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Ian Hunter

A shady character, only in the sense he’s always adorned sunglasses, curly-blonde frontman IAN HUNTER is better known for leading out DYLAN-styled glam-rockers, MOTT THE HOOPLE. But having seen his group move down the ladder of success in ‘75, the singer-songwriter opted for a solo career. His BOWIE “Dudes” and Ziggy connections in tact (short-lived MTH guitarist MICK RONSON was always there or thereabouts), HUNTER was the nearly-man of rock’n’roll. Though HUNTER has never quite risen above second division status in his post-Hoople career, he remains, especially among his peers, one of the most respected figures in the rock world.
Born Ian Hunter Patterson, 3 June 1939, Oswestry in Shropshire, England, he was quite the young journeyman, having attended numerous schools, as his dad worked for the MI5. His early musical career followed the same pattern, performing rhythm guitar on and off for The Apex Group between 1957 and 1963, and, in turn, The Shriekers, The Scenery and The Voice. After years spent playing clubs in Hamburg, Germany, Ian joined up with the Freddie Lee-fronted, At Last The 1958 Rock And Roll Show, a band who released a one-off platter for C.B.S. in 1967, `I Can’t Drive’ (b/w `Workin’ On The Railroad’). The following year, Ian wrote a few songs for the consequential Charlie Woolfe ensemble, demos that remained unissued until Nems released the recordings (`Dance Dance Dance’ and `Home’) in the mid-70s. After answering an ad in the music press in June ‘69, HUNTER successfully auditioned as lead singer for MOTT THE HOOPLE, and for next five years or so, glam-rock had another adversary. His autobiographical, Reflections Of A Rock Star (published in 1977), deals with the highs and lows and ups and downs of HUNTER and his band(s). Now into his umpteenth decade as a rock star, 2012 (and aged 73) saw him promoting a new album, “Rant”, on BBC morning TV.
Back in 1975, while his former bandmates were floundering with a re-grouped MOTT, HUNTER was in the UK Top 30 with both the eponymous IAN HUNTER {*7} set and lead-off single platter, `Once Bitten Twice Shy’. Composed entirely by the man himself by way of his personal and recent MTH experiences, and arranged by his old mucker RONSON, introspection was best served on `The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nuthin’ But The Truth’, the BOWIE-esque `It Ain’t Easy When You Fall’ and `Boy’.
With stalwart support from guitarist MICK RONSON yet again, HUNTER continued to surface either in England or New York, having already toured supporting each others’ solo projects, mainly as the Hunter-Ronson Band. The Top 30 success of sophomore set, ALL-AMERICAN ALIEN BOY (1976) {*6}, was brief, as the shady one took on an experimental traditional approach – apart from the odd jazz diversion featuring Jaco Pastorius – in several soulful DYLAN-istic styled ballads. When `All American Alien Boy’ and `You Nearly Did Me In’ were flops on the singles front (although QUEEN featured as chorus on the latter), HUNTER was struggling to gain a foothold once again in the fickle world of an ever-evolving rock music industry.
Try as he did to remedy his apparent down-surge, Ian formed a touring band, named so to promote his third album, OVERNIGHT ANGELS (1977) {*4}. Spotlighting guitarist Earl Slick among others (he’d replaced RONSON who’d joined DYLAN’s “Rolling Thunder” entourage), the corkscrew-locked singer was allegedly none too happy with the results. The decision to leave out the single, `England Rocks’ (later re-titled and re-vamped a few years later as `Cleveland Rocks’), just beggared belief, while
Consequently signing to Chrysalis Records, Ian teamed up with producer/arranger MICK RONSON once more on transatlantic Top 50 entry, YOU’RE NEVER ALONE WITH A SCHIZOPHRENIC (1979) {*8}, a record that also unfolded a unique US hit in `Just Another Night’. `Ships’ (later covered by BARRY MANILOW), `Bastard’ (featuring JOHN CALE), the single `When The Daylight Comes’ and the aforementioned `Cleveland Rocks’ had equal merit and showed he’d not totally lost it quite yet. That same year, Ian would do a bit of production of his own, via GENERATION X’s sophomore “Valley Of The Dolls” set, while he and RONSON co-produced ELLEN FOLEY’s 1979 major-label debut, “Night Out”.
Recorded toward the fall of ’79 at L.A.’s Roxy venue, WELCOME TO THE CLUB (1980) {*7} re-charged the batteries for both HUNTER and his ever-faithful side-kick, RONSON. Kicking off with a rousing take of The SHADOWS’ `F.B.I.’, the double-set featured all the usual suspects, plus a raft of MOTT THE HOOPLE cues, including the hits `All The Way From Memphis’ and of course, glam-anthem `All The Young Dudes’; Mick added his solo piece take of `Slaughter On Tenth Avenue’.
Revitalised by the ever-adapting post-punk scene ,when realising The CLASH’s Mick Jones and Topper Headon had been fans of MTH way back in the day, HUNTER requested the former acolyte to produce his studio follow-up set, SHORT BACK N’ SIDES (1981) {*7}. Boasting the talents of both CLASH men (plus cohorts ELLEN FOLEY and TYMON DOGG) under the guidance of engineer TODD RUNDGREN, one could almost taste the punk on the likes of `Central Park ‘n’ West’, `Lisa Likes Rock’n’Roll’ and the reggae-fied `Theatre Of The Absurd’.
Taking time out to re-sign with CBS/Columbia (home to The CLASH, incidentally), HUNTER took a step backwards with the mainstream-straddling ALL OF THE GOOD ONES ARE TAKEN (1983) {*5}; some tracks such as `Fun’ augmented by co-songwriters Marc Clarke and Hilly Michaels.
Subsequently reclusive and seemingly disillusioned by the biz, little or nothing was heard of HUNTER until he eventually re-emerged at the turn of the 90s with his first proper HUNTER-RONSON collaboration, Y U I ORTA (1990) {*6}. Released on Mercury Records and augmented by CHIC’s Bernard Edwards, the double-header (as depicted on the photo-shoot sleeve) was rather slick and pop-orientated; tracks such as `Cool’, `Big Time’ and `The Loner’ managed just to be hip enough to work.
Surfacing only to pay respective tributes (in ’92 and ’94) to the late FREDDIE MERCURY and Hull’s finest MICK RONSON (who died of cancer), HUNTER laid low in the first of the 90s, only to re-emerge in 1995 with the Norwegian-only set, IAN HUNTER’S DIRTY LAUNDRY {*6}. Backed by Darrell Bath, Honest John Plain and other ex-BOYS: Casino Steel and Matt Dangerfield (plus female singers), Ian turned his hand to hard blasting, pub-like rock’n’roll on `Dancing On The Moon’, `Scars’ and `Invisible Strings’. THE ARTFUL DODGER (1996) {*4} kept up his momentum, although it was described in some quarters as rather pedestrian.
The aptly-titled RANT (2001) {*6} found HUNTER in as feisty and as passionate a mood as he’d been in since his 70s glory years, spewing bile at various, usually deserving targets and backing it all up with confident, consummate forays into surprisingly diverse rock textures; `Morons’, `Ripoff’, `Death Of A Nation’ and `Still Love Rock And Roll’, regurgitated all his rock’n’roll angst from “Brain Capers” to “You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic”.
Always a popular figure in Norway, HUNTER chose Oslo as the stage for his next live, `”unplugged” project, STRINGS ATTACHED (2003) {*6}. A double-CD helping from the previous year, one could access some stripped-back orchestral manoeuvres in the dark glasses from Ian and his ensemble on several MTH and solo hits, plus a re-take of nostalgic nugget, `A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’.
THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NUTHIN’ BUT THE TRUTH (2005) {*5} extended his live portfolio to the Nth degree, but it surely time for a fresh studio outing, even if he’d now started to collect his pension. SHRUNKEN HEADS (2007) {*7} was just the ticket for the grumpy OAP to vent his visceral and confrontational rock. Whether he sided his sound with JAGGER or DYLAN, the remarkable IAN HUNTER – and his band: Steve Holley, Andy Burton, Jack Petruzzelli, James Mastro, Graham Maby and guests JEFF TWEEDY and Soozie Tyrell – mixed up the medicine of wistful ballads and signature rock’n’roll from `Read `Em ‘N’ Weep’ and `Words (Big Mouth)’ to `I Am What I Hated’ and `Brainwashed’. Weathering the storm and old age in equal measure, the 70-year-old rocker (older than his aforementioned contemporaries DYLAN and JAGGER), released yet another very good album. MAN OVERBOARD (2009) {*7} proved he’d lost none of his songwriting prowess or indeed his flashes of genius; tracks such as `The Great Escape’ (penned with Andy York), `Up And Running’ and the bittersweet `River Of Tears’ edgy and cranky as ever good curmudgeon should be.
Showing that rock’n’roll will never die as long as he lives, IAN HUNTER (& The Rant Band) – i.e. Holley, Mastro, Burton, Mark Bosch, Paul Page and others – delivered their protest record, WHEN I’M PRESIDENT (2012) {*7}. Although this was no “Tempest” (DYLAN’s latest), Ian croaked out the usual staple set of ranting R&R; the freewheeling `Saint’, `Comfortable (Flyin’ Scotsman)’ and the title track commanded respect and, of course, your votes! Elect him now.
Almost bypassed when released belatedly by IAN HUNTER & THE RANT BAND, the catch-up, self-financed LIVE IN THE UK 2010 (2014) {*6} was thought to be his swansong set. So wrong. Aged 77, and still rocking-and-rolling with the best of them – alongside his steadfast backing band of course – Ian conjured up yet another astonishing record in FINGERS CROSSED (2016) {*7}. Nodding his hat to his sadly-missed buddy, Mr. BOWIE, `Dandy’ was the star track here, as seen through the eyes of a Ziggy fan from ’72. All the young tunes were straight-forward, the lyrics deftly subtle, but there was, as always, a je ne sais quoi quality when HUNTER reminisced. For the `White House’, the Memphis Sun Studios of `Ghosts’ and mythology-motifed `Morpheus’, “Honaloochie” HUNTER played the jokers in the pack.
© MC Strong 1994-2000/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2012-Sep2016

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