Lovers of live music seldom resent having to travel a distance to hear something quality, but that doesn’t mean it is not a special treat when a first class performance happens right on the doorstep.
We are getting a bit spoiled for choice in the area with Reeth, Hunton, Newton le Willows and West Witton all recently staging acts which are used to a much bigger stage.
On Friday night it was Leyburn’s turn, with The Manfreds packing the classy Garden Rooms at Tennants.
The Manfreds have been performing as a band since 1991, but of course their provenance goes back much further, with 3 of the band having been original members of Manfred Mann, who had 15 top twenty singles between 1962 and 1969. The gig was advertised as The Manfreds featuring Paul Jones, maybe to reassure people they were getting the real thing. And the real thing it certainly was.
The opening song, “The One in the Middle”, set the theme for the evening and was used as a tongue-in-cheek introduction to the band, having the refrain, “People from the town come just to stand around, and see the singer looking sweet”. “It was a long time ago”, said Jones, looking coy, an acknowledgement that time has moved on – Jones himself is 76 – but at the same time knowing they are sounding as good as ever and that he is still very recognisably the heart throb from the 60s.
The gig was advertised as The Manfreds featuring Paul Jones, maybe to reassure people they were getting the real thing. And the real thing it certainly was.
As was to be expected, it was clear many of the audience would have been around, even if very young, during the time of the band’s earliest incarnation, and it was probably these songs that they had come along to hear. Most of the favourites were there, spread evenly throughout the performance, with Jones introducing them rather artlessly with, “Time now for another of our hits” before encouraging the audience to sing along with belting renditions of “Mighty Quinn”, “Pretty Flamingo”, “54321”, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, “Sha la la” and “Just like a Woman”. Jones may be the frontman but the show is about much more than him singing the 60s hits.
The performance was not just about pop, but also contained a bit of jazz and great dollops of blues. It is very much a team effort and individuals are given the chance to shine. Original Manfred Mann member, Tom McGuinness revisited another period of his own career, his partnership with Hughie Flint, with rousing versions of “When I’m Dead and Gone” and “Malt and Barley Blues”, which had the whole of the Garden Rooms joining in.
Bassist, Marcus Cliffe, who also does backing vocals, had the stage to himself for his own interpretation of Curtis Mayfield’s classic, “People Get Ready”, which was spellbinding – although sadly let down slightly by the sound system not quite coping with the very deep bass notes.
Comparatively new member of the band, Simon Currie added saxes and flute to all numbers and performed alongside pianist Mike Hugg in a duet from their own CD. He also had a key role in another instrumental number, originally by the Crusaders, which I think was called “Way Back Home”. This was jazz for those who didn’t think they liked jazz, very competently held together by Rob Townsend on the drums. Townsend also plays alongside Jones and McGuinness in The Blues Band.
“What about the harmonica?” I hear you saying. Jones was awarded British Blues Awards Harmonica Player of the year in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Asked during the interval to play a Muddy Waters tune, he obliged, although saying, rather mysteriously, that he no longer played the requested tune, “for personal reasons” but nevertheless wowing everyone as he reached the heights with just his voice and the blues harp, leaving the audience breathless at times.
Another mention of that voice now – pop, especially the 60s stuff, is generally fairly straightforward and unchallenging, so let’s chuck in a bit more variety. How about a bit of Howlin’ Wolf, like “Smokestack Lightning”? Often included by British white blues bands of the 1960s, but never covered with as much feeling or skill as this. Or a tune with a tale? Let’s have Nat King Cole’s, “Straighten up and Fly Right” or a version of Goffin and King’s “Oh No not my Baby”, another one with a great chorus for the audience to have a go at. We were getting a little hoarse by now but Jones’ voice was a strong as ever as he hit those high and sometimes verrrry long notes.
As an encore, we got yet one more to join in with, Dylan’s “If you gotta go, go now”, after which we all left deeply satisfied having enjoyed a top class performance – and living so near to Leyburn we were home in time to see another old stager, Roger Daltrey, rocking it on the Graham Norton show. A great start to the weekend.
Just one word of warning though. If you do get chance to see the Manfreds at some point in the future, don’t point your phone or tablet at the stage during the performance – the man don’t like it!