Jan 14, 2012
The FONTANA years 1
The departure of frontman Paul Jones left Manfred Mann with a large void to fill in the summer of 1966. Not only was Jones a charismatic vocalist, he was also a writer and one of Manfred Mann's key selling points with the record buying public. The group's record company, HMV, realised this and hedged their bets by signing Jones for a new solo deal, but dropping the band from its roster.
In late 1966 while Jones was enjoying success with his first solo single, "High Time," a new version of Manfred Mann emerged with a cover of Bob Dylan's "Just Like A Woman" on Fontana. The new line up featured Mike D'Abo as vocalist (previously with A Band Of Angels) and was augmented by Klaus Voorman on bass, with Tom McGuiness switching to lead guitar. Despite the magnitude of this personnel change, the single was a top 10 hit and paved the way for this album, As Is.
Released in October 1966, As Is continued the pop sensibilities of their previous album, Mann Made, with the group firmly removed from its original R&B roots. In addition to "Just Like A Woman," highlights included a humorous tribute to a hangover entitled "Morning After The Party" and a slick vibes led rendition of the jazz standard "Autumn Leaves." Like many mid sixties albums, As Is seems to be a collection of songs, rather than a complete entity like Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper.
In this instance some of the material does appear to be filler, such as the banal "Box Office Draw" and the chaotic "Another Kind Of Music." The general feel of the album shows a band searching for a direction and does not seem as focused or disciplined as the Jones-led R&B material. Nevertheless there is some excellent playing, particularly from drummer Mike Hugg and Manfred Mann himself, whose jazz influenced style helped add a high brow dimension to the group.
The album was a top 20 hit in the UK charts and consolidated the group's reputation, on which they would continue to build over the next three years[allmusic]
The FONTANA years 2
This was the third album from the chapter two version of the Manfred Mann group featuring lead-singer Mike dAbo. The group is mostly known for their big and fine hit-singles during 1966-69 such as "Just Like a Woman", "Seme-detached Suburban Mr James", "Fox on the Run and of course the two included on this album "Mighty Quinn" and "Ha, Ha, Said the Clown".
Their albums are all fine examples of early British pop-rock at its finest and really worth seeking out. All band members were experinced, talented and capeable of playing very different instruments and musical styles. This obviously shows on their albums and there is a great variety in instrumentation on their albums.
"Mighty Garvey" is probably their most consistent with fine original material from Hugg and dAbo, and apart from the "comedy" tracks "Happy Families" they stay away from their tendency to put in a couply of jazz-tunes. Though "Happy Families" hardly are meant to be taken seriously, the opener sets a fine free-and-easy mood for the album.
Mike dabo's "No Better, No Worse" is a great Traffic inspired tune featuring Klaus Voorman's flute, which is also known from more of their hits.
"Every Day Another Hair Turns Grey" is Mike Hugg's sad melodic answer to Beatles' "Penny Lane" - fine lead and harmony vocals on this one.
"Country Dancing" is a song much in the same vein as the single "Ha, Ha, Said the Clown", though not as good - written by dAbo.
"It's So Easy Falling in Love" and "Each and Every Day" are other fine typical Manfred Mann songs; featuring the mellotrone which also often was used on their records. Written by Hugg.
"Mighty Quinn" is simply one the greatest singles released in the late 1960's - try compare with Bob Dylan's original, then you'll understand how big this band really was.
The funky "Big Betty" is my least favourite on the album - may give associations towards Steve Winwoods Spencer Davis days.
Mike dabo's "The Vicar's Daughter" is a beautiful song, with lyrics that some may find somewhat too sentimental; for me personally it's a favourite.
Guitarist Tom McGuinnes also contributed a song now and then; here he is featured with the surrelistic and experimental "Cubist Town" - though different the song works fine in the context.
Hugg's "Harry the One Man Band" is a little more of the same - art pop-rock - naive in the same way as Syd Barrett's early Pink Floyd songs....
Manfred Mann always used the long-play format to showcase its virtuosity and range of influences away from the world of pop singles. This was evident early in the band's career with albums such as The Five Faces of Manfred Mann, which was a hardcore R&B album, far removed from the pop sensibilities of singles like "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "Sha La La." The contrast between this album and their singles output of 1968 is not quite as stark, as the LP contains pop material such as "It's So Easy Falling" and "The Vicar's Daughter." More unorthodox selections include "Cubist Town," "Harry the One-Man Band," and "Country Dancing," which showcase the eclectic side of the group. The album failed to chart in the U.K., which is surprising considering Manfred Mann's popularity in 1968 -- three British Top Ten singles. Perhaps the inclusion of one or two more hits like "Ha Ha Said the Clown" would have attracted more sales. In the U.S., the album was released as The Mighty Quinn and mixed some tracks from this album with older single material. The result is a more balanced affair, with the hits providing a welcome contrast to the more highbrow material. However, the U.K. record business was intent on not duplicating singles on albums -- a tradition that became rare in the 1970s.[allmusic]
The FONTANA years 3
One of the great soundtracks of the 1960s, Up the Junction shows Manfred Mann shedding their pop skin and evolving into a truly awesome jazz outfit, which would later be fully realized in their Chapter Three incarnation. Not that they didn't have some lovely pop gems on this record. The title song, sort of a flipped-out, very very British alternative to "Good Vibrations," is one of Manfred Mann's finest pieces ever, with an excellent vocal from Mike d'Abo, Paul Jones' (Manfred's original vocalist) replacement. But the series of brief jazz-based instrumentals such as "Sheila's Dance" and "Belgravia" are equally arresting, showing off Mike Hugg's drumming and Mann's own piano abilities as never before. Priceless.[allmusic]
The FONTANA years 4
What a Mann was Manfred Mann's first compilation of material from their Fontana sessions. Issued in March 1968, the album appeared at a time when Manfred Mann's commercial appeal appeared to be waning. Between the release of "Ha Ha Said the Clown" in early 1967 and "The Mighty Quinn" in 1968, the group had only scraped a number 60 hit with a jazz instrumental entitled "Sweet Pea." The follow-up single to this, "So Long Dad," failed to chart, as did their Instrumental Assassination EP. In view of these chart failures, it seems rather odd that Fontana chose to issue this album, which features the aforementioned flops and additional B-sides from 1966-1967. Despite the commercial ambiguity of the selection, the album does succeed in showcasing the more offbeat, bizarre side of Manfred Mann. Of interest are covers of Bobby Hebb's "Sunny" and Georgie Fame's "Get Away," which highlight the group's jazz credentials. They also send up the Troggs' "Wild Thing" and "With a Girl Like You." Although these latter covers are humorous, they do occasionally slip into self-indulgence. More palatable is the group's tribute to psychedelia with "Funniest Gig" which should, perhaps, have been an A-side rather than the flip to the upbeat but thin-sounding "So Long Dad." As a compilation, What a Mann has its moments, but it's overweighed with instrumental material such as the exceptionally dull "One Way." This bias toward instrumental tracks reduces the opportunity to exploit the songwriting and vocal talents of Michael d'Abo, who was then making a name for himself as writer of the Foundations' "Build Me up Buttercup" and Chris Farlowe's"Handbags and Gladrags," later a hit for Rod Stewart and the Stereophonics.[allmusic]