For some people of a certain age there's nothing finer than the sound and memory of Mott the Hoople blasting their way through 'All The Young Dudes' playing on a jukebox in a sweaty pub on a Friday night. It is enough to stir the soul and recall long past times when the Mott boys were the greatest rock n roll band on the planet, a time before David Bowie rescued them from pending obscurity and a time when Mick Jones, later of The Clash, used to follow them around country with his mates blagging their way into gigs and dreaming of punk rock. Mott's influence on British music has been both profound and understated, and at the centre of that influence is one man - Ian Hunter.
Mott came together in the late 60's in the same way as many of those early British bands did, through a series of no hope bands with weird strange names like 'The Doc Thomas Group', 'Savage Road and The Fixable' and 'The Silence'. They built up a rabid and dedicated fan base by constantly touring their wild and unpredictable live show. Under the dubious auspices of an almost certifiable producer, Guy Stevens, between 1970 and 1973, they recorded four completely bonkers albums for Island called - 'Mott the Hoople', 'Mad Shadows', 'Wildlife' and 'Brain Capers'. You can relive those earliest albums with a recently released fantastical boxed set titled 'Mental Train'. That quartet of albums were magnificent twisted beasts combining the lyricism of Bob Dylan and the swagger of the early Rolling Stones. But something wasn't right in the world, the stars weren't properly aligned and the albums, though critically acclaimed, failed to make much impression sales wise and the band began to splinter and fight.
When David Bowie heard they were on the verge of splitting he gifted Mott, who he described as his favourite band, with what was so to be deemed one of his greatest songs - 'All The Young Dudes'. 'Dudes' became a huge roller coaster of a hit and turned the band into Glam Rock Superstars. Hunter's trade mark shades and golden locks became as recognisable as Noddy Holder's mirrored hat and Marc Bolan's make up and glitter. Bassist Overend Watts pulled on his thigh length platform boots and for the next three years Mott became a hit making machine knocking out classic hits like 'Honaloochie Boogie', 'All The Way From Memphis', 'Roll Away The a Stone', 'The Golden Age of Rock n Roll' and 'Foxy Foxy'. In 1973 they unleashed their five star gold standard classic album 'Mott' a top 10 smash that spent months around the top of the chart. They were on the verge of conquering America when Mick Ralphs, their supreme guitarist and half of the successful writing team, quit to form Bad Company with Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke from Free. Ralphs new band of blues rockers went on to predictable success in the USA whilst Mott recruited Luther Grosvenor (aka Ariel Bender), late of hard rockers Spooky Tooth and set their faces to the future, producing an excellent follow up to 'Mott', cheekily titled 'The Hoople'. It was another big hit and Mott screamed off to the USA where huge success was calling them, and they went for the jugular, selling out venues everywhere. However, lasting success still eluded them and in desperation they sacked Mr Bender and brought in David Bowie's ex side man Mick Ronson who, it was hoped, would save their bacon. It wasn't to be and after a classic farewell single 'Saturday Gigs', they split and Hunter went on to a long, though not quite as successful, solo career.
But the intervening years were good to the Mott legend and their influence was a rich seam mined by punk and new wave, whilst all those old rockers who had indeed attended 'the Saturday Gigs' and cherished their memory and went on to form the likes of Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Saxon and dozens of more successful but far less talented bands. Ian Hunter managed to sustain his career by releasing a string of strong solo albums and playing shows across the world pretty much every year. Then in 2009 the unthinkable happened and Mott the Hoople, often the band that seemed least likely to do anything, reunited for a handful of joyously received gigs at the famed Hammersmith Odeon in London (and for many of us that will be what it's always called no matter what sponsors name come first) and whilst the gigs may have been ragged they were full of energy, joy and love. If it had been any other legendary band there would have been a double live album and budget busting video box set but for Mott it was just the unbridled power of a few rock n roll gigs for fans and it was all over - again.
Well, it was until 2013 when they did it all again! This time a handful of dates in their old haunts like Manchester Apollo and of course the fabled City Hall right here in Newcastle. Once again it was a raucous riotous occasion full of love and noise. Joe Elliott from Def Leppard joined them on stage and they tore the place apart. Even I thought that that was the last we would would see of them when first Mick Ralph's had a stroke and their astounding rhythm section of drummer Buffin and bassist Overend Watts went off to rock n roll heaven. But then suddenly Hunter brought them back for what must surely be one last hurrah. This time they are celebrating 45 years since their tumultuous UK tour (where I got to hear Hunter sing "from the Bradford city to the Oriole" actually IN Bradford!), their stupendous album 'The Hoople' and their final days on tour in the USA, way way back in 1974.
So, they are back for this last bite of the rock n roll cherry with Ariel Bender shredding his Les Paul once again and Morgan Fisher back honking his organ. The deceased members of the band are recalled by members of Hunters regular Rant band who have legendary Wings drummer Steve Holley in their current line up. They've just completed a short American tour where the reviews have all been fantastic, frothing at the mouth praise. So, just for you, dear reader Ian Hunter and his gang of rock n roll reprobates are rolling into the Sage next week on the 23 April - St Georges Day and could there be a better way to celebrate than with what remains one of Britain's most influential rock n roll bands? Without Mott the world would of rock n roll may not have been radically different but it wouldn't have been as much fun and they did inject a huge shot of rock n roll energy and gave us the 'Honaloochie Boogie' and a stack of other classic tunes to remember them with. Make sure you are there on St Georges Day.
The Gig :
Looking around the foyer it's clear that Mott's audience are pretty mature and probably predominately, though not exclusively, male. What's also clear, judging by the t-shirts, is that there are some seasoned fans here who've been on Mott's journey since the beginning. The venue isn't quite sold out but it's full enough to give the crowd a loud and raucous edge. Support is provided by a solid four piece young rock band called Tax The Heat who deliver a short sharp set of classy rockin' tunes with wailing guitars, fine vocals and thunderous drums. In short, an excellent opening band who'd go down a storm in any sweaty small venue like The Cluny.
Right on time at 830 the house lights drop and we hear the eerie voice of David Bowie introducing Mott the Hoople telling us how much he loves the band and hoping that we will enjoy them. That's followed by 'Jupiter' from 'The Planets' as the band troop out on stage with flamboyant pianist Morgan Fisher sashaying across the stage followed by guitarist Ariel Bender shouting and pointing, and bedecked with scarves and sporting a rather fetching purple beret. He plays like a maniac all night and although he's in his 70's he's still lurching around the stage as though he was still in his manic 20's. Ian Hunter is last out on the stage with his trademark shades and curly mop of hair, it's hard to believe he's 80 this year. With a quick friendly "Alright?" he spits out the opening lines of Don McClean's 'American Pie' but as he reaches the "Something touched me deep inside - the day the music died" line, he asks us quizzically, "But - did it?" as the band thunder into 'The Golden Age of Rock n Roll'. Suddenly it's 1974 again for me as I recall the very same opening to my first Mott show in March 1974 at St Georges Hall, Bradford. It was one of the first rock shows I ever saw and has remained as an indelible memory. Bender's tonight playing is just as fiery though he might move a little slower than he did 45 (yikes!) years ago.
The rest of the band is made up from Hunter's Rant road band and give more than ample support and are, dare I say it, superior as musicians to the incarnation of Mott with Mick Ralphs and the late, great Overend Watts at the City Hall in 2013. They were great fun and had tremendous spirit but this band are simply superb musically and they romp through most of Mott's big hits with great aplomb and throw in some curved balls like Hunters solo song 'Lounge Lizard', forgotten classics like 'Pearl and Roy' and 'Rest in Peace'. The band really prove their versatility though on more obscure material like a wonderful mandolin powered version of 'I Wish I Was Your Mother' from the classic 'Mott' album and a screaming 'Marionette' from 'The Hoople', with Bender providing the manic laughter that runs through this mad romp through the dangers of stardom and fame.
Hunter and Bender continue to spar off each other throughout the show and it's clear that they have rekindled some of their old camaraderie. We get most of the hits from the terrific stomp of 'Honaloochie Boogie' through 'Roll Away the Stone' (which, we are told sold a cool 500,000 copies in the UK alone). A rollicking 'All The Way From Memphis' and of course to end, an encore double whammy of the magnificent 'Saturday Gigs' and, (the night can only end with) the mighty 'All The Young Dudes' which they don't mess around with, but just smash through it delivering it like the classic that undeniably is. It really doesn't matter who wrote it - it's Mott's song.
There's absolutely no doubt that this is an exercise in nostalgia and that, although I think the band could get a few more dates out of it, it's coming to the end of its own spectacular life. There aren't any weak points here and the pace of the show is just right as its packed with hits, some great rock n roll ('Sweet Jane', 'Whole Lotta Shakin'', 'Johnny B Goode'), great album cuts like 'Alice' and 'Walkin' With a Mountain'. It just flows, and the audience love the whole spectacle. As we hit the encore, there's no doubt what they'll play and as sure as eggs is eggs 'Saturday Gigs' has the audience singing along and waving their arms around like nutters before the riotous joy of their final song.
This was a joyous, superlative show from a band who have a long and famous history, and I'd doubt that anyone can have left the hall without a smile on their mush. Long Live Mott (well, for a bit longer anyway).