The first half of a lengthy and exclusive chat with Ian Hunter ahead of the anticipated Mott the Hoople reunion tour
“This is going back a long time,” says Ian Hunter, on the phone from his Connecticut home.
This is Mott the Hoople. Call ‘em reborn, revived, revamped or re-animated. Whatever, they – officially called Mott the Hoople ’74 – are back on the road for a short stretch.
“A lot of people aren’t even with us,” continues Mott’s main man, assessing the band’s audience in the early-mid ‘70s and, potentially, now. That is, lifespans being what they are …
“I don’t know if people are going to be that interested,” Hunter continues, of those still with us. “I mean I knew there’d be interest in Cleveland and it would be all right in New York because I do OK [playing there], but I didn’t think elsewhere. But it seems to be going all right.”
All right, indeed. Presale has been strong everywhere, ¾ capacity at most venues, says Pollstar’s Debbie Greer.
Hunter has been a consistent presence in the rock ‘n’ roll world for parts of six decades, but the band with which he first came to fame, and the band he’s currently discussing, last played America 45 years ago.
That changes today–April 1st–in Milwaukee, as this version of Mott the Hoople embarks upon an eight-gig US tour before undertaking a six-gig UK tour. The band features two of the key players from that era, guitarist Luther Grosvenor (aka Ariel Bender, one of the great rock ‘n’ roll sobriquets) and keyboardist Morgan Fisher, the guys on The Hoople and subsequent Live album (The others have died: drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin in January 2016; bassist Pete “Overend” Watts followed a year later.)
The rest of Mott ’74 is comprised of Hunter’s long-time bandleader in his backing group, the Rant Band, guitarist-keyboardist-saxophonist James Mastro, guitarist Mark Bosch, keyboardist Dennis Dibrizzi, bassist Paul Page and drummer Steve Holley.
Hunter isn’t much one for nostalgia, but there were two previous reunions in 2009 and 2013 featuring an earlier (so-called classic) Mick Ralphs-era Mott the Hoople lineup, absent the ailing cancer-struck Buffin, who was subbed for by The Pretenders’ Martin Chambers.
Hunter is frank about the reasoning for this tour: “I thought I owed Morgan and Luther because they never got a shot on the first two get-togethers. Morgan and Luther both turned up at those reunions and they were both real sports about it. They could have been upset, but they weren’t. There were a few people who joined and left Mott, but those two to me they have the same heart of the band as the original vibe did so it was important that they got their other 15 minutes. And I always thought that if I got a little window there, I’d do something.”
That window is now.
The short-story about Mott: The band formed in 1969 and released four pretty strong albums to middling success. Their rock ‘n’ roll was oft raucous and Hunter, while singing with his English accent intact, had something Dylan-esque about him. Yes, the rock press – ever sniffing around for a new Dylan at that time – thought they might have found one.
“What am I going to say?” Hunter says, with a laugh. “He’s the man. Did I use him to find myself, my own voice? Yeah. Everybody uses somebody. I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, but boy it just felt right. The sound of his voice, how you getting away with that? And he was confident, too. He knew.”
“What inspired me in the first place was great natural people like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis,” adds Hunter. “I just wanted to try and be as good as them and I never will be, but that’s always been my goal in life. Along the way, what happened was I started writing songs. which those guys weren’t so great at.”
Good music, mostly – check out “Walking with a Mountain,” “Sweet Angeline” and “Death May Be Your Santa Claus” – but Mott was struggling. But making important fans. As The Clash’s Mick Jones famously said, “If hadn’t been for Mott, there would be no us.” And when many of the older groups were given the boot by the young punks, Mott (though defunct) stayed relevant.
“We played rock ‘n’ roll and played our asses off,” says Hunter. “We didn’t know what we were doing and it was great. But we were on the wrong label [Island in the UK]. We were more like a showoff band and they had all ‘natural talent’ people like Free and Traffic.”
It looked like 1971’s Brain Capers LP was it, lights out. But David Bowie entered the picture, giving the band he loved “All the Young Dudes,” without which we wouldn’t be reading this today. Legend has it that Bowie gave the song to the band, which was on the verge of breaking up, in the hopes of keeping them together. Almost. Not quite.
“We had broken up,” Hunter says. “Pete Watts rang him for a gig ‘cause David was putting a band together and Pete said, ‘I’m available.’ And David said, “You’re in Mott the Hoople.” Pete said, ‘We split up’ and David went all funny and said, ‘You can’t!’
“David offered us ‘Suffragette City,’ which we thought was a good song, but we didn’t think that it was for us. Then he came back with ‘Dudes.’ He was really on our case for about a nine-month period there. We learned so much. David was extremely generous with his time. He was great, he really was. And he was great with a lot of people, very unselfish.”
Mott rode the glam rock train with “Dudes” – their first real US hit – and built its audience with the two subsequent studio albums, “Mott” (the last with Ralphs, who went on to co-found Bad Company) and “The Hoople” (with Bender) and “Live” (also with Bender).
Hunter wrote songs about Mott’s ups and downs after the “Dudes” success, with “The Ballad of Mott,” “Hymn for the Dudes” and “Saturday Gigs.” By 1975, they were over for good – save for two Hunter-less albums, “Drive On” and “Shouting and Pointing” – as Hunter launched his solo career.
Fast forward to today. Hunter doesn’t want to tip off the set list ahead of the tour, but says, “it’s based loosely on The Hoople and the Live album, where one half was done in England and the other half done in the US. We’ve kind of gone for the best bits of that. And the regular sort of the ones we were better known for – they’re all there, too. [The set] looks pretty long. I don’t think you’ll be that disappointed.”
Does Hunter still feel close to the songs he wrote so long ago when he performs them?
“I don’t even think about it, really,” he says. “I just do it. It’s part of me. I was there, I did it with them and I kind of enjoyed it more then because then we were desperate. We had no money. Now, it is what it is. People come; they get off. I like the ‘good times’ aspect to it. Never fond of the heavy metal. A lot of things came out [what we did] like punk and heavy metal and all the rest of it and it all seemed to be a little negative, where the original idea of rock ‘n’ roll was excitement and fun. The world was miserable then so we cheered it up. That’s still it to this day, very positive attitude. Just take a negative situation and put a positive feel on it. And make a few bob while we’re doing it.”