Mark Will and Marshall Mandell make up the duo Good To Mention.

Local musician Marshall Mandell and friend Mark Will release a rock opera depicting a true soccer tragedy in their new album, 96.

Photography by Anthony Evans

Before Marshall Mandell built a career in real estate brokerage, he established himself as a musician.

Between being raised in Southfield and raising his own children in Farmington Hills, Mandell played drums and other instruments professionally in California. He appeared with headlining groups such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Los Lobos, joined studio musicians for projects produced by Motown Records and added to the sounds of symphony orchestras and film scores.

Now, semi-retired and dividing his time between Michigan and Florida, Mandell is tapping into composing and instrumental skills by applying them to an original rock opera. Working with fellow composer and keyboardist Mark Will, Mandell has assembled musicians and singers for a just-released recording.

The work, 96, available on the web and through CDs, tells the story of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster in England. Massive rushing through the gates of a soccer game (English football) crushed 96 people to death in 1989, and the controversy surrounding fault has continued in the courts through this year.

“One day, about two years ago, while watching ESPN, I came across a documentary about Hillsborough and found it fascinating,” recalls Mandell, who throughout his real estate career kept up with musical interests by playing acoustic and electronic instruments in his home studio.

“I thought about coming up with a song related to that because I’ve always come up with songs to reflect my feelings. I worked on the song and played it for my British in-laws because I wanted it to sound as if it had the cultural tone of the people involved.

“My in-laws approved of what was to become the title track, the description of that fateful day.”

Development of the 27 recorded songs was divided between Mandell and Will, a Seattle businessman and performer who had worked in California bands with Mandell. They also are producing a limited number of videos to accompany the music.

Will and Mandell perform in a Seattle studio while taping their first video, “This is Christmas.”

As the two planned out the rock opera, Will had one completed number to offer. “The Sum of It All,” originally written to honor the memory of his mother, would apply to the loss of people at the stadium.

“That song describes all that my mother brought to my life and the idea that she lives on spiritually,” says Will, who operates a commercial music studio near his home.

As work on the recording formalized, Mandell and Will decided to name their refreshed duo Good to Mention. They arranged for Liverpool professionals — Big Country bassist Scott Whitley, Queen bassist Callum Williams and studio guitarist Scott Poley — to add layers remotely.

Mandell’s wife, Jenna, and his brother Steven, a pathologist who appears with choral groups, filled in vocals led by the duo. Family participation is important to Mandell because family introduced musical interests. Relatives played piano and had favorite albums he regularly heard in their homes before he was old enough to attend school.

After being drawn to the coronet, Mandell became interested in drums. As abilities advanced, he joined with music buddies at Southfield High School to form a band. They played for many parties, especially bar mitzvahs because of their ages and religious affiliations. Mandell had his bar mitzvah at Congregation B’nai David in Southfield.

Mandell, who headed to California in 1975 for performance opportunities, returned to Michigan in 1994 for work and family stability.

Only one song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Rodgers and Hammerstein, is not original; but it is included because of its association with the Hillsborough Family Support Group. Five percent of proceeds from first-year album sales separately will benefit the support group and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which is important to one of Mandell’s four children.

“The opera format is based on one of my earliest favorite albums, Tommy by The Who,” says Mandell, who studied music at Wayne State University, Berklee College of Music in Boston and California State University-Northridge.

Tommy was a big influence on me. I’ve seen the play and movie, and I tried to match that genre as we came up with the storyline, arrangements and ambience so it all gives a sense of being in the midst of the tragedy. There’s not dialogue in every case; some segments provide thematic material.”

Songs are divided into four segments: “Innocence” leading up to the match; “Tragedy” imagining the heartbreak experienced by the victims; “Redemption” exploring grief joined with court action; and “Hope” involving the healing process.

One song that Mandell wrote, “On the Edge,” has special resonance with him beyond the rock opera.

“It’s the song about the police overseeing the game and making the fateful decision to open the exit gate where people rushed in and crushed fans,” Mandell explains.

“It reflects each person’s struggle to do and say the right things and then question how better choices could have been made. I think we all go through times when we’re on the edge between right and wrong decisions.”

Mandell wrote three related songs to present different perspectives toward the tragedy. “I Can Never Go Home” has to do with the composite character representing the outlook of a young person not coming back. “You Can Never Go Home” conveys the emotions of victims’ loved ones. “We Must All Go Home” addresses everyone’s eventual demise.

The first video to accompany the recording, “This Is Christmas,” was produced to provide a sense of restoring outlook through the mood of the holiday as understood even by people who do not observe it. The video was filmed in Seattle with the duo singing as Marshall plays guitar and Will plays keyboards.

Now that Mandell, 66, has taken on one rock opera, he has acquired the energy for another. Ideas are swirling for a tale about a time traveler, and Will has signed on.

“The idea about coming back to where we were — even temporarily — cannot escape me,” Mandell says. “I’m finding my own route through music.”

96 can be streamed or purchased through the many digital music sites, such as Amazon and Spotify. The first video is available on YouTube.

Previous articleMother-and-Daughter Duo Open Culinary Combo Bakery
Next article10 Ways American Jewish Life Changed in the 2010s
Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.