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Praying Mantis by Jon Hinchliffe

for Powerplay Magazine

Last Modified On 03/11/2004

 

Praying Mantis have had a long and turbulent career but now they have a steady line-up and two strong albums to bring them to everyone's attention again 

Praying Mantis first grabbed the headlines in the music scene around 1978 when Neal Kay at " The Bandwagon" HM Soundhouse club in London took an interest in them. After a few ups and downs the band are now an established name in Japan and are breaking new ground in the rest of the world with new singer Tony O'Hora.

The ideas for the band were actually formed as far back as 1973 but it wasn't until 1976 that Tino Troy got his brother Chris to join the band on Bass and they started their long writing partnership.

In 1978 the band were trying to get a record deal and a friend suggested Tino take a demo to DJ Neal Kay at the Soundhouse.  Neal gave it a play and asked the audience what they thought of it. The overwhelming responsive soon told him. The band then got the tape released as Soundhouse Tapes Part 2 (Iron Maiden being Part 1).

Things were slow moving but by 1980 they had recorded a BBC session and appeared on the Metal For Muthas compilation featuring new bands such as Iron Maiden, Samson and Angel Witch in what was now called the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM).

In 1981 they finally released their first album on the Arista label; The classic "Time Tells No Lies". This was an album with great vocal harmonies and strong twin guitar work. 

The October 81 issue of Kerrang! had a readers poll of the top 100 albums of all time and Mantis came in at 91. The band at this time consisted of the Troy brothers; Chris (Bass), Tino (Lead Guitar), Steve Carroll (Lead Guitar) and Dave Potts (Drums). Tino, Chris and Steve all shared lead vocals. The lack of an out and out front man was something the press sometimes criticised the band for and indeed in live situations, the band also felt the need for a change. That way, they could concentrate on their individual instruments. 

They tried out Tom Jackson for a tour but things didn't workout. Then it was time to record a second album provisionally to be called "A Question Of Time". Recording for this took place with the same line-up as the "Time Tells No Lies" album in Germany. Once they got back home, the band started to search for a Lead Vocalist to finish the songs, which were only recorded with guide vocals. It wasn't long before they recruited Bernie Shaw (Ex-Grand Prix and now a long standing member of Uriah Heep). They also decided to change the 2nd lead guitar for keyboards in order to give the band a more aural texture. The band had a successful Reading appearance, in ‘82, which was broadcast by Radio 1. They released the single, "Turn The Tables" but then ran into management problems, which took months to sort out. The album never got finished and all the momentum they had previously generated had been lost.

Dave Potts who was older than the others decided to try and turn the bands fortunes round by becoming their manager and Clive Burr (fresh from leaving Iron Maiden) joined the nucleus of the Troy's and Bernie. It was decided a new name was the order of the day and they first chose Clive Burr's Escape in a bid to use the Iron Maiden connection to elevate the status of the band. After a month or so the name was changed to Stratus and they released an album entitled "Throwing Shapes" but success was still proving elusive. Demos from the Bernie Shaw era of Mantis were recently released in Japan on a double CD called "Demorabilia"

By 1987 the band had decided to call it a day and they played a farewell gig at the Marquee as Praying Mantis with Dave Potts back on drums. There the story would have ended had it not been for Japan...

In 1989 Masa Ito the Japanese equivalent of Tommy Vance decided it would be a good idea to have a concert celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the NWOBHM. Talks then took place and the final result was that Paul Di'Anno (The original Iron Maiden Vocalist) and Dennis Stratton (Guitarist on Maiden's first and then Lionheart) would combine with the Troy brothers and play a set consisting of  Praying Mantis, Iron Maiden and Lionheart, songs. On drums they brought in Bruce Bisland (ex-Wildfire and Statetrooper). The tour went down a storm in Japan and the album Praying Mantis with Dennis Stratton and Paul Di'Anno - "Live At Last" was released.

Sales for this were better than expected so the Japanese approached Praying Mantis about doing a studio album. Paul Di'Anno had decided to continue his solo career but Dennis Stratton, Bruce Bisland and the Troy brothers joined forces and the nucleus 90's version of Praying Mantis was formed. The band had very little time in which to get songs together so Dennis brought in songs he had co-written with Lea Hart (Fastway and True Brit's) and the Troy's bought in some of their unreleased works. Both halves of the band worked in their own way and the end result "Predator In Disguise" was a slightly schizophrenic affair. But the essence of Praying Mantis was still very much there. Chris Troy and Dennis Stratton had shared the lead vocal duties but while they rehearsed for another tour of Japan they met Dougie White (latter of Rainbow). He agreed to do Lead Vocals for the tour but when it was finished he had no real interest in becoming a permanent member.

The Japanese wanted another album and the band decided they needed a secure vocalist so the search was on. This time they came up with Colin Peel (now married to Gaby Roslin) and the resulting album was the great "A Cry For The New World". This captured the essential Mantis sound of "Time Tells No Lies " but updated it with 90's production values. Unfortunately Colin Peel was torn between being with the band and an acting career. In the end he decided to go for the lead role in the musical, "Hair" in London and another vocalist bit the dust.

Because of the success of a "Cry For The New World" the Japanese suddenly got cold feet about Mantis without Colin and they cancelled the planned tour. Masa Ito stepped in again and suggested the band record a quick EP to introduce the next vocalist. Mantis were short of time and they quickly chose Mark Thompson-Smith for the "Only The Children Cry" 4 -track CD. He did the Japanese tour but again things didn't work out. Luckily the Japanese didn't seem to worry this time though. Mantis had proved they could still produce great music.

So next up to the vocal mic was Gary Barden (Ex-MSG and Statetrooper). Mantis decided that if they made the next album a bit more rocky and commercial, they would do well in Europe as well as Japan. Sadly when "To The Power Of Ten" came out this move proved a mistake and the album wasn't received as well as "A Cry For The New World".

The Tour for the album produced a live album "Captured - Alive In Tokyo City". Unfortunately Bruce Bisland had broken his arm so Clive Burr stepped back in on drums. The set list was pretty much a greatest hits one so this album makes an ideal introduction to the band.

You won't be surprised to hear that by the next album "Forever In Time" Mantis had a new vocalist. This time it was Tony O'Hora and thankfully the band have now stabilised with this line up. Not only was it the first time the band had toured an album with the line-up that recorded it but also it is the first time two consecutive albums have had the same line-up.

Things did get slightly confused in 1999 though as Masa Ito put on a 20th Anniversary gig and wanted the original line up of the bands involved. So for the warm up dates and Japanese date Mantis reformed the "Time Tells No Lies" band. The recording of the set came out as "Metal Crusade '99" and also features sets from Trespass, Samson and Tank. This reunion was never meant as anything more than a bit of fun though.

"Forever In Time" was another classic Mantis album. The band had gone back to doing what they did best and produced and album that the fans and critics alike loved. One review commenting on how well Tony O'Hora sang, suggested that Maiden should take note of what a good singer sounded like (they still had Blaze Bailey at the time.)

The current album is "Nowhere To Hide". The band think it is probably their best all round effort.

Tino Troy: "Yeah, I think it is the best album we have ever done and it is because we were totally in control of it. We know what the fans want from us and we know what we want from us. Having a stable line-up at last has finally allowed us to release our potential."

The band in the past have suffered in Europe a bit because they were tied solely to Pony Canyon in Japan. With "Nowhere To Hide" they are free to make their own negotiations for the Rest Of The World so it looks like the album will be coming out in most territories on Frontiers/Now And Then.

Bruce Bisland "With the new deal we can now take our music out to different territories. It is great! Nowhere is safe from us now. Watch out there's Nowhere To Hide!"

Dennis Stratton "With Forever In Time we learnt a lot of lessons. We realised the strength of the band was to carry on writing in the style that comes natural to us and not to try and fit a market like we did with "To The Power Of Ten". We would have liked "Forever In Time" to have been mixed and produced better and now we have done that on "Nowhere To Hide". We wanted to repeat the strength of the songs from "Forever In Time" on "Nowhere To Hide" and we feel we have managed to do that. Not only that we have improved the production too."

Bruce Bisland "I think this is the first time we have all come away from an album and thought the album sounded like we wanted it to". Chris Troy "Sometimes people complain we take a long time between albums but we work on each song until it is right. We don't put albums out with one or two good songs and a load of fillers. Every track is worthy of its place"

Dennis Stratton "We could have put ten tracks on Nowhere To Hide but we didn't feel the tenth track was good enough"

Tony O'Hora "One thing we decided after "Forever In Time" was that we would only make songs we wanted to make. If we love a song then hopefully everyone else will and the reaction to "Nowhere To Hide" seems to prove we were right".

Praying Mantis recently played the Wacken Metal Festival in Germany and they went down a storm. There is a strong possibility of them playing the Gods Festival this year there is also talk of gigs in Europe and America. With magazines like Powerplay, there is a surging interest in melodic rock at the moment and Praying Mantis are the strongest they have ever been to capitalise on it.


© 2008 Jon Hinchliffe. E-mails welcome!