A Mott the Hoople reunion, which some said would never happen, has now done so three times. A decade ago the five members of their classic early seventies line-up reformed for a series of shows at Hammersmith which were emotional for all those who were there, but a tour four years later was a limp anti-climax, certainly the London night at the 02. With two of that quintet now sadly no longer with us and a third debilitated, and Ian Hunter resuming his respected solo career, you would have got long odds on any other shows under the Mott name.
However out of the blue, last year the curly haired lead singer enlisted two of his cohorts from Mott’s later days in guitarist Ariel Bender (Luther Grosvenor to his family) and keyboardist Morgan Fisher, augmented by the members of his Rant Band, to become surprise Ramblin’ Man headliners under the banner of Mott the Hoople 74. I had to miss that festival through ill health so was delighted when a proper tour was announced.
After a very well received and diverse set from Tax The Heat, the floor was packed mainly with boys of a certain age (I was flattered at 52 years old to be asked by one jovial geezer why I was at the show) making for a lively Friday night atmosphere. Mott took the stage with Ian singing the opening verse of ‘American Pie’ before a suitably rabble rousing opener in ‘Golden Age of Rock n Roll’ with the Rant Band’s versatile secret weapon James Mastro playing sax.
It is said so often as to almost become a cliché, but a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday, Ian Hunter defies the ageing process, looking vibrant and in good shape, and his distinctive nasal voice sounding a lot fresher than I remember at that 02 show.
However the showmanship primarily came from the ponytailed Aerial’s eccentric presence: bare torso only covered by a waistcoat and with his beret and oval spectacles making him look like the reincarnation of Clive Dunn, he acted as the focal point, whipping up the crowd’s enthusiasm. His own guitar playing was rather rudimentary but added a layer of rock’ n’roll rawness over James and Mark Bosch’s more subtle and intricate work.
As a number of album cuts were enthusiastically received, with the odd smattering of hits including a lively ‘Honaloochie Boogie’, my views were confirmed that a packed mid-sized venue like the Empire, full of fanatics of this most cult of bands, was probably a more suitable vehicle for this show than a mixed festival crowd had been.
Indeed, as a more casual fan than the majority of those around me, I found the show slow to build momentum. There were a couple of typically Hunterian ballads, along with favourites such as ‘I Wish I Was Your Mother’ which featured James on mandolin and ‘Sweet Jane’, while ‘Sucker’ had a staccato, almost funky feel.
However the rock n roll quotient grew as the set wore on as ‘Walking With A Mountain’ showed off the rawer edge Ariel was giving the music. With Ian reminding us it had actually sold more records than ‘Dudes’, ‘Roll Away The Stone’ featured a brief snatch of twin guitar early on and a cameo appearance on backing vocals from Mott’s most avid fanboy, Joe Elliott. Meantime Morgan’s keyboard work was prominent on the mini-epic of ‘Marionette’.
As the set reached its conclusion a number of songs were shoehorned into a quasi medley including ‘Rock And Roll Queen’ and ‘One Of The Boys’, with that riff that Mick Ralphs took with him to Bad Company, before the punk-before-its-time ‘Crash Street Kidds’ with Morgan shouting the insults. It concluded with ‘Violence’, perhaps the most fun song yet with some spectacular work from guest fiddler Graham Preskett, and an increasingly chaotic atmosphere on the crowded stage.
Indeed the party was only just starting with a trio of encores, beginning with the autobiographical ‘Saturday Gigs’ which had the whole crowd roaring raucously, then Morgan’s unmistakable piano intro heralded ‘All The Way From Memphis’ at which point none other than Brian May sidled on stage.
It has been said that he would attend the opening of the proverbial envelope but since Queen got their first big break supporting MTH, not to mention namechecking them on ‘Now I’m Here’, his presence was an entirely appropriate piece of symmetry. Between joining the increasing weight of people jumping up and down, I was struck by the way his mid-song solo was of a different league to what had come before, and filled with wonder at seeing his towering grey bouffant at close quarters.
There could only be one way to close the evening out with a communal sing-along of ‘All The Young Dudes’, with not only Brian, but both Joe and original singer turned road manager Stan Tippins joining in the fun on a stage that had become not much less crowded than the floor.
While the sheer thrill of the 2009 reunion could never be matched, this gig had the same sense of occasion, and will go down as one of the most fun and heart-warmingly life affirming shows of the year.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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