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The Museum talks to … Mick MacManus!

 

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SILVER MACHINE

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GRAPPLING MACHINE

 

Say the word ‘Hawkwind’ to most people and you get the response ‘Silver Machine’. It was, after all, a huge hit, reaching No. 3 in the UK charts in August 1972, and was a hit in more than 100 countries. This is really somewhat ironic as the song was penned not by Hawkwind’s usual writing team of Dave Brock plus A.N.Other, but by Bob Calvert and veteran British wrestler Mick MacManus, pictured on the right. All sorts of myths have grown up over the years about this one, but a look at the original label of the single clearly shows the writing credit as Calvert / MacManus. With this in mind, we sent Steve Starfarer, the Museum’s Wrestling Correspondent, to interview Mick MacManus.

These days Mick is long retired from the ring, but is still active on the British wrestling scene in a promotional capacity. Which is another irony, really. For someone who was regarded in his heyday as a "baddie", Mick MacManus now finds himself elevated to iconic status as the much-loved face of classic British wrestling. In this capacity he’s been asked to open museums (but not Hawkwind Museums, yet!), to act as MC at social occasions, such as the annual Wrestler’s Reunions which take place on the 2nd Sunday of every August at "The Wayne Bridges’" pub near Dartmouth, Kent, and is often pestered for his views. So Mick was understandably a little reluctant to grant an interview at first – but when I mentioned Hawkwind, he brightened up considerably.

"Yeah, Calvert / MacManus, that was me all right! God, it’s ages since anyone asked me about that. Mostly I hang out with my old wrestling pals, you see, and that was not too widely known, or at least, not much talked about in that circle. And I was always mystified that no Hawkwind fans ever brought it up, till I found out that the authorship of the song had been subsequently re-credited to Calvert/Brock. I’m still a bit sore about that, if I ever find out who was behind it, I might just dust off my old skills and show them what a reverse arm lever with a double wrist lock feels like!"

Now that the provenance of the song has been settled (and I am not going to dispute this with somebody as fearsome as Mick MacManus!) – what was it like to work with Bob Calvert?

"Oh, Bob was great. I was always telling him he should have given up all this rock rubbish and gone into wrestling. He would have been a natural, had a great physique, and was suitably unhinged – he would have been great in the ring. I even offered to tag-team with him, we were lined up to take on Zoltan Boscik and George Kidd, but Bob got sectioned, hauled away by the men in white coats. Zoltan told me he was actually quite relieved, he hadn’t fancied getting in there with someone that unpredictable!"

As far as I know, Bob wrote the lyrics to Silver Machine – that would mean you wrote the music?

"Yeah, a simple thing, really. Four chords, a blues progression is all it is."

How did this unlikely collaboration come about?

"Well I don’t think it’s unlikely at all. You might not know this, but I’d been in the ring for a long time when Silver Machine came out. I started in the 50’s, in fact I won my first big title in 1957, I became British Welterweight Champion that year. The year of Sputnik, I might remind you, so it had been a long, long time. And I was very successful all through the 50’s and 60’s, which were great days for British wrestling, let me tell you. It was hard, and it was real. Not like this awful stuff the Yanks are peddling these days. You know WWF really stands for? Wimps, Wankers and Faggots (these slightly "un PC views are not necessarily those held by the museum!), that’s what it stands for. It’s play-acting, nothing to do with real wrestling. Anyway, by 1972 what it was, was I was seeing the writing on the wall. Back here in Britain, wrestling was getting more and more showbiz, we’d moved out of Rochdale Town Hall and were getting into places like the Royal Albert Hall [note: the first wrestling promotions at the Royal Albert Hall took place in 1970] – and I saw where that was leading. Wrestling, as we knew it back then, was sport, not entertainment. So I thought ‘if I’m going to end up wearing sequins, I might as well do it with a rock band – that’s where the money is, and the groupies are the right side of 60, too…’ What I had in mind was trying to get a gig with the Glitter Band, all that Glam stuff was where it at, I thought."

"But I wasn’t the only wrestler to be thinking along these lines, you know. People think we’re just big stupid violent blokes, but that isn’t right. There was a surprising degree of commercial awareness among the wrestling fraternity."

So how did you wind up writing with Bob Calvert?

"I’d first met Bob after one of his spells in the loony bin, well, to be honest it was *in* the loony bin. Not that I was a fellow inmate, you understand! But in those days, all the wrestlers were actually employed by the promoters – and, er, sometimes we had to help them with recruitment, you see, and, er….we talked to Bob, but it swiftly became apparent that this might not be the best idea for the future of wrestling. Not that I totally agreed with that, of course. Like I said earlier, I reckoned Bob would have been great. Anyway, like I was saying, I was also looking around for a way to break into the music business, and I remembered Bob. A few months later I popped into the Mountain Grill in Portobello Road one lunchtime for a steak and kidney pie – we had to eat all that stuff to keep our weight up, though I’m really a Salad man, meself. But I went in and Bob was sitting there, enjoying a boiled lung, so I sat down across for him and we got talking. He was a bit wary at first because he thought I was going to have another go at getting him into the ring, and to be honest that was a secondary thought in my mind. But mostly I wanted to talk to him about getting a second string to my career going, and he advised me the money was in songwriting, not performing. So I said, right, I’ve got something: and I hummed the music to him. He listened and nodded twice when I’d finished, and said he had some words to go with it. The rest is history."

So Hawkwind’s gain was the Glitter Band’s loss…

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Jackie Pallo - Liked a bit of Garry Glitter action!

"Well, that was the funny thing. As I was saying, quite a few of us wrestlers had been thinking along the same lines, and they’d already been approached by Jackie Pallo! He always was one for the limelight, was Jackie. A very flamboyant wrestler, but talented – many opponents made the mistake of thinking that because he looked like a great pansy, he couldn’t wrestle. Jackie could do the business – he and I had quite a few battles royal. But despite having the looks and all that, it didn’t work out for him in the Glitter Band. As far as I know he didn’t write any songs for them, and of course Gary Glitter took all the limelight with them, so it was tough. I think maybe he was looking at doing some of the lyrics for them but found it a bit challenging. You remember Rock’N’Roll, Part 1, or was it Part 2? Anyway, the lyrics went ‘Rock’n’Roll, hey! Hey, Rock’n’Roll’ so in retrospect it was pretty obvious that they had it all sewn up in that department and didn’t need Jackie. He took it badly. Stayed on in the ring, but no-one’s seen him in years, and I personally think it was the Glitter Band thing that’s responsible for that."

I’m starting to see a bit of a trend here…

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Kwango sees Micks good mate Bob Calvert over the other side of the room

"Yeah, you’re right, there was a few of us doing it. Like I said earlier, wrestling was really starting to get a bit showbiz at around this time, so consequently there was a natural affinity between the top wrestlers of the day and the top rock stars. Now take Johnny Kwango. Most of us British wrestlers were white, Johnny was an African and a top bloke. He was a middleweight, very balletic in his movements, but tough as old boots. He was another one I had a fair few ding-dongs with. He always wore light-coloured trunks, and he was a very dark-skinned man, so it always looked like he was in his underwear, and between you and me I think that was what got him such a high female attendance at his bouts. You’d look over at the front row and all you could see was old dears in various states of excitement. And all you could hear was the click-clack of knitting needles. When Johnny was doing well in a bout, they’d go faster and faster, by the time we’d got to the end of round 3, he had a year’s supply of pullovers ready to wear! But I digress, I was going to tell you about Johnny’s involvement in the rock world. This being the 70’s, music was still pretty segregated and rock music was white – blacks listened to soul. So Johnny didn’t have a huge choice regarding bands to get involved with and of course he ended up working with Osibisa. In fact I saw him a couple of years ago backstage at the Canterbury Sound Festival – Osibisa was one of the bands that played, and I was there trying to get this royalties business with Silver Machine straightened out."

Were all the 70’s wrestlers involved with rock bands?

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Street & Barnes, posing nancy boys!

"A fair few were, I can’t swear to all of them being in on it. Now something that happened was that sometimes 2 wrestlers were both wanting to work with the same band, like happened with me and Jackie Pallo and the Glitter Band. In that case it was resolved by me walking away, I didn’t need to be sharing the limelight with anyone else, and like I said, that was always what it was all about for Jackie. But there’s a noble tradition in British wrestling called tag team, you know, where there’s 2 wrestlers on 1 team, and when one’s in trouble, he reaches out and tags his team-mate, who then gets in the ring and relieves him. Now this principle was sometimes applied by wrestlers who got involved with the music business. The best example I can think of was with two very flamboyant wrestlers called Adrian Street and Bobby Barnes. Both of them were enormous poseurs, but could do the business in the ring as well. Anyway, they worked extensively with The Sweet. Which was a natural move, they both looked like butch versions of Brian Connolly, god rest him."

Well, this is fascinating stuff, but it seems to have been a short-term trend. Your involvement with Hawkwind did not extend beyond the Silver Machine single, and none of these other wrestlers’ involvement with the bands of the day seems to be at all well known. What happened?

"As you can maybe tell, I was a bit ambivalent about it, to be honest. So I just didn’t take it any further. I was contacted by the band’s management to come up with some music for their next single, which was to be called Urban Guerrilla, but I had a look at the words Bob had written, and I thought they were a bit dicey, so I declined the offer. Wrestling was all about family values and I didn’t like this stuff about bombs and guns – it’s not British, whereas getting someone in a headlock and slamming him onto the canvas at 4 o-clock on a Saturday afternoon on World Of Sport, that’s as British as you can get. It might have all been starting to get a bit showbiz, but you wouldn’t believe the audience figures that we used to get.

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Dickie Davies - Doom Metal's very own sporting aficionado

Dickie Davies, who presented World Of Sport, knew full well that it was us who were paying his wages. Not that I’m saying anything bad about him, Dickie was a lovely bloke. And funnily enough, he tried to take a leaf out of our book as far as getting into rock’n’roll was concerned. I mean, you could take one look at the bloke and know who he had his heart set on. That moustache he wore was modelled after Tony Iommi’s in Black Sabbath. So poor old Dickie goes along and auditions when Tony briefly left Sabbath to join Jethro Tull. I think he did all right at the audition, and he was all set to tour with them when Tony unexpectedly came back from Jethro Tull, saying that he didn’t mind Ian Anderson playing the flute on stage, but objected to him practising on the pink oboe in the dressing room before gigs. So that was Dickie’s rock career dashed before it had begun, and he was back in the studio next Saturday, introducing World Of Sport just like always. Sad."

By now Mick was displaying signs of restlessness, so it seemed like a good idea to wrap the interview up. I asked Mick where it had all gone wrong.

"Well, when I said I’d seen the writing on the wall, I was right. It took much longer than I thought, but this showbusiness influence was the undoing of British wrestling. For my money the rot started to set in in the late 70’s with people like Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy, god rest them both. I’m not saying they were poor wrestlers, they were both terrific actually – too big for me to tangle with, they were both heavyweights. Wrestling was more popular than ever at this time, and Dickie’s moustache became steadily more luxuriant through the 70’s, there were lots of new stars coming in, people like Sid ‘Crybaby’ Cooper and John ‘The Mighty’ Quinn. All very talented blokes. But note they all had nicknames, which we never did - it was the precursor to this WWF crap you get nowadays, and actually wrestling torpedoed itself with all that. First it sunk World Of Sport, which ITV cancelled in 1985. There was a lot of politics with that programme because it was a joint production of all the ITV franchises, so it was hard enough to get the program out without people criticising it for staged bouts, pantomime characters, etc.. Wrestling still was pulling the TV audiences in, so they couldn’t cancel it, they cancelled World Of Sport instead. Dickie must have been cursing Ian Anderson at that point. But the knives were out, it was only a matter of time before they cancelled all TV coverage of wrestling, and that actually happened in 1988. It killed British wrestling overnight. Mind you, there is now a grassroots British wrestling movement, but it’s more of a live phenomenon, it’ll take a while for it to get back on TV…"

And that was all we had time for. Many thanks to Mick MacManus, and it’s back to you in the studio Dickie, er, sorry, that should be back to you in the Museum, Dave!

P.S. Apologies to any wrestling fans reading this!

STOP PRESS

Just as we were about to post this piece we were contacted by Mick once more as he had more exciting revelations to expose, take it away Mr McManus

"well when I said that my involvement with Hawkwind ended after Silver machine that wasn't exactly true, the trouble is that whilst I'm exceedingly proud with what I achieved with that song, I'm afraid I can't say the same about my next encounter.

it must have been around 1987 and  bloody Sky TV had just been launched in the UK, as well as recent films, Live Football, the other way that that Aussie Tosser Rupert Murdoch saw as a way of attracting new subscribers was to introduce that poxy American style wrestling. Now I don't know if you know this but big Rock acts such as Motorhead and Slayer have recorded tracks for these steroid inflated freaks to enter the ring to. You'll have to excuse the pun here but the British scene was already well and truly "on the ropes" by this point so it was suggested that as a last ditched attempt to glam it up a bit we'd also attempt to get some top acts to record some suitably rebel rousing material so those old coffin dodgers left in the audience could get  a bit fired up. There were a couple of abortive attempts when Brit. thrash metal acts Venom and Lawnmower Deth both did tracks but the wrestling authorities were almost sued out of business by old dears who's hearing aids had been blown up by "that bloody racket", that's when they came to me and asked if I could help. With a couple of phone calls and a swift drive down to Devon I found myself in Barkalot studios with chief Hawkperson and self appointed captain of the ship Dave Brock and on his suggestion we did a reworking of the 1974 classic "Psychedelic Warlords" this time re-named "Psychiatric Wrestlers", but whilst Silver Machine was a majestic 12 bar romp this was quite frankly a pile of shite. We did demo it a couple of times before I lost my cool and got Brock in a headlock and started to give the impression that I was bashing his head against his VCS 3 synthesiser, but being a wrestler it was of course all for show but needless to say that was as far as things went".

However that's all in the past and whilst I was bitter for a long while I feel that now is the time to come clean and let bygones be bygones, so here for the first time are the lyrics that we came up with!

THE PSYCHIATRIC WRESTLERS
( M McMANNUS / D BROCK )

Sick of Jackie Pallo, grannies knitting needles too
All I do is  make a crust from other peoples falls
I hang them upside down now, cos there's chuff all else to do
Put 'em in a fake headlock just to entertain the likes of you

Oh it aint no joke when you grapple with an overweight bloke
Oh it aint no joke when you grapple with an overweight bloke

And I'm telling you that it's all a lie

You think you know the answers to how we slip and slide
But being thrown out of the ring can really dent ones pride
You all live in concrete jungles, it's the highlight of your week
The sight of Johnnie Kwango makes all you old dears go weak

Oh it aint no joke, when Moorcocks double's got you by the throat
Oh it aint no joke, when Moorcocks double's got you by the throat

And I'm telling you that it's all a lie

Sick of Shirley Crabtree, that's big daddy to you
He's not a wrestler in my book, just eaten to much dumplings and stew
But you lot seem to love him, even though he's not a looker like me
And I'd have a pop at him if they would double my fee

Oh it aint no joke when there's 28 stone coming from the top rope
Oh it aint no joke when there's 28 stone coming from the top rope

And I'm telling you that it's all a lie

 

BACK TO THE HOMEPAGE

And I'm telling you that it's all a lie