Manfred Mann brought joy to millions of music lovers during the mid to late 60s with a slew of R&B influenced hits, says Phil Capone .
Phil Capone looks at Mike Vickers’s playing in 60s band Manfred Mann.
The earliesT incarnaTion of Manfred Mann can be traced back to clacton-on-sea, essex circa 1962 when Manfred Mann (keyboards) and Mike hugg (drums, vibes, piano) formed The Mann-hugg Blues Brothers, a septet featuring a four-piece horn section. By 1963 their slightly cumbersome moniker had been changed to Manfred Mann & The Manfreds and the line-up now included Paul Jones (vocal and harmonica), Mike Vickers (sax and flute), and Dave Richmond (bass). Keen to break into the UKs single market they soon realised that they needed a guitar player (those were the days when the electric guitar really was king), so saxophonist/flautist Mike Vickers volunteered himself for this arduous task. apparently within two weeks Vickers was up and running and already playing on gigs well, Bert Weedon had always claimed it was possible to Play In A Day!
With their name now shortened to simply Manfred Mann, the band signed to the his Master’s Voice label in March 1963, releasing their first single, the slow and bluesy instrumental Why should We not? four months later. This was swiftly followed by a second release, cock-a-hoop, but both singles failed to chart. it seemed that their particular brand of r&B, with its strong jazz influences clearly on display, was not what the UKs record buying public wanted. The Manfreds’ career might well have ended there and then, but in 1964 they were thrown a lifeline when they were invited to write the theme tune for the new TV pop show, ready, Steady, Go! The resulting song, 5-4-3-2-1, quickly climbed the charts and kick-started the group’s career. There was no looking back and the hits just kept on coming, dominating the charts not just in the UK but also the Usa. During these early years they never lost sight of their blues roots; every lP and eP release featured covers of r&B standards including smokestack lightning, Got My Mojo Working, and hoochie coochie Man.
While Mike Vickers’ playing might not be comparable to the early work of say, clapton, Beck or Page, he was nonetheless a very respectable player, particularly when you consider that this was not his main instrument. What’s really impressive is that he was performing and recording after just a few months on guitar.
In 1965 Vickers quit the band to pursue a career in orchestral and film music composition; frontman Paul Jones also left at this time to start his successful solo career. The departure of these two prominent original members marked the end of The Manfreds’ first phase, a period when their infectious pop single releases were offset by more 'serious' R&B and jazz flavoured material on their LPs and ePs. Multi instrumentalist Mike Vickers was a big part of the band’s early sound, initially on sax and flute, but by the time he left the group, also shaping the band’s increasingly guitar-based sound. his guitar work is a prominent feature on their final EP of 1965, No Living Without Loving. No mean feat for a musician who hadn’t even picked up a six-string when he joined the band!
Manfred Mann with Mike Vickers on sunburst 335