Steve Mann / From Liar To Lionheart, The Gods Have Smiled

Steve Mann is a pivotal figure in the Heavy Metal scene. He is renowned for his role in Lionheart, a band that has experienced a significant rebirth in recent years. Steve spoke with MetalTalk’s Paul Monkhouse, here in Part Three, about his early career and plans for the future. This includes Lionheart gigs. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.

One of the things people notice about Lionheart is the wonderful musical and vocal harmonies. There are so many layers. Does Steve Mann think that is part of the Lionheart sound?

“Back in the ’80s, three-part harmonies were the thing. We were very lucky. Rocky had a great, high voice. Dennis had a very powerful midrange, and I had a naturally low voice. And so our ranges fit perfectly for three-part triads and three-part harmonies. I did eight years of music theory and classical piano lessons, which included music theory. So I knew all of the technical stuff, the keys and scales.

“In the ’80s, we became very much in demand by the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands, who wanted these harmonies but couldn’t do them themselves. They didn’t have the voices for them and didn’t know how to do the three-part harmonies. Bit by bit, we started doing backing vocals for Saxon, Bronz and all sorts of bands. We became quite well known for that. 

“So that very much became part of the Lionheart sound. These days we have just as many tracks at our disposal as we like, so obviously, we concentrate very much on the vocal harmonies. We kind of want it to sound like Queen but without that timbre. That idea where harmonies are intertwined with each other and in between.

“We love all of that. I love working all that stuff out. I record the guide parts and then send them to Rocky and Dennis. It is very much the Lionheart sound, along with the guitar harmonies. This is the stamp of the Lionheart sound.”

Lionheart 2024
Lionheart 2024

With the Lionheart members all being so busy, it must make it difficult for them to get together. “That’s been the problem,” Steve Mann says. “That’s why albums take so long. I’m not one of those people who can just grab an afternoon or a day doing a bit of the Lionheart album and then move on to something else. I have to get the right mindset where I can say, OK, that week is gonna be Lionheart, so I can really kind of get into it. So I’m not feeling rushed or pressured or anything.

“But it is very difficult to find those times because Dennis is off doing his stuff going to Brazil and Italy, I’ve got the Michael Schenker tours, and Clive’s [Edwareds] got his band with Back Street Crawler, and Rocky’s obviously with Grand Slam. Lee [Small] is always doing sessions.

“So it is very difficult to actually find slots where all of us can get together. I think 2024, so far, is looking quite lightweight for all of us in terms of the work coming up. So it actually could be a really, really good opportunity for us to get together and put some shows together and maybe do some live stuff. That would be really good.”

Lionheart have been confirmed for Firefest, which will be their first UK show in almost seven years. “We’re on the first day,” Steve Mann says. “We’re actually trying to get a few more dates around that time so we can do a few little warm-ups. Maybe some dates after it as well. We’ll see how we go. The rest of the year is like an open palette. So hopefully, we can fill in a few dates along the way.”

Steve Mann - MSG and Lionheart
Michael Schenker Group – Shepherd’s Bush Empire – 30 November 2023. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk

It was great seeing Steve Mann with Michael Schenker at Shepherd’s Bush last year. Seeing him take a solo or two was really good. You appreciate, with Michael on stage, all eyes are on him. But Steve Man has his chance to shine. 

“Michael’s great,” Steve says. “Bodo [Schopf] at the end of Rock Bottom does his solo, and Barend [Courbois], a great bass player, does his little solo. It’s different for me because I’m a guitarist, and Michael’s a guitarist. But he’s great. He always puts two songs in the set that I do solos on. I like to teach him a thing or two here. [laughs] Yeah, that was a joke. That was a joke, Michael if you’re reading this. 

“It’s just great because it allows me to stretch out and do my thing. There was a video on YouTube where they showed my guitar solo in Natural Thing or whatever it was. This guy wrote a comment saying what the hell is this guy doing, playing a solo when you’ve got the best guitar player in the world standing on the other side of the stage?

“I thought? Yeah, you’re right. But what the hell? Whether people like it or not, it gives me a chance to spread my wings a bit, and I really appreciate the fact that Michael gives me that chance.”

Steve Mann - MSG and Lionheart
Michael Schenker Group – Shepherd’s Bush Empire – 30 November 2023. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk

Thinking back to those old days, Steve Mann hit the ground running in 1977 with Liar. They toured with Slade, and things started to happen. A tour with Styx tour across the US was arranged, which garnered radio plays. This should have been an incredible opportunity, but because Styx were in the studio for longer than they planned on the album, the tour was cancelled. At the time, that must have been quite crushing. 

“Yeah, it was,” Steve Mann says. “There were a few things that happened at the same time. That was one of them. We were really looking forward to going to the States to tour with Styx. Paul Fishkin, the guy who signed us to Bearsville Records, left to start Modern Records. He wanted to take us with him, and our manager said we’d rather stay with Bearsville.

“We were left with Albert Grossman running Bearsville, and he had no interest in Liar whatsoever. He was much more of an old hippie who preferred the concept album. So basically, the whole support from the record company was dropped. 

“We had a crisis meeting with our management. He was saying that things are looking really, really bad. I think I was getting a little fed up as well because, at that time, punk was coming out, and the very first seeds of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal were forming as well. 

“I was thinking I would rather be playing something a bit harder and rawer. So, I was becoming dissatisfied with the band. At that point, I said, look, I’m really sorry, but I’m moving on to do other things. That was my first studio at home. I did some work in there.

“Lionheart came up about a year later. We did the UFO Strangers In The Night in January and February of ’79. I think it was in 1980 that Lionheart got together, and that became much more my thing. 

“We were out playing the Marquee every couple of weeks. The guys were much more my age as well. In Liar, I was 21, and the other guys were 28, which is not a huge difference, but back then, it was. I just didn’t quite feel they were my contemporaries. Once we got together with Lionheart, then I felt a lot more comfortable in that situation.”

Kevin Riddles, from Tytan and Angel Witch
Kevin Riddles, Tytan, Burr Fest. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk

Steve Mann would also work with Tytan and my good friend Mr Riddles. “I’m glad he has found a friend,” Steve laughs. “I love Kev. I love Julie. We’ve always kept in contact. He’ll never admit this himself, but he’s a genius as well. What he did when he left Angel Witch and started Tytan. The whole idea behind that band was fantastic. 

“He contacted me and asked, do you wanna come in and do the album because we’ve just sacked our guitar player, Gary Owens. I went down to listen to the stuff. I was absolutely knocked over with it. Knocked out by it. I said, yeah, definitely, I love this stuff. It’s fantastic. 

“For me, it had that touch of goth to it, you know, especially Blind Men & Fools. It had that kind of gothic charm to it, and I love that. I had never heard that juxtaposition of styles before. The songs were fantastic, and Kal’a [Swan] voice was amazing. 

“The whole thing was real for me. What the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was all about. It just sounded great. I was very happy to be in that band. We did a couple of tours with them, and I think if Lionheart hadn’t been going now, then I would not have been able to resist the temptation of actually getting back with Tytan.”

Steve Mann - MSG and Lionheart
Steve Mann. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk

Steve Mann played the Keep It True festival with Tytan in 2012. “Then nothing happened for a while. Then, the Lionhearts reunion happened. Now the Tytan reunion’s happening. I’ve never been able to say I would love to commit to Tytan again because I’m just doing too many things. A fantastic band. It really is.”

With all that has happened, Steve is still working on his fantastic career. “I never ceased to be thankful,” Steve says, “because I see so many amazing musicians, great guitar players, great drummers, great bass players and great singers who try to make it in the music business and can’t earn a crust. They can’t make any kind of living. It all falls by the wayside for them, and they have to go and get a proper job. Just in the long run, it doesn’t work out.

“I have been very, very lucky. The gods have definitely smiled on me right from day one. When I first joined Liar back in 1977, things worked out for me. There’s always been the next step on the ladder that has presented itself at the right time. 

“I don’t know why I’ve had that luck. But I certainly am very, very grateful to whoever has given me that luck. I will eternally be grateful for it because I’m one of the very few lucky ones that have been able to have a career out of the music business.”

There is more to come from Steve Mann. “One I’ve had to keep putting off because I’ve been so busy is an album with Robin McAuley. I think Rocky Newton’s gonna be involved in it, too. So it’s 3/5 of the McAuley Schenker Group. In fact, we might even get Bodo in. So it might be 4/5 of the McAuley Schenker Group. 

“There’s another project. The band’s called Blind Eye, a small band that I was in back about 50 years ago. The drummer is a guy called Peter Hinton, who produced the first two Saxon albums. He was a year above me. He left to go to Leeds University. We said, well, one of these days, we’ll do an album together. Peter Hinton has quite recently raised the finances to do the album, and he’s paid me already. So I’ve got no choice. He’s written all of the songs, and they’re absolutely fantastic. 

“It is a true concept album. There’s a story behind it. It’s very Pink Floyd-like, and I absolutely love it. So that’s another project that I’m going to get my teeth into and get that out on the market. 

“There’ll be a few more projects coming up. I do a lot of work for a guy called Khalil Turk at Escape Music. He puts these albums together as Khalil Turk & Friends. Turkish Delight was one. He knows every musician in the world. He just phones them up and says, can you sing on my album?

“So we’ve got all these amazing musicians. Robin does it. All these incredible musicians and singers come together on one album to do these songs. I’m one of those musicians that he comes to mainly for keyboards. So that’s a lot of fun. You get to do albums with some fantastic singers, drummers and bass players. I’m hoping to do a lot more of that this year if we can get the time to do it.”

For the time being, Steve Mann has his focus on Lionheart and Grace Of A Dragonfly, which is out on 23 February 2024. Now hitting a real renaissance, Lionheart have produced a string of acclaimed albums. This new album certainly ranks amongst the finest the quintet has produced.

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