Mike Freeland Interview 2007

Mike Freeland Interview – 23 June 2007

While in Germany for the Bang Your Head
festival Mike Freeland
(MF) took time to explain
to Jon Hinchliffe (JH) how he came to be the new vocalist
for Praying Mantis.

JH – Can you run me through the bands you
have played with prior to “Praying Mantis”?

MF – Yes sure. At one point I was in a band
called “More” and that curiously is a big part of why I am now in Praying

JH – Shall we start at the very beginning?
Have you always wanted to sing?

MF – No I always wanted to be lead
guitarist but I just could not understand how to play guitar. I still wanted to
be in a rock band so I then decided “Oh I will be a singer”

Photo By Ger Lemmens

JH – Had you tried singing before then?

MF – No and I was bad. I was absolutely

JH – So how did you realise you could actually

MF – The first band I joined “Jewel” had a
drummer called Pete Bignall and at one point he turned round to be and said
“The guys are progressing and you are not. The guys want to sack you. Get some
singing lessons or they are going to sack you. You are an OK singer but you are
not progressing” So I took his advice and went to a rather expensive Opera
teacher and I spent years learning with him. When I joined “More” I went back
to him again. He asked me if I wanted to be a singer or to learn opera. I said
I wanted to be a singer and he took me all through everything there was to
learn to be a singer. He then turned around and said we have done all that we
can do so why not give Opera a go. And he eventually had me singing “Nessun
Dorma” which was the big world cup theme. He would be behind Piano and I would
do “Maria” from “Westside Story”. We also did “Music of the Night” from
“Phantom of the Opera”, which I love as a song. This was a big one because it
starts so low and it gradually builds you up until you are really hitting some
top notes. That was my favourite song. “Maria” from “Westside Story” also
starts down low and builds up and they are great songs to learn and to build
your vocals up with.

JH – What was the first band you joined?

MF – My first band was a covers band called
Freeloader. I was quite late starting really. I was originally planning on
being a professional football (soccer) player. I was a damn good footballer
until a bad tackle destroyed my knee forever and I stopped playing. I didn’t
start singing until I was about 18 and that would have been in about 1981.
Before then I was a devoted footballer. I played Saturday’s and I played
Sundays. I guess you could say I am a person that wanted to become famous for
something. I used to play defender and I was player of the season for several
years and then because of my speed and my left foot they decided to put me on
the left wing. It worked well and in the end what used to happen was the right
winger used to attack and I started scoring goals and I was in line for being
top goal scorer when I got my injury and that was that. So I moved on to

My older brother had loads of albums that
are now considered classics but he bought them on release. In those days they
were new albums by young bands like Led Zeppelin. He was like a kid buying
stuff at the start of heavy rock and I had access to this huge collection of
albums. So even when I was 13 and a devoted footballer I was listening to bands
like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Atomic Rooster. My dad wanted me to be a
drummer and he was willing to buy me a kit but my brother took me to see the
Moody Blues at the Hammersmith Odeon and I decided I would rather be a Justin
Hayward. I still had no desire to be in a band but once the football was over
that was my inspiration and believe it or not joining Jewel my first serious
band links me to Praying Mantis now. But also it linked me to “More”. It is
really weird why did what happened to me in 1981 snowball to what is happening
to me now?

At 18 my football was over and I had a big
desire to be a singer in a rock band. I had been in a cover band called
Freeloader for a while and then I replied to an advert for “Jewel” and in this
band was Pete Bignall on Drums. He was also a roadie for Bruce Bisland (later Praying
Mantis’ drummer) in “Wildfire”. Also in “Wildfire” was Paul Mario Day on Lead
Vocals. He was an awesome singer. We did a few gigs as “Jewel” and then we
became a band called “Traitor”. I got to know Bruce Bisland and Bruce eventually
played for “The Sweet” and “Praying Mantis”. I then went onto a band called
“Axon IV” which was a very serious band and almost got signed. I did a lot of
song writing with them. After “Axon IV” I was also in a kind of son of “Axon
IV” called “Hassle Factor”. I then joined “Brian
’s Sweet” for about a year.

JH – Why did you join “Brian Connolly’s
Sweet” when Brian was the lead singer?

MF – Because at that point I could sing the
ultimate high notes and I was a keyboard player. Pete Bignall who is the root
man here said “I can get you in the band because Brian wants to sound like the
old ‘Sweet’”. So when I joined I did really high harmonies and keyboards. I did
that for less than a year though.

Photo By Ger Lemmens

JH – Why did that stop?

MF – “Axon IV” had split up and I had
brought in the “Axon IV” guitarist to play for “BC Sweet” and he didn’t like
it. He felt it was like playing in a covers band even though I said “but it is
the Sweet”. So anyway he left and Brian brought in another guitarist he knew
from Birmingham.
The guitarist then brought a bass player in and basically the line-up of “BC
Sweet” totally disappeared. I left because I was the keyboard player and they
decided they could make more money without a keyboard player. After that there
was a whole bunch of us that had played in “The Sweet”. Pete Bignall had been
in “the Sweet” too and he, I and the others decided to form a cover band called
“The Sweetshop Boys”. This was because “Paddy Goes To Holyhead” and then the
“Wondering Crutchless” had been doing so well. We then supported the “Crutchless”
which featured Tino. This was around 1988/1989. Every Sunday we were down the
Fulham King’s Head doing a double whammy of “The Sweetshop Boys” followed by
the “Crutchless”.

After that “Axon IV” reformed for a short
while and then I joined “More”. I got a phone call from one guy saying that
“More”, quite a famous band, were looking for a vocalist so give them a shout.
I got they job and they gave me some old songs to learn from their back
catalogue. On these I recognised a voice and it was Paul Mario Day the
ex-singer of “Wildfire”. I said “Is that Paul Mario Day?” and Kenny Cox said
“Yes he was my last vocalist was Paul Mario Day.” I was stunned so now I was
replacing the singer I used to support.

I did that for a short while. It got very,
very close to a deal. EMI Germany wanted to sign “More” for an album and I had
fans coming up and saying “you are by far the best singer ‘More’ has had” so I
had the thumbs up from the fans but then Kenny Cox had multiple Strokes. Kenny could
no longer play guitar and there was no “More” without Kenny Cox.

Going back in time a bit a one point I told
Tino’s then girlfriend but future wife that I would like a few cracks at
joining “Praying Mantis”. However back in the 80’s I wasn’t as good a singer.
It was joining “More” that made me rehearse and rehearse. I went back to my
singing teacher and I really pounded myself. So when Mantis kicked back in, in
the 80’s, I wasn’t good enough to do it.

When Kenny left “More” the bass player
tried to continue it for a while but it didn’t work and then we then formed a
band called “Dangerous Breed”. Why it was called that I don’t know. I hate the
name and I always have done. I had a friend who knew Chris Tsangarides the big
producer of Thin Lizzy (He also produced Mantis’s “Forever In Time”). With him
we recorded a Demo and then in January 2006 I went down to “The Cartoon” in
Croydon and I saw “Paddy Goes To Holyhead” who I hadn’t seen in years. My
friend Danny Burraway who has been in a few bands with me mentioned to Tino
that I had been recording with Chris Tsangarides. Tino asked to have a listen
saying “Mantis” had also recorded with Chris. So I sent Tino a CD and it is a lot
more metal than “Praying Mantis”. He then gave me a call and he said “I don’t
like what you write” which is cool “But do you fancy coming out to Germany and
singing a gig for ‘Praying Mantis’”. I said “Yes of course”. So I did the gig
and bearing in mind I wanted to join “Praying Mantis” back in the 1980’s, I was
then nervous as to how I had been received by the band and the fans.

We played fourth from last on the Saturday
so we had a good slot and then on the Sunday Chris started talking about the
next album. He enquired if I would be up for it. I said “Of course I would”.

That therefore brings us to today. Chris
has sent me some music some of which he had written words for and a couple of which
he hadn’t. I demoed the lyrics Chris had and then Chris suggested I write
something over the music which didn’t have lyrics. From that I have a couple of
tracks one of which Chris is really pleased. That is called “The Wolf Behind Your
Eyes”. We had considered performing that track yesterday at the “Bang Your
Head” Festival. But because Andy Burgess and I were both learning stuff it
became too much for us to then learn a completely new song that had only just
been written so it didn’t happen on this occasion.

JH – What did you do in the 90’s then?

MF – After “More” I played in a band called
“Nemesis” and that has a link as well actually because Bernie Shaw who used to
sing for “Praying Mantis” and is now with “Uriah Heep” has also done some stuff
with Dave John Ross who was in “Nemesis”. So all through my singing life there
have been links with “Praying Mantis”.

JH – When we were chatting before you said
there were 5 new “Praying Mantis” tracks written?

MF – Yes they are “Touch The Rainbow”,
“Witch Hunt”, “I Cried”, “Fallen Angel” and “Wolf Behind Your Eyes”. These are
all demoed to different levels but they all have Chris playing Keyboards and
simulated bass and a drum machine. We have then layered vocals on top. Out of
those it looks like “The Wolf Behind Your Eyes” is going to be a real killer. I
wrote some verses and a chorus at the time we were rehearsing for yesterdays
concert so it was bad timing really but Chris instantly picked up on the Chorus.
I wrote it in a way in which we can layer the vocals and there are tons of
vocal harmonies available.

My favourite is another track I have
co-written called “Fallen Angel”. I am a “Goth” at heart and Chris’s music on
this particular piece pleased me because it is so gothic and dark.

“I cried” is a bit of a ballad but well

“Touch The Rainbow” I didn’t actually like
at first because I was recording vocals of Chris’s synthesizer stuff. However
we jammed it at rehearsals for last nights gig and it is now “Oh I get it.
Yeah” and now I understand it I realise how good it is. “Touch The Rainbow” is
actually a damn good song but I didn’t know because I sang it over keyboards.
Again we considered playing this song here in Germany.

Photo By Ger Lemmens

JH – So have you written for other bands?

MF – Yes all of them apart for the cover
bands. In “Sweetshop Boys” we did Whitesnake covers and Sweet covers. But every
serious band I have been in I have written for. With “More”, I wrote for “More”,
I demoed for “More” and there was interest from EMI Germany. It was just
unfortunate and sad about Kenny Cox. I can’t be angry about it. It was just one
of those things. So I have written from the word go.

JH – So do you write just lyrics and vocal
lines or do you write whole songs?

MF- I am used to guys giving me some sort
of musical idea. It’s like Chris. Chris is a super writer. He will have pieces
of music and it is like “I have got this idea and this is what it is. Can you
think of a song to write over the top of it?” and this is how I have always
written. All of the bands I have written for have come up with a riff or
something and I have taken it away and written a chorus or something over it. Chris
will write a piece of music and it is not a finished song it is just bits and
pieces and he will say there is a verse here, a chorus here and bridge there
and he will repeat it a few times and this will be what he presents as his
idea. That’s how I like working. Someone gives me some ideas and I will sit
down and start writing some melodies and a chorus. The weird thing about “The
Wolf Behind Your Eyes” is for a part of that song Chris had an idea and I
turned up to his place with my ideas and for that section I had come up with exactly
the same idea.

JH – And the five songs are currently
purely Cubase demos with vocals over the top? There are no guitars on these
songs at present?

MF – That is right. Actually there are six
songs because I have one of my old songs. It was a song called “Restless
Heart”. I told Chris I had a song which had this melody and these lyrics but
the rest of it had been written by other people. So I said to Chris Troy if we
want to use it the backing has got to be written again and he was egger for the
challenge. It was originally on the demo I did with Chris Tsangarides. All the new
songs are demoed as you say except “Restless Heart” and that is because Chris
is currently on rearranging the music. The vocal line is all written so he is just
writing the music under the melodies. They are damn good songs. “I cried” is
really cool but also like “Fallen Angel” and “Touch The Rainbow”. “Touch The
Rainbow” being the song I didn’t quite get when I was recording because that
was a song that Chris had written musically and vocally and where I just sang
the lines as Chris and Tino told me. I didn’t get the full picture until we
actually jammed it in the rehearsals for this gig. It goes a quite a pace. The
drums are hacking away. All of a sudden it just fell into place and I realised
how good the track was.

JH – What is the biggest audience you have
sung to before Mantis?

MF – About 400 or 500. Last year at the
Headbangers Ball here in Germany
was the biggest gig I had played until yesterday. Yesterday was by far the
biggest gig on the biggest stage I have ever played and I have to say I
absolutely loved it. I absolutely went nuts I was like a kid in a big
playground. I feel 100 foot stages like yesterday are where “Praying Mantis”
belong. They all rose to the occasion and the music is great. Andy who has only
been in the band for only 6 weeks was brilliant. He was so cool and played
perfectly. The band line-up at the moment is fantastic. Everyone on that stage
yesterday just shone and the music is built for a bigger stage.

I know it sounds gushy but I have become a
fan of the band because of the songs I have had to learn in order to sing them.
I have a whole load of other “Praying Mantis” songs on my Ipod and they are
well crafted songs with good hook lines and good dual guitars harmonies and it
is so frustrating that they aren’t as big as bands like “Iron Maiden”

The current line-up is really good. Chris
said he really hopes this line-up will last. Andy has a great guitar sound and
it really complements Tino’s sound while being very distinctive. Benjy is a
fabulous drummer and so for me even if I wasn’t in the band and I saw the
line-up it is a cracking band. There are no famous faces so it is not a circus
with ex-members of this band or that. It is the Troy
brothers. It is their band and they have got a band that is purely a line up of
guys that want to do the songs. Andy has ties with famous people and we have
all done a bit but there are no “ex-people”. It is Tino and Chris and they are
Praying Mantis and they have got a bunch of guys that have done the rounds and
now they are working hard writing for a new album. It is a band with a lot of enthusiasm
and we now have to finish writing some songs and see what happens with the

Photo by Eddy Meuwese