Monday, 25 June, 2012 - Modified on Thursday, 28 June, 2012 at 11:34 am
Having established himself as a great vocalist, front man and songwriter in the 60’s other avenues opened up for Mike d’Abo in the 70’s.
This week Mike talks about life after Manfred Mann and selling LOTS of chocolate!
As the 60’s drew to a close and Manfred Mann came to an end, am I right in thinking that you went from being King Herod to John Lennon in a very short space of time?
Yes, I’d not thought of it those terms though! I’d signed my first solo deal in about 1970 with a company called MCA and I remember Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber being signed as songwriters by a guy called Brian Brolly. They had been turned down by about three other record labels, EMI and Decca included, and had got this new project called ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. I met Tim and Andrew and they offered me the choice to sing either the part of Jesus or Judas, which would have involved learning a lot of songs and at the time I said count me in but only for one song. So, we agreed that I would try the King Herod song and I was pretty amazed by the turnaround between the music that Andrew played me on his piano, in an old fashioned sort of way, and going into the studio to hear how the Grease Band had transformed these songs into really groovy, very good, impressive backing tracks. Having heard the original score from Andrew’s piano I couldn’t really see anything to really get my teeth into but the Grease Band did really give it some street cred and the music all came to life. They’re talking now about reviving it and it’ll do very well. What I didn’t realise was, I sang the Herod song and went out of the studio very quickly then got the shock of my like when I went to New York either a year or two years later when they’d finally put it on as a stage show and King Herod is this outrageously camp character. There were high heels and they were almost sending the song up as there must have been something in my voice that implied that. There was one line ‘prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool’, and everyone was in hysterics when they saw this song done live by a very camped up King Herod! I thought basically I should be grateful that my performance inspired them to do it in that way.
About a year later I had the chance to do some acting. I had done some acting before, in Gullivers Travels I had played the part of Gulliver at the Mermaid Theatre and thoroughly enjoyed it because to an extent Gulliver is seeking the truth, he’s going out into the world trying to find, you might even say, the meaning of life so I identify with Gulliver. I then got asked to play the part of John Lennon in a play by Howard Barker at the Royal Court Theatre, the theatre upstairs, but the play made one fatal mistake. The writer has assumed that John Lennon had written ‘Eleanor Rigby’ which of course was written by Paul McCartney! In the eyes of Howard Barker it was written by John Lennon and therefore he tried to bring to life Father MacKenzie and Eleanor Rigby which Paul had written about as a figment of his imagination. I was asked to try and be John Lennon and do a Liverpool accent, which I didn’t do very well, people said I sounded more like George Harrison. I wore a long wig with spectacles and robes because the Lennon part was divided up between Lennon the rocker in the early days and being the peace and love guru of the later period. I found it very difficult to do but I did my best at it and Lennon was meant to be having an affair with Eleanor Rigby and then he left her which in the eyes of the playwright inspired him to write the song! Interestingly my Eleanor Rigby was Maureen Lipman who obviously went on to become very well known. We did the play for about a month or two and then I had to go off and do a television documentary and they re-cast the part and my understudy took over and did it so well that they never asked me to come back!
It was about the time that the play came to an end I met a jingle agent called Sue Manning. Sue was then responsible for getting involved in the world of jingles which I did from around 1972 to 1975 or 76.
You also did a soundtrack for the Peter Sellers film ‘There’s a girl in my soup’ didn’t you?
Yes, that was in 1971. That was because I’d got to know the Boulting Brothers, I’d been socially meeting a guy called Tommy Yeardye who worked for Vidal Sassoon and at one of his cocktail parties he had John Boulting there and we ended up playing tennis. Eventually I played John Boulting some of my songs and I’d written called ‘Miss Me In The Morning’ and he said that song would be great for ‘There’s a Girl In My Soup’ which his twin brother Roy was directing. At one point I was actually shortlisted to be acting in it too, I was due to play the part that Nicky Henson took which was the boyfriend of Goldie Hawn’s character. I got as far as doing the screen test and at the eleventh hour, just as I was waiting for the screen test with Goldie Hawn, Roy Boulting came in and said we think you’ve got enough on your plate doing the music so that was that. I did write four songs for the film but as I couldn’t write music notation I got a guy called Gordon Rose to come in as my arranger and we put out the song ‘Miss Me in The Morning’ as a single. Although at this point in my life I was involved in lots of things, I wasn’t actually selling albums which was what I really wanted to do. I wanted to be viewed as a singer/songwriter like Carole King or Cat Stevens, Elton John or in the style of what George Harrison was doing at that time. These people were selling albums in huge numbers of their own songs and that was what I had set my heart on doing.
In 1974 or 5 I met a guy called Mike Smith who had been the lead singer with the Dave Clark 5. We got a record deal with CBS and did an album together and that album called Smith & d’Abo was the last thing I did. Although we didn’t get any chart success with it I was really pleased with the outcome of those sessions and he was a lovely guy to work with. I was really proud of what we did but by this time I was set on moving to America and finally went over there in 1977 relinquishing my jingle career and Smith & d’Abo.
You ended up selling quite a lot of Chocolate I believe?
Yes indeed. My jingle career had trotted along quite nicely, the most famous one I did was called ‘A Finger of Fudge’. It was really popular, they used to put it on in the morning and again in the afternoon so I’m sure lots of children went up to their mothers asking for a finger of fudge! I’m impressed that they used it for about 12 years and did contact Cadbury’s about freshening it up and maybe doing a reggae version but by then it had become a more peripheral product and they weren’t putting any more advertising spend into it. It’s certainly something that when I talk to people of a certain age they can still sing it. I did a lot of TV jingles though, I did Butlins, Typhoo Tea, Findus Pancakes, Kodak Instamatic Cameras, and various Kelloggs cereals. I could knock them off quite quickly because I always found writing music pretty easy, and they were happy days. What happens now is that I still write the same volume of music but there’s no specific outlet for it unless you can create one.
I did quite recently release an album called ‘Passion Driven’ which should be available at the festival. It’s something I can’t seem to stop, it’s the habit of a lifetime if you’ve constantly been writing music and creating it, it seems inappropriate to say well that’s just finished now.
Surely it’s like a tap that you can’t turn off isn’t it?
That’s a good way of putting it actually.
The idea’s and the urge to still go to the piano is still there obviously?
You’re right and that’s the way it always will be. That’s the reason people keep on performing. I like to perform with my own band, the Mighty Quintet, which is more of a social band. By that I don’t mean we meet socially but we play for social occasions such as parties and weddings. With The Manfreds the work is more for the public at music venues.
Next week Mike talks about The Manfreds and looks back over an amazing career.
Brewood Music Festival takes place between Thursday 12th July and Sunday 15th July with The Manfreds and The Move headlining the Festival at St. Dominic’s School on Saturday 14th July. Tickets are available from The Swan and The Mess in Brewood and also from the Festival website – www.brewoodmusicfestival.co.uk
For more information on the Festival check out our ‘Things to do’ page and calendar at www.villagetimes.co.uk/things-to-do.htm
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