One of the most welcome developments of recent years has been the return of Pat McManus to the rock environment. The brothers in Mama’s Boys were one of the great bands that nearly made it big before drummer Tommy’s sad death in the early nineties, after which Pat returned to more traditional Gaelic music for a long time, notably with Celtus.
But since reconnecting with his rock routes he and his band have become prolific tourers, with the Half Moon in Putney- one of the few remaining pub venues in the Capital from when I started gigging- a particular favourite haunt. However on arriving this time I was met by rows of seats, which was probably fitting for the age range of the clientele but was not helpful in generating a lively atmosphere.
An 8:30pm prompt start suggested we were in for a long night as Pat began with a delicate, celtic-flavoured instrumental in ‘Iona Sunset’, but it soon gave way to some driving blues rocking with songs like ‘Good Rockin Tonight’, ‘Garbage Can’ and ‘Mama Don’t Do It’ from a new album he was plugging in ‘Tattooed In Blue’, from which the mournful ‘State Of Blue’ also impressed. In contrast, the instrumental ‘The Bolt’, inspired by the feats of the eponymous Usain, saw him fingertapping with speed that would have done Eddie Van Halen proud.
Mention must also be made of his long-time bandmates, bassist and occasional harmony vocalist Marty McDermott and drummer Paul Faloon who were his perfect foil, in both musical and humorous terms.
Pat openly paid tribute to the two all-time great Irish blues rockers that had preceded him in Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore and indeed his influences came out in a cover of Taste’s ‘What’s Going On’ and the lengthy Roy Buchanan instrumental ‘The Messiah Will Come Again’ which Moore himself covered.
Nevertheless he has one thing on his inspirations, being a rather more extrovert character with a lively presence charging about the stage and plenty of twinkling, self-deprecatory charm.
Pat’s vocals were also much improved from previous occasions I have seen him and suited the music perfectly, though less so to the old Mama’s Boys numbers. Nevertheless the memories came flooding back with the NWOBHM influenced muscular riffery of ‘Straight Forward, No Looking Back’ and ‘Runaway Dreams’, complete with the ever thrilling moment when Pat switches to one of the best violin solos in rock (admittedly the shortest of shortlists).
He kept with the fiddle for a couple of numbers including a cover by another great Irish band in Horslips, before donning a bouzouki and coaxing some very country rock sounds out of it during ‘Walking In The Shadow Of Giants’, alongside some choice covers ranging from ‘All Along The Watchtower’ to the Scottish folk classic ‘Caledonia’ which he joked he was transforming into an eighties style power ballad with dramatic solo effects.
After the fun boogie style ‘Bad Little Doggie’ and ‘Running from the Wreckage’, ’Belfast Boy’ was a memorable tribute to Gary Moore with a celtic-jig feel to the guitar work reminiscent of ‘Black Rose’ before another old Mama’s Boys favourite ‘Needle In The Groove’ with a crowd singalong finished the set.
There was still time for a trio of encores and while there was a risk of descending into cabaret territory with too many covers, he made ‘Walking by Myself’ ‘La Grange’ and even ‘Rocking in the Free World’ his own in turbocharged fashion.
At 2 ¼ hours this was a thoroughly good value show, combining good old-fashioned entertainment with blistering blues rock accompanied by a few curveballs. It confirmed the genial Irishman as one of the best current performers on the live circuit.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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