Tom McGuinness is a happy man. He is actually famous for always smiling on stage and why not? He plays guitar for one of the greatest sixties bands – The Manfreds.
The Manfreds is in fact the latter-day version of Manfred Mann, whose canon of hits included the likes of ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and ‘Mighty Quinn’.
On Tom’s 50th birthday in 1991, the band played together for the first time since they originally split in 1969 (except for Manfred Mann himself), decided they liked what they were doing and have continued ever since. Along with Tom, there are two other original members still playing in the band: lead vocalist Paul Jones and keyboard player Mike Hugg (Mike played drums originally).
Occasionally, they are joined by Mike D’Abo, who became lead singer in the band in 1966 when Jones departed for a solo career. Drummer Rob Townsend, bassist Marcus Cliffe and woodwind player Simon Currie complete the permanent line-up.
Tom says that all the band are in fine fettle: “Yes, we’ve just played in Dublin and it went down really well. Sadly, Michael (D’Abo) was ill as he’d caught the flu from one of his children. The rest of us are as well as can be expected at our age, but I went to the doctor last week for my annual MOT and he said to keep on doing what I’m doing as it is keeping me young and healthy (Tom is 74).
“Mike doesn’t appear at every show we do, and it’ll be July before he is due to sing with is again.”
The show is usually a bit different when D’Abo isn’t with them, as Tom explains: “We do around 60 dates a year and 30 to 40 are without him and we do the more bluesy stuff from our first couple of albums.”
Of course, the band plays all the hits and some extras, as the London-born guitarist tells me: “As well as the hits, we’re doing a couple of b-sides, one of which – ‘John Hardy’ – is a Leadbelly song. We’re hoping to include an instrumental by The Crusaders called ‘Put It Where You Want It’ and ‘Straighten Up And Fly Right’. There’s also one of mine called ‘That’s The Blues’.
The Blues plays a big part in the music of the band as three of The Manfreds, Jones, McGuinness and Townsend, also play in The Blues Band.
During the show, there will also be solo hits. “That’s right,” Tom concurs. “We’ll be doing a couple of Paul’s solo songs, some of mine from McGuinness Flint, Mike Hugg and Simon Currie will be doing something off their album and Marcus will play ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ on the bass – it’s terrific.”
The Manfreds manage to fill theatres throughout the country on their own, unlike many other bands from the era, who choose to go out as a package with other bands; as there are very few bands who do that, I wondered why The Manfreds can do it. “One reason, is that we had more hits than most bands,” Tom explains with a hint of pride.
“We had hits every year from January 1964 to the summer of 1969, and three of them were number ones! We also have the advantage of having so many original members and we can dip into our solo material as well. Another advantage is that we didn’t tour at all from 1969 to 1993 and we never do much more than 60 dates in a year, so it’s a little less usual to see The Manfreds.”
He smiles, “We do like the fact that we can do the whole evening.”
This year sees the 50th anniversary of one of the band’s biggest hits – the chart-topping ‘Pretty Flamingo’, and it came at a pivotal time in the groups’ career. “Is it 50 years? I hadn’t realised.” Tom says. “That was an incredibly troubled time for us as Paul was leaving and we were still looking for a replacement. Then when it got to number one, it made it more daunting.”
“Honestly, we had as many doubts as we had confidence that we’d carry on.” He continues: “Our record company (EMI) didn’t want us, they wanted Paul, and we didn’t have a singer. It’s nice to look back and see that it all worked out.”
But apart from touring, the band has no plans to record any new material. “There’s no plans at the moment,” says Tom. “We’d like to do something but we don’t know what. There’s an audience for the hits, but whether there’s one for new material…..”
Going back to the almost permanent smile, Tom says that there is one thing that makes him unhappy. “A technical problem will make me unhappy. When something happens I just empty my mind and get on with it. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often as our crew are brilliant at getting things right.”
And he is incredibly happy: “I’m having a good time and I’ve never really come to terms with the fact that I’m having fun and getting paid for it. I actually remember the first time I got paid. I was in a skiffle band with two school friends and we were in my friend Frank’s house and his dad came in and told us that he’d told the landlord of his local about us and they wanted us to play on New Year’s Eve. We were in our mid-teens.
“Well, we turned up and played the ten songs we knew, and then we played them again. At the end of the night, one of the guys in the pub passed a cap round and people were putting money in it! At the end of the night we got about five shillings each (25p). We couldn’t believe it! We were getting paid for strumming guitars! I never thought I’d still be here, over 50 years later, making a living at it. But seriously, making music with friends is the best feeling.”
And you can feel it to as The Manfreds will be playing at The Princess Theatre, Hunstanton on Friday, June 3. Tickets are available from the Box Office on 01485 532252 and all the usual agencies.