Mike DAbo on Manfred Manns amazing survival story as band reunites for tour

There were two problems – firstly he’d forgotten about it, and secondly he’d also neglected to tell his future wife, sixties fashion model, Maggie London.

“One Sunday morning, as we’re lying in bed in Knightsbridge, I heard the doorbell ring. It was Jean from Poplar with her grocery bag containing a chicken, vegetables and all the trimmings,” Mike tells me.

“Not only had I forgotten about it, but I didn’t want Jean knowing that Maggie was in the flat. Panic stations! So, while Jean set about cooking in our little kitchen, I managed to persuade Maggie to remain hidden in our bedroom wardrobe…”

Lust wasn’t driving the deception, politeness was. D’Abo, who once aspired to become a priest, just wanted to keep Jean happy.

Maggie, a magazine cover star who danced with Ringo Starr and George Harrison in A Hard Day’s Night, went along with the ruse, but, says Mike, “It was at least two hours before I could finally usher Jean out of the door.

“Maggie was not best pleased. In my efforts to behave like a perfect gentleman, I’d managed to totally alienate my future wife.”

Maggie’s torture didn’t end there. Mike had replaced Paul Jones in the summer of 1966, and that November, Manfred Mann were booked for a two-week P&O cruise to the Caribbean.

“We’d agreed to do a press and photo call prior to sailing. The others had brought their wives and it was agreed that, since I was still unmarried, Maggie should be hidden from view…”

They concealed her inside a lifeboat, under tarpaulin, for the entire two-hour session.

“When we finally let her out, she was literally gasping for air. Poor thing, she’d had to endure all this suffering – just so I could appear to the fans to be single and available!”

Incredibly she married him a month later…possibly to ensure her oxygen supply. The star couple stayed married long enough to have son Ben and daughter Olivia. Three-times wed Mike also has son Bruno from his second marriage and teenage twins from his third.

D’Abo became one of the biggest Sixties pop icons, singing on a succession of Top Ten smashes including Mighty Quinn, Ha! Ha! Said The Clown and Manfred Mann’s cover of Dylan’s Just Like A Woman, before going on to pen hits of his own. But, unlike most Sixties’ stars, Mike was a Harrow-educated stockbroker’s son who had (briefly) studied theology at Selwyn College, Cambridge in 1962.

“I was going to be a vicar,” he explains. “But after a few weeks of Ancient Greek and Hebrew I realised theology was not what I wanted to do. So I changed to economics…”

And then dropped out, leaving university with only “a first-class jazz collection”.

Stardom came about by serendipity. Mike’s Harrovian schoolboy group, A Band Of Angels, turned pro in 1964 and appeared on BBC TV’s A Whole Scene Going to perform D’Abo’s song, Accept My Invitation in 1966.

He was the keyboardist, but singer Johnny Gaydon asked him to sing because his more soulful voice suited the song, still well regarded on the Northern Soul circuit.

Manfred Mann were on the same show, and after watching the playback of Mike singing his heart out and smiling, Manfred asked for his phone number.

“Within a week, I’d had lunch with him, Mike Hugg and Tom McGuinness and their wives. They said Paul had given his notice but was sworn to secrecy.

“I had to keep quiet because they were doing Sunday nights in Blackpool on one of the piers.

“I had to jump through various hoops, pass auditions, get screen tested…Eventually they took a chance with me.”

Only bassist Jack Bruce was unimpressed, saying “If you’re the new singer, then I’m definitely out of this band!” He then left and formed Cream with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker.

Joining an established band was “intimidating” for the then shy and self-conscious star. “I was overwhelmed, but I grew into the part. I didn’t have a big ego.”

Surrey-born Mike was with Manfred Mann for three years, notching up six hits including Semi-Detached Suburban Mr Jones, My Name Is Jack and Fox On The Run.

The band had started as a jazz quartet but switched to R&B. Their back catalogue ranges from radio-friendly singles to earthy blues via covers of bebop numbers by jazz vibraphonist Milt “Bags” Jackson.

They split in May 1969 with their final release, Ragamuffin Man, riding high in the Top Ten,

Why? “Because of our commitment to hits, we played safe with cover songs,” says Mike. “By 1969 the band felt they’d sold their souls. They wanted to get back to their jazz roots, but sank without a trace. We’d have gone on longer if we’d had a say in the music.”

They reformed as the Manfreds in 1991 (without Manfred – real surname Lubovitz – who formed Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.)

“That’s when Paul Jones and I started working together as sparring partners. He sings his hits and I sing mine.”

Their coming tour, The Manfreds’ Maximum Rhythm ‘N’ Blues UK tour – a 60th anniversary celebration, will be the last time Mike and Paul share a stage.

They’re joined by original guitarist McGuinness along with longstanding Manfreds members drummer Rob Townsend, bassist Marcus Cliffe and sax-player Simon Currie.

Mike didn’t make much from sixties stardom, just £50 a week. “The sum total for my three years was £12,000,” he says. In contrast, his old band mate Johnny Gaydon became the minted millionaire manager of bands including T Rex and ELP.

D’Abo earned more from writing songs and advertising jingles, including the classic A Finger Of Fudge for Cadbury’s, and jingles for Dulux, Kellogg’s and Rowntree’s Dairy Box.

His biggest hit was Build Me Up Buttercup, co-written in 1968 with Tony Macaulay – a Top 3 hit for the Foundations here and in the USA.

But Mike had to wait 25years to get paid for it after Motown took out an injunction claiming it was based on an obscure Four Tops B-side. They consequently lost “about $5million,” says Mike wistfully. “Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ…”

D’Abo fared better with Handbags & Gladrags, a minor hit for Chris Farlowe, a bigger one for Rod Stewart and again, in 2001, for The Stereophonics, although they altered the lyrics.

BBC sitcom The Office used Fin Muir’s version as its theme tune. Mike calls the song “My first sermon” adding, “At Harrow I used to pretend I was giving a sermon to an imaginary public, and the song was my way of getting it heard.”

The lyrics were a message to a teenager, saying “You need a lot more than material goods to sustain you through life… there are deeper values.”

He adds, “I’m frustrated by some of the interpretations, but every recording helps to pay the rent.”

Mike’s musical journey began with his mother’s album collection which included Fats Waller as well as Hollywood musical greats. Then came the liberating thrill and animal passion of rock’n’roll…

“I loved Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis,” he says. “Elvis…Louis Armstrong was my first hero, then Tommy Steel, the Everly Brothers, the Beatles.

“At Harrow my music teacher told me, ‘D’Abo, I recommend you stop piano lessons because you’re not learning anything’ – I was more interested in the latest Ray Charles song than the scales.”

Manfred Mann fans can expect most of the band’s much-loved hits, including the pre-Mike crowd-pleasers Pretty Flamingo, Do Wah Diddy Diddy and 5-4-3-2-1 on their new tour.

They’ll also play songs made famous by Paul, Mike and Tom Guinness, plus RnB standards.

“The good news is The Manfreds are still doing it,” Mike enthuses. “We’re all back together again belting out the hits we created all those years ago.

“What an amazing survival story.”

  • The Manfreds’ UK tour runs from September to November. Tickets from myticket.co.uk/artists/the-manfreds

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