Mama’s Boys / The Power Trio Who Rocked Our World

Formed in Derrylin, County Fermanagh, Mama’s Boys were the epitome of a power trio. Pat ‘The Professor’ McManus on guitar, along with brothers John on vocals and bass and Tommy on drums, were seemingly always destined to make music together.

Mama’s Boys – Runaway Dreams 1982 – 1992 (Cherry Red)

Release Date: 26 January 2024

Words: Paul Monkhouse

Making a name for themselves from their early days as Pulse, following a joke on a radio interview, they changed their name to Mama’s Boys. Things really started taking off when they were taken under the wing of Barry Devlin of Horslips, who invited them on tour.

Further jaunts with Wishbone Ash and Hawkwind followed, the latter a baptism of fire that saw the band battle every night to win over the headliner’s partisan audience. This cemented their reputation and plays on The Friday Rock Show brought them to the ears of thousands of Metalheads all over the UK.

Their biggest breakthrough, though, was when Thin Lizzy invited them along to open the dates on the 1983 Thunder and Lightning Tour. The mix of the two bands was ideal, catching the post-NWOBHM wave of interest in hard rock and Metal perfectly.

With those dates under their belts and large-scale triumphs like their sets at Reading Festival that year, shows at Knebworth with Deep Purple and Milton Keynes Bowl with Marillion, the band were also making headway in the USA, playing with Iron Maiden and RATT, along with a tour there that saw Bon Jovi opening for them on some dates as well as a further UK tour with Scorpions.

There were a number of things that gave the trio an edge. Their youthful enthusiasm, the obvious chemistry, great songwriting and Pat’s skill on both the guitar and fiddle. Of course, their Irish charm was a factor too, but it was their strength as a superb rock band that really was the crowning glory, the anthemic material and ferocious yet classy playing winning hearts and minds.

Record companies soon came chasing, and the band were signed to a number in their time, each release developing different flavours and building the brand. Whilst noticeably missing out on the Power & Passion, Growing Up The Hard Way and Live Tonite albums, this five-disc collection captures the band at the start and finish of their recorded career, the bookends showing their progression from the joyfully raw-edged to the polished band they had become.

Starting with the Official Bootleg (1980), the levels of talent here were immediately striking, and the DIY feel adds immeasurably to its charm, the relatively limited budget not hindering the ambition or swagger of the outfit. Still thrilling, the ten tracks show the hunger the trio had. The urgent opener, I’m Leaving Home, is oddly prophetic, considering that they would be seemingly on the road solidly for the next decade or so.

Mama's Boys - Official Bootleg
Mama’s Boys – Official Bootleg

Whilst this was all capturing the hard rock and Metal zeitgeist of the time, there was also a certain ‘something’ that put them in a different league to most around. The class of tracks like Belfast City Blues were more in the hues of bands like Thin Lizzy and Bad Company than straight-ahead outfits like Quartz or Vardis. With the stomping Southern boogie of Record Machine and sax-infused and vocoder sleaze of their take on Summertime, this was far from your average band. When they pulled out the stops, it was one of the most exciting things to be heard at the time.

If they were testing the water with their debut, they had truly found their feet with the sophomore release Plug It In (1982). Its bigger budget and polish saw it find its way into homes all over the country. Rammed with quality songs and playing, for those who saw the band on tour, this wasn’t a disappointment as the energy of those shows was transferred into the studio.

Mama's Boys - Plug It In
Mama’s Boys – Plug It In

With a brace of tracks re-recorded for this album, the material is some of the finest and best-loved of the band’s career. With incendiary numbers like the punchy In The Heat Of The Night, anthemic singalong Straight Forward, ZZ Top bluesy filth of Needle In The Groove and the phenomenal fiddle and Metal mix of Runaway Dreams, this was one of the most indispensable albums in a very fertile time for high decibel bands.

Mama's Boys - Turn It Up
Mama’s Boys – Turn It Up

Building on that, 1984’s Turn It Up showed a maturing side to the Boys, the rough edges starting to get gently polished whilst still remaining that vital electricity. With a bright production, Mama’s Boys sounded sonically sharper than ever but still managed to retain their own flavour, the pressure to become ‘the next Bon Jovi’, etcetera, not something that bothered them.

As with all their catalogue, Pat’s fretwork was phenomenal, Tommy’s drums just the right mix of groove and thunder and John’s bass playing and distinctive vocals infused with Celtic spirit. Driven by ‘The Professor’, the band saw ever-increasing audiences and the thirst for new material was certainly quenched by new tracks like Midnight Promises, Crazy Daisies House Of Dreams and Shake My Bones, all made to be played as loud as possible.

Mama's Boys - Relativity
Mama’s Boys – Relativity

Skipping forward to 1992, Relativity had seen some changes in the ranks. The band expanded to include Alan Williams on keyboards and Mike Wilson on lead vocals. Whilst some saw this as altering the golden formula the three brothers had, it had started with the addition of singer Rick Chase six years prior. The sound may have changed to something more layered, but the core of the songs was very much beating as strong as ever.

A barnstorming Judgement Day, the huge hook of Rescue Me and spiky AOR meets Blues pomp of Cry Salvation sit perfectly alongside the heart-breaking Cardboard City and soaring instrumental Moorlough Shore, all showing the span the band were capable of.

As an added bonus, there are also several live tracks included from the time, the natural bounce and style of their live shows perfectly captured.

The fifth disc of the set is a collection of B Side single tracks and rarities, including the band’s lively take on Slade’s Mama Weer All Crazee Now and a lilting version of Joni Mitchell’s This Flight Tonight.

Elsewhere on the CD, there’s a spirit of Piledriver era Status Quo in Rollin’ On, early Def Leppard on Shake My Bones, and the sledgehammer wallop of Demon has echoes of UFO at their meatiest, all played with that distinctive Mama’s Boys Celtic touch.

Spanning their recording career, the compilation is a very solid addition to their story and nicely fills in some gaps, the whole marking the various chapters in the band’s evolution. This is for more than just the completists.

Sadly, Relativity was to be the last studio album produced by Mama’s Boys. Tommy tragically passed away two years later at the tender age of twenty-eight due to leukaemia; Pat and John disbanded the outfit as they didn’t want to go on without their brother.

Mama's Boys
Mama’s Boys

Where they would have gone on from there is anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubt that the band were one of the finest to come out of those adrenaline-soaked times when the power of very loud Marshall stacks was rekindled across the world.

Whilst both Pat and John would go on with their own stories, ‘The Professor’ is still constantly touring with his own Pat McManus band. The place of Mama’s Boys in hearts and minds is assured, and for the committed or the curious, this box set is a vital addition to any collection of gold-standard hard rock.

Prepare to fall in love all over again.

Mama’s Boys – Runaway Dreams 1982 – 1992 is available from Cherry Red.

TRACK LISTING

DISC ONE
Official Bootleg (1980)
1 I’m Leaving Town
2 Down And Out
3 Belfast City Blues
4 Highland Rock
5 Record Machine
6 Rock ‘N’ Roll Craze
7 Summertime
8 Big Bad City
9 Without You
10 Demon

DISC TWO
Plug It In (1982)
1 In The Heat Of The Night (Short Version)
2 Burnin’ Up
3 Needle In The Groove
4 Reach For The Top
5 Record Machine
6 Silence Is Out Of Fashion
7 Straight Forward
8 Runaway Dreams
9 Getting Out
10 Belfast City Blues
11 Hard Headed Ways
12 In The Heat Of The Night (Long Version)

DISC THREE
Turn It Up (1984)
1 Midnight Promises
2 Loose Living
3 Too Little Of You To Love
4 Late Night Rendezvous
5 Crazy Daisy’s House Of Dreams
6 Face To Face
7 Gentleman Rogues
8 Lonely Soul
9 Shake My Bones
10 Freedom Fighters

DISC FOUR
Relativity (1992)
1 Judgement Day
2 What You See Is What You Get
3 Laugh About It
4 Don’t Look Back In Anger
5 Left And Right
6 Rescue Me
7 My Way Home
8 Don’t Back Down
9 Left And Right
10 Cardboard City
11 Walk All Over Me
12 Fallin’
13 Moorlough Shore
Bonus Tracks
14 Walk All Over Me (Live)
15 Rescue Me (Live)
16 My Way Home (Live)
17 Fallin’ (Live)
18 The Beast (Live)

DISC FIVE
SINGLES, B-SIDES & RARITIES (1980-1992)
1 Rollin’ On
2 Demon
3 High Energy Weekend
4 Hitch Hike
5 Belfast City Blues
6 Telephone Teaser
7 Shake My Bones
8 Demon
9 Too Little of You to Love
10 Record Machine
11 This Flight Tonight
12 Time Warp (Instrumental)
13 Mama Weer All Crazee Now (Live)

Sleeve Notes

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