"What these boys never had was that one great album or hit single that could lift them into rock's premier league": Mama's Boys' Runaway Dreams is a reminder of early potential

Runaway Dreams 1980-1992 is a five-CD collection from Northern Ireland’s much-missed band of brothers, Mama's Boys

Mama’s Boys - Runaway Dreams 1980-1992 cover art
(Image: © HNE)

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For a few years in the 80s, it seemed that Mama’s Boys had it made. The McManus brothers - Pat on guitar, John on bass and vocals, and Tommy on drums - were as tight as a power trio could be, having honed their hard rock sound as kids in rural County Fermanagh. And as a powerful live act, they held their own on the big stages, opening for Thin Lizzy, Scorpions, Bon Jovi and Iron Maiden.

What these boys never had was that one great album or hit single that could lift them into rock’s premier league. But as this 5-CD box set illustrates, there was genuine potential in the music they made early on.

From 1980, their independently-released debut Official Album, aka Official Bootleg, has the unmistakable flavour of the NWOBHM, plus shades of Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher. On 1982’s Plug It In, their first album for Jive Records, they forged a more distinctive style with the punchy Straight Forward and the slinky Needle In The Groove. And while 1984’s logically-titled Turn It Up was more polished, standout track Gentleman Rogues demonstrated why a Sounds reviewer hailed Pat McManus as a new guitar hero to give Michael Schenker sleepless nights.

Also included in this package, along with a disc of rarities, is 1992’s Relativity, the last album the brothers made together before Tommy McManus died from leukaemia, aged just 28. It was a different, more grown-up Mama’s Boys record, and for Tommy, a fitting epitaph.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”