Happy Birthday, Mike Vickers of Manfred Mann
Today’s the birthday of multi-instrumentalist Mike Vickers, a musician who gave the gift of guitar, alto saxophone, and flute to the Manfred Mann sound during the band’s early years.
Born in 1940 in Southampton, Hampshire in England, Vickers came into the band in 1962, when it was still called Manfred Mann & the Manfreds (the name change reportedly came at the behest of producer John Burgess, doubtlessly because it was one Manfred too many), and stuck around until 1965. Although Vickers left before the band recorded their soon-to-be second #1 UK single, “Pretty Flamingo,” he was there for the first chart-topper – the unforgettable “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” which also topped the charts in the US – as well as several UK top-10 hits, including “5-4-3-2-1,” “Sha-La-La,” “Come Tomorrow,” and, somewhat ironically, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now.”
Vickers’ departure from the ranks of Manfred Mann was a decision predominantly made because of his ambitions to work on the orchestral side of music, and it paid off handsomely: the next time you watch the Beatles’ famous 1967 TV performance of “All You Need is Love,” take a gander at who’s conducting the orchestra. (Here’s a hint: his name rhymes with “Bike Knickers.”) Vickers has another Beatles connection as well, having arranged the strings for Cilla Black’s “Step Inside Love,” a Lennon & McCartney composition.
In 1968, Vickers released his debut solo album, I Wish I Were a Band Again, which featured orchestral-ized covers of songs by the Kinks, Donovan, the Mamas and the Papas, Randy Newman, and even one of Manfred Mann’s later hits (“Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James”), while the following year found him recording as the creative force behind the Baker Street Philharmonic.
Vickers has also done a fair amount of soundtrack work over the years, including the semi-legendary Hammer horror film Dracula A.D. 1972, but Americans probably know him best for his compositions “Jet Set” and “Gathering Crowds,” otherwise known as the longtime opening and closing themes for This Week in Baseball. In the early ‘90s, Vickers reunited with a few of his former bandmates for a conglomeration called The Manfreds and toured with them for a few years before deciding to focus other endeavors, the most recent of which, The Complete Soprano Sessions, was released last year. (You can give it a listen – or, better yet, purchase it – over at Vickers’ official website.)
To celebrate Mr. Vickers’ birthday, we thought we’d put together a playlist focusing on his ‘60s efforts, including his work with Manfred Mann, the aforementioned solo album, and a handful of tracks for which he provided musical arrangements. Give it a spin and enjoy!