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A life in rock ‘n’ roll

Pat McManus told David Hennessy about how Mama’s Boys were set for American success, losing his brother and bandmate Tommy to leukaemia at the height of the band’s success and the night Phil Lynott travelled to Nottingham to get up onstage with them.

Pat McManus has just returned with his latest album, Full Service Resumed.

Former leader of Northern Irish rockers Mama’s Boys, Pat shared the stage with names such as Horslips, Thin Lizzy, Hawkwind, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue and Bon Jovi to name just a few.

And in the mid ‘80s, the Fermanagh band looked set to break America in a big way until a family tragedy would break their hearts instead.

When Tommy died of leukaemia in 1993, Pat and his bandmate Johnny lost a brother as well as a drummer.

Having said they would return to performing when Tommy had recovered, the band would poignantly not continue with Mama’s Boys after losing him.

In the time since, Pat and Johnny formed Celtic new age band Celtus and Pat has now led his current outfit the Pat McManus Band since 2008.

Pat told The Irish World: “It’s just great to be out there again.

“That’s where I’m happiest: Playing to people and seeing them getting off on the music.”

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Pat and his band were touring Europe when the crisis hit last year and describes the last year and it’s lack of gigs as a ‘shock to the system’: “And we were quite aware heading off on tour, which was sort of early February, that this thing was happening but people didn’t know the seriousness of it.

“We were supposed to do dates in France and we got as far as Paris and they said they weren’t allowing that show. There was a lockdown in France.

“So we just got on the ferry as quickly as we could and made our way home.

“And then the reality hit, ‘What do we do?’

“I formed a bubble with my band members- Not my family members but my band members,” Pat laughs.

“Full Service Resumed was the result of that.

“There was a method to our madness.”

The album sees Pat revisit tracks from his vast back catalogue. These include Mama’s Boys numbers like Belfast City Blues, Hard Headed Ways and Too Little of You to Love.

Pat explains this was not the luxury one may assume but due to original materials being lost.

“There’s not one of them left. I was left with no choice but to re-record them.

“Those songs mean a lot to people.

“Growing up, we were massive Horslip fans.

“I know how much their music means to me but it never dawned on me that what we were doing would mean as much to anybody.

“It was lovely to revisit them again.

“The other day my brother John was here and I played him the tracks and he was blown away.

“He says, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you’ve redone these and done a bloody good job on them as well’.

“So once I got his approval, I was really pleased.”

Pat and his brothers Johnny and Tommy grew up in Derrylin, Co. Fermanagh in a family steeped in traditional music.

By the age of 14, Pat was All-Ireland fiddle champion while his younger brother John was acclaimed as the finest young tin whistle player in Ulster before turning 12.

But it was the music of Horslips that really inspired them. The brothers could relate to their Celtic rock sound as it showed them what they could do.

They would swap their fiddles, uilleann pipes and bodhrans for electric guitars, bass and the drums which were played by Tommy who was only 12 at the time the band was formed.

When Barry Devlin saw them rehearse, he was impressed and offered them a support slot for Horslips’ 1979 tour.

“It was lovely. We worshipped the ground those guys walked on.

“I was a trad player up until about 18 and when I discovered the rock ‘n’roll end of it- it was Horslips I had actually seen in a little town called Drumshanbo in Co. Leitrim- it just blew my mind.

“They could do what they did with Irish music and rock it up.

“I said, ‘This is what I want to do’.

“And they allowed us, three lads from Fermanagh, to dream a little bit.

“They showed us it could be possible to actually go out there and do something with ourselves if you were passionate enough about it.”

Mama’s Boys had just released their third album Turn it Up in 1983 when Phil Lynott personally asked them if they would be his support band on Thin Lizzys’ farewell tour which also included a slot at Reading Rock.

Dublin singer Jess Kavanagh 60s us Phil Lynott
Phil Lynott

“I don’t know if you’re aware of the story of how Philip invited us on the Thin Lizzy farewell tour.

“You know the matchmaker festival in Lisdoonvarna? That’s where we playing- A heavy rock band!” Pat laughs.

“Philip was doing his Solo in Soho album, and he was out on tour promoting that.

“And he knew our manager at the time and they caught up while we were onstage, and Phil said, ‘Who are these guys here?’

“And Joe said, ‘They’re a little band I’m looking after’.

“And Phil said, ‘They’re bloody good’.

“So after we came offstage, we got to meet a real rock and roll star- which he was- for the first time and we were totally in awe.

“He said, ‘I’d like you to come on the farewell tour with us’.

“And it was such a learning curve for us.

“We watched Phil every night and he was so kind to us.

“He would break down our show and tell us what we did right and what he thought we could do better.

“He said, ‘I’m just passing this stuff on because that’s what the Slade guys did for us’.

“Philip was just a one off, a lovely human being.

“I know he was a rock star but when you got behind that façade, you found a really good guy with a heart of gold.”

Pat remembers the time that Phil promised to show up for their London show.

“There was one particular night we were to play the Marquee Club in London.

“He said to us, ‘I’ll come down’.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t show but when we finished the show, there was a taxi waiting outside.

“The guy said, ‘Philip would like you to come down to the studio where he’s working. He really apologizes for not being there’.

“This will show you the measure of the man.

“He invited us down. He apologized.

“We said, ‘No worries, we know you’re busy’.

“The next night we were playing in Nottingham and who walked in the door? Only Philip Lynott, John Sykes and Mark Stanway.

“And they got up and he just gave us a big wink and said, ‘I told you I would get up on stage with ya’.”

Pat was sad when Lynott passed away in 1986.

“I just think, ‘I wonder what Phil would be doing now, and what kind of music he would be making’.

“Because not alone was he a great musician, he was also a poet.

“Not too many come along as gifted as he was.”

It was in 1985 that Mama’s Boys released their fifth album Power And Passion which broke into the Billboard Top 100.

They were touring the states with bands like Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi and Ratt while also selling out their own headline shows.

On rotation on MTV, there was a buzz building around the band in the states.

They then flew back to England to play the Knebworth festival with Deep Purple in front of 100,000 people.

But drummer Tommy would have a relapse of the leukaemia that he was diagnosed with at a young age.

“We were on the edge, very close to having major success in America.

“The albums were creeping up the billboard charts.

“We were so excited but unfortunately that all came to an end, my brother Tommy had leukaemia.

“He was nine years old when he was first diagnosed.

“He had a relapse. It meant we came off the road until he got better.

“Because without Tommy, it just wouldn’t work. It was three brothers- I always say we were the original boy band.”

Mama’s Boys.

Tommy was replaced by a different drummer for some shows but convinced his brothers he’d be back behind his drum kit for the tour’s concluding Irish shows.

But he had rushed back too soon and had another relapse.

Prioritising their brother’s recovery over future promotional work, John and Pat put the band on hold.

The time-out would prove fatal to the band’s chances of an international breakthrough.

With Tommy continuing to get sick, the band called another time-out in 1993.

However, the band had been booked to play three shows in Switzerland that December.

Although they didn’t know it at the time, these shows would be the last the world would see of Mama’s Boys.

“We were contractually obliged to do a couple of shows in Europe. We did those with another drummer and that was just because we couldn’t get out of it. As soon as those shows were finished, we said, ‘Tommy, you just get better and we’ll go back out on the road’.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out that way and sadly in the end, he passed away.”

During 1994, Tommy’s health plummeted and rather than suffer years more of intensive pain, he decided to have a bone marrow transplant.

Unfortunately, complications set in and after three and a half weeks of fighting, Tommy slipped away.

While Tommy had only been expected to live for six months following his diagnosis, he had miraculously got 18 years.

His pain was finally over. He was only 28 years old.

“We thought he was invincible.

“He had already beaten it so many times.”

“And he used to say, ‘It’s the metal, this is the power of rock ‘n’ roll. This is what drives me on. This is what keeps me alive’.

“If Tommy hadn’t had that drum kit and he hadn’t had the excitement of getting up with Bon Jovi, I don’t think he would have lasted as long as he did.

“He lived a marvellous life for the short period of time that he was here.

“I have great memories and I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think of him and what he’d be doing now.”

Mama’s Boys with the late Tommy on the right.

Pat and John would never return to Mama’s Boys but would pay tribute to Tommy with Brother’s Lament, the first track they worked on with their new incarnation Celtus.

Mama’s Boys had also suffered from the interference of Jive Records who seemed determined to mould the band into something they weren’t.

They convinced the band to bring in a front man and the band would become a four piece with a number of singers being brought in but with none of them staying very long.

Pat would also be encouraged to work with outsider writers in search of a breakthrough hit.

However, when the band thought they had something with a track called Spirit Of America, the label refused to release it saying it was politically insensitive.

They would rework the track into Waiting For A Miracle.

“That’s what they did, they tried to push us and squash us into different things.

“I never really understood it. They signed a band because they liked the band and then they set about changing everything.

“It left us very confused.

“You soon realized all they really were interested in was how many pieces of vinyl you could shift.

“I understand that it is a business but in the early 70s, bands were allowed to develop.

“We never got that opportunity.

“By the time we were doing it, the whole industry was being run by accountants.

“It was a heavy responsibility really. I was doing all the songwriting at the time and we had a road crew of five or six as well and they were making a livelihood out of that.

“You would feel responsible for them as well, ‘If this record company drops us…’

“And they would threaten us. They would say, ‘If you don’t do this, we won’t be exercising the option on the next album.

“It was like your head was caught in a vice.”

The song would later be released with the original lyrics by the former page three girl Samantha Fox who had launched a pop career.

“It’s funny. Years later, Samantha Fox released a version with the guys from Judas Priest on guitar.

“I was chuffed about that being a big Judas Priest fan.

“I couldn’t believe that the two guitar players were playing my riffs.

“But they actually put the same song out with the original lyrics, the same record company.

“It was all just nonsense at the end of the day.”

There may be a good reason apart from lost materials for Pat re-recording some of his own body of work.

Despite being the main songwriter, he earns no money from early Mama’s Boys material after being tricked into signing it all away.

“Bigger fool me is all I have to say.

“It was done when we were due to go out and play a show.

“We were young guys, all we wanted to do was get out and rock.

“It was done as I was actually walking out the door of the changing room and it was thrust in front of me.

“I didn’t even look at it.

“I didn’t know. I didn’t care either.

“It was only in later years I realised what had actually been done.

“They said, ‘No, no, no, you signed all that publishing away’.

I said, ‘No, I did not’.

“They said, ‘You did. We have your signature right here’.

“It was only when I went to find out where all the royalties were going that I realised what had actually happened.

“And you know something? I could have fought it in the law courts but I had music lawyers look into it and they said, ‘I hope you have a lot of money to fight this because that’s what it will take’.

“I said, ‘You know what? Let sleeping dogs lie. I haven’t got thousands to spend on law suits’.

“I let it go. I resigned myself to the fact that it’s gone and that’s the end of it.

“What will be will be. It’s not going to make any difference to my life now anyway.”

It was in 1998 that the band were honoured with an Irish World award.

Pat remembers that night at the Galtymore in Cricklewood.

“The Irish World has a special place in our hearts always.

“It was a fabulous night because we had won an award and we were just beside ourselves with joy.

“It was a bit of who’s who of the gillerati of the Irish showbusiness world.

“Big Tom, Ronnie Drew, Brendan Shine were there that night.

“I remember Brendan Shine and Big Tom up at the bar.

“This is my recollection: They were the first ones up at the bar and when everything had finished up, they were the last two at the bar.

“John and I just spent the whole night pointing our fingers at all of them.

“It lived long in my memory.

“For the best part of 18 years I lived in London, I was down in Wapping long before it became trendy.

“Very fond memories, I loved London.”

Pat is now back in his native Fermangh where he teaches the more traditional Irish music that was his first love.

“I try to keep playing the music and sharing the music and teaching the music and passing on the music and the tradition.

“If it inspires somebody to go out and make something of themselves, as far as I’m concerned, that’s my job done.”

Full Service Resumed is out now.

The Pat McManus Band tour the UK next year.

For more information, click here.

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