, Wales) couldn’t entice non-fans to part with their extra cash, while critics were unimpressed that Mann had liberated a whole side one from GARY WRIGHT (`Give Me The Good Earth’) and Australians SPECTRUM for `Launching Place’ and `I’ll Be Gone’.
The aforementioned “N&B” set – inspired by an ornithologist’s accidental recordings in WWII-torn Britain – included three covers (if one counts the US-only DYLAN track `Quit Your Low Down Ways’) courtesy of SPRINGSTEEN’s `Spirits In The Night’ (initially a minor US hit) and JOAN ARMATRADING’s `Visionary Mountains’. The subsequent departure of Rogers (back to Australian connections and AVIATOR) resulted in vocalist/rhythm guitarist Chris “Hamlet” Thompson and lead guitarist Dave Flett stepping into the quintet.
Sticking with “The Boss” on hearing his `Blinded By The Light’, some deserved Top 10 chart action came their way; this sublime reading duly soared to the top of the charts in America. All 7 minutes spooned from their parent Top 10 set, THE ROARING SILENCE (1976) {*7}, the record also unearthed an inaugural MIKE HERON track, `Singing The Dolphin Through’, and a couple of classically-themed pieces, `Starbird’ (lifted from Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird ballet) and `Questions’ (based on an excerpt from Franz Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat Major).
A good time to rush out an updated re-issue of `Spirit In The Night’ into the US Top 40? Of course it was.
A slight switch of personnel (Pat King for Pattenden) and a change of tactics in a post-new wave world sacrificed some ground on 1978’s WATCH {*4}. Previewed by the “live” and sprightly Top 10 `Davy’s On The Road Again’ (authored by John Simon and ROBBIE ROBERTSON), all but two tracks, the medley of `Drowning On Dry Land’ + `Fish Soup’ and `Chicago Institute’, were outsider sourced; namely `Circles’ (Alan Mark), `California’ (Sue Vickers), `Martha’s Madman’ (Lane Tietgen) and a live `Mighty Quinn’ (DYLAN).
With further changes by way of former GONZALES guitarist/vocalist Steve Waller replacing Flett, and journeyman drummer Geoff Britton (ex-EAST OF EDEN, ex-WINGS), filling the berth left by Chris Slade (who joined URIAH HEEP), ANGEL STATION (1979) {*5} left the pressing plant to squeeze into the Top 30. Allocating singer Thompson on DYLAN’s `You Angel You’ and Waller on MIKE HERON’s `Don’t Kill It Carol’ (both minor hits), the ANTHONY MOORE co-produced set filled a gap in the contemporary-rock bracket; Americans Billy Falcon contributed `Waiting For The Rain’ and Harriet Schock for `Hollywood Town’.
Alongside TREVOR RABIN on production duties by way of CHANCE (1980) {*6}, Manfred roped in John Lingwood as his new drummer, while Mick Rogers returned as guitarist to let Thompson display his vocal talent on the SPRINGSTEEN flop `For You’ and the medley-esque `Lies (Through The 80’s)’. This album was the closest they’d got to pure pop-rock music since the mid-60s; Mann penning `On The Run’ with TONY ASHTON and `Stranded’ with the ISB folky MIKE HERON.
Three years down the line, MMEB continued to tread the same ground, releasing a plethora of mediocre cover versions for the coffee-table set. One particular song, `The Runner’ (from the alternate US version of SOMEWHERE IN AFRIKA (1983) {*5}), saw them sprinting back into the Top 30 early the following year. The album itself was littered by cover renditions: AL STEWART’s `Eyes Of Nostradamus’ and ANTHONY MOORE’s `Third World Service’ the rock to The POLICE’s `Demolition Man’ and BOB MARLEY’s `Redemption Song’ pop and reggae. 1984’s BUDAPEST LIVE {*6} had no original songs, just covers.
A switch to Virgin subsidiary 10 Records; a returning Rogers in for Waller and bassist Steve Kinch (ex-HAZEL O’CONNOR) in for Irving (who’d left to join LORDS OF THE NEW CHURCH, and later PAUL YOUNG), CRIMINAL TANGO (1986) {*3} was poorly received. Credited to “MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND with Chris Thompson”, the less said about their embarrassing readings of The JAM’s `Going Underground’, EDDIE & THE HOT RODS’ `Do Anything You Wanna Do’, JONI MITCHELL’s `Banquet’ and The BEATLES’ `Bulldog’, the better.
Filtering down to a work-house trio of Mann, Rogers and Lingwood, plus a stellar-cast guest list of vocalist Maggie Ryder, saxophonist Frank Mead, bassist Mark Feltham (of NINE BELOW ZERO), among many, MASQUE: Songs And Planets (1987) {*6} found some favour with past fans; drawing from The JAM (`What You Give Is What You Get’ – aka “Start!”), CREAM’s `We’re Going Wrong’), MICHAEL MARTIN MURPHEY’s `Geronimo’s Cadillac’ and callings of other interplanetary craft-works.
Drastically stripping back activities, with only a pseudonymous MANFRED MANN’S PLAINS MUSIC {*3} surfacing in 1991 – highlighting musicians Noel McCalla (vocals), Barbara Thompson (sax), Peter Sklair (bass), Ian Hermann (drums, percussion) – MMEB looked to have been put out to a new age pasture.
Re-grouping MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND forthwith for SOFT VENGEANCE (1996) {*4}, it gave his band – Thompson, Rogers, Kinch, McCalla and drummers Clive Bunker or Dave Farmer – another chance to re-arrange hits; this time coming at ya by way of `Play With Fire’ (The ROLLING STONES), `Nothing Ever Happens’ (DEL AMITRI), `Shelter From The Storm’ (BOB DYLAN), `The Price I Pay’ (ROBERT CRAY), `The Complete History Of Sexual Jealousy’ (MOMUS), `99 Lbs’ (DON BRYANT), etc., etc.
MANN ALIVE (1998) {*6} was… you guessed it… a concert double set, featuring several of their big hits (with the addition of DYLAN’s `The Times They Are A-Changin’’ and a few surprises), but although a fresh drummer (John Trotter) was installed, the odds were stacked against anything new from around the corner; Mann would return to some kind of press coverage, albeit over the sample/use of his song `Tribute’ on MASSIVE ATTACK’s `Black Mark’ track, in which the Bristol posse settled out of court.
2004’s! 2006 {*4} – credited to “MANFRED MANN ’06 with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band” – formulated a solo set, albeit with old friends Rogers, Kinch, McCalla, drummer Geoff Dunn, plus Chris Thompson, Thomas D, Dean Hart and Barbara Thompson. His decision to take the sampling route for `Demons And Dragons’ (a la SUPER FURRY ANIMALS) was enterprising, while his pop-versus-classical traits were centred around Leiber & Stoller’s `Down In Mexico’ and Holst (by way of `Mars’) and Tchaikovsky (through `Marche Slave’).
Several years out of the picture, a solo MANFRED MANN returned with LONE ARRANGER (2014) {*4}, a rather unnecessary trek with trumpeter Till Bronner (and vocalist Robert Hart) through classic rock from FREE, QUEEN, The DOORS, T. REX, MARVIN GAYE, PRINCE – need one go on.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD/LCS // rev-up MCS Jun2015

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