Spend time hanging around people who work in the music industry and you’ll come across all sorts of odd bods and chancers, dreamers and schemers, doers and … those who just enjoy staying up late and sleeping in until 2.00 pm. So, when a character emerges from the pack and shows a bit of promise, looks like they might be able to achieve some success in the biz, it’s worth having a bit of a gander at what they’re doing, where they’ve come from and where the hell they think they might be going. There may just be some lessons to be learned. Then again, there may not.
I’m the classic low self-esteem douche bag, but I think that’s going away a bit now.Tom Mantle
Tom Mantle goes under the moniker of ‘Big Tommo’, a larrikin Aussie name that suits his outward demeanour just about perfectly. He’s a musician and, as the head honcho of Big Tommo Presents he’s also a promoter, booker of venues and, lately, band manager. Around The Sound recently sat down for a chat with Mantle in his local to find out more. We laughed, we almost cried, and we learned a few things along the way. Strap in!
It took a bit of effort to get Mantle to talk about himself, but we got there in the end. In the beginning he was all about keeping out of the spotlight.
“For a long time, I was like I’m the back of house guy,” he told us, “even though I’m a musician as well. As a musician I’m like, ‘Look at me!’ but when I’m in Big Tommo Presents mode, I’m doing all the organising and I don’t really see myself being a public figure. The way that I saw it was that as a performer I’m a public figure, but when I’m doing the organising for other musicians, I’m doing it for them.
“I’m the classic low self-esteem douche bag, but I think that’s going away a bit now. Whatever I do under the Big Tommo Presents brand is going to help everyone that I work with, so I might as well do everything and be everywhere.”
So how did Big Tommo Presents become a recognisable brand in the Perth music industry? When we suggested that it was, Mantle stuttered and stammered his way through his next few sentences, all jokey denial, but he finally owned it and added, “My personality exudes through everything I do, the hyper way I do things.”
Hyper is one way to put it. The Big in Big Tommo presents is as much a reference to Mantle’s personality as it is his frame. Maybe it’s got something to do with how he spent his formative years?
I was a ballet dancing rugby player.
“I grew up in a ballet school, all types of dance, in my Mum’s ballet school. Mum and Dad still run it together and Mum was a dancer and toured pantomimes and things like that in England. I grew up doing tap, modern jazz, ballet, everything. I also played rugby union in high school, I was a ballet dancing rugby player. We had no idea what we were doing and we just got smashed.”
It was around this time that Mantle expressed interest in learning to play a music instrument, choosing, of course, the trumpet. “Dad fully convinced me to do guitar, though. He told me it’s very unlikely you’ll ever become a fully committed trumpeter. When you’re just starting out and you’re not that good at it, you’re not likely to pick up the trumpet and just play it, but with the guitar, you can just play it all the time. So, he was right.”
An insightful father, obviously, as he could already see in the young Mantle a reluctance to be blowing his own trumpet.
It’s little deviances of that nature that have seen Mantle constantly swimming … in a different current. Instinct kept him apart while still part of a crew.
From those early years, Mantle took a detour through classical music, maintaining a love of composer Phillip Glass — “It’s all rising arpeggios, very soothing” — and built a love of performing that combined his ballet training with the boorishness of rugby union. Knockabout but refined all at the same time, it was a grounding that somehow marked him out as different and helped him keep on some sort of a path while others inevitably fell by the wayside. This kid was all about being the same but different.
“I started getting into angsty stuff as a teenager, went through my extreme metal phase, started wearing all black and wearing spiky things. Grew my hair – still got long hair. All the boys dyed their hair black and I hell wanted to, but I didn’t, and I was kind of glad that I didn’t.”
It’s little deviances of that nature that have seen Mantle constantly swimming against the tide or, if not against it, in a different current. Instinct kept him apart while still part of a crew.
“We were such a little metal stoner group, it was hilarious. We played Korn and System Of A Down in high school, in front of a Baptist school, fully head banging with all the outfits and I think we blew up the PA, it never sounded the same afterwards.”
High school hi-jinx aside, this was also the period where Mantle finally settled on what he loves musically.
“I think I discovered the Red Hot Chilli Peppers around this time and that changed my brain. I started to evolve into a love of story crafting and song writing, nice songs. I realised that my favourite kind of music was emotional rock, like Something For Kate, Elliot Smith, Chilli Peppers. Songs with depth to them. But sometimes I just love a stupid rock song about getting wasted.”
Mantle told a few stories about getting wasted while we talked. Well, we exchanged a few. He’s definitely fond of a beer or three, which seems to be a pre-requisite in the music industry, and he’s definitely done some dumb things, for example, a drunken, half naked wrestling match with his best mate after returning home one night, right on his doorstep. Probably not the best way to endear yourself to the neighbours or your sleeping partner, but not the worst thing in the world, either.
While he’s often reaching for laddish oaf, Mantle only ever manages to come off as having a boundless well of enthusiasm. Not the worst characteristic to have in an industry where the knocks can be hard and the opportunities for success few and far between.
Midnight Mules, perhaps Mantle’s best know band, because, let’s face it, you’d never heard of his metal years until just now, started when he was still in primary school. It’s also where he began, probably without really knowing it, to learn his craft as a promoter and manager.
“My first ever band was the Midnight Mules, with my two best friends from primary school. The first song we ever did was ‘My Sharona’. We had a break when I did my metal thing and then we came back together when we were in our 20s and just started playing stuff together.”
For a while Midnight Mules earned a degree of fame in the local music scene and Mantle became known for selling out venues for his band, often overselling them by doing his own ticketing without realising the venues were also selling tickets. It’s the sort of rock and roll story that gets told time and again, someone creating a buzz out of pure mayhem and blind faith, stumbling into success. Although, while Mantle claims the way he overfilled venues for Midnight Mules was pure accident, he did also note that it happened more than once.
Somewhere along the journey Mantle completed a degree in contemporary arts with a minor in performance arts at WA’s fame school, the WA Academy of Performing Arts. He claimed he used to sleep on the train while he should have been doing his readings, but something must have stuck in Mantle’s filing cabinet of a mind.
It was also during this period that Mantle started working the bar at one of Perth’s best-known live music venues, The Rosemount Hotel. This grew into promoting open mic nights at (now defunct) Ya Ya’s and his first time as a sound engineer.
“When I got asked, I was like, ‘I’m not a sound guy.’ They told me it was just going to be sick punk rock, so, faders up, beers down, as I like to say. But, I’m pretty sure the first gig was this hectic jazz band with all these flutes and shit and strange stringed instruments and I was just like, ‘Fuck!’ I was poker faced and shitting myself on the inside. It was a very sink or swim moment.”
Needless to say, Mantle swam and, over time, was able to add sound engineer to his skill set. He also continued to run open mic nights during this period and his enthusiasm for these nights remains unfettered.
“I think around that time I was already mixing the open mic at Ya Ya’s as well. That’s where I started to realise that I could put on events and gigs and offer myself as the sound guy, so I could lower the cost for venues. And I like being on the ground at my events. And I love doing the open mics, they’re so sick!”
The value of the open mic night in the progress of musicians’ careers can’t be underestimated. They are often the place where early-career musicians get their break and experienced musicians go to test new material. Mantle’s recognition of the value of these nights shows his savvy as an industry operator and provided him with fertile ground to further develop his craft.
“I started to think that if I see promise in bands from early days, it’s going to be beneficial for Big Tommo Presents and that band to work together as a unit, as opposed to growing on tangents. That’s why I took on Atlas Chasers, because I saw that potential in them and they’re awesome dudes.”
Atlas Chasers are one of Perth’s hottest tickets right now and it’s no accident that Mantle is managing them. The connection is a culmination of careful planning, staying in the game and being able to recognise opportunity. These are key elements in the Tom Mantle and Big Tommo Presents stories.
“It all kind of happened randomly and organically, but a couple of years ago, my brain was like, ‘This is an actual thing,’ and I started to plan more and I realised that this is my job now, this is an actual career. I don’t really want to do anything else, have a day job; I tried that and it nearly drove me mad.”
Tom Mantle is one to keep an eye on….Where ever he is there’ll be something happening, guaranteed.
Tom Mantle is one to keep an eye on. He’s becoming a bigger fish in Perth’s relatively small pond and it will be interesting to see what happens next. In a business that is so unpredictable, in which it’s so difficult to achieve even minor success over a sustained period, it would feel like throwing a hex to say that we expect big things in Mantle’s future, but he’s worth keeping an eye on, that’s for sure. Where ever he is there’ll be something happening, guaranteed.
Next up is Manifest, Mantle’s annual festival showcasing the best in WA original music. Now into its fifth year, Manifest brings together local artists in a one-day, two-stage event, most often at Perth’s iconic live music venue, The Rosemount Hotel. Coming up on 14 December, this year’s event should be somewhat of a watershed for Big Tommo Presents and the budding impresario, Tom Mantle.