"We can be something special": Lancashire's old-school rockers landing record deals, leading the Blue Monday Revolution, and bringing back a taste of the '70s
First there was The Rocking Ravers, but they didn't last long. Shades of Blue was a more formative experience, but it was with Road that the money first started coming in. After that, Iron Mountain opened up doors to some pretty amazing experiences, as did Sha-boom. Roxy and the Bad Boys was promising but fizzled out and Judas Tree was fun while it lasted.
Now 68, Tony Hayes is still playing in rock bands, that passion for music yet to show any signs of dissipating. And not only is he playing in bands, but he's landing record deals, too.
"I've been a muso for many, many years," says Tony, who has been into all aspects of music - playing it, listening to it, and living the culture - for as long as he can remember. "I joined my first band at 13 and, even though we thought we were good, we were shocking really! But I've loved music ever since I got my first guitar at the age of about nine.
"My dad was in the RAF, so we moved about a lot and we were up on RAF Middleton St George at the time," he adds. "Every Christmas, the RAF would pay for the kids to go to a panto up at Stockton-on-Tees and, the first year I went, it was Joe Brown and the brothers of a fella called Frank Ifield and the second year it was Cliff Richard and the Shadows.
"After that, I wanted a guitar, so my dad got me one for Christmas and one of his mates at the time knew two chords: A and D," Tony explains. "He showed me how to play them and, beyond that, I'm all self-taught. I just fell in love with the vibe of playing. I just remember loving being on stage and performing; it was great.
"I was a natural performer from a young age, no doubt about that," he continues. "The Rocking Ravers was my first school band and we'd play school dances and that but, by the time I was in my last few months of school in '68, we were living up at RAF Scampton near Lincoln and I'd joined a band called Shades of Blue.
"We were playing pubs and clubs even though I was about 15 at the time and shouldn't have been in there, but what the hell!"
Developing a talent for finding, befriending, forming, joining, and leading bands wherever he went, Tony's next move was to South Yorkshire after his dad left the RAF in 1970. "We moved to Doncaster and I worked down the pits where I met a couple of lads and formed a band called Road," he says. "We were a club show band, so we had long hair and dickie-bows.
"We perform in frilly shirts with cummerbunds, black trousers, and white jackets," he adds, citing the likes of Cream, the Beatles, Free, ACDC, The Rolling Stones, and Dave Edmunds' Rockpile as his main influences at the time. "My guitar-playing evolved with those styles, what you'd call retro rock nowadays."
Leaning into his musical career out of pure enjoyment, Tony nevertheless started to realise he was making more money playing guitar five or six nights a week at various pubs and clubs than he was earning as a miner. But making it as a rockstar still seemed a faraway pipe dream.
"Making it as a musician was an ambition, but just being paid for what you were passionate about was brilliant," he says. "I just remember having the attitude of 'if it happens, it happens'."
It wasn't until the '70s that Tony started rubbing elbows with some real big-hitters, however.
He joined the Army in '73, heading out to Detmold in Germany and soon finding himself part of a rock band called Iron Mountain. The band had a growing local following and was forging a decent reputation - enough of a reputation to be asked to step in and support Hawkwind, fronted by Motörhead lead singer Lemmy, after the warm-up act dropped out last minute.
"Supporting Hawkwind in front of 7,500 people was monstrous," says Tony. "It was great; nerve-wracking at first, like it is every time you go on stage but, once we started, that was it. The nerves go, you stand back, and enjoy it."
After nine years in the Army, Tony left and moved to Melbourne, Australia with his then-wife and two children, joining other family of his who were already living Down Under. There he became a founding member of the band Sha-boom - 'an Aussie version of Showaddywaddy, for want of a better word!' as he puts it - and so started the next chapter of his musical career.
It was at this time that Tony started to explore by writing lyrics to songs, 10 or so of which became Sha-boom songs and for which he got a publishing deal for AU$35,000. The band took off, landing a record deal for an album to be released in 1988. But Tony says that the record was sadly the death of the band.
"It caused our downfall," he says. "Out of the five of us, two of us kept our feet on terra firma and three thought they were bloody rockstars."
Before the album was even in the charts, Tony had left the group, forming another highly-promising soft rock band called Roxy and the Bad Boys, which showed signs of making it big until the lead singer's father fell ill and she dropped out. After nine years in Australia and all out of luck, Tony returned to the UK in '89.
Bouncing around Lincolnshire, Liverpool, and - finally, East Lancashire, Tony settled in Nelson, where he became the landlord of a pub named The Jolly Hatters and started a band called Judas Tree, which earned a solid following across the region. After he retired, he stayed in the area. "I'd have moved back to Liverpool," he says. "But the problem with Liverpool is even the flies have asthma!"
Away from music, Tony busied himself by setting up The Veterans' Association UK, pouring his efforts into charity work as a qualified PTSD counsellor and a suicide interventionist. The association has gone on to rehouse 169 veterans and families and put almost 2,000 people into specialist treatment as well as securing things like stairlifts and wet-rooms for veterans.
But that itch to get back into music never deserted Tony.
"I've always maintained that love for the music and the current band started to take form around 2017," says Tony of his latest venture, Blue Monday Revolution, which recently landed a stunning record deal with Red Rose Music. "My guitar style can be everything from country western to heavy metal, but my general style is very '70s.
"That's what the record label liked, which is handy because myself and Peter were there first time round!"
Peter is Peter O'Connor, Blue Monday Revolution's drummer. "I met Tony by answering an ad looking for members," says Peter, 59. "I thought 'my drums are getting a little dusty, let's give it a go' and it's just gone from there. I went down and we played a couple of songs and they said 'if you want to join, the place is yours', so that was that. It was great.
"I've been in all sorts of bands in the past and I've always enjoyed it - for me, it's always been about the playing, the music, and the enjoyment," he adds. "I got into drumming after I saw an advert where someone put clingfilm across a bowl and started drumming on it. I quite liked the idea of that so I got some biscuit tins and made a bass drum out of an old television tube.
"I'd practice in the garage and I just loved it," continues Peter, who lives in Ainsworth, Bury. "I got my first kit for £50 which felt like the bee's knees at the time - it might not have been the best kit, but to me it was. I was in school bands from the age of 13 and learned to play military drums in the sea cadets, too."
Having recorded most of the new album - titled Looking At The Past - in East Lancashire, Blue Monday Revolution have overcome their fair share of hurdles too, including departing band members, the arrival of new vocalists, and Tony contracting Covid. "I was pole-axed," he says. "I had long Covid as well, so I'm still suffering, but I'm still here, tough as old boots!
"We're just waiting to see what happens at this stage, really," adds Tony, who says he's particularly excited by the arrival of vocalists Martin Hart and Rebecca Costello. "We've got our feet on the ground. I just want to see it do well; we're not going to be millionaires, but we want to enjoy it. And we're over the moon to have Martin and Rebecca on board.
"It's a big boost for the band because, with these two with us, we can go from being okay to being something special."
"In the past, my dream would've been to become famous but, with this band, it feels like the right things are happening," says Peter, who also paid tribute to fellow band members Danny Helm, Lewis Drinkwater, and Richard Eslick. "Just to be known for what we do is a big thing for me because we're doing it for the love of it.
"Tony's become a really good mate and I feel like a kid again, which is magic," Peter adds. "I'm really looking forward to seeing how far we can go. That's the power of music - there have been times when I've felt low and have wanted to give up, but I just needed to get back to the music and it's changed my life completely. It's been brilliant."
As they say, it's never too late.
"We're under no illusions," says Tony. "But we want to kick some a**e."