Wednesday, 14 October 2009

God Ain't Jive

I was too young to see Mott the Hoople the last time they played together in 1974. Well, not necessarily too young, but at nine years of age I was more interested in playing football or cowboys and indians. I was 12 or 13 before I started getting into music. My Mam, noticing that I had started buying LP’s, bought me one at a jumble sale for 10p. She didn’t buy it because she thought I would like Mott the Hoople, as she had no idea who they were. She bought it simply because it was a record and she knew that I had started buying them for myself. It was The Hoople, the one with the girl with the big hair on the cover, the one with Roll Away The Stone on and the one made after the original guitarist and keyboard bloke had moved on. I loved it. Thanks, Mam.

That LP was the last one for the singer too and not long afterwards he moved on and Mott The Hoople were effectively finished. The drummer and bassist persisted for a while as Mott and then British Lions but without their original singer they slipped off the radar.

A few months after I got that LP, I saw a book in Woolworths with a photo of that singer, Ian Hunter, on the front, all curly hair and the ever present sunglasses. At that early teenage stage in my life my usual Woolworths literary preference was for books about Hells Angels, partly for the violence but mainly for the much more explicit descriptions of sex than you got in the likes of James Bond. For years I thought that wiping oil off your hands onto your jeans was more than sufficient foreplay. There wasn’t much sex in Ian Hunters book, but Diary of a Rock and Roll Star was as much of a delight to me as the jumble sale LP had been.

Hunter had kept a travel diary of their tour to America in late ’72, describing in detail the gigs, the travelling and just what it was like to be in a band on tour. He met the stars like Keith Moon and Frank Zappa, he sneaked into Graceland in an unsuccessful attempt to see Elvis but was thrilled to come away with a leaf from his drive, he described his visits to pawn shops in search of old guitars and amps and he told us all about the people that he met whilst travelling and playing the gigs, headlining in small venues, supporting in the bigger ones. It was travel writing in the way I’ve grown to love. Go somewhere and write down what you see and what it makes you think about. No donkey’s, fridges or contrived restrictions to ‘give it an angle’. I’m digressing here and, anyway, I’ve done this rant before. The bottom line is that if the LP had left any doubts, the book had got me hooked.

I started buying Ian Hunter solo LP’s and loved them. I bought one by Bad Company too, because the original Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs had joined them after he left Mott, but I wasn’t too impressed. The other band members didn’t really have solo careers worth mentioning and for years it was Hunter who kept my interest.

There was often talk of a Mott the Hoople reunion, most of the band were on good terms with at least some of the others and Mick Ralphs had toured with Ian Hunter a few years back, playing a few Mott songs amongst the Hunter solo stuff. But getting all five back together seemed unlikely. Hunter isn’t one for looking backwards; it’s the current record that catches his attention. Mick Ralphs had gone on to far greater success with Bad Company than Mott the Hoople ever enjoyed. Verden Allen, the keyboard player had played in a few bands but hadn’t been successful, Buffin the drummer had become a Radio 1 Producer and hadn’t picked up his sticks for nearly thirty years. Pete Watts, the bassist, had given up on music altogether, sold all his gear and opened an antique shop. If occasionally a couple of them might have been interested, then the other three never were.

Last year, Verden was talking to Ian at one of Ian’s solo gigs and the subject came up. Verden pointed out that if they didn’t do it soon, then they never would. It’s like lots of things in life, it’s often enough to know that you could do it if you wanted to. Its only when the prospect looks like being taken away from you, that you get that metaphorical silver platform boot up the arse. I suppose I should have mentioned that Hunter is now seventy and the rest of the band are in their mid sixties. This seemed to finally strike a chord with Hunter and he agreed to ask Mick Ralphs. Mick was up for it. He had recently done some Bad Company reunion gigs and was possibly appreciating the benefits of spending some time with your old mates. And I suppose there’s not much on telly these days is there? Verden managed to rope in Pete and Buff and it was on. Forty years after they first got together and thirty five years after they split they would do two nights at the Hammersmith Apollo. The tickets sold out within a day and a third night was added, then a fourth and fifth. A couple of warm up gigs were then scheduled for Monmouth which is close to where four of the band live.

I missed the first Monmouth gig, I’d already got my flight booked back to Teesside that evening and I had stuff to do. Why on Earth I’d deemed anything more important I can’t comprehend now, but anyway I didn’t get there. Apparently it went really well. Buff didn’t show though, it had been announced beforehand that due to ill health he wouldn’t be able to play the full shows, but he would do what he could and Martin Chambers of The Pretenders would fill in for the bits that he couldn’t.

Saturday morning I set off for Monmouth. A clever bit of scheduling by either the Football League or Mott the Hoople meant that I could take in the Boro game at Coventry beforehand. It was one of those rare days where the Boro game wasn’t the focus of my attention though. I listened to Mott live recordings on the way down, hardly able to wait until that evening. The Boro game distracted me for 90 minutes, culminating in us throwing away a certain victory by conceding two goals in the last twelve minutes. I was pissed off for half an hour or so, but it didn’t really matter, I had important things to do.

I arrived in Monmouth about half an hour before the gig was due to start, dumped my gear in an out of town travel lodge and got a taxi to the gig, which was taking place in a former school gym that had been converted into a 400 seater theatre. I was in row 4, about 5 yards from the stage. Buffin was absent again, in hospital with a nosebleed, so Martin Chambers was filling in on the drums once more. When Ian sang the opening line to the first song, Hymn for the Dudes, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. They went straight into Rock and Roll Queen, a song that was surely a bigger influence on Oasis than The Beatles ever were, before playing Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane. The band all looked as if they were absolutely loving it, Pete Watts especially, as he peered into the crowd from the front of the stage.

They had an acoustic break about a third of the way through where they all sat down for Original Mixed Up Kid and I Wish I was Your Mother, before eventually finishing off with the hits and encoring with the even bigger hits. They brought it to a close with the singalong Saturday Gigs, by which time the crowd had finally got to their feet after spending the rest of the gig bobbing up and down in their seats in that strange seated dancing thing that looks more like they are dying for a piss than anything else.

At the end, a lack of taxis meant I went straight back to my hotel rather than risking a five mile walk later on. I didn’t mind though. I hadn’t ever expected to see Mott play live, so it was such a weird feeling. A bit like when you find yourself temporarily transported back to your youth by the smell of the assembly hall floor or a visit to some longer forgotten holiday destination. There would be a bit more re-living to come as well, with five gigs scheduled for the following week at Hammersmith.

Thanks again, Mam.



  1. don't you think that Ian Hunter's starting to look a bit like Jimmy Saville?

  2. Heads down chaps I suspect the Mott supporters are going to backlash, particularly as Craig cheated and put links up to this site on the Mott notice board.

    Lots of visitors too so be careful with your Hunter skits. I thought he was a top bloke...nice cigar too

  3. It's not a particularly flattering photo, probably one from Hammersmith where he was dressed up a bit more like a rock star would have been better than a 'warm up gig' one.

    Anyway, they are quite a well behaved lot on the Mott board. Certainly a lot more polite than those mad fuckers from the Fans of Insulated Lunch Boxes messageboard. I've had death threats and gravy through the post after suggesting my dinner was slightly less than piping hot.