Guitarist Steve Mann discuss Lionheart reunion, new album and past and current work with Michael Schenker

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STEVE MANN

Lionheart is a British band formed in late 1980 by guitarists Steve Mann and Dennis Stratton, bassist Rocky Newton, vocalist Jess Cox, and drummer Frank Noon. The band began playing gigs, including regular shows at London’s infamous Marquee club and an appearance at The Reading Festival. The band had problems maintaining a consistent line-up. The core personnel of Dennis, Steve, and Rocky remained, but it proved challenging to find the right singer and drummer. Mann, Stratton, Newton, vocalist Chad Brown and session drummer Bob Jenkins recorded the band’s debut album HOT TONIGHT in 1984. The album failed to attain success, and after several more line-up changes and problems with the label, the band split in 1986. In 2016 Dave Herron of the Rockingham Festival in Nottingham asked Lionheart to reunite for one performance. Original members Stratton, Mann, and Newton, jumped at the chance and brought in former Lionheart drummer Clive Edwards and new frontman Lee Small on lead vocals. The reunion created quite a stir, not least within the band itself, and it was decided to carry on with the subsequent recording of a new album followed by an acclaimed appearance at the 2017 Sweden Rock Festival. After the band’s brilliant Swedish Rock performance, I met a cheerful Steve Mann and drummer Clive Edwards. We talked about Lionheart’s return, the past, and the band’s new SECOND NATURE album.

In addition to Lionheart, we talked with Steven about his time with the McAuley Schenker Group in the 80s. With Steve on board, the band released two successful albums, PERFECT TIMING and SAVE YOURSELF. McAuley Schenker Group split up in the early ’90s, but now Michael Schenker and Steve Mann are reconnected, and they play together again in Michael Schenker Fest. The band is also planning a new studio album, so it means that Steve will be a very busy man in the near future.

LIONHEART REUNION

It’s the year 2017, and Lionheart is back. Let’s start with a simple question, why is the band back, and how did the reunion come about?

Steve Mann: Why? Okay, we always thought, we always had this idea that at some point it would be nice to get Lionheart back together again because it was such a great band. But, it never really… Nobody had any idea how we could do it, and then there was a promoter last year. A guy called Dave Herron, from Rockingham, the Rockingham rock festival. He’s always been a Lionheart fan, and he contacted Rocky and asked Rocky if there’s any chance of Lionheart doing a quick reunion. Rocky phoned all of us, and we said, “Yeah. Why not? Let’s do it.” For old times’ sake, we’ll get together, and we’ll do a show. And, so we did. We rehearsed for a couple of days, and then we went and played the show and, you know, we were very happy with the way it went, and as far as we were concerned, that was it. But, on the day of the festival, we had so many people come up to us and say, “That was incredible.”

When was that festival?

Steve Mann: October, I think it was. Last October.

Clive Edwards: Yeah. It was a long time ago. That was our last show; we’ve only done two.

Steve Mann: Yeah, that was the last show before today. So, we had a lot of people saying to us, “That was just amazing. Mate, you’ve got to keep going.” And then we had some music journalists who told us, “That was so good, you have to think about doing a new album.” And then on Facebook, we had people saying to us, “You have to do a new album. You have to do a new album,” And so we just talked to each other and said, “Well, why not?” You know, “Let’s do a new album.” So, that’s how it all kind of came about.

Clive Edwards: I think when there’s an opportunity to do something, especially something that you love, why would you not do it, you know. It’s as if the opportunity is there, and people say, “Let’s do it.” You know, “You’ve got to do this.” Then, you have to respond, and you have to go, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
Lionheart originally started in the early ‘80s but now, more than 30 years later, do you think there is still demand for this kind of music?

Steve Mann: Yeah. I mean, the reason “Why now, is because just everything fell into place. Back in the ‘80s, when Lionheart was first going, we had to fight. And, we knew what we could do, we knew the kind of music we wanted to play, and we all got on really, really well as friends, but we were fighting against the business, and the industry was… It was a very different business back in those days, as you know, and we just found ourselves fighting publishers, fighting record companies, fighting managers even, just to try and get a fair deal for what we wanted to do. And we were very much manipulated and used. Looking back now, we can now realize how much people were trying to use us, and they were trying to make a quick buck out of us and get us to sign contracts. If it all didn’t work out, we were the ones to pay for it, and we lost a lot of money. A lot of money back in those days. So much money that we had people coming to our houses to take our furniture away. You know, it was that hard, and we’re putting everything into it that we could do. So, everything was working against us back then, and as I said, at Rockingham, everything seems to be going for us. We just thought, none of us are kind of, I mean, we are doing other things, but we felt so good when we got back together again, and the feeling was that we’d never actually broken up. It had been 30 years. Well, nearly 30 years.

Clive Edwards: I think we’d all stayed friends. I mean, we had worked with you, I, and Rocky (Newton), when we did the X-UFO, so this communication was already there, and the business has changed so much. Now, you have enormous control, and things are just done differently, and you know that you could influence it.

Steve and Rocky Newton are in action. Sweden rock 2017

WHAT WENT WRONG IN THE ’80s?

You already mentioned how things didn’t go as planned in the ’80s for Lionheart. What went wrong, and why did the band never attain big success if you look back now?

Steve Mann: That was… As I say, that was the industry itself.

Clive Edwards: The timing as well. The fashion at that time probably wasn’t ready for Lionheart.

Steve Mann: Yeah, because we always had a very particular sound, and we knew exactly the sound that we wanted to bring across, and we developed that over the first couple of years. And it started at the new wave of British heavy metal, but it very quickly evolved into this three-part harmony, dual-guitar approach, and that’s what we stuck with. I think it went wrong because, as I said, people were trying to make a fast buck out of us, and then we had a manager that felt the best thing we could do was go to America and work with an American producer, which was Kevin Beamish. I mean, I have nothing against Kevin Beamish, but I don’t think he was exactly right for what Lionheart was all about, and he produced REO Speedwagon, and I think he was kind of… He was trying to make us the new Reo Speedwagon. Well, the English Reo Speedwagon, and it wasn’t exactly what Lionheart was about. It was a good album, HOT TONIGHT, but I think there was this kind of conflict between what people were trying to make us be and what we wanted to be, but the two weren’t the same thing. So, we felt very unhappy with this, and then we were told to sign record deals that actually weren’t. A lot of tiny small print meant that we had to pay for it if things went wrong. As Clive said…I mean, these days, we’ve been in the business for a lot longer, we know about these things, the business is very different anyway, and as Clive said, we have a lot more control over what we are doing.

Clive Edwards: If you sign an album deal now and get your album back after a few years, you license it with somebody. Then you were signed up for the until-death-us-do-part kind of thing, and it was just like everybody had an opinion of what you should be doing; everybody wanted their pound of flesh and everything else. And, regarding creativity, that doesn’t, you know, but the good thing is with Lionheart, and I think all of us, we stick to our guns. We do what we feel is right, rather than, “This is what everyone’s doing this month, so you know, go out and make it… You know.” And, that was never what any of us was about, because I think if you do it from here, from the heart, and you do what you believe, 10, 20, 30, 40 years later, you listen back to it and you go, “Actually, that’s good” because you believed in it. If you just make a bloody tailored record because somebody said, “Play like this.” It’s usually a bunch of shit.

Speaking about Lionheart overall, did you ever think that the band was a kind of supergroup back in the day?

Clive Edwards: Never thought about that.

Steve Mann: No. I mean, we were labeled the first new wave of British heavy metal supergroup, but we didn’t think of ourselves as a supergroup. We just thought of ourselves as just another band. Okay, I suppose I can see where it came from because Dennis was from Iron Maiden, the original singer, Jess Cox was from Tygers Of Pang Tang, and I think that combination because it was the first band that formed out of two other new-wave British heavy metal bands, that the press just used that as a kind of a label for us. I don’t think it was… I think the hype was probably that Dennis has left Iron Maiden and was part of Lionheart, but you know, but we never thought of it that way, to be honest.

Clive Edwards: The world wasn’t ready. Decades later, it’s a different ball game. It was hard back then.

But now, it’s even more challenging.

Clive Edwards: Right. It’s harder in different areas. There are not so many gigs, and there’s not so much money being chucked about. However, that money being chucked about was always being recouped. It never actually hit the band; nowadays, it’s a bit more realistic, but there are fewer opportunities regarding being able to gig your way. Before, there was like a bit of a staircase in London. You could start at the mark, and you could gig your way up. All that has been ripped up, the venues have gone.

Steve Mann: To go back quickly to the reason why it went wrong back in the ‘80s. We signed with CBS Records in America, and we had… You know, they gave us a specific budget to us. Our manager then said, “Okay, I want you to go out to Los Angeles for three months, record the album, work with Kevin Beamish, this producer, and come up with a great album.” And then when we came back, “Die for Love” was single, and he said, “Okay, we’re now going to do a video.” A massive, big-production video. I mean, you probably know what the video was like, explosions and everything everywhere, and that itself cost $120,000, which back then was a massive amount of money. You know, the money wasn’t there, you know, we hadn’t sold the albums, and what we didn’t realize because we were naïve was that. If we didn’t sell enough records to cover the cost of three months in Los Angeles, paying a top-name producer, and doing a video for $120,000… If the albums we sold didn’t cover that amount, we had to pay for it. So, we all had these bills come through the letterbox, “You owe God-Knows how many thousands of pounds.” And we had to pay for it. We had no choice. And, that cleared us out, you know. As I said, we had people coming around to the house saying, “We’ve got to take your furniture away.” We were-

Clive Edwards: That is as bad as it gets.

Steve Mann: We were totally ripped off, and after something like that happens, you don’t have any more enthusiasm.

Must it have been a terrible time for you and the band?

Steve Mann: It was horrible.

Clive Edwards: It can destroy you. I mean, there are a lot of players in bands over the years that have gone after them and had never come back. And, it’s given them such a bad taste in their mouth about the music business, they stop playing, they go away, and they become an accountant or something.

Steve Mann: We just hadn’t got the enthusiasm anymore. We just said, “Okay, we’ve had enough.” You know, “If that’s how the business is going to treat us, we don’t want to know.” We were very angry about it. It was a very, very good lesson, but I’ll always be angry about it.

Do you or someone else from the band still owe money to someone from that period?

Steve Mann: No, we had to pay it there and then. We had no choice, and I had to go to my parents, my parents went to all of their relatives, and we begged money from all of the family, you know, and it took me years to pay the money back to all my relatives and my mom and dad. But, my mom and dad were fantastic, and they supported me every inch of the way. They said, “We will get the money together somehow.” And we did, but it almost killed my dad. My dad had a heart problem. I can’t begin to tell you how bad that time was.

Clive Edwards: That shows you how bad these people were, running the business, because they knew it, they didn’t give a shit.

Steve Mann: Yeah, they didn’t give a shit. It’s just hard business, and that’s all they care about, you know, and as far as they’re concerned, there’s no working with the band, they use the group to try and make themselves money, and they have insurance that if it doesn’t make money, then the band pays for it. So, they win, the band always used to lose and luckily these days that’s changed.

Lionheart in 1984 during the HOT TONIGHT era

NEW LIONHEART LINE-UP

The band line-up has gone through some changes since the first Lionheart album. Say something about the current band and how you got together?

Steve Mann: The core of Dennis, Rocky, and myself have been constant throughout, but the drummer and singer were always subject to change back in the 1980s. For the reunion, Clive was always going to be the logical choice as a drummer as he was the one we always felt was most integrated into the band, which is still the case now. With singer Chad Brown, the decision to look for someone else was made for us as Chad is no longer interested in the music business. But as with everything to do with this reunion, things were meant to happen, and finding Lee Small was one of them. Lee is like the singer we were always looking for.

How are the songwriting and band dynamics different now compared to the old days?

Steve Mann: Oh, we have all matured a lot, and we all have a lot more life experience and musical experience behind us. A lot is said about old rockers, but as you get older, you get more soul, and the music becomes a very, very deep experience. When we were writing the first time around, the songs were perhaps more formula, more manufactured than they are now. Songwriting has become a much more natural and expressive experience for all of us. We have also found the perfect complement to our songwriting, with Lee now being involved. His approach and flair have given our songwriting a side that I feel was missing before, and of course, we then bounce off Lee’s input, and the songs, in my opinion, have become twice as good as the songs we were writing 30 years ago. And we have only just begun to find our feet as a songwriting team. Regarding band dynamics, I think the main difference from 30 years ago is that all of us now exclusively put the interests of Lionheart first rather than any self-promotion. Egos, of course, do get in the way to a certain extent when you are younger, but none of us has anything particular to prove these days, and we are very happy now working to push the band above all else.

You have many gifted musicians in the band. How do you do the songwriting in Lionheart?

Steve Mann: Typically, one person will come up with the basic idea, and they’ll post it in our What’s App group and see what the general feedback is. If the idea is good, someone else will take it and put their own spin on it, and it will keep doing the rounds until we flesh out a great song. If it turns out not to be a great song, then we dump it immediately. We have decided never to have any fillers; we only want to put songs on our albums that we feel are 100% great songs. As a song is being developed, I put down the latest ideas as a demo in my studio and then repost it to our group. It’s very reliant on modern technology, but we love writing that way – it works very well for us.

Steve Mann, Dennis Stratton, Lee Small, Clive Edwards, and Rocky Newton

NEW LIONHEART ALBUM

The new album SECOND NATURE is coming out in a few weeks, right?

Steve Mann: Well, it’s coming out in Japan on June 21st, in 11 days, and in Europe, it’s coming out on August 25th, so it’s another couple of months before it comes out in Europe.

What kind of promotion have you done for the album? Have you filmed any videos yet?

Steve Mann: Yeah, we’ve already done a promotional video for one of the album’s tracks. We did that last week. It’s a cover song, and we deliberately picked a cover, not because we can’t write songs, but we decided it’s quite a good move to start with a song that people know.

What is the name of that song?

Steve Mann: It’s “Don’t Pay the Ferryman.” We played it today. It’s a Chris de Burgh song, and we liked the idea of doing a song that people know, but no one’s done a great cover of it. The Chris de Burgh version, the original was very good anyway, he sang it brilliantly, but it just seemed to me that we could do a great Lionheart version of it because it has the guitars and the big vocals and everything, so we’ve done a promo video for that track. We are incredibly proud of the album, and it started after Rockingham. We thought we would just knock together a quick album, you know, a couple of months, and we’ll have a new album. We started putting songs together, building up writer relationships within the band itself, and realizing what we came to realize and…

Clive Edwards: And, we have probably one of the world’s best producers. No, I’m not joking. I’m absolutely dead serious here. This man here has grown over the years into this colossus, which I think will get his recognition soon.

Steve Mann: Thank you, Clive. I really appreciate that, but it was an opportunity to put into practice with Lionheart a lot of ideas that have been going around my head for a long, long time, but I’ve never really had the project to do it. I had the idea, maybe, of doing a solo album, but I can’t motivate myself for a solo album. When Lionheart came along, it started developing, and we got so many great songs to choose from. The ball started rolling with the album, and it just went. As I said, we developed songwriting relationships, and we realized quite quickly that we were actually onto something amazing here. By the time it was getting towards the end, after six months of recording the album, we had got the deal in Japan and had a deadline. So, I had to get the recording finished, the mixes finished, and the mastering finished. So, it was all a bit kind of close to the wire, but we managed it. And, when I did the last mastering session and played the album back, I just had shivers down my spine, which usually doesn’t happen to me. I produce something, and then once I’ve done it, I’m not interested anymore, and I go to the next project. I think we all listened to it, and we just went, “Wow.”

This actually is very; it’s been a lot of sweat.

Clive Edwards: It’s an awful lot that’s been put into that from the heart. Everybody, especially Steve.

Steve Mann: Yeah. I have to say as well with the CD, it’s… I mean, just kind of taking one step back, the whole of the last six months, the way everything didn’t work out in the ‘80s, it’s just the opposite. It’s like everything is working out for us, and I was working so hard on doing the album that I hadn’t even thought about the artwork. We have this guy that we’d never met before called Tristan Greatrex, and he contacted me on Facebook; he said, “Is anybody doing your artwork?” I said, “No.” It was like panic, we hadn’t even thought about it, and he said, “Do you mind if I have a go with it.” And Tristin has been the biggest Godsend for us. He loves the band; he understands the band, the artwork he came up with… All of this, that was him.

Clive Edwards: And, he set up all the social media for us. We have a Twitter account, Facebook, etc. One of the things with this whole six, seven months is that as we turn to look for something and someone’s going, “I can do the video.” “I can do the artwork.” “I can do this.” And, it’s the opposite to years ago when you’d have to find the whole… “Well, I want this much money. I want this and that.”

Steve Mann: Yeah. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life. I mean if, you know, if you believe in God, which I do. Then I suppose you could say that God has actually said, “Okay, it’s your time now. Here’s everything you need. You need an artist, and there’s your artist.” You know It’s very… But it honestly seems like that.

It sounds that all things with Lionheart are going much better than last time, “Laughs.”

Steve Mann: Yeah, that’s right. For us, it’s just almost like, we’ve just sat back and let all this happen to us. I mean, obviously, we’ve put in a lot of hard work as well, but it seems that at the moment, we can’t do anything wrong, and I just have this feeling that it’s Lionheart’s time now. You know, we paid our dues all those years ago, and now it’s Lionheart’s time. Getting back to the album, we are incredibly happy. Except for the other guitar player, he’s the only big leaguer “Laughs.”

LIVE PICTURES FROM SWEDENROCK SHOW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ

 

LIONHEART OFFICIAL: 

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WORKING WITH MICHAEL SCHENKER

Steve Mann joined McAuley Schenker Group in 1986 and performed on the PERFECT TIMING and SAVE YOURSELF albums. McAuley Schenker Group split up in the early ’90s, but now Michael Schenker and Steve Mann are reconnected, and they play together again in Michael Schenker Fest. We went through Steve’s career with Michael, how he ended up in the band, the highlights of his time with McAuley Schenker Group, how the re-connection got started, and what kind of plans Michael Schenker plans Fest have for the future.

 

MCAULEY SCHEKER GROUP

How did you originally end up in McAuley’s Schenker Group in the ’80s?

Steve Mann: I’ve only just recently found this out myself! A friend of Rocky’s was asked to play bass on Michael Schenker’s demos back in 1985, but he couldn’t because he couldn’t leave his goldfish unattended at home while he went to Hannover for the demos. So, he asked Rocky if he wanted to do it instead. Then when Michael asked Rocky if he knew of a guitarist who played keyboards, Rocky suggested me, and of course, I jumped at the chance.

Before joining the band, how familiar were you with Michael and his past career?

Steve Mann: Michael was a big hero for all of us in Lionheart. When Lionheart went on tour, we had the first two MSG albums playing on a loop on the bus. We were big fans! I had also toured with UFO back in 1979 when the band I was in at the time, Liar, supported them on the first tour they did without Michael. The guys from UFO gave us a copy of STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT, and I played that to death at home. That’s when I first really became acquainted with just how amazing Michael’s playing was.

Say something about the recording session of PERFECT TIMING, which was your first album with the band?

Steve Mann: That was a little strange because I don’t think that the pairing of Michael with the late Andy Johns was the best match. There was a bit of a personality clash there, and I think that tension was maybe reflected on the final album. We recorded the backing tracks in a beautiful residential studio in Denmark called PUK. We were in studio two while George Michael recorded FAITH in studio 1. But it was a stressful recording session. All the overdubs were done back at Rudolph Schenker’s studio back in Schwarmstedt, and things were better then. But I think everyone in the band was disappointed with the final mix, and if you listen to the album now, the songs are great, but the production definitely left room for improvement.

At the time, you left the band, but you came back after a short break. What happened then?

Steve Mann: My father was very ill at the time. He had terminal prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, which was a pretty awful combination. My mother somehow acquired the energy to take care of him, but it was very hard for her, especially as Alzheimer’s meant his personality had changed, and he didn’t know who my mother was. I decided I needed to spend time back with my parents to help my mother out and spend some valuable time with my father before he left us. It was a tough decision for me to leave the band, and they tried to persuade me to change my mind. But in the end, they accepted it, and I went back to England. It was a very amicable parting, and I kept in touch with Robin afterward. A year later, I missed playing a lot, and my mother told me the thing that would make her happy more than anything was to see me back doing what I love. So, I talked with Robin, who told me they felt Mitch Perry wasn’t the right person to compliment Michael. Mitch is a fantastic guitar player, and I think everyone, including Mitch himself, though he would be better off if he weren’t playing as a support guitarist to Michael. So, it was decided I should re-join.

SAVE YOURSELF was the second album you did with Michael. You were a co-writer of the “Anytime,” which is still one of the band’s biggest hits. Tell the story of the song and how it was created?

Steve Mann: This leads from the previous section on how I came back into the band. I had already set up my 16-track studios back in the UK, and I thought if I offered to take my studio to Hannover to record all the demos for the new album (Save Yourself), it could only help my cause. So, I recorded a quick keyboard part, added some guitars, sampled drums and bass from my FZ1 sampler, and sent it to Robin. It wasn’t intended as any kind of song – it was only to demo the sounds I could get. To my surprise, Robin came back a week later and told me he had written lyrics and a melody for my song. I didn’t know what he was talking about and asked him, “what song”? Anyway, the result was that Robin came to my studio and recorded what he had written. It was a song that was very close to Robin’s heart at the time, and I remember there was even a moment when he broke down while singing it and had to take a break. At the end of the session, we had “Anytime” in the bag – in the exact same arrangement as it went on the album. I have the original multitrack at home, but unfortunately, the 30-year-old tape is deteriorating badly, and it’s impossible to play it. I would love to hear that original demo again, though.

Is there some particular reason why Michael doesn’t play that song live anymore?

Steve Mann: Michael puts what he feels people want to hear on the set. The time isn’t right to include “Anytime,” but this will almost certainly change in the future. There are an awful lot of great songs over Michael’s career, and it’s a shame that some real classics have to be left out, not just “Anytime.”

Overall, what are your best memories from your time with McAuley Schenker Group in the ’80s?

Steve Mann: Except for the PERFECT TIMING sessions leading up to me leaving the band, the entire period with MSG was one big happy memory. It was a fantastic band, and it still is. Absolute highlights for me in the 1980s when we played at the Monsters of Rock festivals in Mannheim and Nurnberg when Bon Jovi was opening for us! And the entire time in Los Angeles recording SAVE YOURSELF was a very happy time. Unlike PERFECT TIMING, there was a great vibe on that record.

Steve Mann, Rocky Newton, Robin McAuley, Bodo Scohpf, Michael Schenker

END OF AN ERA

In 1991 Michael relocated to the States, and he recorded the third McAuley Schenker album, M.S.G, with Robin and the rhythm section of James Kottak and Jeff Pilson. You were not in the band anymore, but you still have some credits on that album.

Steve Mann: Yes. I mean, Michael kind of worked differently in those days. He’s always had this thing about; once he feels he’s finished with a band, he just leaves it. He just walks off.

Clive Edwards: Walks away.

Steve Mann: Yeah, that’s right, he walks away. And, so we realized when we weren’t getting phone calls anymore that we were out of the band. I think the reason was that he moved to LA, and he wanted to use local musicians over there. I mean, Michael himself will tell you that he’s gone through different periods of his life, and I just have to kind of mention the way Michael is now. He’s a different person. He’s a lovely person; he hugs people, feels very warm with them, asks them how they are, and apologizes if he does something wrong. These are all little things, but back then, it was Michael Schenker in his second phase, as he will describe it, and you just have to accept that that’s how he was, you know, it was hard and not being… Not even getting a phone call from anybody saying, “Oh, sorry, but you’re not in the band anymore.” Just finding out because you weren’t phoned, you know, it was hard, but then I got on with other things.

But you still did play something on that album?

Steve Mann: I did. I played on a track called “Nightmare,” and that’s when I was still in the band, and I played keyboards on that. But then, when the rest of the album was recorded, I was already out of the band, so I just played on that one track. So, that’s why my name is on the album. But as I said, I was involved in different projects then, I was playing with the Sweet already, so I was pretty happy. You know, it’s like one chapter closes, another chapter opens. It didn’t bother me too much.

However, you’re now back working with Michael, and that’s what matters.

Steve Mann: Yeah. This time around, it’s much better than it was the first time around.

THE SWEET

As you just mentioned, in 1989, you joined another legendary band, the Sweet. How is your story with the band?

Steve Mann: Phil Lanzon was the keyboard player at the time, and he was offered the job with Uriah Heep, which he decided to take and which he still has. I knew Phil from the time he used to play with Lionheart, and when he left the Sweet, he gave my number to Andy Scott, who then called me and asked me if I’d like to do the upcoming European tour to stay with the band permanently. I told Andy I would do it as long as it didn’t clash with my work with MSG, but when I was out of MSG a couple of years later, I became a permanent member of the Sweet. It was a great time, and we played all over the world. By 1996 I was carving out a career as a record producer and engineer, which was starting to take up all my time. So, I left the band in 1996, although I guested with them many times after that. But my last official show with the Sweet was my wedding on July 13th, 1996.

The Sweet in the early ’90s. Steve Mann on the left

RERECONNECTINGITH MICHAEL SCHENKER

You’re busy with Lionheart, but you’re also working again with Michael Schenker. I saw the Michael Schenker Fest performing here last year, and it was a phenomenal show. How did that re-connection start?

Steve Mann: Yeah. So, I got a rather interesting email from Michael’s son Taro saying, “I have a proposition for you.” So, I emailed him back. Michael had been working with Temple of Rock for quite a few years, but they had been doing a lot of old MSG songs and old UFO songs. And, he’d just been toying with the idea of playing with the idea for a couple of years about actually getting the original musicians back. Rather than Temple of Rock, just being kind of new musicians just doing the old songs. He wanted the original musicians back, so he contacted me, Robin McAuley, Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Chris Glenn, and Ted McKenna. I just thought, “Let’s put the band together with the original guys and see how it goes.” So, we got together, and we did three festivals last year, then we went to Japan, and we did a tour of Japan, and it did go incredibly well. Michael was very happy with how the whole thing went, and we were doing headline shows, which he hadn’t been doing with Temple of Rock. I think many people knew Chris and Ted from the early MSG days and the Alex Harvey Band. The three singers, I believe, was a big, great move. To have Robin, Gary, and Graham all together, especially as many people knew that Michael and Graham had parted without talking to each other. I mean, they hated each other. Many people knew that was the situation and were happy to see Graham on stage with Michael again.

I actually remember what happened when he got fired. He was on stage with MSG at Donnington, and he was drunk like monkey “Laughs.”

Steve Mann: Yeah. I mean, I’ve heard the story from Graham as well.

Clive Edwards: I was at the gig. I was with Bernie Marsden when we supported Schenker with Graham Bonnet, and it all kicked off. I mean, it was quite unique, but I won’t go into any details.
Steve Mann: That was something, I mean, Graham himself said, “Why on earth did I ever do that?” He said, “You know, I was young, stupid, and pissed up. Had a lot to drink.” He said, “Why, why did I ever do that?” And he’s grown up the same as the rest of us, and it was great for all of us, and I also think for the audience to see Michael and Graham hug each other on stage. You know, what happened in history, all those years ago. It doesn’t matter anymore. They’re now working together, and everyone’s doing great. And I have to say as well that the band feeling is phenomenal. You know, we all get on incredibly well.

All those three MSG vocalists are great, but I must also say that Ted and Glen are a fantastic rhythm section together.

Steve Mann: They are fantastic, and we get together to rehearse a lot, Michael, me and Chris, and Ted. We’re getting together for a couple of days next week as well. So, it’s just the rhythm section and me and Michael, and it’s fantastic. It just really locks in and grooves. As a basic rhythm section, it works well. Yeah.

Have you been in talks about doing new recordings with this line-up?

Steve Mann: Yes. We discussed this the last time we met, and the intention is to do a Michael Schenker Fest record.

So, the album is going to be released under the name Michael Schenker Fest?

Steve Mann: I think so. Yeah, I think the idea is to do a record with three vocalists. Whenever we have the three vocalists, then the line-up is The Michael Schenker Fest.

In the latest show you played with Michael, Robin was the only singer on that show, right?

Steve Mann: Yes, that’s right. That was Michael Schenker featuring Robin McAuley, and that was in Madrid. But, I think the plan is to do a new record with the three singers. I think that Michael wants to get Doogie (White) involved as well. So, I think it’s looking is we will have four singers on the album.

That sounds great! But speaking about Robin, isn’t it challenging for him to do Schenker shows when he’s so tied up with that Rock the Vault musical thing in Vegas?

Steve Mann: It depends on how it goes because Robin is totally into this new project with Michael. Since we got together, there have not been that many shows, I think, coming up this year. As I said, we’re headlining in Tokyo at Loud Park, and then next year, we’re doing quite an extensive tour of the US. So, the shows are stepping up, and I think Robin loves the whole thing with Michael now, you know. Robin and I have always been great friends. We’ve always been very close, and that is the whole idea of doing that; I think this is a very good thing for Robin. And, I believe providing it’s going to be a good income for him, I think Robin could be tempted, possibly, away or at least take a hiatus away from doing the Rock Vault. I don’t know 100%, you’ll have to talk to Robin about that, but I think you can’t say that Robin tied up with Rock Vault, that he won’t do Michael Schenker. I think there’s a good chance that he may make time for it.

How about Gary? I met him last year here in Sweden Rock, and he then said that he’s not sure about his future with the band because he’s kind of retired from the whole music business.

Steve Mann: Ha-Ha. Yeah, I don’t know about that. I mean, Gary knows; I don’t

Didn’t he move to Thailand a few years ago?

Steve Mann: Yeah, he’s living in Thailand. I think he’s living in Bangkok. I mean, Gary’s quite funny, you know, because I’ve known Gary for a long time and he does his own thing, you know. He’s a lovely guy, but he’s always off doing his own thing and, you know? A great story about Gary is that when we were doing the Japan tour last year, we had a day off in Tokyo, and the promoter took us all out for a meal, and Gary’s like, “Oh, great, I’m starving.” And, everything. And we went to a Japanese restaurant, not unusual when you’re in Japan, and Gary said, “Oh, no. I hate Japanese food.” So, he went down the road and got McDonald’s. We’re all like, “Gary; we’re in Japan.” You know. I mean, “Where did you think we were going?” You know. But, he’s… I love Gary, you know, he’s excellent, but he treats life his own way.

This was about it now. I’m really looking for new Lionheart and Michael Schenker Fest albums. Thanks for your time, Steve

Steve Mann: Thank you!

 

MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST, SWEDENROCK 2016