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INTERVIEW – BRIAN MANNIX, Uncanny X-Men/Absolutely ‘80s

| 22 January 2015 | Reply

INTERVIEW – BRIAN MANNIX, Uncanny X-Men/Absolutely ‘80s
By Shane Pinnegar

Brian Mannix brings his Absolutely ‘80s flashback show to Busselton’s Barnard Park on Saturday 24 January for the Oz Rock Busselton extravaganza, alongside Icehouse, Wendy Matthews, Ross Wilson, Diesel and James Reyne. SHANE PINNEGAR pinned the former Uncanny X-Men frontman down for a chat.

Mannix formed the revue with Scott Carnes from Kids In The Kitchen, about nine years ago, and rarely a weekend goes past when they’re not playing somewhere.

“Yeah, me and Scott sort of put the thing together,” Mannix explains, “well, he did most of the work [laughs]. So for us it’s fun and it’s good to work together because in the 80’s we were competing against each other so we didn’t really spend a lot of time together. Once we started spending time together we realised that we’ve got a lot in common and we get on really well. It’s fun.”

Also on board for the WA trip is David Sterry from Real Life and Boom Crash Opera’s Dale Ryder, with each singer “doing our own [hits],” says Mannix. “So you get to see Scott Carnes do Kids In The Kitchen, and the rest of the others, and then at the end we do some stuff together which is generally the ‘dead guys songs’ I ‘spose [laughs] – the all-in brawl.

“Yeah, it’s good, it’s mostly our hits and it’s good value for people – there’s no fillers, every song is a hit, so it works well.”

With a collective repertoire including ‘80s chart-toppers Onion Skin, Send Me An Angel, Change in Mood, Great Wall, Bitter Desire, Catch Me I’m Falling as well as Mannix’s own Uncanny X-Men hits 50 Years, Everybody Wants To Work and Party, the Absolutely ‘80s party is sure to be infectious.

Mannix goes on to explain that there was no animosity between the different acts at the peak of their commercial success – just competitiveness.

“We didn’t know each other. It was like he went for Hawthorn and I was Essendon, y’know – so, now we get on great, but we didn’t really spend much time with each other in the ‘80s.”

Countdown’s fortieth anniversary has seen nostalgia for the period running at an all-time high, with the recent ABC two-part special reminding us of how many times Mannix guest hosted the iconic TV show.

“I thought it was a good special – I couldn’t believe how much I was in it!” he laughs. “It was good and I’ve got a real soft spot for Countdown. It was important – that was the make or break show back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and we’d all watch it every week no matter what.

“Most households only had one tele in those days, so the whole family would sit around and watch the show. Two million people watching every week certainly helps you sell a few records!”

Don’t think for a moment, though, that Mannix is still living in the past – he’s quick to dispel any notion of that right off the bat.

“Look, I think it was a good era,” he says with a slight sigh, “I think people probably remember it more fondly than it deserves to be – in that you remember the good music that has come out of it, but for every one good song there were three pretty shit ones like Hayzi Fantayzi or Haircut 100 or whatever.

“I know it’s really special to a lot of people – it’s probably MORE special to a lot of [other] people than it is to me,” he continues. “You know, it was part of my life, and a good time, but the music was better in the ‘60s, and people remember it better than what it is – they like the fashion, that people went to that effort to dress up and have a look. The ‘80s were all sort of based around [videos] and TV, so visual presentation was huge. So… look, I don’t know… I mean, how can you say the ‘80s was a better musical time than The Beatles or The Stones or bands like that?”

So there’s no pining for ‘the good old days’ from this 53-year-old rock dog, In fact, even with the Countdown-related nostalgia, and Mannix’s recent delving into his personal memory bank to write his autobiography, he’s not found it an emotional experience.

“Well… was it emotional?” he deliberates a moment. “No. It sort of evokes fond memories and it was a good time… but not emotional. It was, ‘yeah you want to talk about that, then sure let’s talk about it.’ That was a good time and fun. I don’t, and the point, I guess, in my book, is that yeah, while the ‘80s was a great time and yes a lot of the music was terrific, there’s a whole heap of other stuff in life that’s just as good. I value the birth of my kids more than I value my gold records!

“It’s about the stuff that matters. It wasn’t the greatest time in my life, but it was a good time in my life,” he elaborates. “Today I woke up, I’m alive and I don’t have cancer – so today’s a great day. Any day is a good day. I’m grateful for all the ‘80s gave to me, but I don’t sit here all sad and wish it was still the ‘80s. I’m glad that I was there, but life’s gotta keep progressing, and for me it does.

“It’s nice to give a nod to the past and look at that but it’s not the be all and end all for me. I like music, I like singing, I love singing my own songs – and the ‘80s… people wore shoulder pads and freaking girls had those horrible tight perms… there were a lot of things to like and a lot of things to not like. I don’t think the ‘80s were particularly special, but I know a lot of people do and good luck to them. For me, it was just another time in my life.”

Be that as it may, but Mannix has no qualms about continuing to play his songs from the era and trade on his former glory. After all – would he have been invited on Dancing With The Stars and had roles in Neighbours, Blue Heelers, the movie Chopper and other shows had he not that modicum of fame that the ‘80s bestowed upon him?

“Well yeah, and I think the Uncanny X-Men songs don’t really sound like ‘80s songs – we didn’t have a keyboard player,” he says, overlooking the fact that their two albums had more than a little ebony and ivory action in the grooves. “Our songs are more probably more ‘70s oriented: we were a guitar band. If you listen back to those songs now, they’re not particularly ‘80s sounding, which I’m pretty happy about, because I think some of those ‘80s records, they sound really dated to me – there’s no guitar playing, it’s all computers and drum machines, some crappy keyboard over the top and some guy with a bad haircut taking himself WAY too seriously.

He’s got a point: ‘Cos Life Hurts, Uncanny X-Men’s debut full-length album, remains a fun collection of bouncy, poppy rock songs that completely justify its sales of over half a million copies, elevating it to number 3 on the National charts.

“I think it’s great, a really happy little album,” agrees Mannix. “You know that’s the whole point of it – because life hurts, well, let’s get your mind off it and have some fun. That was sort of our motto: let’s have fun, c’mon, life’s short, let’s enjoy it.”

Mannix says his irrepressible joker-in-the-pack personality came after his school years, for very unpleasant reasons.

“[I was like that] probably at primary school,” he says, “but at high school, nah, the [teachers] would belt the crap out of us, so if you did anything to stand out you’d have the shit belted out of you, so… that kind of stifled any kind of individualism, you know. But FIVE of my teachers, from when I was there, FIVE of them are convicted paedophiles – so that’s horrific news. That’s just great – and my parents paid for the fucking pleasure, fantastic!

“Anyway… it’s disappointing I suppose,” he continues sadly, “I mean, I was all right, but there’s quite a few of these guys that I went to school with that have strangely committed suicide, and I have often wondered why… but anyway, that’s another story.”

Getting back to the band, I make note that Uncanny X-men have reformed a couple of times for a couple of gigs here and there, even recording a few new songs in 2011 that remain unreleased. What’s the story?

“Ahhhh look, it’s really hard to get it together because Chuck lives in Perth, Ronnie lives in Sydney, John lives in Queensland and me and Craig are in Melbourne,” Mannix says, a tinge of frustration showing in his voice, “so to get us all into one room is almost a major effort. But yeah, we recorded some new songs, and I would like to put them out, but I want to have an excuse to put them out and I want all the band to be there. If we get a Day On The Green [show] or something in the next couple of years, then it might be something we can put out. So, yeah, I’d like to be playing live when we release it.

“I was playing with John Kirk just last weekend when I went and played in Queensland. Anyhow, it’s sort of something that’s in the pipeline I suppose, but we’re not under the illusion that it will be a hit or anything, [even if] it’s probably the best thing we’ve ever done, so we’d put it out for our sake as much as anybody else’s.”

The Day/Evening On The Green national tours are exactly the sort of show that Uncanny X-Men should be on, but so far they haven’t had the call. Mannix isn’t impressed that some bands with a “dead lead singer” have scored a lucrative slot on those tours.

“Mi-Sex without Steve Gilpin: that doesn’t work for me, and certainly Dragon without Marc Hunter: that doesn’t work for me,” he says, exasperatedly warming to his subject. “INXS without Michael Hutchence: that doesn’t work for me. You can replace some people in a band I suppose, but you can’t replace the lead singer, songwriter and face of the band. Especially somebody as flamboyant as Marc Hunter. I think the guy playing with them might be an amazing talent but I don’t want to see some guy playing with them with an acoustic guitar and over-singing the melodies. That just doesn’t work for me… but that’s just me.”

Absolutely 80s – Dale Ryder, Brian Mannix, Scott Carnes

With his book originally given a publishing date of October 2014, the pint-sized rocker is now hoping it’ll be out by Mother’s Day in May, blaming the publishers for the wait.

“I sat down with the publishers and… ahhh, they’re idiots,” he laughs. “I’m hoping I’ll get it out for Mother’s Day because that’s probably the right time, that kind of makes sense. It stalled a bit. I’ve gone and written a book [and they’ve edited it] – I’m gonna need a couple of weeks to look at it before they go and publish it. They couldn’t meet any of their own deadlines, so it looked like I was gonna have 4 days to read what they’ve done to my book. Then they go, ‘nah, we’ve got to put it out,’ and that’s it. And they wanted to write some of the most corny, clichéd shit on the front of it, so I just said, ‘no, fuck this, this is bad.’

“You know – all they give a shit about, is, it’s 300 pages and it’s a got a font this big. And that’s all they give a shit about,” he carries on, well and truly revved up by this point. “To me, that’s not the best way to tell a story. If I was writing a book on the 20th century, they’d say, ‘look, we’re going to have leave out World War II because we want 300 pages and a font this size.’ That’s a shit way to friggin’ edit a book, I reckon.

“This is the story of my life, I’m not going to compromise too much on that – if you don’t like it, don’t read it. Yeah, so I can’t just let them do anything [they want], just to have it published. I’m not 23, and the worst thing you can do in this industry is to listen to someone else and not follow your gut instincts. If your own gut instincts lead you to fail, then that’s your fault, but if you listen to somebody else and fail, and say ‘damn, if I hadn’t listened to them and just followed my gut instincts…’ THAT’s the worst feeling in the world. So, you know, at my age, you just go, ‘I’m gonna be true to myself and if people don’t like it, that’s their problem!’”

Mannix’s mood changes 180 degrees as soon as I ask if it’s a going to be a good read, with the old larrikin positively raving about his work.

“Oh it’s the best book EVER!” he says with a lascivious ‘woo hoo hoo’ laugh, “It is absolutely sensational, mate. Like, you know most people when they write a book they say, ‘I met this girl and we had a good time.’ Nah – I take you along for the ride! Let’s see what we did with the girl. Yeah, I reveal more detail than most people do and you get a really good understanding of, you know, it feels like you’re there with the X-Men, and see all the shit that we went through. It’s a really, really good read. I’m really happy with it.”

Having been a rock star, TV celebrity, author, family man (he remains happily married to Susan and has two kids, Casey and Max), and enjoys a day job writing copy and directing ads for Sportsbet – is it fair to say that life’s been pretty bloody good to Brian Mannix?

“Oh look, life is as good as you let it be. As I said earlier, I wake up every morning and I say, ‘look – I’ve got another day. That’s one, that’s a good thing. I’m not sick. How good is this?’ And I find that if you appreciate how lucky you are to be alive and be healthy, then the things that annoy you are just trivial little bullshit things. Like, you know, you got stuck in traffic? Well big deal you got stuck in traffic, does it matter? You know, I was late, does it matter? I’m just really grateful for everything that I do have. I’m not going to load my mind up worrying about shit I might’ve had or might’ve done. I’m pretty happy with the way life’s turned out for me, and I try to remind myself to be grateful for it.”

An edited version of this story was first published in X-Press Magazine’s 21 January 2015 issue

Category: Interviews

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