12 March 2015

Manfred Mann/ Mike Hugg - Ski Full of Fitness Theme/ Sweet Baby Jane

Label: Ski
Year of Release: 1971

Manfred Mann were a perplexing paradox of a group at their peak. Named after their South African keyboard player and originally performing in the jazz and blues styles he so loved, they quickly morphed into a huge hit making machine, chalking up three British number ones which have become the staple of sixties oldie collections ("Do Wah Diddy Diddy", "Pretty Flamingo", "Mighty Quinn"). All are classy pop recordings, but were almost certainly a world away from the career Mann had envisaged for himself, and other stars of the time such as Scott Walker were frequently astounded at the patience he showed for such a bog-standard pop career.

By the seventies, something had clearly snapped, and Mann and co-conspirator Mike Hugg seemed to have devised a plan. They formed a new group called Manfred Mann Chapter Three focussed on experimental jazz rock, and continued to write and record other songs for commercial and advertising use. Clearly understanding that some commercial compromise was essential to making a living as a musician, Mann obviously thought that his time could be sensibly split with his pop songwriting chops being licensed for marketing purposes to partly finance other weightier projects. And indeed, why not? To this day, jazz musicians pay the bills by popping up as session musicians on all manner of other more simplistic material.

The "Ski Full of Fitness Theme" is an oddity which stems from this period, and can be widely found in charity shops and second hand shops the length and breadth of the country. Given away as part of a deal with Ski yoghurts, it's a surprisingly loose and pleasing yet strangely facile jam. "Ski - the full of fitness food!/ Feel fit for anything!/ Na na na na na na/ NA NA NA NA NA NAAAA!" they enthusiastically inform us before bursting into a bit of guitar riffola. This is not the stuff winning advertising slogans are made of, but as the brilliant magazine "Shindig" pointed out recently, the guitar jam of the main track does propel things along nicely.

Ski yoghurt was also a heavily marketed phenomenon so particular to the 1970s that mentioning it may act like a bat light to Peter Kay. Certainly in my house we devoured this exotic "fitness food", usually helping things along a bit by pouring in a spoonful of white granular sugar to make the concoction less sour. "What is the point?" you may ask, and I can only reply: "What? Of our behaviour, or this blog entry? I'm not sure I can help you in either case."

What I can tell you is that Manfred Mann Chapter Three were a very short-lived proposition, surviving for only two albums, and after this quirky period business was semi-returned to usual with the rather more rocky Manfred Mann Earth Band, who managed further top ten hits without veering things in a particularly poppy direction. Mike Hugg continued his career in jazz without Mann while also penning the legendary theme to "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads" (partly inventing the mood of Oasis's "Don't Look Back In Anger" in the process), and presumably everything resolved itself relatively neatly. What else can you say apart from na na na na na na, and indeed, NA NA NA NA NA NA!


Tulloch said...

This might interest you, Dave: http://biteitdeep.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/manfred-mann-cubist-town-1968-story-of.html

Arthur Nibble said...

I used to love Ski bilberry yoghourt as a kid. I've never seen bilberries in any other product before or since.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Manfred Maniac and I never heard of this. Of course I'm encumbered by being an American.

23 Daves said...

Thanks for that, Tulloch! I must investigate that "album" (though I must also admit that I feel horribly disappointed that the story isn't true).

gela said...

Weren't the Manns also responsibe for a tune for Jolita Nylons?

23 Daves said...

That's not one I'm aware of or have seen listed, but I'd imagine they took on work where it was available, gela. They did also record promotional releases for Michelin tyres and Maxwell House coffee, though.