“We’ve gone full circle without all the corporate bullshit in between.”
by Rob Billingham
Midlands Rocks were lucky enough to grab a quick chat with the gentleman of rock, Pat McManus following his first Robin 2 headlining appearance.
Pat, thank you so much for chatting tonight so soon after coming off stage.
Ah, it’s OK, not at all. Thank you for doing this, it’s great.
You seem to be forever touring and playing…
… and I know home is very dear to you. With all the time on the road, do you miss home and does returning to Ireland to play feel a bit special?
But of course. Like everything else, when you go away for a little while it becomes a bit more of an event when you go back home again. The fans that I have in Ireland are very, very loyal and I have some great friends that seek out gigs for me and stuff like that and because it’s a kind of specialist kind of music, in Ireland there’s not many places, say other than Dublin or Belfast to play, but I do play continually there and it’s all through my friends and that. They organise gigs and stuff like that. We’re very fortunate from that aspect.
I mean, I do two major tours each year, one in March and one in October and they normally last five or six weeks. The rest of the time I’m home in Ireland, so all in all I do about three or four months touring.
Even so, back in Ireland I play all the time. I teach during the daytime: I teach kids Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday I gig, if the gigs are there. And that is a lot of work you know. In between time we hop in and out and fly in and out of different places as well. And the kids are cool with that. I’ll tell them I’ll not be here this week and they’ll say OK, you know and we leave it at that. I’ve about twenty-five students and I take them one to one because some are faster than others and I don’t like to feel that some get an inferiority complex about being not as good as someone else or to have others sitting bored on their mobiles, so it’s better to teach one on one so as to concentrate on them.
Sure. It would be a shame to lose someone with great potential.
Pat, that’s some work ethic you have!
(laughing) Yes and I write the albums in between.
Your musical career so far has been fascinating and you’ve had downs as well as ups…
Do you think that experiencing the bad times as well as the good has made you a better and wiser person?
Ah, yes and a much nicer person as well. I think that at the end of the day, you know, people can get caught up in the whole showbiz aspect of music and to me that’s all on the periphery, that’s not what music should be about. Music, to me, is about trying to connect with other people and trying to reach out and enjoy it as a group. All the other stuff… I’m not interested in. I never was and I think that maybe that was our downfall as a band. We were too nice and I’m not being funny, but we took people at face value, when all the time they were actually ripping us off.
The time when Sony dropped the band springs to mind.
Yes and you can be very bitter about it, but I thought, that’s life, you know. What’s the point in being bitter. If it was for us then it was for us. If it’s not then it’s not. I’m not going to worry about it.
The pity was that at that time the band was on the crest of a wave.
Yes it was really going well, but at the same time, at the back of my mind, I’d had a feeling all along that I wanted to go home to Ireland. I’d got a little bit restless ‘cos I’d been living in London for nigh on eighteen years, so I was ready for home and at that stage I had a daughter and I wanted to go back home close to where my parents are. I’m only three miles from there now! It’s right on a lake and a lovely place to go. I grew up on a farm and my mom still has it, so I pop down to see her when I can. Where we are would be the equivalent of your Lake District. It’s nice. Wet, but nice (laughing).
So would you say that benefitting from these experiences has contributed to the longevity of your career?
Ah, you know, I respect people and I don’t try to tread all over them. We just get on with the band. You know, the lads in the band are great and we all just have a laugh. There’s no space for nastiness. Life’s too short. It’s as easy to be nice as it is to be nasty.
Nicely put. It’s probably fair to say that you’ve been there, done it and got quite a few tee-shirts. Would you consider yourself to be a good role model for up and coming musicians and would you support and mentor someone you thought was a little bit special?
Yes, of course. I’ve somewhat answered that in that I have the kids I teach. One of them has already won the All-Ireland Violin Championships at fourteen, so I’m really proud. For me, that is the payoff. He’s phenomenal and absolutely going to be a phenomenal folk musician.
It’s great to pass the music to the kids and see them interested in it, a genuine, genuine interest. When I see them all interested then I get excited. They think I’m nuts. I say to them have you heard this or have you heard that and they kind of look at me and think… this guy’s insane, but I still get a real buzz and excitement from listening to music and discovering new music. When I hear something new or a new band I really like, it’s like I’m twelve again and I get really excited about it.
I understand you’re not sure about rap.
Sadly, no. It’s the only music form that I don’t get. I’ve tried, but I still don’t.
I take it then that you’ve had no offers to appear on a rap record as yet then?
No not yet… I just don’t get it.
Going back in time, if I could Pat, is it true that DJ Tony Prince was responsible for the naming of Mamas Boys?
Yes it’s true, it’s absolutely true. We had a manager, Joe Wynne, who was tour managing Tony Prince and he explained to Tony, who was in Ireland doing some shows, and he said to him that he’d seen this band play and we hadn’t got a name at that point. He said they’re great, it’s three brothers, it’s very unusual and Tony said it sounds like they’re mama’s boys to me and Joe said wouldn’t that be a good idea to have a heavy rock band called something like that. It would be interesting to see how they’d go. And so yes, it was Tony Prince who picked the name.
It’s strange how some things happen.
I know. It’s bizarre.
So after all the re-branding and line-up changes and you have had some big names play… Jimmy DeGrasso immediately springs to mind. Is the Pat McManus band now a happy place to be?
Yes, yes, because at the end of the day for me there was always a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that there was. We’d have all these corporate guys wearing the suits and they’re in there and you’re thinking I really feel strange here, a bit alienated. And they’re discussing YOUR life like it’s a … a piece of meat and you’re thinking this isn’t what I signed up for at all. I started music ‘cos I loved playing and now all we’d got was a tour bus and fourteen road crew and it was all just a wee bit too much. I was never really enamoured with that. To me it was about getting my amp out, plugging my guitar in and playing but suddenly they’re talking contracts and all that stuff and it kind of was very, very scary.
We were very young and I felt responsible for my brothers as well. Then the road crew we had at the time were mostly the friends we’d been at school with and I felt responsible for them too, because they were me mates. They weren’t just a road crew we hired, we were all friends; it was like we were all a big band of friends. So it started to get a bit where I was feeling under pressure. They (the suits) were discussing this and that, getting visas ready to go to America and this, that and the other and I don’t know if I really wanted all of this. The fun aspect had really gone out of it.
Ah yes, very much so, ‘cos they knock it out of you. They’ve a habit of doing that. They’ve taken what was initially a great idea and then tried to move it to something that’s totally not you. From my point of view I could never figure that one out. I kept saying well why did you sign us. If that’s not what you’re after … if you wanted something different go and sign somebody else! I just didn’t get it. That was really hard to understand but all record companies, felt that they had to put in their contribution and give you the benefit of their wisdom or whatever else it was they wanted to give you (laughs).
I was told in no uncertain terms that “we’re the ones paying the bills so you’d better toe-the-line or you’re out!” It was pretty black and white and you think what will we do if they pull the plug. So… it’s not a particularly nice industry. The music playing is the payoff. Now the way I do it it’s a cottage industry. I do it with Sallie, my wife, who’s the band’s manager and we do everything ourselves and we’re quite happy doing that. If we want to do something we do it, if not we don’t. We don’t have to answer to anyone and it’s nice. It’s like a freedom we never had before, we really, really enjoy it and for the first time since me and my brothers first started out I’m really back enjoying what I do.
So you’ve pretty well gone full circle.
Yep! Full circle and now without all the corporate bullshit that was in between!
How do you think Marty and Paul feel about being part of the Pat McManus phenomenon?
I know that Paul was a big fan of Mamas Boys, so he’s obviously chuffed to be doing it and it’s the same with Marty. Marty was a fan as well. You know, we’re just mates and there are no airs and graces and there’s no I did this or I did that. I don’t believe in that, it’s just not me. We’re just a band and we’re all on equal terms and I don’t care what you were doing before. We’re all mates. Just because I’ve played a few shows in the past and have a bit of a history, it doesn’t mean anything to me. I tell them that I’m just one of the lads. I drive everywhere as well. Captain Slow they call me (laughs loudly).
So tomorrow’s two and a half hour trip to Wales could take three and a half?
And it probably will!
How big was the influence of Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore in your music?
Huge influences, huge. And we were very proud of them. When we were growing up, Rory was the first real rock star out of Ireland and I think that without him you wouldn’t have had Thin Lizzy, U2 and the likes. Rory paved the way without a shadow of doubt, no mistake about it.
Is it fair to say that Rory helped to tailor your style?
Yes, yes and we kinda model ourselves on the whole three piece thing like Rory. We just loved him and were very, very proud of him. I really do think that he made people look at Ireland and think that maybe there’s something over there.
A word about your current album, Dark Emerald Highway. It was released following a pretty traumatic time for you personally. Was how well it was received a comfort to you at that time?
It was, but it was kind of difficult to make as well, with where I was at and Dad going. It was hard to motivate yourself to get it on, ‘cos I didn’t feel like doing it. When I heard the final product I thought, well it’s not too bad, so… I mean as a musician you’re never happy, you’re always looking for something extra and I was searching for that something extra. So to me this was OK. The next one will be better!
And we’re already looking forward to it. Finally, Pat, I noticed the poster for tonight’s gig said that with Rory and Gary no longer with us you could rightfully lay claim to being the last of the great Irish blues guitarists.
Hey, I’m sure many people would agree. How does that make you feel?
I’m very honoured to be even mentioned like that. I really, genuinely am. To me I’m just a music fan. That’s what I am first and foremost and to be mentioned in the same breath as Rory or Gary is a real honour. Are they talking about me or somebody else (laughing)? It’s a great honour, sure, but the greatest honour of all is getting in front of people and playing, wherever we are. And you make friend, lifelong friend and it’s fantastic.
Pat it’s been an absolute pleasure talking with you, so thanks again for sparing Midlands Rocks some of your precious time.
God bless you and thanks for doing this and also thanks for coming out tonight.