They had screaming fans and transatlantic hits as part of the 60s’ British invasion – an unlikely result for a band of jazz and blues heads. Still touring as the Manfreds, they look back on one of the strangest catalogues in UK pop
In an office in the middle of Pinewood Studios, former members of Manfred Mann are discussing their EP The One in the Middle. It was recorded in 1964, at the height of their first flush of fame – between the first and second sessions for the EP, their single Do Wah Diddy Diddy had gone to No 1 in the UK and the US. But, in spite of that success, it is perfect evidence of how different Manfred Mann were from their contemporaries in what was then called the beat boom.
The EP features a version of Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man. With the greatest respect to the Swingin’ Blue Jeans, you didn’t get a lot of repurposed hard bop from them. It also features a Bob Dylan cover, six months before the Byrds released Mr Tambourine Man and sparked a trend for taking Dylan songs in new directions. Manfred Mann, for their part, retooled With God on Our Side as a kind of epic southern soul-influenced piano ballad. And then there’s the title track, an extraordinarily early example of pop music in self-referential, meta mode.