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Praying Mantis

When I decided to go to the Bang Your Head Festival again I got a list of interview partners from the organization. The atmosphere there is always great to talk to bands. In the years before I already had conversations with Doro and Mick Jones from Foreigner and had some great memories of it. This year I chose Praying Mantis, a kind of cult band from the NWOBHM period. This became one of the best talks I ever had with musicians. Read all about my chat with the nice Troy brothers.

By: Eddy | Archive under hardrock / aor

That was a great performance on stage yesterday please start of with telling me who is in this new line-up of the band at this moment?
Chris: On vocals we have Mike Freeland. He was in another band called "Dangerous Breed" which was a lot heavier. There is much more head bangers type of material but I remember hearing his voice on the CD and thinking it was really good.
Tino: I used to know Mike years back. He used to be in a pub band called the "Sweetshop boys". I heard his vocals back then and I was very impressed. He came to my attention again because Bruce Bisland who used to be our drummer suggested him. Bruce gave us his number and we called him up and it went very well.

And you did audition him?
Tino: Yes he did a couple of the older tracks and then we got him to do a couple of the tracks that will be on the forthcoming album to see what flavour he would give the band and it worked out really well.

He sounded very good on stage yesterday.
Tino: Yes I was a little surprised as he is a little bit shy. But yesterday I said "Yeah! Go out there and give them hell" and he really used that stage and went for it.

Was it the first time he was on stage with you?
Tino: Yes we have done some warm up gigs but it is the first time he has been at a big European festival like this with us.

Okay, who else is in the band?
Tino: We have Benjy Reid on drums. I have known him for a little while as well. Andy Burgess our other guitarist also plays with me in a pub band in London. It is a fun thing where we do rock covers. Because of that we have got to know each others playing styles and our harmonies and sounds really complement each other so it seemed a natural progression for Andy to join us in "Praying Mantis".

So Dennis Stratton is no longer in the band?
Tino: No it is a difficult thing with Dennis. Dennis is a great guy and he really got the crowd going and everything. We just had differences of opinions on guitar sounds and things.

Maybe he is a little heavier?
Tino: No I wouldn't say he was heavier he is quite melodic as well. I don't know what it is really. It was just the complement of sounds. Dennis likes a very trebly guitar sound and we just felt it didn't quite fit with my guitar sound. In the studio we have been able to make the guitars work together. In the past we have not played live too much and I think the live sound has worked but it was not always what we hoped for. With Andy this will no longer be an issue and with this new band line-up I think we really want to go for it and start playing live more often. Another advantage of the new line-up is they are all younger than us oldies and they are really enthusiastic to get out there and make the band even more of a success.

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Okay, let's continue with going a bit down memory lane now. I read somewhere the band already started in 1974?
Tino: Actually we already started in 1972 but after the name change you can say it was about 1973 yeah.

Man, I was still a little kid back than, hahaha!
Chris: We are already old men, hahaha but we still rock!

According to your real name I guess you are original from Greece?
Chris: Our father is from Cyprus and our mother is from Spain.

…and you were born there too?
Tino: No were both born in London.

That real last name of you I cannot pronounce!
Chris: That's Neophytou

Wow, that's a difficult one, I guess there is good reason you changed that in Troy career-wise, hahaha!
Chris: Yeah this is a funny one, Tino real first name is Constantino and mine is Christakous. When we released our first single it said: "Written by Constantino and Christakous Neophytoo", man that was too difficult for the people to read so we changed our names in Chris and Tino Troy.
Tino: Hahaha, I am glad we don't have a brother called Des…. He would be Des Troy hahaha. And if there should be a girlfriend for one of us called Helen that would be Helen of Troy, hahaha.

When you started of in music, which band or musicians made you say: "Wow, I want to go into that business too?
Chris: On of the main bands for us was Wishbone Ash and Status Quo. Their 'Piledriver' album really did it for us.
Tino: Also Thin Lizzy when they released 'Jailbreak', all that twin guitar-stuff was cool.

Thin Lizzy, I am going to see them next week on Arrow Rock!
Tino: Oh yeah, we were trying to go there too but we can't afford that, hahaha.

I can't wait for that; we are going to see our friend from Toto there. I kind of work for that band as a correspondent and whenever we want to go out and see them, we are their guests.
Tino: Oh man, Toto is also one of my favourite bands. Lukey, he is so great and Bobby Kimball he is brilliant, they are real characters of rock music.

Do they know you?
Tino: Yeah, I met Lukey a few times and Simon Phillips very quickly and Bobby Kimball once or twice.

Chris, you are the bass-player of the band but you also started with the guitar I read somewhere?
Chris: Yes, it was a Spanish guitar to start with. I was ten or eleven my mom bought me one and when I started to play it I tried the classical flamingo.
Tino: Yeah he was real classical, hahaha. Than when my brother got on stage with it I saw people come around to see that and I got jealous of it and I wanted that too. I was very heavy with my hands fooling around with wood and I actually build my first guitar on school. I also made one of the first bass-guitars for Chris
Chris: And it ended up with Tino playing the guitar and I turned over to the bass. What a shame, hahaha.

And than Praying Mantis was born?
Tino: Actually we started of as Junction. There is a whole family-tree in the "Demorabilia' album if you know it (Eddy: "Yes I have that one too") It starts of as Junction for a couple of years before it became Praying Mantis. At that time I went to furnishing College and I realized there was a musical and instrument department and I started to hang around those guys all the time and make more guitars. I met another guitarist called Pete Moore who also was heavily into Status Quo and that was how we started playing. We drafted Chris and got ourselves a drummer and he was absolutely crap, hahahaha, so another Chris (Hudson) who played keys took over the drums and so the band was born.

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How did you get your first record-deal, did you send around demos or did they see you play?
Tino: Yes, it was a demo with three songs and we got that to a guy called Neal Kay who owned a famous rock club called The Bandwagon in Kingsbury London and we got a gig there to check out if the audience would like us. After we played there we got great reviews and people at the record companies started to ask around about who is that Praying Mantis. We ended up on the famous 'Soundhouse tapes Part 2'. Part one was actually three songs from Iron Maiden who started of back then too.
Chris: I remember that well, in that time we played with Iron Maiden, Angelwitch, Samson and more bands like that which were part of the NWOBHM. We went on tour with Iron Maiden and to tell the truth, we kept on playing them off. We were better than them to the extend they even stole our sound-engineer. It's the same famous engineer they still have to the day of today.
Tino: Plus, their manager Rod Smallwood was going to look at our band but he popped us of with another guy because Iron Maiden was doing well. That guy walked away with our money at the end and we had lot's of legal shit going around that took us about eighteen months to sort out and at the end our name went cold and we couldn't regenerate the good name we had build before. That's a real shame, be also had could be very big and famous if we had made better decisions. When you are young you think you know better. There was also a situation we got involved with Peter Mensch and he suggested we needed a singer; a front man and we didn't go with that. You know, that kind of lack in listening to other people is the reason we never really made it big.

Unfortunately you can't turn that back!
Tino: No, it's a pity but at the same time we are still around.

But I noticed in your career you had several ex-Iron Maiden musicians in your band.
Tino: Yeah, we had Clive Burr, Paul Di'Anno and Dennis Stratton. We played with Paul Di'Anno in Japan in 1990 as we kind of reformed the band. That went really well, it was well organized, we were treated like stars. As we arrived at the airport there were these big busses waiting for us and how they treated us we wondered if they were mistaking us with somebody else, hahaha. It was an unbelievable experience; we got about four or five encores. Unbelievable, all those shows in Tokyo were sold-out.

You have had so many line-up changes. Are you hard to work with?
Tino: We are plain bastards, hahaha. No I think the real problem has been we haven't done enough. We have done the albums and Japanese tours but we have never worked enough to keep a band on retainers and you can't expect people to sit around and wait for the next cycle of album and tour. We have had a lot of problem keeping singers but our new guy Mike Freeland is great. He is very unassuming and quite shy in a way but like I said earlier, when I saw him on the stage yesterday I thought "Yeah he has got it". I am really proud of him. In fact I think he was the best person in the band yesterday and he really helped carry it off for us.

When you look back at the past line-ups which one do you remember the most?
Tino: The one where we did two albums on the trot with the same line up.
Chris: Yes I think it was special for us to do two albums "Forever In Time" and "Nowhere To Hide" with the same vocalist. When we think back on it and say, "Why has been so hard for us to keep vocalists?" It isn't us. To be honest I actually think we are one of the easiest bands to work with. It is just a case of people's situations and the way they change. It is a difficult one. Again perhaps it is our fault that we have not been working all the time. Maybe we could have hung on to more singers if we had put new product out more frequently. But I think with a bit of luck what we have now is a stable set up.

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When you have a new album out, please send it to me with a bucket full of money so you can bribe me into a good review, hahaha.
Tino: Hahaha, before paying you, you first must let us read it, hahaha. If we like it we will look after you very well.

You are already musicians for a long time but can music pay your bills?
Tino: I don't want to answer that, hahaha. No, I am still working as a furniture-maker. I design and build furniture but as I may add, very exclusive stuff. Chris got a high power engineering job as well, I also am a decorator all sorts of stuff, hahaha.

Are there big plans for a new album now?
Tino: Yes Chris has already written a whole bunch of songs and I have a few in the pipeline. We just have to knuckle down now and put it into some sort of format where people can hear it. Andy has come up with an idea of putting out tracks on the internet as we finish them so that we can keep the interest there. Then when we have a collection of tracks we can put them out on some sort of package. Working this way we will get chance to get feedback from the fans and also live with the songs for a while. How many times do bands have to work to a deadline and rush through the mixing stage to release an album on time and then a few weeks later wish they could change something? With this way of working and releasing songs we have the opportunity to live with the songs for a few weeks and then tweak them if we want to for a final CD/DVD release.

One of my favourite question to ask is always, if you could choose a band to open for on a tour who would be your choice? (Tino starts write a name in the air with his fingers and at first I didn't get it but my wife who is also present at the interview gets it immediately…)
Tino: TOTO.
Chris: I think Foreigner or Journey.

I hope you love this interview, for my part it really like this talk with you guys face to face. I do a lot of interviews with bands by email but this really has a better vibe, I think.
Tino: Yeah this went very well. You know, I really don't like to do an interview by email. It's so impersonal. I like to see you in the face as we talk together. You can better express yourself this way. You record this chat with your microphone and when you listen to it again you can feel the emotion of the voice. That's great.

I always like to end my interviews with a little word game. I mention some words and names and the interviewee has to come up with a first thought!
Tino: Let's have it.

Tino: TOTO, hahaha
Eddy: That's the best answer you can give to me, I love you guys!

Chris: Many hours

Tino: A sure joy
Chris: A drug
Tino: Better than any drug.

Tino: Divorce, hahahahahahaha
Chris: A wonderful thing

Chris: My favourite subject, hahahaha. Many of my lyrics are based on that and destruction. I am not so into writing love songs.

One of you wrote a song about a daughter who died.
Tino: Yes that's me.

A wonderful and emotional song!
Tino: Thank's very much, first when I started that song I was going down the ballad route but it turned into an angry song instead.

Tino: I want lots of it, hahaha.
Chris: Need some, hahahaha.

At this time the girls from Girlschool walk by chattering out loud.
Tino: Silence, you chicks!!! Hahahaha…

Tino: I like to get some of that. We are semi-famous hahahaha. You know, if you got a little bit of that you get the taste and you want more. But if it's there I can imagine you can miss it a lot. In Japan we have that. We have a lot of so-called friends and they say to us: "Well, everyone is big in Japan!" And I say to them: "Yeah, but you are not, hahahaha."

The last one… Praying Mantis:
Tino: Pure enjoyment.
Chris: To me it has been an outlet throughout life…
Tino: One word, Chris, hahahaha.
Chris: You know, I have a serious job. You know, a few days ago I was partly running the company and yesterday I was on a stage. It's a roller coaster ride, plain madness.

And the name Praying Mantis, how did you come up with that?
Chris: That's a funny old story, when we first started the band we had that guy Stan Cunningham on college and he had a wonderful voice. And when he was singing he made strange movements and I said he looked like a Praying Mantis moving like he did, hahaha. I thought that was a great name for a band and the rest is history.

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