You’d be forgiven for thinking that 1976 was purely a year of importance in music because it’s the year Punk became a viable commercial proposition for the major record labels worldwide. But of course, phlegm-based outrage aside, there was a whole lot more going on in ‘the underground’ in the mid to late seventies – and I don’t just mean busking.
In England, heavy rock bands were transmuting the genre to new heights, and, by the end of Johnny Rotten’s Annus Mirabilis the likes of Iron Maiden, Saxon, Samson and Motorhead were joining already established acts such as Judas Priest and UFO and taking their first steps to towards the foundation of a major new force in contemporary music – the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (or, for all you abbreviators out there, the NWOBHM)..
Amongst this group of na’er do wells and chancers were our heroes Praying Mantis, who you’ll doubtless remember have just released a new album, Sanctuary, which is the best thing they’ve put their name to in years. It may seem Amazing now, but in 1979-80, those ‘in the know’ in the industry saw PM as a bigger chance for lasting success than the mighty Maiden, a fact seemingly borne out by the fact that, at one of the crowning moments of the NWOBHM – a show at London’s prestigious Music Machine venue (now named Koko, and the venue for ABC2’s series London Live) – it was Mantis’s moniker at the top of the bill, lording it over ‘Arry’s Irons and Samson – surely, though, for a bunch of mates just out for a laugh, headlining a London show must have seemed like just about the best a band could hope for? Did guitarist Tino Troy think, even in a wild moment of optimistic abandon, that he’d be gearing up, thirty years later, for another Japanese tour?
“Haha, we had dreams! We had dreams.... and we've realized a small portion of them I suppose (like playing the Music Machine for one!) but I reckon we've still got loads in us. My youngest daughter, who is seven, keeps on telling me (and everybody) that I'm a rock star so believe it or not, I’ve started acting like one again. She's probably protecting her investment coz she wants to play keyboards in the band…”
But thirty years? What makes for the longevity? Hasn’t the golden era been and gone for you?
“Thirty years! More than a third of the average life eh! The love of it I suppose. The trouble with Chris (Troy, Tino’s, brother, PM bassist and fellow band stalwart) and me is we've got pretty responsible decently paid jobs and mouths to feed. It's a real shame we didn't punt it around a bit more in the old days and got ourselves a decent manager to take the bull by the horns and steer it in the right direction. But the future looks bright - Never before have we been had so much positive feedback about one of our albums… We think that golden era is yet to happen.”
See what I said about wild, optimistic abandon? Coome on Tino – one golden memory then, from the good old days – just for me?
“If there was a time I really remember, it was that long walk up the stairs to the Reading Festival stage preparing to meet our fate with the 'Executioner' AKA the audience, who we thought were all armed with 2 litre. plastic bottles filled with a strange cloudy yellow liquid ...hmmmm!! Actually none came our way and we went down a storm...Fantastic memories!”
Fantastic indeed. If a little ‘piss-tinted’, as it were. Anyways Tino – you mentioned a well-received new record care to tell us a bit about it, and where it fits in the Mantis canon? “Do you mean... 'what calibre is it?' Haha! Sorry! We recorded Sanctuary in Atlanta, Georgia in the USA. We could never get everyone to agree to meet in the same place at the same time back home. Geographically we live quite far apart (not in terms of Australian distances, you'd probably laugh yer tits off and call us a bunch of pommy homos!) and when one could make an engagement the other couldn’t for no reason other than he was washing his hair… Although I’m definitely not guilty of that! Benjy (Reid, drums), Andy (Burgess, guitar) and myself all knew (producer) Andy “Riles” Reilly for some years previously and contacted him with regards to recording the album out there. We did most of the groundwork back in the UK including recording some of the vocals, guitars and bass and went to the States for a good ol’ jolly up!! Haha! Actually, we were only there for just over two weeks and bashed out the remainder of the stuff. The main aim was to get a real drum-kit down on one of our productions for a change. We left the whole thing with Riles for a couple of months [it seemed like an eternity] with (European label) Frontiers breathing down our necks but in the end it was delivered “piping hot”- we were totally blown away, we knew we had a potential monster in our grip”.
Indeed it is. Whilst many bands of the Mantis’ vintage are happy to tread water these days, touring once a year and trading on former glories, it’s great to hear a band actively trying to move forward – and succeeding so well. So what makes PM take the ‘hard road’?
“I like that...... 'Vintage' bit, it gives the band a certain air of 'Je ne sais quoi' (like...old gits!) Again, it's a great buzz to write new material and experiment with newer recording techniques which I happen to be really into. At this rate we'll be playing marathon shows 'a la Springsteen'..... Aaarggh! What's with all this French mullarkey!”
I have to say I haven’t the foggiest… But enough of times past – any plans for the immediate future?
“There is nothing we’d love more than to take this to the streets. We have already done a few shows in London that have received great kudos from fans and press alike. We need this thing to burst forth. We need to get promoters involved and get touring, ‘Big Time!’ Any takers out there? We are available for Weddings, Bar mitzvahs and corporate events. (laughs)! Seriously speaking, we've been really pimping ourselves recently and I think we've got some fun times ahead. That's the great thing about this band, we can deliver the goods musically but when it comes to having fun... WATCH THIS SPACE!!"