People sometimes forget that Mr. Ian Hunter Patterson has reached the grand old age of 76 this year. He seems so youthful in the way he presents himself, so it is easy to forget that he is older and wiser than most people you know. We hope to have him around for a long time as Hunter continues to tour extensively across Europe and North America.
In March 1975 Hunter joined forces with Mick Ronson, and released his first solo album in april after recording sessions at AIR Studios in London. A great album that also features the much-covered song “Once Bitten Twice Shy”, originally written by Hunter alone.
Check it out, if you for some strange reason have missed this great song.
That was our Lay-out Man`s reaction when he discovered that Charles Shaar Murray had written his Runter-Honson interview in a slightly eccentric manner. Pennie Smith (who still thinks Ronson is an electric shaver) took very normal pictures.
Haul ass, Ronson. It`s exactly four steps from where the band coach is parked to the stage door of Newcastle City Hall and there`s a mean wind blowing, but even before one scuffed green shoe – which goes great with the black suit with the gold piping and the green T-shirt – hits ground zero, the chicks are there with the autograph books out. “Over here, Mick! Hey, over here, Mick!”
Ronson`s ready for them, and as his hand goes out to pick up the first pen, Ian Hunter in massive leather coat, has slipped around the cluster of girls and is almost home free before one spots him – “and can I have your autograph too?” He signs the book like he`s clocking in for work. Thank you, Masked Man.
Freeze it. Voice-over: “He`s got an incredible fan following, and he looks after `em. Mott was always a guys` band, and now all of a sudden I`m with Mick and there`s chicks camping out outside his door. I think it`s great for me and `im, because it adds an extra element. Mick`s a great-looking guy and he doesn`t ignore his fans. He talks to `em, he`s forever writing letters to `em, and I was never particularly into that. He`s been going on at me to talk to `em.
“See, I left Mott and so most of the Mott fans didn`t like me, made me the bad guy. Mick`s got his fans, but I`m in a kind of limbo and all I`ve got`s my music, and I`m so hot on the music that I don`t really care. But at the same time I see what happens when the chicks are all screaming for him and I think that we need that. Because it`s something that Mott never had…”
Unfreeze. The assembled company straggle into the hall and commence sound-checking. Bad Co`s album plays through the P.A.
For some unearthly reason there`s 75 loose volts of best quality high-grade electricity floating around Hunter`s vocal mike. Apart from that, Ronson`s sustain pedal has gone on the blink, which is quite a problem as it`s a special one whipped up by someone Pete Townshend knows and it`s not the kind of thing you can schlep into your local Newcastle music shop and have fixed while-U-wait.
The building is icy cold. On the stage, Blue Weaver is checking out his various keyboards. The reason that it`s Weaver up there and not Pete Arnesen is that Arnesen is currently recuperating from an operation, and so Weaver, who played organ on Mott`s last American tour, was flown in at a few days` notice to take over. Principally an organist, he`s not used to playing the pounding rock and roll piano that Hunter and Ronson require, and so his nails are battered and broken.
On a podium in the centre of the stage behind a massive double drum kit is Dennis Elliott, who looks to be about nineteen and is whomping his way around his drums while Hunter and Ronson stand about three-quarters of the way back relaying instructions through the talkback mike on the mixing desk.
Last up is Jeff Appleby, bass player and charter member of the Hull Mafia. He looks startlingly like Ronson with his bleached hair and peaky features. The three of them run through “Truth The Whole Truth Nuthin` But The Truth” before Hunter wanders up on the stage to join them. It`s what you call your cooperative sound check, with Hunter and Ronson checking their sidemen`s sound together and then each of them doing the others. Hunter slams through some power chords, and Ronson instructs him to use the middle pick-up switch position before the two swap places.
Unlike the roadies, who`ve been vaulting on and off the stage as if they were in training for some weird kind of Roadie Olympics, Hunter climbs onto part of support group Jet`s Fender piano as one of the stages in his descent. Unfortunately it starts to topple, and if it hadn`t been for a roadie who happened to be standing in the way at the time, Hunter and the piano would`ve taken quite a nasty little spill across the front couple of rows of Newcastle City Hall.
Ronson takes the stage, clambers into his guitar and rambles around a few riffs, testing out his pedals and gadgets. For a second he hits the riff from “Once Bitten Twice Shy.”
Cut to Hunter playing the same riff at the start of the evening`s show. The hall is around three-quarters full and for the past five minutes there`s been a steady chant of “Ron-son! Ron-son!” Eventually the band stalk on, the sidemen in black and Hunter and Ronson in white outfits which glow sickeningly under the ultra violet lights at the side of the stage. Ronno`s suit is emblazened with painted eyes, as if in some kind of compensation for Hunter`s invisible peepers. A spotlight hits Hunter`s guitar as he bounces the Chuck Berry riff around for a few bars, and then he moves to the mike with that flat “`Allo” and the band hit the groove and the lights come up and, and…
The sound is hideous. All you can hear is Hunter`s guitar and vocal and Elliott`s drums, though occasionally a bit of lead guitar and piano shine fitfully through the fog. It gradually cleans itself up as the show progresses, with Hunter and Ronson scrupulously sharing the vocals, trading off one for one and two for two. Curiously, for the first half of the set, Ronson`s performances seem better received than Hunter`s, though it must be borne in mind that Hunter was performing songs from an album which nobody in the audience had at that time heard, whereas Ronson was drawing on his two solo albums – and I`d bet cash money that at least half of the population of that hall had one or the other.
He seemed infinitely more confident sharing the stage with Hunter than he had performing those same songs last year on his own tour, though the audiences were approximately the same size. Had Hunter traded in his huge Mott audiences for the appreciably smaller Ronson public?
Make no mistake about it, a solidly Ronson audience it was. Monsoon could stand in shadow at the back of the stage by his amp while Hunter was in the spotlight singing, suddenly raise his hand and have the hall explode to order.
Hunter`s time finally came during “Boy”, probably the solo album`s major song. Strumming away at a totally inaudible acoustic guitar, he aimed his shades at the gallery and sang his goddam heart out against the band`s rising storm and got his first ovation of the evening. The Ronson audience had become a Hunter-Ronson audience.
Freeze it. Voice-over: “Ronno`s fans were probably wondering what this great lumbering lumberjack from the outback was doing with `im, and the strident Mott fans were asking me why that bleedin` pansy was playing guitar with me…”
Unfreeze. By the time the band got into an uproariously ramshackle version of Uncle Lou`s “White Light White Heat”, the teenagers are down the front grabbing at Ronson`s lissome young bod. Memo to Monsoon-san: learn the words son. Singing the first verse six times is definitely a no-no. The high point of the number is a totally crazed guitar duel where the rhythm section drop out and Ronson`s rat-in-a-trap lead comes up against Hunter`s chordal volley. The first kamikazes of the evening scale the stage, and one guy gets slung right off, flying gracefully back into the throng. Hands reach out for Ronson`s foot, only a few inches back from the lip of the stage.
Freeze the kid in mid-air a few seconds before he lands. Voice-over: “Pete Watts was the ace at accidentally leaving a leg over the edge of the stage. I can`t be bothered with it; I never could, but Mick`s an arch-exponent of it. He knows how to handle those people. He digs it, he gets off on it. He really wants `em to grab his leg because he feels that that`s what they really want to do. He was upset because it got a bit `eavy down the front there…”
Unfreeze. Blue Weaver starts playing intro from the title song of “Play Don`t Worry.” Ronson steps forward, but instead of starting to sing he raises his hand for silence and says, “I`d just like to ask the security men to be a bit less heavy if they can. They just wanna come down the front, they ain`t doin` any harm.” Hunter breaks in: “And remember that if you break any seats I`m payin` for half of them and he`s paying for the other half.” Laughter and applause. Hunter may not be much into dangling his leg off stages, but he`s a past master at relating to audiences. Everybody relaxes as Ronson sets into the song.
Lower sound-level. Voice over: “I was really in a bad way while I was doing that album. I was feeling really depressed and I didn`t want to `phone anybody or see anybody or talk to anybody…” Hunter: “Tell him how many Mandies you were doing.” Long pause. Very long pause. “I went through two bottles of fifty in a month. The words of that song were sort of to myself, really…”
Fade up on lyric of chorus: “Play, don`t worry/play don`t be scared, don`t you think about them, start your dreaming again of tomorrow…”
Right now Ronson ain`t worried. He`s in his element. The band`s roaring behind him like some great raging beast, his guitar`s bucking and screaming like he`s tearing it to pieces and it`s trying to get away, his face is contorted into a triumphant snarl, girls are grabbing for his feet and trying to get up on to the stage, Ian Hunter`s stalking around the stage beating his own guitar halfway to death and egging the band on before returning to his side and, inches away, howling at him to goad him past the edge, probably rasping, “C`mon ya bastid c`mon ya bastid, play you swine rip it out”…something like that as the song crashes to a halt and Mick Ronson looks most unlike a man with a confidence problem.
Voice-over: “You go back to the `Mad Shadows` album and listen to `No Wheels To Ride`. I was working on Ralpher then and he was playing incredible stuff. I really like to push guitarists over the edge. Ronson`s a bit better that way; he really likes me to goad him on. I goaded him on in `Truth` and I was a little worried in case I pushed him too far, because when a guitarist is playing a solo it`s like a lyric, and you mustn`t push `em too far because it`s very personal to `em…”
“Truth”, which is Ronson`s guitar showpiece on the album, doesn`t really happen at Newcastle. Maybe it`s the sound, maybe it`s the duff sustain pedal, but he just strains and strains and hardly anything comes out. Occasionally a squeal, sometimes a whine, maybe here and there a dazzling lick which blows everybody`s mind and then long tortuous pauses before Hunter comes back into the vocal. Voice-over: “Oh, in Glasgow he played this great enormous solo which went on for about twenty minutes, and we just rode along with it. I forgot half the words because I was listening.”
During “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” Ronson`s playing suffers badly because he`s in acute danger of losing his guitar throughout most of the song.
Somehow he keeps playing even with a girl or two hanging on to him, but it`s difficult to keep your solo together with someone wrenching on your arm. Eventually, Hunter leads into the medley of Mott hits which climaxes the set; “Roll Away The Stone” first slowed down and then, as per record, “The golden Age Of Rock And Roll” and “All The Way From Memphis”. Cut to strobe-speed selection of stills of various Mott line-ups, settling finally on film of Mott performing the same songs.
Voice-over: “I can remember in Paris on the last tour with Mott, there was something up with me. I was really feeling rotten. We did the Olympia and we went down a riot and we came off and Tony De Fries was in the wings and he came up to me-you see, Tony`s a very good friend of mine – and he was concerned and he said to me, `That was great – but what are you gonna do?`
“Now, Bob Hirschman was one of my managers at that time and I was going to dinner with him and Tony said, `Come to dinner with me`, and said that I couldn`t because my manager was there. And all the way through that dinner I remembered Tony saying, `What are you gonna do?` I couldn`t understand what he was saying, but I couldn`t get those words out of my head. In the end it wound up around two o`clock in the morning at Tony`s hotel, and he and Ronson were sitting there waiting for me. Ronson`s been in the band a month and had already talked to Tony at great lengths about it. Tony knew I`d be round there. I said, `We played great, what do you mean “what am I gonna do?”` and he said, `It`s over.`
“Mick knew. Mick had sussed it, because he`d been in Mott a month, and he said, `I think you must get out and do your own album`. I never had enough confidence to think that I could just get out and do it and that annoys me intensely. Bowie had said to me in `72 that I had to lead Mott and take them over and I already thought that, but I needed a second person to say it to me. So there we were again. I was totally mixed up, I didn`t know what I wanted to do, and he said, `You got to do your own album`. I was already thinking that.
“I thought that he was trying to get out of Mott as soon as he got in, and he said, `No, I don`t wanna get out; I wanna do your album with you.` And I was thinking, `This is it, this is all over. Then I went to the States because I hadn`t signed the final papers for the house and I realised that I could no more go back than fly. I could go and play with Hawkwind, I could go and play with Ducks DeLuxe, but I couldn`t have gone back to Mott. I hated it so much that I was willing to drop the English tour, because if I`d done it I`d`ve freaked. It would`ve been really embarrassing. Mick was saying, `I`ll do the English tour if you want, but you really shouldn`t be doing it.`
“I`d been trying to drop hints to Pete and Buff, but they didn`t pick up on them. See, I love Pete. If he rings me up tomorrow and asks for me, I`ll be there. Buff – long pause – is a funny guy. I can`t knock him, but he gets very mixed up, and he was upsetting me a lot, but he couldn`t help it. I`d stood it for so long and I couldn`t take it no more. He`s no kind of bastard, but he gets real nervous and he gets me at it and I get twice as bad as him. Pete was taking everything very easy and relaxing and thinking that it would all go on forever, and I kept on hinting to him and saying, `Don`t rely on me.`
“I think they thought I was there for life. I shouldn`t be too romantic about it…I think they were taking me for granted. When Mick Ralphs left he kept saying to me, `You must keep it going, you must keep it going.` It was a guilt thing because he felt that he`d left us in the shit, and I know now how he was feeling. They`re in an awkward position, because Bad Company`s doing good, me and Ronson`s on the road and it must be really frustrating for them…”
Off to a conflagration of applause and a renewed barrage of stomping and howls for “Ron-son! Ron-son!” intermingled with the odd shout of “`Untah!” They wait for just the right length of time before returning and cartwheel into “All The Young Dudes”, for which things really break loose.
Before coming out for the encore, Hunter has donned an absurd white top hat with a long plume which waves as he takes a gulp of air and launches into the first line. Weirdly, the song seems to recall the glittering MainMan empire of 1972, when, in addition to Bowie, Lou Reed, Mott and Iggy Pop had joined up. Superimpose the famous still of Bowie, Reed and Pop and pan onto Tony DeFries in the background.
“Tony got the feeling that he could do it all the time, and he tried Mott the same way; trying to get Mott a mystique. Mott were known, Mott were the kids next door. We were a street-corner band, but we went along with it because the guy had the gift at the time. I still love Tony and Tony`s friends are few and far between these days, but I still love him and I think anyone with any integrity should love him too, because he tries to do something. He made a lot of mistakes and he crapped on a lot of people, and when Tony DeFries drops a bollock it`s a big one…”
Pan back onto Iggy, almost as an afterthought. Voice-over: “I think Iggy`s the most overrated rock star ever. Iggy has all the attributes of stardom except that he doesn`t deliver on any level. I`m a mate of his and he`s a mate of mine, but Iggy does not deliver on any level. He`s the all-time should-have-but-didn`t, and it`s because he`s just not quite good enough. Dave`ll tell you different, but it`s not happening and it never will with him. Everybody`s working for Iggy, everybody thinks Iggy should be a big star, but he`ll never be a big star as long as he`s got a hole in his ass. It`s not the laziness either – if Iggy worked 24 hours a day he still wouldn`t do it. Alice Cooper made it on Iggy. He sat and watched and decided to take it to extremes…”
Somebody mumbles about how Bowie drew a lot on Iggy as well. “David is a piece of transparent paper, but he has a lovely way of transferring things and putting them out as…don`t let`s talk about Dave.”
“Dudes” ends, followed by a ramshackle version of “The Girl Can`t Help It”. As the band leave the stage, slow pan through the audience finally focussing on The Critic. He turns his head to the camera and remarks, “There is much about this band that needs working on. They still haven`t gotten their sound right and they`re still not quite used to each other yet, but if nothing goes wrong they should be doing some tremendous things before long. Ronson, in particular, is clearly benefitting from his surroundings and Hunter really seems to enjoy being a sideman now and then. Like their album, their concert performances deliver just enough to suggest that they`ve hardly started yet in terms of what they can produce…” The camera pulls away as he keeps talking and his voice is drown-by the sound of a hallful of people looking for their coats.
Fast flashback to pre-gig dressing room. Hunter finds the piano, and is informed that the scratches on it were inflicted by Alan Price when he opened a bottle of beer on it during a scene from “Don`t Look Back”. Hunter instantly pounds through his audition piece, the song that he played when he was after the job with Mott The Hoople those many years ago. It`s “Like A Rolling Stone”.
Cut to hotel, post-gig. It`s beginning to get early again, and Mick Ronson is up and drunk. Even after a successful gig, about the only way that he can wind down is to climb into a battle of wine and pull the cork in after him. At half-past four on a chilly Newcastle morning, he`s sprawled in a sofa near the hotel entrance and for long periods of time it seems like he`s passed out. Voice-over: “Mick gets a little funny when he`s pissed… Mick wonders why he`s one of the Top Ten guitarists in any poll in the world and he`s got no money. He was doing gold albums on wages, and maybe he thought at the time that if he cut up they`d just use someone else, which of course wouldn`t have been the case. Mick really thought that he could never leave Dave, that nobody else would want him. He`s crazy – there would`ve been a queue a mile long…”
But at half-past four Mick Ronson is facing his own private demon. Flanked by his girlfriend/assistant Sue Fussey and Big Dave from Sturico, he relentlessly refills and refills his wine glass in spite of their efforts to get him upstairs. Eventually The Critic, who is in fairly poor shape himself, ambles over. “They`re trying to get me to go upstairs,” says Ronson from the depths of the sofa.
The Critic thinks it over. “D`you want to go?” he says at length. Ronson looks up at him in horror. “You`re not trying to get rid of me as well, are you?” And the demon is firmly on his back. At this point in time nothing can convince him that he`s really liked and wanted, despite the affection and concern that everybody around him shows towards him, despite the audience reaction and the last couple of groupies still waiting for a chance to talk to him (Aw shucks.-Ed.)
He struggles to his feet and something clicks into place inside him. Clearly and distinctly, he enunciates, “Everybody thinks I`m a nutcase because I blow all me money. But I`m not. I`m not. They`re the nut-cases.” Then Dave and Suzi led him off to the stairs.
Freeze. Roll end titles.
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This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Ace, Keith Emerson, Slapp Happy & Henry Cow, Alvin Lee, “New California Rock”, “Country Special”, Gloria Gaynor, Swamp Dogg, Michigan Flyers, Leonard Cohen, Tom Paxton, George Melly, John Helliwell.
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