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Mott The Hoople

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Glam-rock had many facets to its ever-widening spectrum of acts that straddled its shores in the early 70s. MARC BOLAN & his T. REX, DAVID BOWIE and pop sensations, SWEET, had all emerged from a day-tripping 60s era, and even MOTT THE HOOPLE had laid tracks from that period before taking on the fickle pop world. The enigmatic curly-locked golden-boy of rock’n’roll, IAN HUNTER, was the centre of attraction as the “sunglasses after dark” singer and the band swept on to the scene in ’72 via “Ziggy”-period BOWIE’s contribution, `All The Young Dudes’. An iconic gay anthem, ironically performed by a heterosexual combo, it might well have different had they opted for `Suffragette City’, or their preferred choice, `Drive-In Saturday’. Then again, possibly not.
Formed in Hereford, England in June 1969, musicians Mick Ralphs (lead guitar), Verden Allen (organ), Dale “Buffin” Griffin (bass) and Pete “Overend” Watts (drums) – initially as Silence, and, in turn, The Doc Thomas Band – were on the lookout for an enigmatic frontman to apply the necessary oomph. Singer Stan Tippens (from The Shakedown Sound) was first up, as the band landed a deal at Chris Blackwell’s burgeoning Island Records; Atlantic would be their Stateside outlet. With a new manager by way of visionary A&R man-cum-producer Guy Stevens, an ad was placed in a music paper. On Guy’s request, the group duly demoted Stan to road manager and found a replacement in Ian Hunter, a singer-songwriter, pianist, guitarist who’d once guested on a 45 by Charlie Wolfe and played bass for SCREAMING LORD SUTCH. Now under the directorship of Stevens, MOTT THE HOOPLE (a novel by Willard Manus) was chosen as their new moniker.
Later in 1969, their eponymous MOTT THE HOOPLE {*7} debut gained a minor UK chart placing, while the record itself introduced Hunter’s bluesy, DYLAN-esque delivery over a tentative set of earthy rock’n’roll. Opening with a hard-laced instrumental re-take of The KINKS’ `You Really Got Me’, was probably, on reflection, ill-conceived, although a 6-minute “Blonde On Blonde”-esque cover of SONNY BONO’s `Laugh At Me’ produced better critical fare; the first three tracks were covers, the other being SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET’s `At The Crossroads’. Mick Ralph’s heavy-laden `Rock And Roll Queen’ escaped the DYLAN comparisons, but not Hunter’s `Backsliding Fearlessly’. Of course in the epic, prog-rock-length days of yore, the 10-minute Ralphs-Hunter piece, `Half Moon Baby’, was almost par for the course.
Desperate to make the grade as the times were indeed a-changin’, Ian found his own shout-y vocal style (although quite similar to Rod the Mod) on album number two, MAD SHADOWS (1970) {*5}. Adding their own take-off and credited procurement of The Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, `Walkin’ With A Mountain’ was meat-n-two-veg rock’n’roll, although the very derivative and angst-ridden `I Can Feel’ was almost PROCOL HARUM.
Returning to a more bright-and-breezy stature, the quintet delivered their third set, WILDLIFE (1971) {*6}. Next to a couple of covers by way of MELANIE’s `Lay Down’ and a 10-minute re-vamp of LITTLE RICHARD’s `Keep A Knockin’’, Hunter and the country-inflicted Ralphs shared contributions, the choicest cuts stemming from the frontman’s fragile-folk tune `Waterflow’ and the airey `Angel Of Eighth Avenue’.
Buoyed by a prestigious (and indeed riotous) Royal Albert Hall concert, BRAIN CAPERS (1971) {*8} – their fourth LP in two years! – again failed to live up to the group’s promise. Without a boogie-ing white-bearded one in sight, the record opened with the raucous `Death May Be Your Santa Claus’, and their choice of the obligatory cover was masterful in DION’s folky `Your Own Backyard’ and The YOUNGBLOODS’ `Darkness Darkness’. But just what direction were they going? Who really cared. The Brain Caper Kids were delivering rock’n’roll in their own inimitable fashion; testified on the likes of `Sweet Angeline’ and the head-banging `The Moon Upstairs’. They deserved better financial results. Island Records thought so, and duly sacked them.
Fortunately for MTH, a young DAVID BOWIE was re-establishing himself in the songwriting stakes, the ascending glamster offering the band a lifeline in the form of the aforementioned `All The Young Dudes’. Securing a new contract with C.B.S./Columbia, the group roared into the UK Top 3 (American Top 40) with a new lease of life, although the dissatisfied Verden had departed soon after the recording of parent album, ALL THE YOUNG DUDES (1972) {*8}. Produced by the MainMan himself, BOWIE’s pop influence was immediate, as the band reeled off a contemporary rendition of LOU REED’s `Sweet Jane’. One can almost imagine what JAGGER would’ve sounded had he went glam, Hunter’s lippy larynx kicking out the jams on classy tunes such as `Momma’s Little Jewel’, `One Of The Boys’, `Jerkin’ Crocus’ and Ralph’s proto-BAD COMPANY tune, `Ready For Love’; moments of prog came through Verden’s passing swansong gift, `Soft Ground’.
Using the glam-rock craze as their launch pad, MOTT THE HOOPLE straddled the widening gap between the teen-pop market and the college circuit. A couple of classic hits, `Honaloochie Boogie’ (featuring ANDY MACKAY on sax) and `All The Way From Memphis’, previewed their Top 10 album, MOTT (1973) {*8}. The unglamorous life on the road was the subject matter here for the rather narrative Hunter, but it was all in told in jaunty aplomb. Exhausted and disillusioned by the industry, although grateful they were back in the game, tracks such as `Hymn For The Dudes’, `Whizz Kid’, `Violence’ and `Ballad Of Mott The Hoople’, slam-dunked SWEET, SLADE and GLITTER in one fell swoop.
Ariel Bender (or Luther Grosvenor, ex-SPOOKY TOOTH) took over lead guitar from Ralphs who joined BAD COMPANY, while Morgan Fisher (ex-LOVE AFFAIR) superseded fill-in keyboard player Mick Bolton . Top 20 smashes, `Roll Away The Stone’ and `The Golden Age Of Rock’n’Roll’ (highlighting the Thunderthighs backing vox), proved that the group were no overnight sensations, while attendant album THE HOOPLE (1974) {*6} saw the band once again hit No.11 in the UK charts; albeit for only 5 weeks. Theatrical and dare one say it, almost campy, Hunter was becoming a caricature of himself on the likes of the QUEEN-esque `Marionette’. The sole Overend contribution, `Born Late ‘58’, was pitted against poodle-parlour Ian’s best-in-show, `Crash Street Kidds’ and `Trudi’s Song’ – but basically the record was a low-point in their career so far. The sleeve artwork was truly Warhol-ian in its iconic Mott-heads-in-hair design.
Yes, the dreaded critical tide was turning against glam and everyone connected with it (MTH included); `Foxy, Foxy’ stalled at No.33 that summer. With Bender deciding to join heavyweights WIDOWMAKER, the band (with ex-BOWIE sidekick, MICK RONSON, now taking on guitar duties) also opted for a harder-edged direction after a single, `Saturday Gig’, failed to scrape into the Top 40. What once would’ve been an inspired release. LIVE (1974) {*5}, was basically given the thumbs-down by critics and fans alike; a 16-minute medley encore of their halcyon days and some rock’n’roll tunes thrown in (`Get Back’, `Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, etc.) was hardly the ticket to win back an audience waiting something new.
Suffering from exhaustion, IAN HUNTER was eager to follow a less high-profile solo career, RONSON also taking the same route; the pair, in addition touring together as the Hunter-Ronson Band. The remainder (Overend, Dale and Morgan) re-grouped in 1975 as MOTT, enlisting the services of new frontman Nigel Benjamin (think STEVE MARRIOTT) and guitarist Ray Majors for a new album, DRIVE ON (1975) {*4}. Without HUNTER, MOTT were overdue on their M.O.T. for this well below par record. Another uninspiring set, SHOUTING AND POINTING {*2} – truly sunk by a version of the EASYBEATS’ `Good Times’ – was to appear in 1976, but the band were to give up the ghost amid general disinterest, although they did resurface as the more overtly hard-rocking, BRITISH LIONS.
MOTT THE HOOPLE (i.e. Hunter, Ralphs, Allen, Watts and Griffin) finally re-grouped in September 2009 for several gigs ahead of a Hammersmith Apollo reunion at the Blake Theatre in Monmouth, Wales. The London concerts were duly recorded and released a few years later as a double-CD and DVD. Sadly, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for several years, Dale “Buffin” Griffin passed away on 17 January, aged 67. Approximately a year on (22nd January to be exact), Pete Overend Watts died of throat cancer.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2012-Jan2017

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