I was born in Staines – just in time for the Battle of Britain – in a state of complete ignorance. Almost immediately I learnt to suck my thumb and poo in my pants and scream incessantly, but later on I had to learn not to suck my thumb or poo in my pants or scream incessantly. The learning process is still going on to this day, but fortunately I’ve got most of the basics by now.
I went to school in Staines for a while, where I learnt how to go to school. At the age of seven the family moved up to Scotland. I was ridiculed incessantly for my English accent, so I learnt to speak Scottish, as a survival strategy. My family was two sisters (one older, one younger), and my mum and dad, and a dog, a Welsh Corgi, purchased for me by my parents when I was ten, and appropriately named Taffy. I had some piano lessons around this time, from a large woman called Miss Edmiston, whose weight caused the chair on which she sat to creak alarmingly. Even worse, she couldn’t creak in tempo, which put me off my attempts at rhythmic playing. This was my first encounter with music making.
Then at the age of eleven we moved to Southampton, where I had to re-learn English. I eventually moved into my teens, and fell in love with Brigitte Bardot.
I went to King Edward VI school in Southampton, where I learnt Physics, Maths, Chemistry and so on. I started listening to music (rather than just hearing it), particularly jazz, and even more particularly Benny Goodman’s clarinet, which seemed to be calling to me to have a go myself. I was given a descant recorder for my birthday, and soon was playing it in various ensembles and consorts at school (a consort is not the same as an escort, in case you’re wondering). I also got a treble recorder, and played borrowed tenor and bass recorders, so I’d been there and done that, recorder-wise. A clarinet was next – it had to be, it was meant to be, it was written in the stars in the Daily Express, my parents’ newspaper of choice. Aries – ‘A beautiful wind will blow across your life.’
‘That means I need a clarinet now,’ said I. But not just yet. A deal had to be struck with my dad whereby I’d pay back the cost of the clarinet by doing a daily paper round, on a daily basis, for 24 months minimum. Which I did. I played the clarinet in various groups at school, including the orchestra, which wasn’t very good. I also played at the jazz club of Southampton University, now the Turner-Sims concert hall.
But all this music was getting in the way of my scientific education. I went to see the headmaster, and told him I wanted to change streams in mid-course, as it were, from Science to the Arts. He said no. I also told him I wanted to take up music as a career. He told me I would be a failure. This was so encouraging I immediately left school and bought my first saxophone – a Selmer alto.
I financed this by playing gigs with various local bands in Southampton and surroundings. Dance halls, ballrooms, weddings, parties, festive celebrations – and increasingly, jazz clubs, including the legendary Concorde, where I played on the opening night, and then regularly with my own jazz quintet. Later the Concorde was invaded by the r&b craze, featuring a band I would soon become part of.
I began listening to much 20th century orchestral music – Stravinsky, Bartok, Sibelius etc. I became fascinated by music scores, and began to write pieces of music for some of the bands I was in. These were usually small-group jazzy, but I’d begun to think orchestrally. I also developed a taste for the early electronic music that was being made at that time.
It was decided by my parents that I should get a proper job, and soon I found myself at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough as a Scientific Assistant in the Electrical Engineering Department. I was set to work to devise a new colour-coded filing system for the office, which I completed successfully, but which was never used, as far as I know. The Head of the EE Dept rode to work on a rusty old bike, so there wasn’t much inspiration to work my way up the ladder. I left, went back home, and practiced the saxophone and wrote music every day, until I felt the time was right for me to move to London, and seek my fame and fortune.
The first attempt didn’t work because I developed an eye problem and had to spend a lot of time in Moorfields Eye Hospital. The pain was so bad that I was unable to play my saxophone, due to the extra pressure in my head from blowing. One of the other inmates had a guitar, and I thought that maybe I could learn to play such a thing, if I needed to.
I went back to my parents’ house to recover, and then later set out for London again for a second attempt. This time I shared a flat in Forest Hill with Mike Hugg, who I already knew from local gigs, and Manfred Lubowitz, who Mike had met in the band during a summer season at Butlins in Clacton. The three of us became the nucleus of what developed into Manfred Mann, with its well-known history. At some early point in the proceedings it was thought we could do with a guitar player. We auditioned, but amazingly enough, couldn’t find anyone who seemed to be suitable. So I took up the guitar myself, as I thought I might, just one paragraph ago. I became a reasonably adequate player, but still preferred the saxophone.
Stuff happened – fame, of a kind, but not fortune. Gigs, interviews, photo sessions, TV – and learning to mime. I was still very interested in the music scoring side of things, and did some orchestral overdubs for MM. John Burgess, the MM producer, asked me if I’d like to do some of my own material with session musicians. The result was ‘On the Brink’, by the Mike Vickers Orchestra, which became something of a Mod Anthem at the time, and later a Northern Soul Anthem (two anthems in one!). Some film producers heard it, and asked me to write a score for their next movie. I said yes, and gave in my notice to MM, in order to have plenty of time to write the music.
This started a period in my life when I worked so hard that I still don’t know how I did it. I rapidly came into great demand as an arranger – someone who turns a rough voice & guitar demo into an orchestral piece or a brassy blockbuster. I contributed arrangements to many singers, including Cilla Black, Cliff Richard, Ella Fitzgerald, The Scaffold, Engelbert Humperdink, and, famously, for the Beatles, on the All You Need Is Love sessions for global TV (I have written about this as part of my autobiography, available soon from Kindle). It was non-stop work – finish an arrangement, start the next, go to a recording session, finish the second arrangement, start the next, go to another recording session, have meetings with singers and producers to discuss songs and choose keys, go to another studio for orchestral or vocal overdubs, go back home and finish the third arrangement and write three more. And so to bed, perchance to sleep, if my overloaded brain ever let me.
I wrote a number of other music scores, for comedy films that weren’t funny, horror films that weren’t scary, adventure films that weren’t adventurous, and sex films that weren’t sexy. Odd, that. I also wrote commercials, and tons of library music. I bought a Moog Series III synthesizer, one of the first to arrive in the UK, and used it a lot in the studios, including programming all the electronic sounds heard on the Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’.
Towards the end of the 70s I thought it might be a good idea to try my luck in America. And so it happened that in March 1978 I set out with my wife Sue and our two daughters Jackie and Cathy, and soon we found ourselves living in South Hamilton Drive, Beverly Hills (although this was the flat part of Beverly Hills, not the Hilly part). Now what?
I went to see some contacts (ie, people) to talk about contributing some music to something or other, but nothing came of it. I met up with some friends who I’d known and worked with in the UK, and we began to partake of the LA social scene. I realised the break from constant pressure was very good for me, and before long California worked its magic – the climate and the lifestyle and the attractions cast their spell, and I began to reassess myself. Too much work, and not enough play. Not nearly enough play. So from now on, life was going to be great. Or so I thought…
We returned to England, and everything fell to pieces. In short order I lost my wife (left me for someone else), my career, my income, my house – and nearly, my sanity. I fell into a black hole from which there seemed no escape. I took in a stray dog, a beautiful Border Collie I called Cindy, who became my constant companion. Together we stayed in hotels, rented rooms, flats, houses, a lovely cottage in North Devon, and a tent, which I bought because I had nowhere else to stay in the summer of 1984.
I’d begun to dream up the idea of having a big band – swing style, but new material, self-written. I had a complete battery-powered studio which I used in the tent (with a battery-powered four track tape machine, battery-powered keyboard and effects, battery-powered microphone, etc) and composed many pieces of music for my potential big band. All this while camped out in Glen Orchy, in Scotland, with a clapped-out Mercedes which kept breaking down, and only my dog for company. The whole thing was an initiative test, I thought. I still have some great songs from that period, though. Yes, songs. With me singing. That was new.
I moved back to London, and started to do some more composition work, including library music for Music House. Then in the early nineties most of the original members of the Manfred Mann group got together, and we started doing lots of gigs, and some major UK tours, and concerts in Europe, the Middle East, and Australia. In Adelaide, in 1997, I met Connie. She soon joined me in England, and we got married at the end of that year. We have a great marriage, which gets better all the time. She is an artist, who gets better all the time. And she’s a very lovely lady, too.
Having been on the road for the best part of the nineties, and into the noughties, I felt that I wanted to do some different things with my time, so I left the Manfreds.
Since then I have learnt C++ programming language to some extent, attempting to make audio/visual software whereby the image seen is generated by the same numbers that produce the music, and vice versa. This is an ongoing mission of mine. I spent a lot of time learning Blender, the free (no catch!) software that I used to create my ‘Cool & Hot’ animation, and others in progress.
I’ve written six fiction novels, full-length, and part of an autobiography, and have written many more snippets, and attended workshops, etc. Some or all of these early books may well appear on Kindle soon.
I’ve also composed much music. I bought a soprano saxophone a few years ago (a change from my regular alto), which I have played and recorded on many self-composed pieces. The music is jazzy, with many other influences, and hopefully, some originality. These are all available from this website. I used another of these pieces for ‘Cool & Hot’, which can be seen and heard on Youtube. You can watch the full video below…
I have another dog, also beautiful, a mixture of a dog, who I call Millie. And Connie has another Yorkie, following her much-beloved Bertie, who is called Leo. Together we live in Swindon, which is a magical town, if you’re a magician.
And that’s it, up to date. And a website, at last.
Great to find your site & the video, which I found by accident you tubing some of your earlier work. Now a twitterer too as well. All the Best..
you left out writing a song on my kitchen floor tiles love, stu
Hi Mike, great website and some fond memories of the KPM days.