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Mike Hugg of Manfred Mann



Digger talks to Mike Hugg, co-founder of sixties band Manfred Mann, now currently touring again with The Manfreds

In the sixties there were a few bands that were in the 'first division' - The Animals, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Hollies, The Who, The Small Faces. And, of course, there was Manfred Mann.

Originating from staunch blues and r 'n b roots, the band, named after South African keyboard player Manfred Mann (formerly Michael Lubowitz,) featured Mike Hugg on drums and percussion, as well as fan-mag favourites - vocalists Paul Jones and latterly Mike D'Abo, Tom McGuinness on bass and Mike Vickers on flute/sax/guitar.

The band scored an incredible number of chart hits throughout the decade, spearheaded by the success of TV's Ready Steady Go and several of the band's songs being used in the opening credits. 54321, Hubble Bubble Toil And Trouble, Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Sha La La, Come Tomorrow, Oh No Not My Baby, Pretty Flamingo, Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James, Ha Ha Said The Clown, My Name Is Jack. They were great exponents of Dylan's material - Mighty Quinn, Just Like A Woman, If You Got To Go - Go Now, as well as forming a unique and distinct Manfred Mann sound. They managed to perform some, though seemingly never enough for the members of the band, of their beloved blues and r 'n b on albums and at live gigs. Mike also penned songs for other groups, notably the aforementioned Yardbirds - (Mister) You're A Better Man Than I and movie scores (Up The Junction.) He has also been responsible for many of the tunes and jingles used on commercials, including Ski The Full Of Fitness Food!
Mike made the unusual switch from drums to keyboards and continued a solo career and various collaborations in the 70s and 80s, reuniting with fellow 'Manfreds' (minus Mann himself) for a one-off concert and deciding they liked it so much they just kept on touring!!!

Mike kindly agreed to talk to The definitive site for retro and nostalgia and here is that interview.

I spoke to Mike about his roots. He originally comes from Gosport, near Portsmouth on the south coast, not a million miles from fellow Manfred Paul Jones. He tells me that he didn't come from a particularly musical family, but that his parents were very supportive of his drumming, where lesser mortals would have discouraged such activity. Their only pre-condition for such support was that he maintained his piano lessons. This was to prove useful as it required him to learn to read music - his keyboard skills would be put to good use later in his career as would his ability to read and write music.

He was fourteen or so when he first started bashing on saucepan lids after hearing a jazz performance at a sixth form concert.  Ask him what he wanted to do at that stage and he probably would have replied "Journalism or to join the family jewellery business", but in truth his heart was set on a career in music. He found the prospect of a lifestyle as a musician exciting - the travel and the variety. There wasn't much scope for him to find sheet music or teachers for his beloved jazz numbers so he had to make do by playing along with his prized records from Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. So he was effectively self-taught.



Manfred Mann - Tom McGuinness, Mike Vickers, Mike Hugg, Paul Jones and Manfred

In 1962 Mike did a summer season at Butlin's Clacton on the vibraphone and booked Manfred Mann as the piano player. Graham bond also played covering the nights Manfred was unable to perform. Graham was also the person responsible for Mike's move from jazz to R&B after taking him down to the Marquee to hear him play with Alexis Korner, who also had Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker playing with him. Mike says he had a lot of respect for Johnny Kidd's drummer Frank Farley "who was not a great technical drummer but played with a great rock and roll feel." Playing at clubs in London and along the south coast, there wasn't overnight success for the Manfreds. It took 18 months or so of solid touring before they hit with '54321'. They would often meet-up on an impromptu basis with contemporaries such as The Yardbirds or The Stones at the Blue Boar overnight motorway services on the M1, they both having completed gigs at other ends of the country.  Strangely, these get-togethers would go mostly unnoticed by fans. But at this stage they had no roadie and had to lug all of the gear around themselves at gigs, which did leave them rather exposed to girl groupies who often cornered the kit-laden Manfreds. Mike recalls a "Big Buzz" at this time but says "it seems like a long time ago."

He certainly isn't nostalgic, choosing to look to the future rather than dwell on the past - "I like quite a lot of modern R&B and Hip-Hop, mostly American. The British scene seems to have gone off the boil although the American is still going strong. There was a time in the 60s, 70s and 80s when British music was dominant, but not so these days. I think I put it down to the business here not taking chances and wanting a quick return. British acts are finding it hard to crack the States.  Even Robbie who is huge here doesn't seem able to find the right formula."  Even in the Manfred's early days, Mike experienced some of the negative aspects of the record companies. "They didn't want us to record our own compositions for release as singles after Do Wah Diddy Diddy." 

What was the relationship like with contemporary bands? "We were very friendly with them all but there was a friendly rivalry and nothing felt better than to blow the other bands off the stage! We were actually a very good live band because we had several highly accomplished musicians. That's not to put the other bands down - they were often good writers and so on but they lacked the experience and training that we had enjoyed." 

Manfred Mann 

Mike cites his musical influences as the aforementioned  Messrs  Davis and Monk as well as John Coltraine and  Keith Jarrett. I ask him if he ever met Dylan. "No, we never did, although we were told that he said we were the best exponents of his material, which we were delighted to hear." Mike also had the distinction of listening to the Sergeant Pepper acetate at George Harrison's house with fellow Manfred at the time Klaus Voormann who was, of course, a big friend and associate of The Beatles.

How did the reformation of the group (albeit minus Manfred) come about after all those years? "It was Tom's 50th birthday and we played a one-off at the Town & Country Club in Kentish Town. We all enjoyed it so much we have continued ever since! We now play a 40 date Maximum R&B tour every 18 months and assorted gigs here and abroad as well. It's very refreshing as we can change arrangements and focus on particular members of the band in a way we couldn't in the past. We can inject our preferences and personalities into the performance as never before and these days there are not so many egos...  there are no real fall outs." I ask Mike to describe his fellow Manfreds and he gives this a lot of thought. "I love them all. Paul's a great front guy. Mike has a great voice and is a nice guy. Tom plays exceptionally well and is the man who gets things done. Every band needs one of those! Mike Vickers is on extended leave at the moment but we are still great friends. He plays great sax." And what about Manfred Mann himself? " We meet occasionally for lunch, we are later this month, so we do keep in touch. After all, we two go back right to the beginnings of the band." 


Manfred Mann 


His life achievement is "Having earned a good living and not as a jeweller!" Mike finds computers an invaluable tool in his songwriting -"It's a great way to write, saving so much time and providing so many options." He is optimistic about Britain's musical future -"I think the current fourteen and fifteen year-olds in bands are working hard from what I see. They seem very receptive to all sorts of musical styles, including sixties and seventies music." Whether it's The Manfreds or an up-and-coming band "Promotion is very important. People need to know where you are performing and who you are. Equipment and acoustics are also very important. I have seen some renowned bands who sounded terrible because of bad sound systems and bad acoustics." I ask him why The Manfreds don't play in America. "We had a number one hit with Do Wah Diddy Diddy but we don't play America because we are not allowed to call ourselves Manfred Mann and people over there don't realize who the Manfreds are." 

What is Mike listening to these days? "I prefer funky stuff. I still listen to jazz, of course. Bands like Coldplay are obviously talented but I prefer my music to have a bit more bite rhythmically. I like Justin Timberlake and quite a lot of young pop/r&b acts from the States as the songs and the production are usually pretty hot. I have been impressed with Madonna and her famous ability to re-invent herself. But the material has always been varied and good." One thing that Mike is not too impressed with is the current fervour for instant fame. "These people want to be famous for fame's sake and not necessarily to be the best at their craft. I am worried that they are put up on a pedestal and have to deal with all the fame and adulation for a short while and then they are discarded with no real talent to fall back on. This must be very hard to deal with."

I asked Mike what made him laugh. "Fawlty Towers." And what makes him angry or cry? "Wars and cruelty to children."

How would Mike sum-up the sixties? "It blew away all the conventions and we still have some of its legacy with us today. Martin Luther King was instrumental in huge changes and a lot of our modern attitudes to sex and individual freedom had their basis in the sixties."

As for the future, Mike tells me "I want to make a really good jazz album. And we are looking at a special  way to celebrate our 40th year."


Rock Music Memorabilia - The site devoted to the Bath and Knebworth Festivals 1969-1979
Website Rock Music Memorabilia
Details Ltd was started in 1999 by Henrietta Bannister with the express intention of reproducing posters, programmes and T shirts etc. from the festivals organised between 1969-1979, by her father, promoter Freddy Bannister. The aim is to offer exact replicas of the originals, reproduced to the highest standards possible.

The posters are printed in limited editions and signed and numbered by the promoter as proof of authenticity. In keeping with Freddy Bannister's philosophy of always giving the very best value for money (just look at the admission price on the festival posters) the price of the items has been kept as low as possible and represents truly excellent value.

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Many thanks to Mike Hugg and to Kirsty Franks for arranging the interview

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