It’s good to have friends. For twenty-five years, Hungarian-born music producer Leslie Mandoki has been assembling the good and the great of pop, jazz and progressive rock to perform under the umbrella of the Man Doki Soulmates. They’re massive in Europe. How massive, you ask?
“We opened the Sziget Festival in Budapest which became the largest rock festival in Europe,” says Mandoki. “We created the 50 Years Of Rock show on German TV, 12 million saw it on primetime, Saturday night. We had the great Jon Lord on Hammond and synthesiser, Jack Bruce on bass, Peter Frampton on guitar, Ian Anderson, Bobby Kimball, Chris Thompson.”
Now Mandoki is bringing his production and a host of his famous pals to London for a show at Hammersmith as part of the Man Doki Soulmates Wings Of Freedom Concerts tour. Joining Mandoki for the evening will be Ian Anderson, Chris Thompson from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, ex-Rainbow man Tony Carey, former Toto vocalist Bobby Kimball, Supertramp’s John Helliwell, and jazz bigwigs Randy Brecker and Bill Evans. Together they’ll play a mixture of their own hits and songs from the five Soulmates studio albums.
“It’s fresh, new music with the same idealism, seventeen, eighteen-minute-long songs like progressive rock today with some jazz influences, jazzy solos,” says Mandoki. Despite the variety of the set, the constantly evolving roster of participants, and the complexity of Mandoki’s original compositions, he says there is no need for a lengthy rehearsal process. “I work out the whole thing very precisely with written music sheets, lyric sheets, and then we meet in Paris, this time, and before we play the Olympia we have two days of rehearsal. Every time is different. The set list is different, the solos are in a different place. I edit bits and pieces from the last live recording, I’ll give them the audio and the sheets, this line goes to Bobby Kimball, this line goes to Ian Anderson, this solo goes to Cory Henry. It’s wonderful. To play behind these guys is incredible. To play along with them and let them lead you into new dimensions is wonderful.”
As a youngster in Hungary during the Communist era, Mandoki grew up listening to progressive rock on bootleg cassette tapes, so he’s thrilled to finally bring his show to the UK. “We’re going right into the heartland of prog rock,” he says. “I’ve played pretty much everywhere on Earth, as a musician you travel like crazy everywhere from China to Chile, you name it I was there, but this for me is the cultural capital of Europe. I’ve been there countless times working in the studio and I have a lot of friends there, but I’ve never played London. I said okay, one day I’m going to play Hammersmith. The greatest challenge, because I’ve played so often with Soulmates, is to come up with something new. Great Britain is the homeland of great progressive rock music, so I’m happy to be there and do what we do.”
Man Doki Soulmates play Eventim Apollo, London, March 3