Mamas Boys – Ireland’s greatest band (with apologies to Thin Lizzy and U2)

Mama’s Boys are a good band to be talking about on St Patrick’s day. Surely Ireland’s finest heavy rock band of the ’80s.

Mama’s Boys consisted of three McManus brothers from deepest darkest Ireland. Tommy played drums, John played bass, and Pat played guitar. Pat also played an electric violin, which was an interesting twist on one or two songs.

Pat “the professor” McManus pre-dated Dr Gillian McKeith and Dr Fox by claiming a title that didn’t really belong to him. Happily that’s the only characteristic he shared with those two….

At Knebworth, supporting Deep Purple, they covered Slade’sMama Weer All Crazee Now” but of course I had never heard it before so like a teenage girl listening to Westlife or JLS (or Oasis?) I just thought it was their song. The rest of the set was equally memorable to my young ears.

They did have some decent tunes of their own too. Straight Forward (No Looking Back) told the story of Lot’s Wife to a heavy metal beat (that’s a joke for the religious contingent) and featured a decent singalong bit for the crowd to warm up to.

Runaway Dreams had a killer riff and featured a ten minute electric violin solo – something which in retrospect was pretty courageous in front of a drunken rain-sodden crowd with empty bottles in their hands. They got away with it. Perhaps the more “refreshed” members of the crowd thought it was Jimmy Page up there doing his Dazed and Confused solo with violin bow and Les Paul.

They released an album the following year called “Power and Passion” featuring a half-dressed girl reclining over a chair on the cover. This was in sharp contrast to their previous album cover which featured a topless girl reclining over a chair. I turned the sleeve inside out when I finally got the courage to buy that one to avoid uncomfortable questions from my parents. The Power and Passion album did come with an free gift: a large poster of the album cover, only this time the girl had taken her clothes off. I didn’t realise this when I asked to see the poster at my local “Our Price Records” and they unfolded the offending item with a knowing smirk.

Put some clothes on, love – you’ll catch your death…

I bought the cassette.

I never understood the policy of metal bands and album covers. Did they sell more copies if they featured naked / scantily clad girls? Or dreadful pictures of the band looking ridiculous? Or were they just looking to embarrass sensitive teenage boys? I’m just asking…

I saw the band and their electric violin twice more, once at Milton Keynes Bowl supporting Marillion, and then a headline set at the London Astoria supporting the next album a year or so later. Sadly by then, they had hired a lead singer whose CV included stints with Cliff Richard and they had taken a very radio-friendly direction.

In so doing they lost their identity and Radio took the only possible course of action in the circumstances, and ignored them. Ironically their lead single from that album was called “Waiting For a Miracle”. They certainly would be. The band split soon afterwards.

Sadly, the drummer (Tommy McManus) died in 1994 after losing his battle with leukaemia. A sad note to end on, so let me say now they became my favourite band in 1985 and their song “Needle in the Groove” is a lost classic. I’ll drink a glass of Bushmills to them tonight.

In 1985 they were better than U2. In my eyes anyway.

Record #22. Mama’s Boys – Needle in the Groove



Categories: Hard Rock

Tags: , , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Mama’s Boys is one of those bands I’ve read about over the years but never explored their music. Your post will be the impetus for me to check them out. Is there a particular album you would recommend as a good entry point? Or perhaps a compilation?

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    • There are two albums worth you checking out. The first was self-titled and was a combination of the earlier “Plug It In” and “Turn It Up” albums. It has a picture of someone’s mother on it wearing a studded collar holding a white flying V and violin whilst flames envelop her. Quality. The second is “Power and Passion”, the cover of which I talk about in the post. “The Collection” compilation is inexpensive, but tracks 13-18 will show you what went wrong when they became a four-piece.

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      • Thanks for the recommendations. I was surprised to see that Allmusic.com, which is usually a pretty good place to gauge an artist’s catalog, gave “Power And Passion” a terrible review. I may be in my mid-40s now, but my 15-year-old self still enjoys album covers like that. It’s one of the reasons I like the Great White album “Hooked.” If you’ve never seen that cover, make sure you find the one where the woman is above the water.

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      • I read Allmusic and it’s a valid opinion – he clearly prefers the first 1982 album. I’ll stick with my recommendation however – albeit I haven’t heard P&P for a while, and it may have dated!

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  2. Thanks for this review and insight into Mama’s Boys, I was into a bit of metal myself in the early eighties and I caught Mama’s Boys twice in the Astoria in Bundoran, Donegal in 1982 and in Glasgow in 1983 at the Hard Rock Cafe for the Turn it Up tour, where I helped the band as a roadie and got into the gig free and met the group. The proper discography would be 1st) The Official Bootleg (1981) which I think was either given away free with Turn it Up or Plug it In. Official Bootleg was basically there first demo though with the stand out track Demon which sounds like it was influenced by Thin Lizzy’s Emerald it it was of Pat McManus’s Irish Fiddle and rock symphonies. 2) Plug it In, their second album from 1982 is the one that should have broke them especially will the blindingly amazing Needle in the Groove and my favourite of all Reach For the Top which I think was influenced by Ac/Dc’s Beating Around the Bush, well it had that same energy anyway. 3) Turn it Up, released in 1983 was their last amazing album where I went to the tour in Glasgow. I sorta lost interest in them after Power and Passion possibly because I was getting into pyschedelics and what not, Gong, Hawkwind and Pink Floyd came along and robbed my attention span ha ha. I remember about 1985 was looking at something on Scottish television (STV) and there was a feature on Mama’s Boys, they were just simply unrecognisable, they were indistinguishable with Def Leppard (Who I hated) or Bon Jovi who I prefer to call Bon Jobbie, simply just glam pop gut rock from the US although Leppard were English they might as well had been born in Los Angeles. Anyway thanks for your write up and the brief brilliance of that Mama’s Boys period.

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