I`m not especially fond of these articles where the journalist speak more to the reader than the artist, but when it is done in this style I can be very forgiving. A great for one for all the fans of Mott and Ian Hunter out there, including, but not restricted to, Joe Elliott of Def Leppard.
Mott find a formula
As Mott`s new album, `The Hoople`, hits gold in the States Ian Hunter talks to Martin Hayman and asks “how can you go too far?”
“I was sat in the dressing room before the gig, tuning up my guitar on the automatic tuning-up machine. I was there alone. Suddenly the door flies open and I hear `Look who`s preparing to face his public then`. It was `im – Mick Jagger, and David. I say `Well you`re not doing so bad yourself after ten years` – and so it went on – it was great. I`ve always admired him. He`s the guvnor controller, really, and that`s what I try to do.”
The scene is the Hammersmith Odeon, just before Christmas last year. Mick Jagger and David Bowie are paying a backstage visit to Mott the Hoople`s lead singer and popular hero Ian Hunter. The banter continues at a laugh-a-minute; later, during the performance, the two muckers stroll around the stage, unnoticed, watching Mott`s heavy, menacing act and marvelling at the way Ian himself has joined the ranks of controllers: the select few who can put an audience exactly where they want it.
During the quiet “Rose”, Ariel Bender fiddles with the stone in a bracelet he`s wearing (flash bastard). It looked as though he was looking at his watch. The same stylised London accent jeers from the sidelines: “You`ve still got forty minutes to go, you lazy sods.” Such was Mott the Hoople`s mastery that even when our two spectators make their way round to the front to catch a punter`s eye view, nobody noticed them… I know, I was right there in the front row. I had eyes only for the group on the stage. But David, silly fellow, blew it when he started pinching the girl`s bums…
Fuller of themselves than they`ve ever been perhaps, the band plays on and on… the safety curtain comes down… Morgan Fisher shoves his piano under it to prevent its descent… Hunter and Bender advance forwards over the catwalk into the very audience… V-signs are flashed and punches thrown… the bouncers put up a fierce last-ditch stand but the front-row kids, Mott`s long-time “Lieutenants”, swarm on to the stage… chaos. Rock and roll madness rampant.
It will surely go down as one of the historical gigs when the annals of rock and roll are finally compiled. At the final judgement, Mott will be tried in the balance and not found wanting. It was their coming-of-age, just as surely as “All The Young Dudes” was their arrival at the age of consent. For those who have never been to a Hoople gig and know them only through their quirky, eccentric and compelling singles their huge cult following can seem incomprehensible; and even their fans here would find it hard to take in the audiences which they now draw in the US of A. For their latest and looniest album “THe Hoople”, a week after its US release, has already gone gold. It`s a mighty long way…
And did you see Mott the Hoople on Top of the Pops last week? A mild sensation, to say the least. All those gorgeous chickies dancing away to “The Golden Age Of Rock And Roll”. A pretty contrast to the band`s act, the degutted emptiness of the mime, but so like the constant swirling, relentless motion of a live gig, a perpetual flux which has been their trademark since so early on, but now, oh so much more stylised and directed, from Pete leaning back on that huge, arrow shaped bass to Ian`s flamboyant wristy gestures round the microphone. But Ian doesn`t think that much of it as a single, thinks it a bit too throwaway.
Reviewers have thought of it as another rock and roll nostalgic disc; they`re wrong. It`s about the much trampled-on 96 dBa limit proposed by Leeds Council for rock concerts. It`s Mott the Hoople`s – specifically Ian`s – comeback at those who for supposedly well-meant reasons would wish to degut the music Mott has been fighting to make for five years. It comes straight off the streets, and out of the immediate concerns of rock fans. It`s like a speech, it`s a political weapon that can be wielded only by those with the power of control.
And it`s not nostalgic. “The last five years have been much more the Golden Age of Rock and Roll than anything that went before,” says Ian in Mott`s dressing-room at TOTP. He`s right you know: so maybe there were a lot of great records cut in – whenever your favourite period happens to be – but it`s as absurd as it`s snobbish to suggest that one period has the edge over another. There are more, and greater, rock artists now than ever before; and rock and roll belongs to everybody. It can`t admit to a caste system where the oldies have the goldies and the youngsters – such a shame! – get the post-Golden Age dross. Ian`s no youngster, himself; he`s seen them come and go. He`s not hung on keeping the rock and roll he knows to himself.
He does not keep much at all to himself. He writes out his views of life in his songs, and inevitably has become identified with his own observations: the public face is of one who`s tough, brusque, doesn`t suffer fools easily and who has an unshakeable faith in the commonsense and good nature of the working man and woman. But the more your life becomes public property, the more tenaciously one holds on to the remaining corner of privacy.
Trudi, his long-time American girlfriend whom he married recently, is wonderful at just pricking Ian`s ego enough: enough to make him laugh a little at himself, when he gets overburdened with the things he sees and feels compelled to make public; and a very real defence, too. One time at a reception or whatever in New York, where Mott are the biggest, a girl was making mouths at Ian across the room: Trudi urged her to go speak to Ian if that was what she wished. As she engaged Ian in some (presumably suggestive) conversation, Trudi saw a flush coming over Ian`s face; whether or not it was embarrasment or anger, who knows? But the slight but vividly attractive Trudi didn`t like it: more out of solicitude than jealousy, methinks, she launched a flying kick at the rear quarters of this appalling groupie. (It was left to the down-to-earth Stan Tippins finally to eject her from the room; hell hath no fury etc.).
But enough of these intimate insights – let`s hear what Ian, of all the rock and rollers I`ve met one of the most media-conscious, has to say about the group; with comments appended by such as drummer Buffin – also with his new wife (their reception was part of the festivities of the Hammersmith gig), and sorry, his name is now Dale Griffin; by Pete Watts, spraying silver glitter on his hair and talking about cars; and Bad Company`s Mick Ralphs, who they just can`t seem to keep away.
Our interview started with the usual criticism of the critic; on balance Ian liked our verdict, but disputed that “The Hoople” went over the top: “How can you go too far?” he asked. The album, of course, was recorded at around the time of the recent General Election campaign. It gave Ian plenty of opportunity to reflect on the political charade which the people of this country had to put up with: “I was sitting there in front of the box, watching all these actors, bad actors – and it really got up my nose. I wasn`t trying to be heavy or anything it was just the things that I observed. There are fifty-two million people in Britain and at least thirty million of them talk pub politics. But I don`t want to be defensive about the album, `cos I`ve got no need to be. I don`t want this interview to be a downer – I would like it to be an upper, `cos that`s how we feel now.”
Pressing the point I suggest that the album could well be a downer, and that even if the lyrics were only his own personal observations, the energy released by the music, by the group`s dynamic and involving stage presentation would be channelled through the slogans of the song. It`s a point which I always bring up when questioning Ian: he`s astute at evading it. You can`t have sheer power politics, the control of the masses, without a strong moral purpose, in my view. You have to direct that power, use it responsibly. In the past I`ve felt that the release of energy is purely gratuitous, and an end in itself.
“I don`t see how you can go over the top,” contends Ian. “Either it`s good or it`s bad. I don`t see it, Mott ain`t too far. As I see it, Mott ain`t a vanguard – we`re a group. I do feel a sense of responsibility when I`m writing a lyric – I don`t go out for cheap gimmicks. I think music is candy-floss really; I firmly believe in what I write, though I`m not advocating it. It`s the truth to me. It`s like Gleason says: `You can trust the music but not the artist`.”
Ian is just talking about his words here. When it comes to the total effect, the complete impression of the words and the music and the indefinable presence, the character which comes across from the inanimate wax, it`s total conviction: “We wouldn`t spend a fortune if we didn`t want to get the sound and the lyrics across. I mean I could`ve sung all the words on an acoustic backtrack and the whole thing would`ve cost two and a half quid instead of sixteen thousand.”
This is the very substantial sort of money that it takes to record Mott now: a far cry indeed from the ramshackle, all-flying-everywhere sound on their first albums. The madness is still not far away though. An incident at Advision made them less than welcome there: suffice to say that damage was done, and restitution insisted upon. “When you spend twelve hours getting a drum sound for the back-tracks and when you go in the next night and find it`s different again it does you in,” suggested Ian.
The end product is eminently satisfactory though, and figures speak for themselves. It will stand them in good stead on their next US tour; by the time you read this they will already have started. It`s eight weeks at six gigs a week, some nights with two shows. It`s starting to look like more than success, like really big business really. The problems are very real. Ian cites as the biggest single one that of keeping his voice in good shape. “The only remedy for that is a lot of sleep, ten hours a night, and keeping your trap shut, not talking. It`s not much fun.”
Did he have any idea why the Americans had taken to Mott in such a big way? Ian cites the examples of Slade and T. Rex, both of whom were trying to break in America at the same time as Mott – with more confidence and less apparent success. “I think they fell in love with the fact that we were a bunch of losers. I think we approached it with more… we persuaded them to come to us.”
Enter Dale Griffin for a word or two. “Mick (Ralphs) has been saying some funny things about Ian in the papers. What he`s been saying… it wasn`t right. What it comes down to is that Pete and I have a big say in what goes on, and Ian does the writing. There never was any preference in what material was used. I don`t know why Mick should think Ian was omnipotent in the band. There seems to be a feeling that the group is controlled by Ian, but he comes to us with his material and we sort it out. The only time we did anything that we weren`t sure about was `Whizz Kids` and in the end it worked out OK. I`ve seen the way a lot of groups work and for democracy this one is really good.”
About a quarter-hour later Mick Ralphs breezed into the room – warmly greeted by the Herefordshire contingent. He comes over to Ian and asks what the problem is, he hasn`t seen the offending piece. “Well Mick, I don`t know whether it`s just me being paranoid…” I slide off, for such conversations are the private property of musicians. Later on, Ian and Mick are sitting at the dinner table together, swopping old stories.
Mott have been offered various production deals recently. It prompts Ian to define his view of what makes success: “It`s a simple formula. A group has to have a good song, they must be able to play it well, onstage, with visuals, and in the studio. That`s what I look for. It`s as simple as that. What`s happened is that groups over the years have disappeared up their own arses looking for something original. I`ve seen groups who couldn`t play a song and they`ve taken people in.
“It`s a simple formula but it took us four years to find it; it sounds easy but it`s very difficult. And it`s much harder now than it was for Mott the Hoople at the start. My advice to young groups is work on the songs, work on the visuals, and don`t get too frightened when you first step inside a studio.”
Finally, and something by the way of a confidence, Ian told me that he`d been offered a movie part. He`d read the script, and liked it. Evidently he`s torn between accepting it, with a new dimension of glory, and his suspicion of the film industry, where he would be a beginner, a greenhorn all over again in games which are if anything less manageable than those of the rock business. “Go on,” says Trudi, with a good-natured mocking laugh, “you will.” Ian denies it; but deep down you feel he wants to really. But it`s the drive to lead really; maybe he`ll make a politician one day.
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: Elton John, Sutherland Brothers & Quiver, Refugee, Queen, Uriah Heep, Sweet, The John Peel Column, Little Feat, Sparks, Strawbs, Ducks Deluxe, Alquin, Dr. Feelgood, Jimmy DeWar.
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