Always refreshing to read an article from someone in a band that isn`t always THE interview object you usually expect. So it is with this one. From what I can read in-between the lines of this interview, Mr. Griffin was a nice and pleasant man. He was also gone too soon, taken from this world exactly a week after former collaborator David Bowie died. He was only aged 67 at the time and was diagnosed, at age 58, with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Mott The Hoople`s BUFFIN in the Sounds Talk-In
Interview by Martin Hayman
Drummer Buffin is nice boy of Mott The Hoople. He got the name from Overend, who modified his stage name from Sniffin` Griff Griffin to “that little bugger Sniffin” because he was the youngest in the group. This was a year or two back when the group had a different lead singer and played locally around Hereford. Buffin says that he now hates the name because it makes him seem too nice. He thought of calling himself – even more unlikely – Johnny Smack but their manager of the time, Tony DeFries, was not having it. So even now Buffin has his teenage nickname.
The group has been in the studio recently. What have you been doing?
We`ve only been remixing tracks, we haven`t been putting anything down. We had to do “All The Way To Memphis” for “Top of the Pops”, nothing new.
Who has been playing saxophone?
Andy McKay came along and did it. He did the “Honaloochie Boogie” thing too.
How are you going to arrange that song on stage?
At the moment we don`t do “Honaloochie Boogie” on stage. We`ve rehearsed it but we`ve never got round to putting it in the act. For “Memphis” we just do without. We use guitar and organ to take over the sax parts.
(Here it seems the question went missing in print, but I`ll write down the answer – Blog Editor.)
Yeah, I read somewhere else that we did it, it`s weird, perhaps they were mistaking it for “Dudes”. I don`t know where they got the idea from.
Which was the original Herefordshire group?
There was Mick (Ralphs), Verden (Allen), Overend (Watts) and me, and a guy called Stan Tippins, who was then the lead singer. He`s now our tour manager. See, when we first came down to London for the audition with Island Records he`d just got his jaw busted in a fight. Hereford is not the best place to be at night on the streets. Somebody came up behind him and hit him, they didn`t like him. And that was it. I think he was glad in a way, he was feeling more and more that it wasn`t what he wanted to do: what he wanted to do wasn`t his kind of thing at all.
How do you feel about the way the group`s going now, seeing that two of the Hereford members have now left? Do you regret that?
Yeah, we`re sorry that Mick left obviously. We were very much a unit. I think though that it will be good for the group in a way. Verden leaving was a kind of relief for us and for him because he was growing away from us, and it`s difficult to be in a group where one member is not feeling part of what you`re doing. It was the same with Mick, he was wanting to do other things, he wasn`t happy because he wasn`t able to write songs, I guess because the environment wasn`t right, I don`t know. The flying thing, that was really upsetting him too. We`ve got a very tight schedule, especially on this next tour (of the States). We`re sad to lose him, he`s a very nice guitarist. The new guy is a lot more extrovert than Mick.
Are you allowed to reveal the name of this Ariel Bender yet?
We can`t really say. It`s like Harrison when he plays on other people`s albums and can`t say who he is, which is a drag. But we`ve seen a few lawsuits and we want to keep out of it if we can. But he`s working out fine – he`s very much the same kind of person as we are. There`s no personality problem. We had all sorts of mad scenes but I think Ariel is going to be great. We`ve known him for ages, and we were kicking around names for who would fit in Mick`s place – he`s very much like Mick and he`s been a mate of Mick`s for a long time. They`re from the same area.
So as a unit you would not say you were being eroded by commercial pressures?
There was talk of this amazing guitarist from Colorado, a real ace but nobody`s ever heard of him, there was talk of getting him in, but we didn`t want anything but an Englishman really because we wanted to keep that thing of being an English group rather than some kind of hybrid.
Are you retaining the two additional members of the group?
Yeah, Morgan Fisher on piano and Mick Felton playing organ, they`ve worked out great.
How do they work out in terms of stage presentation, as they are not yet considered as full-fledged members of Mott?
We have the front-line three and they work farther back on the stage, on a level with me, to the side of the drum kit. It`s difficult, we don`t want to use them as completely anonymous musicians in the background, we`re trying to bring them – especially during this next tour – a bit more into the swing of things, more into the stage area. Originally we weren`t quite sure how it was going to work out, and they were going to be kept right back. But I think they`re going to become more a part – if not of the act – more a part of the stage presentation.
It`s funny that you should go back to the two-keyboard line-up.
Basically it`s because of the Mott album, which did feature a lot of organ and piano. When Verden left, the stage act became almost entirely guitar-orientated, and we just did a couple of numbers where Ian would play piano, but that wasn`t really working out because playing piano just made him completely immobile. It caused a lot of problems because he just stuck to one side of the stage and the lights couldn`t get at him and God knows how many problems.
It`s just worked out so much better that we`ve got two separate players. And they are so very good for us. Like Morgan`s a really great character to have around and Mick Bolton looks like being a very good songwriter. He`s writing things that are very much in our vein.
So it looks like they`re going to become part of the group?
Well we`re playing things by ear as usual. We hardly ever plan things, they just seem to happen. It`s like Mick leaving, up till when we started rehearsals we didn`t know quite what was happening. Things just amble in and out. I think we`re getting a bit more business-like, we went into the last album with a will and an idea. We were very lackadaisical, Herefordshire people are a bit like that, and even though Ian isn`t Herefordshire he caught a bit of that from us. He`s steered us out of it, and think Bowie and DeFries had a lot to do with it as well.
Made you think a bit more clearly before you went into something?
Yes, and channelling out energies instead of sitting round the studio getting drunk and then putting a track down. You can`t really do that, I was never happy with the things we did like that, because it works on the night but then when you have to listen to it the next day, or listen to it on a record, it really pisses you off. “Brain Capers” was the pissed album and a lot of people really dig it, but to me it`s just a pain in the arse. I make so many mistakes on it, I`m just ashamed of it.
At the end of one number you can hear me falling off the drum kit. I fell off the drum-kit into some drum-cases and I was there for about half an hour, they just left me there. That`s how the album was. We`ve got completely away from that now. We don`t sit there like robots and work it all out, but we`re bridging the gap between that and the old drunken days.
And I think with the next album will be even better, because we were a bit scared when we did that. We were still very unsure of ourselves. We were always very lazy, never bothered to work at things. We were always dreadful at rehearsals, we preferred to sit and talk about cars and things like that than start rehearsing, but now we have to do it. We`ve got such a short time to get it all right because the next tour is so important. We have to put our noses to the grindstone.
This tour is really the continuation of the last one, the break being because you have to go out of the country before you can get another visa and also we had to get in a new guitarist. What we wanted to do was stay there because it seemed such a waste coming back. It`s good in a way because it means we can promote the single.
Do you like being successful in the singles field too?
Yeah, it`s very exciting. It`s more showbizzy, doing “Top of the Pops” things. We`ve even been asked to do the “Lulu Show”, which is incredible. Thinking back a year or two there would be no question of that. I like showbiz. I like the whole thing.
You used to be such a scruffy band, even when you played the Albert Hall.
Right. We were – just dirty sweaty old rockers. We still are but the music has got more refined and there`s more to it.
Ian wrote most of the tunes for the albums recently didn`t he? That was his original function in the group.
Yes, that and we needed a lead singer with personality… Guy (Stevens) was looking for someone along the lines of a Gary Brooer-cum-Jerry Lee Lewis, which he`s sort of got really I guess. Guy`s idea was to have like a Rolling Stones-Procol Harum mix, being very involved with them, and always loving the Stones. I think he did quite well actually, because Ian turned up entirely by accident. He didn`t read the ad, we were just sitting in the studio, we`d completely given up. So he walks in, scruffy and down-at-heel, and we were all scruffy and down-at-heel, and it just seemed to work out. We didn`t know what to make of him, us four Hereford lads looking at him suspiciously, this red-haired character, because he was suspicious of us too, and that took quite a time to wear off.
It`s difficult to put a band together like that, four people who have already worked together –
– especially country people, they`re very closed, tend to “keep arrselves to arrselves, them buggers from outside, don`t want none of that.” But we all understand each other pretty well now.
What sort of reception were you getting in the US?
The reviews we were getting in the States of the Felt Forum gig spent ages exploring every detail of the New York Dolls` act, and the last few lines would say “Mott the Hoople were an excellent group, played really well and the audience went mad.” They just took it for granted that we were all right. We were a bit pissed off for a start, but then we realised that they knew we were all right and were taking the Dolls apart, see what they were doing right and wrong. So it was good in a way.
How was your party afterwards?
(Laughs). It was supposed to be like quite an intimate affair at the Plaza with about two hundred people there, but about six or seven hundred turned up and it was like this (does sardine-in-a-can impersonation). We got there and they wouldn`t let us in. Ian blew his top, he was furious. They flatly refused to let us in. The place was absolutely full of liggers and hangers-on and parasites and drag-queens, just there to be seen.
You`d get people standing up next to Sly Stone hoping to be photographed. Eventually we got in and there was nothing left. They`d had all the drink, all the food, totally ripped off, there were people stealing drinks from the bars, smashing windows, fighting with the waiters. In the end they threw the whole lot out, people undressing in the streets, never seen anything like it.
We were angry to start with but then we looked round and realised they were there to be seen at the Mott the Hoople reception, which is a great compliment really. But it was great, a night of madness really. Iggy was there, covered in plaster. He broke a glass and rubbed it all over himself. He`s a total lunatic, the only thing left for him is to kill himself on stage. He`ll go the whole way one day. But he`s such a nice little bloke when he`s straight.
It must be strange for you particularly being associated with that whole punk thing.
Right, I can`t handle it very well, I tend to shrink away from it. People who are larger than life scare me a bit, I`m in awe of things like that Guy Stevens I was always in awe of. It`s wrong really, I don`t know what I`m doing in a rock and roll band really, it`s strange. The only time it comes out is on stage. It`s like a metamorphosis, you get on the stage and change. But I think a lot of rock people are like that really.
Were you involved in the punch-up on the stage at that McLaughlin gig?
I stood at the back and tried to look menacing! But the last tour was a really calm one, there wasn`t any bother except at the Plaza. Morgan stormed out in a fury, Iggy had an altercation with the manager and a few waiters. But apart from that it was really quite a dull tour, except that the audiences were astonishingly large. The promoters were trying to pull out, Mott the Hoople hadn`t even got an album out, how can we put them on a gig? We went on the understanding that the audiences would be small, thinking that Bowie did it first time, so it`s just a thing you have to go through.
We got there and none were smaller than two thousand and it averaged out at three or four. Philadelphia was fifteen. They`d just had Beck and Sly. Beck had pulled about seven thousand and Sly about nine and there we were with fifteen, so something must be happening. The interest just seems to be building up very fast. I don`t know if we`re being used as a substitute for the recently reclused David Bowie, but they don`t seem to be going away disappointed.
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: Roger Daltrey, Roxy Music, Jess Roden, Billy Preston, Nick Mason, Home, Hemlock, Lou Reizner, Commander Cody, Elton John, Rolling Stones, Tony McPhee, America, Martin Carthy.
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