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The Brook, Southampton 2 May 2012

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Despite having three top ten hits in the seventies, Manfred Mannís Earth Band have had a very low profile here, at least judging by the blank looks from my younger office colleagues when I said I was taking time off to watch them.

They rarely tour the UK so a trip to the South Coast was in order to see my first show in eight years and a healthy crowd, if not one in the first flush of youth, was in attendance in this excellent bijou venue.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band, photo by Andy Nathan

Since then, Robert Hart, the much travelled former Bad Company man has joined as lead singer, although from the opener, the splendid 'Spirits in the Night', it was clear he was sharing many of the vocals with founder member and guitarist Mick Rogers, who was very much the affable MC for the evening, right down to congratulating Southampton FC on their promotion, and also appears not to have aged a jot since I first saw him in the mid 90ís. The two both have versatile voices which complemented each other nicely but Robert seemed to spend as much time off stage as on.

Counting against the Earth Band being considered all time greats was a heavy reliance on covers, Bob Dylan and Brice Springsteen notably, and on this occasion Neil Youngís 'Donít Let it Bring You Down' was also aired. They did a great job in the day rendering some of the Bossí maverick early folky efforts into mainstream radio rock songs, but to cover 'Dancing in the Dark', with a middle section that seemed to go nowhere, was utterly pointless.

In contrast their more progressive songs such as 'Father of Day Father of Night' and 'Marthaís Madman' show the bandís ensemble playing at its best.

Supported by the talented rhythm section of bassist Steve Kinch and drummer Jimmy Copley, Mick and Manfred Mann would trade lines off each other in lengthy, but never aimless, jams.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band, photo by Andy Nathan

Now 71, the legendary band leader was often invisible apart from his hat above a vast bank of keyboards, but at times came out with a keytar and some very sprightly pogoing on the spot. An old album track unfamiliar to me, 'Captain Bobby Stout', was excellent and a great vehicle for Robertís soulful voice.

Highlights included 'You Angel You', 'For You' with some great eighties style keyboards and a crowd singalong, and 'Donít Kill it Carol', with Manfred given full reign on the synthesiser.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band, photo by Andy Nathan

But I was surprised that 'Demolition Man' was omitted and 'Redemption Song' reduced to a line or two at the end of 'You Angel You'. Most people had come to hear the big hits, 'Blinded by the Light' and 'Davyís On the Road Again', both extended in crowd pleasing fashion. Robertís cheesy style might grate with a few people but it made for a far livelier atmosphere than might have been expected.

Ironically, given that the Earth Band were formed as a serious reaction against the sixties pop Manfred made his name with, the encores saw Mick lead a laid back rendition of 'Doo Wah Diddy' that more rightly belonged to a late night poolside session in the Caribbean, before the band came in for a lengthy 'Mighty Quinn', complete with more audience participation.

There may not be many more UK tours left in them but, despite being a bit too cabaret in its later stages, this gig was a timely reminder to appreciate one of the many treasures of seventies rock before itís too late.

Review and photos by Andy Nathan


Album review (40th Anniversary Box)

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