From ‘69 to ‘80 Mott the Hoople enjoyed their fair share of highs and lows, inspiring some pretty fanatical devotion from their followers (The Clash’s Mick Jones famously followed them to the ends of the earth...well Liverpool at least...which is close) and influencing a whole generation of bands. Their charismatic lead singer, Ian Hunter, quit way back in ’74 and given that he turned 70 in 2009 a comeback seemed unlikely. But that’s just what they did. Fast forward a few years and with interest in the band stoked further by 201l’s fascinating documentary Ballad of Mott the Hoople, they’re back for more.
Opener Del Bromham (lead vocalist with 60s rock band Stray) got the early birds in the mood leading a meaty 6 piece band in some catchy classic sounding blues and rock numbers. He’s an impressive guitarist. Add an archetypal rock drummer (hair, beard, denim), a dude who played harmonica like a man possessed and a young lady trading under the unlikely name of Cherry Lee Mewis and it added up to a pretty good package. Ballad of JD, a tribute to the life, times and whisky of Mr Jack Daniels Esq, in particular stood out. Where would rock be without a little...okay...a lot...of JD eh? Legend has it that Lemmy drinks nothing else...LITERALLY nothing else.
Looking around the crowd tonight unsurprisingly it was an overwhelmingly...ahem...older audience, some of whom were no doubt spotty teenagers when they last saw the band live. This time round they’re more likely to have liver spots. Music’s a miraculous thing though, as soon as Hunter and co step onto the stage to the strains of Holst’s Jupiter (the I Vow To Thee My Country bit) you can almost see the decades roll away and the entire audience seemingly rose as one (this is a seated venue), remaining on their feet for the next couple of hours.
Let’s get this straight from the start. Ian Hunter must have a particularly knackered looking painting of himself in an attic somewhere. Truly he is the Dorian Gray of rock n roll. He’s how old? 74? No...no...he can’t be. Thin as a whippet, with curly (albeit blonde/grey) hair and a rock star swagger, if you squint a bit he could pass for a man half his age...or my age come to that. Remarkably his voice – a mix of Dylan, Bowie and Reed (not a bad combination eh?) – is still intact too, ably demonstrated by opening number Rock and Roll Queen. Without this there would be no Oasis (that might well be a good thing but that’s another conversation), it’s as simple as that. Hell they even borrowed some of the lyrics. In fact throughout the whole evening it was possible to detect some of the origins of rock’s DNA, a debt seemingly acknowledged by the presence of a certain Joe Elliot (Def Leppard mainman) tucked away in the crowd with all the rest of the regular punters. Surely tracks like The Moon Upstairs, played with a Who-like heft this evening, were a permanent fixture of young Joey’s turntable back in the early 70s?
There’s even a touch of punk about it, a good 5 years or so before the Pistols came spittin’ and screamin’ into the nation’s cosy living rooms. There’s more to Mott than heads down rock ‘n’ roll though. Hymn For The Dudes (from ’73) is just one of the ‘ballads’ they play this evening. Like many of Hunter’s lyrics this song could be interpreted in a number of ways, Hunter himself has said it’s simply about friendship and support, a song to give comfort to those who might be feeling lost and alone. Whatever the true meaning it was impossible to miss the odd moist eye in the crowd.
Sucker gave the audience their first real chance to sing along and Hunter led them in a riotous call and response. Not for the first time the band rapidly changed pace again though with Waterlow (written about Hunter’s divorce from his first wife) receiving a particularly enthusiastic reception. I’m guessing a number of the blokes in the crowd have been through similar stuff in their lives perhaps.
Local lad Overend Watts stepped up to the mic to rapturous applause “Thank you fan” he acknowledged modestly “I was born here in the 80s...1980s” he added jokily lest we all thought he was 130 (he was actually born in 1947!), before launching into the straight up organ driven rock n roll shouter of Born Late 58. The regret laden country tinged Ballad Of Mott the Hoople slows the pace again with the line “I’m still a rock n roll star” getting a huge cheer. You can’t deny it...he is. A cracking version of Violence underlined Mott’s influence on punk bands more than any other track this evening with Overend Watts playing some of the filthiest guitar in history. Not bad for an old dude with a bus pass. Seemingly tiring of his endless changes of guitar Hunter took up position behind the piano for the epic Journey which, as the lyrics hint at, does actually seem to last “40 days and 40 nights”. Out of the corner of my eye I even caught Joey Elliot air drumming at one point. Bless him.
As the gig drew to close they wheeled out the big guns with Honaloochie Boogie, The Golden Age of Rock And Roll and All The Way From Memphis, a trio of underrated classics. Encore? Of course. “You can sing along and enjoy yourselves now” instructed Hunter. The audience didn’t need the encouragement as several hundred arms were raised aloft to the strains of All The Young Dudes. With the band silenced for a minute or two the crowd took over and sang their hearts out in one of those “we’ll meet again” moments. “That was really good” admitted Hunter afterwards. Roll Away The Stone kept the good times coming before a moving version of Do You Remember The Saturday Gigs looked back at Mott’s....and let’s face it...most of the audience’s golden age of the late 60s and early 70s. Toward the end of the song Hunter moved to the edge of the stage to sing and wave goodbye. Who knows, perhaps this really is the swansong of one of rock’s most influential and underrated bands? Somehow I don’t think so though. Incredibly 40 years on some things still are ‘Mott’ they used to be.
Photos courtesy of the lovely Shakeypix
Photos courtesy of the lovely Shakeypix