A very good article with this artist who represents the blue-collar, working-class more than most. This one you should enjoy.
Mott the Hoople`s staggeringly successful live gigs has been a source of constant amazement to commentators, who have invariably been less than enthusiastic about their music. The wild scenes which occur wherever they play come in for more comment than does their music. Lead singer and piano player Ian Hunter particularly has had his fair share of criticism from people at a loss to understand his hold over audiences. Here he describes how Mott the Hoople really works and throws some light on the reasons for their fanatical following.
(No journalist credited – Blog ed.)
Where have you been on your present tour?
We`ve stuck to the North mostly. It`s an area we`ve been to, but very infrequently. It was very gratifying, especially Glasgow, places like that where we haven`t been much. It was a good buzz, it was really nice.
Where do you come from yourself?
I was born in Oswestry, Shropshire, but I lived in Northampton before I came to London. I first came down to London in late `66 or early `67. This guy called Miller Anderson lived in the next street and we were wandering around looking for work.
Was the idea for you both to get together in a band?
Yeah, we were together, you know. I used to play bass then, I didn`t play piano. We did various little gigs and got conned by various little agencies that wanted to sign you for 10 years, purely to sell you when you caught the eye of some more reputable agency.
How long did you stay together, then?
About a year. We worked in this factory together, called Friars Brothers, in Archway, and we hated every minute of it. It was dismal, I had this flat for two pounds ten a week, so you can imagine what it was like.
Were you trying to make it as musicians then?
Oh, yeah, we`d run to the phone every dinner-time, we used to get half an hour off. It was a coin-box, so it was always full and you never got any dinner, waiting to find out if this single we`d done six months previously was going to be released in Japan or not, you know… then Miller got offered the job with Keef and asked me what I was going to do – `cos we`d decided to stick together – at first I said, “Well don`t” and then I said, “Well do”. I didn`t know where I was at the time. I was completely at a loss. I didn`t want to hold him back because I thought he was really good, you know. We were very loyal to each other at the time, but he was married, he needed bread, so he went. Then I got a song-writing contract with Francis, Day and Hunter. It was a bit of a fluke, I got on 15 pound a week wages. They had done this song with a 26-piece orchestra -unfortunately for them they hadn`t asked me to sign a contract until they`d done it. By this time they`d spent God knows how much on the session, and I was working in this factory, so I turned round and said: “I don`t want to sign anything unless you give me some money”. It was really funny, I asked for three months at 15 quid a week and if they liked me, an option of another three months. I regarded it as a summer holiday. They kept me on for about a year. They thought my stuff was good, you know, but they didn`t know what to do with it. Then I got the chance with Mott.
How did Mott come together? Did you meet Guy Stevens and he introduced you to the rest of the band or what?
No, Mott`s got a guitarist called Mick Ralphs, he`s a born hustler – not so much now, he`s pretty perplexed now, but he was at the time – and he hustled for the original group, which was a group called the Silence, from Hereford. He kept on going to see Guy – Jim Capaldi had put the word in, you know – but one or two things were wrong, which eventually got ironed out, and the four of them signed to Island, and they were looking for a piano player and a singer. They auditioned all these people, and didn`t get anybody they wanted, but the guy that ran the studio where they`d been auditioning knew me from me doing demos. He rang me up and I went down there afterwards – `cos I would never have had the guts to go myself, because I didn`t really play piano, C, F and G, that was about it, and I`d never sung before. It caught me at the right moment, though. I`m normally very insecure but that particular night I had nothing to lose, so I stormed down there, launched into an aggressive rendering of “Rolling Stone”, and that was that. I remember Verden, the organist, knew about half the chords, it was very strange, the guitarist looked just like the bass player, I couldn`t work it out. Guy Stevens was there – I didn`t know him then either – there was this outrageous freak hopping about. It was all very strange to me. Anyway, we met the following morning and he gave me the job.
What did you think of Mott when you first met them?
Not much, actually, it was really weird. I spent half the time thinking I was dragging the whole show along and the other half of the time I spent running after them trying to catch them up, it was a really weird sort of thing. They were country lads, you know, and there was this country-city thing. I`m city-inclined – I was brought up in the country till I was about 11, but I`m city-inclined and there was this difference in view.
Were they very much a local beat-group at the time?
Yeah, they`d been working for a little agency in Swansea, and the guy had told them, “You must do Beatles numbers or you won`t get gigs.” They were Buffalo Springfield fanatics and it just wasn`t working out for them in Swansea. We`ve been back to Swansea with Mott the Hoople and I still don`t think it really works out for them!
What sort of thing were you reckoning on doing when you first got together?
Originally it was a quiet group. We played all our own stuff… we had this weird sort of madness. We`ve always been schizoid, we like slow, quiet stuff, then there`s that bit of madness that you`ve got to get out, like a kind of orgasm, you don`t feel you`ve done your best unless you come off feeling knackered. Pretty much the same as we are now, but very untogether, very raw – pretty poor.
I remember the first gig we did was with Free, in Sunderland, which was like Beatlemania for them at the time, and the second was with King Crimson, and we felt like jacking after the first two gigs, but Graham, Free`s roadie, had told us it was like that for Free before, when they used to support Spooky Tooth, so not to worry. This last tour we did Graham was with Paul Rodgers, you know, he`s Peace`s roadie now, and he said we`d got it now exactly like Free had it then. I`ve always been a fan of Paul Rodgers, I think he`s perhaps the best singer in Britain at the moment, he`s got two sympathetic people with him… they`re really nice guys.
Why did you decide to do mainly a northern circuit this time round?
We`ve always been a London band – you know, anywhere north of Barnet we didn`t know what was going on. It`s not really fair. Periodically we get these letters coming in saying: “Why isn`t the band playing here, why isn`t the band playing there”, so we try to play there. We`ve done intermittent gigs in the north but not a big tour. It`s really sad, you know – I remember one of your guys did a review of a gig we did at Sheffield. Now only about eleven hundred came in at Sheffield, and he said: “Where were the missing hundreds? But when we go to Sheffield, there was about four hundred police outside, trying to hold out the people who were out of work. It was verging on riots outside the place. We were escorted into the gig – now you can imagine any head within 10 miles of there wasn`t going to go into that gig and the average kid just hasn`t got two halfpennies to rub together. It`s really bad, you know.
Coming back to August 1969, your first song with Mott was a Dylan number. A lot was talked at the time of “Blonde on Blonde” influence. Would you acknowledge this influence?
At the time I couldn`t sing a note – it was only using my vocals to get the words across, like a lot of people do. It was just coming out that way. I didn`t have the “Blonde on Blonde” album then – I didn`t have any albums, I couldn`t afford them. I`ve since acquired the album, and I can see the parallels but they are parallels, inasmuch as the Byrds were a parallel. It`s funny how some groups seem to be called direct rip-offs, but the other groups are regarded as valid parallels. In America we were regarded as parallel. There seemed to be this thing that Dylan had gone off from “Blonde on Blonde” one way, but we had mainly come from “Blonde on Blonde” and gone another way. But in England it was passed off as a bunch of blokes trying to be like Dylan. I mean, Dylan`s a genius, he changed the world, he made music into a culture. He gave the whole rock and roll syndrome validity. I should imagine he`s an influence on nearly everybody.
What was Guy Stevens` part in launching Mott the Hoople?
It`s weird, you know, he loves Mott the Hoople and Mott the Hoople have always loved him. He was in love with the image of Mott the Hoople, as he imagined it then. It was his image – Mott was him. He could never get it out, he`s not a musician. The first two albums were exactly how he felt at the time. There was the case of a track on “Mad Shadows” called “My Mind`s Gone”. It was really weird, `cos there was no lyric, I just looked at him and kind of sang it, but it was something that came out of his head, not mine, like a transmission thing. He was very, very forceful. Any credit that Mott got at that time was solely due to Guy Stevens. He was always a Stones` fan and a Dylan fan, and he wanted a group that was a cross between the two. That was what he was after, and we tried our best to live up to it, but we were untogether, looking back at it now. We thought we were God`s gift to groups then – always have done and still do, that`s why you don`t split up. See, Guy has an amazing head, but he doesn`t have an outlet for it. It`s all intangible, his end-product, so it`s very frustrating for him. It must come through somebody else. Mott was his transmitter, if you like. But then something else started to happen. We were getting a bit fed-up one gig because we weren`t getting the reaction we wanted, at the time when Island were getting really worried, it didn`t look like we were going to do anything, and we did a number from the first album called “You Really Got Me” and people started to jump about in the most amazing way. It amazed us. And the Overend our bass player started moving about a bit – at that time we would all stand in a row and I would sit all the way through – and then it got to “Rock `n` Roll Queen” and all of a sudden we started leaping.
This was after the first album had been released?
Oh yeah, `cos we never did a gig before the album, in fact if we`d done gigs before we did the album we`d never have done it! I remember doing the Speakeasy, and the whole Island record company was there, we died the most abysmal death. I`m sure everybody wanted to get rid of us. It`s to Island`s credit that they`ve always been amazing to us. Perhaps they`ve been a bit too good to us, spoiled us. Guy held the whole thing together – quite honestly, I never saw any hope for us. Mind you, we were all totally insecure. Perhaps that`s why the band is the way it is, we`re still insecure now.
How do you mean, insecure?
We`ve never felt any degree of permanence since we started, and we still don`t. I mean, it`s a funny game, rock music people are fickle. You can just disappear in three months, and we don`t want that to happen. It could go either way, so you have this hungry thing, this sort of insecure feeling with Mott. Perhaps that`s why we let off so much on stage. The whole group feels temporary, and always has – as a group though, not as individuals.
When was it that you first noticed this big reaction at your gigs?
I think it was at Letchworth Youth Club, actually! It was the first time we ever got encores, you know. They went spare, and we couldn`t believe it. Then the following night, we did the same again. It was all over one weekend, it just suddenly happened. It became more like a performance, before we`d just been sitting there and laying numbers on people.
Did you realise that getting up and moving around would be so effective?
Well, I had that in me anyway. The only reason I hadn`t moved from the word go was because I felt a bit of a twit, you know. To move round the stage you can look so silly, and I didn`t want to look silly, so we took it easy. Like every night we`d come off and ask Stan – that`s the guy that organises us – “Were we overdoing it? Was it too much?” and eventually we got to know what we could do and couldn`t do on stage.
Is this what put you on to the sort of music on “Mad Shadows”?
Well, we had this degree of madness, you know, it`s still there now, on the new album. It`s a really weird band. I`ve been an advocate of the slow music, mainly because I write it, from the very beginning, and I think we`ve done some really good slow numbers – I think that Mick and myself have written some really reasonable numbers – but somehow, when we get on stage, it`s like a minor explosion, every time, you know, we just can`t help it.
Who mostly comes to see you these days?
I think we are really a working man`s band. When we started off, colleges liked us, but as we got more flamboyant, this was replaced by club audiences and then concert audiences, and they were getting younger. Now I would say our main audience is between 15 and 19. We haven`t got a T. Rex audience. This is generally thought to be so, but we don`t get thousands of screaming birds, you know? I mean we get pulled off the stage now and then, but it`s not a teenybopper thing, it`s more of a working man`s hero type thing.
Do you think you`ve angled your music to this new audience?
No, I don`t think so. Obviously you keep in certain numbers which you know will get a particularly good reaction, but that`s an immediate reaction. But there`s two reactions – the immediate one and the one on the following day, and the day after. That`s what keeps you going as a group. You can get a great reaction one night, but a guy will only book you back for the same money. There`s no follow-up.
Do you think that people are still getting good value for money when they go to rock concerts, or are they getting charged too much?
Not in general, though some promoters charge far too much for far too little. But you`re going to get that anywhere. Where there is quick money, and a lot of money, to be made, and the rock business is a large industry, you`ll get the second-hand car dealers, but it`s very temporary and very foolish, because it never works. The only people who are still running successful dances are the people who have been very honest.
Do you ever see a return to small clubs where the band is not necessarily the most important part of the evening?
The dreaded wallpaper music? I`d hate that. I want people to come and see us, I mean, that`s murder, I`ve done it before, years ago, in Germany, that whole bit, where people come in – Whisky A Go Go kind of scene – ageing Italians with their 15-year-old birds. I never liked that, nobody wants that back. I think it`s one of the most amazing things that happened, when people actually started listening.
When you`re on stage, do you get a feeling of real power over them?
Yeah, it`s a great feeling. I`ve always felt that, and providing you use it in a good way, there`s no harm. I think audiences do need leading – they`re scared to get up and do what they want to do because the people around them know them. They`re scared to appear freakish in any way. If you lead them they`ll come en bloc, let loose their inhibitions and it`s great to see that happening. Then that turns you on and you let yourself go. It`s a question of you turning them on and them turning you on in turn. That`s the general way it works on a gig.
Do you see it as releasing energy?
Well, everybody has pent-up emotions, either you kick someone in the teeth, smoke yourself silly, or you get it out some other way… I think we do have some level of responsibility to the people that come to see us. I don`t think Mott gigs are unhealthy gigs. The reactions we get must come from healthy people. We don`t get that sort of lying-on-the-ground, eyes-rolling reaction, we get a positive thing. This was the silly thing about America: they had a huge drug problem which they really believed was due to heavy rock, but it wasn`t at all. With heavy rock, you`ve got to be there, you can`t be on a different plane, you have to be there with them. So I think our reactions are healthy, and in that way I think we do a bit of good. It`s coincidental, it`s not meant that way, but it does seem to work that way.
There are other bands with strong allegiance like yourselves, Edgar Broughton, for example, who uses his popularity as a political platform. Do you ever think of trying to angle this popularity more?
No, because everybody`s level of awareness is different. You shouldn`t confuse your own level of awareness with that of a kid in Sheffield or Newcastle. You might be laying something on them in the heat of the moment that they`ll believe in the cold of the following morning. I would prefer to keep my political beliefs to myself. I sing rock and roll. I don`t criticise Edgar Broughton for doing it, but ours is a different thing altogether. I think that what you say between songs should be appertaining to what you`re doing at the time. Sometimes I`ve got a bit of a grouse – usually I just say the first thing that comes into my head on stage, and you get that off your chest, but I wouldn`t get up on any political format. It causes trouble.
You have a rather evil image on stage – with the shades and the masks and so on. Do you think it might be this that your audiences like, and if so do you find this at all worrying?
Probably so, yeah, but while they`re there get it out. But they usually walk out the door shattered, see? They`ve had an experience. They`re not going to hit anybody, they`re too knackered. They`ve got it off, that was Mott the Hoople, that was a rock group, that`s all there is to it. For instance, we have never had a punch-up at a concert, ever. If it comes over as violence, that`s what we mean at the time, but nobody would really believe it. We feel like what we are on stage, larger than life, compared with what we usually are. I feel a completely different person on stage, extremely confident – confident to the point of over-confidence. Offstage I don`t feel confident at all.
How does it come about that although you`d like to play quiet numbers, on stage you always end up playing the fast, heavy ones?
This has been the subject of endless discussion between the band and the people we`re responsible to. It`s just always been schizoid, ever since the word go. Sometimes I go through moods when I like just to play quietly – my dearest wish is to play a proper piano on stage rather than an electric, which I don`t play nearly so well. There are times when I`d like to play quietly all the way through and get a respectful reaction, but when I think about it I don`t know whether I could really do that and feel I`d done it – I always seem to have to feel not only emotionally finished but physically finished as well, it`s really strange, and the whole group are the same.
Verden Allen has been quoted as saying: “We don`t want to be classed just as a rock band, just playing the heavy fast things”. You`d agree with that, then?
Yeah, when we did the Albert Hall, the first five numbers of that show were all slow, but all the reviews reviewed the audience, rather than the music. Well perhaps they were being very nice and didn`t like the five numbers, but that`s what normally happens. But our tribe, our following, will always listen to the slow numbers, they`ll come up afterwards and talk about them…
… but the other night at the Rainbow, when you announced “The Journey” you said: “You`re going to hate this but we`re going to do a slow one…” Why did you say that, because the audience didn`t hate it at all?
Well, perhaps I`m paranoid about the whole thing. It could well be, it`s something we`ve had to live with for a long time. When I`m talking like that, our following usually know what I`m talking about. They know I`m not talking to them, they know that I`m talking to the fringe, people who didn`t really want to come in but thought they`d drop in. Really I`m talking to them. The kids who follow us follow us everywhere, they know us back to front. With the main following – we call them the lieutenants, you know, they`re the ones that are nearest to us and come with us nearly everywhere we go – they`re like part of the group, they come in and get changed in the dressing room like we do.
Yes, but they`re doing it because they get a buzz out of it, they`re not actually cheerleaders because they get out front and get into it. There`s about thirty or forty that you`ll find anywhere, then we`ve got little divisions, like in Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, where they`ll travel to a gig maybe in Middlesbrough… it`s great because when you go to a gig there are always these few people there. You know you`re going to make somebody happy that way.
Do you foresee yourselves continuing to play to audiences like that? Is there going to be a time when you`re going to have to cool out on the live gigs and get more down on record?
We`d like to do both. We`ll always be a gigging band, though. If we haven`t gigged for three or four days, Mick`s up the office panicking, he doesn`t know what to do with himself, and Buff doesn`t know what to do with himself. We can`t stand not working. It`s come about in recent months that we haven`t been able to work so much, because we usually have clauses saying we can`t play in the area for six weeks before or after. We can`t work so much, which is the thing I really miss about being a club band, `cos we used to work seven days a week, used to love it. I would like to see us go like the Who eventually, been together a long, long time, they gig, they`re happy.
In general, why do you think some bands get this fanatical following?
I don`t know, you know? I just don`t know.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Deep Purple, Rikki Farr, Bob Dylan, Nicky Hopkins, Bunk Johnson, Country Joe and the Fish, Steve Marriott, Frank Zappa, Roy Harper, Emitt Rhodes, Charlie Wills, Melanie.
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