Book review: DECADES- MOTT THE HOOPLE & IAN HUNTER IN THE 1970s by John Van der Kiste


Sonic Bond Publishing (Publication date 11.02.22)

Mott the Hoople would be high on the list of bands that have influenced other higher profile musicians, ranging from Queen to The Clash to Def Leppard. When they reformed in 2009, grown men were crying and many of them attended all five nights of their Hammersmith shows.

Yet their original incarnation was a short lifespan of just five years, with an even briefer period of two years in the limelight between David Bowie’s donation of ‘All the Young Dudes’ and Ian Hunter breaking up the band.

They might therefore seem unlikely candidates for the latest in Sonic Bond’s monographs that go into detail of a decade in the life of a long-running band.  However this is cleverly swerved by devoting time to the post-MTH years of Ian Hunter solo, Mott and British Lions, in a way which complements the musical tribute paid to that era by Joe Elliott’s Down n Outz.

The other difficulty John Van der Kiske faces is that the story of this cult band has been extensively told before, both through fan archives and books including, at their peak, by Ian Hunter in his own words.  The veteran history and music author writes in a straight down the line but structured and comprehensive way, and successfully brings out the essences of characters from roguish svengali Guy Stevens to the driven nature of Hunter.

In doing so, he uncovers some interesting vignettes, my favourite being the unpolitically correct story of how, at one of their early shows in Italy, the audience assumed the man in the shades was blind and were less tolerant of his keyboard fumblings when they discovered otherwise. Other interesting nuggets included the close links with labelmates Free and how Hunter himself even considered bringing in Paul Rodgers as lead singer, and the influence of the song ‘Marionette’ on Queen in the writing of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

As someone only vaguely familiar with their pre-‘Dudes’ Island Records releases, his account of the varying styles from country rock to proto punk was particularly instructive and it was clear they were already a raucous live act, who resulted in rock bands being banned for years from the Albert Hall.

The account of the rest of the seventies is also interesting and the conventional wisdom that only Hunter thrived after Mott split up is rather more nuanced: while working with a broad range of collaborators, a couple of his album were commercial failures, yet British Lions enjoyed a modicum of success in the States.

As usual in this series, a lengthy postscript beings the story right up to date in more potted format, including Hunter renewing his partnership with Mick Ronson for an all too short period, the various Mott reunions and their main man’s 80th birthday celebrations.

It’s a moot point how much Mott diehards will learn from this slim account but for those with a more casual acquaintance with the band I recommend it as an insight into their chequered existence. ****

Review by Andy Nathan

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