Our story starts with a band from Hereford in the west of England called Silence. They were Stan Tippins (vocals), Mick Ralphs (guitar), Pete Overend Watts (bass), Terence Dale "Buffin" Griffin (drums) and Terry Allen ("Phally") on the Organ.
The band went through various line-up changes, and were also known as the Doc Thomas Group at various stages. They played the usual dues-paying circuit of the pubs and clubs of England as well as Hamburg in Germany, but they had most success (such as it was) in Italy, where Stan became known as "the Sinatra of beat".
But they were going nowhere when Overend auditioned for the job of bass-player for a new Island band called Free. He didn't get the gig, but noticed that when they played, all of Free shook their heads, which resulted in Guy Stevens (their manager) also shaking his. Overend mentioned this to Mick Ralphs, who immediately travelled up to London to see Guy, armed with a demo tape of Silence they had made a few weeks earlier.
"I was so taken aback I asked him to sit down" recalled Guy, and he eventually agreed to audition them. The audition was to take place at a small upstairs studio, and Guy arrived a few days later to find these guys lugging a huge Hammond organ up the stairs. He decided "If they succeed, I don't care what they sound like - I'll sign them anyway!"
Guy Stevens was an executive with Island records, and ran the Sue label (which was a subsidiary). He was responsible for inspired band names (for example, Procol Harum which was named after his cat), and for brilliant album titles (Sticky Fingers is but one of many). His knowledge of obscure American RnB was second to none; indeed it was he who had supplied the Rolling Stones with many of their cover-versions before they finally started writing hits of their own.
In 1967 he missed out on Procol Harum's greatest success (A Whiter Shade of Pale), since he was serving a short spell in Wormwood Scrubs (a prison in west London) for a drugs-related offence. While he was there, he read a book by Willard Manus called Mott, The Hoople. He told his wife it would make a brilliant band name (because, apparently, "it would look great on a marquee - lots of Oh's and Tee's!"), but told her to keep it a secret for now.
Gradually, Stevens was forming a vision of "the perfect rock group". This would be a band that would combine a Bob Dylan vocal style, the keyboard sound of Procol Harum, and the sheer power of the Stones' rhythm section. Eventually, at Mick Ralphs' insistence, he gave Silence an audition. They seemed to be the band he was looking for, but felt the singer, Stan Tippins, "didn't look right". Stan accepted this with good grace, and he returned to Italy to persue his solo career ("the Sinatra of beat"). He would return in 1970 to become Mott's road manager.
Stevens then placed an advert in Melody Maker: "Singer/pianist wanted. Must be image-conscious and hungry". Auditions were held at a small studio in London's Soho, and they listened to some two dozen hopefuls, but none seemed suitable. Eventually, the engineer Bill Farley said "I know a bloke...", but it took several 'phone calls to persuade Ian Hunter to come down to the audition.
Ian Hunter had had a varied career up to 1969. At various times he had worked as a road-digger for the local council and as a journalist on a local newspaper. Musically he was a bass-player, and like many others played the dues-paying circuit in Hamburg in the early/mid 60's, at one time fronting his own band Hurricane Henry And The Shriekers. His first taste of fame came with Freddie "Fingers" Lee, in a band called At Last the 1958 Rock n Roll Show. In 1967 there was a short-lived rock and roll revival, and they enjoyed about fifteen minutes of fame before it all petered out. Ian then worked as a song-writer for Francis, Day and Hunter (no relation), but was feeling increasingly guilty about collecting his wages since they hardly ever used any of his songs because they were "too particular".
In 1969, Ian was kicking his heels looking for a gig when Bill Farley called him up and told him about this band who were in the studio, saying "They're weird, but they may like you". Ian needed a bit of persuading, since it meant changing bus a couple of times, but he didn't want to spend the summer working in the factory, so he eventually travelled down to the audition.
He arrived at the audition wearing a donkey jacket, open-toed sandals, and a pair of thick black shades. He said he was "basically a bass-player", and picked up a bass to demonstrate. It was futile. Guy then motioned him over to the piano. Ian performed Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone, and Guy was ecstatic. He had found his man.
Mick Ralphs remembers it was the shades more than anything which got Ian the gig. Ian was slightly overweight at the time, and wore them "to hide his fat face". Guy thought they projected the perfect image, and told Ian to never take them off. Ian initially tried to rebel against this, but they have long since become his trademark, and photos of Ian without his shades are rare indeed.
With a wife and two kids to support, Ian demanded guaranteed wages (£15 a week!) which Guy accepted. Guy gave Ian some money for clothes and, realising that this was his chance, Ian went on a crash diet to improve his image. Ian was forever grateful to Guy for giving his his break - years later he said "with Guy it was special, because if it wasn't for Guy seeing that little spark that certainly I wasn't aware of, I would still be there [in the factory] right now".
Mott spent a couple of weeks rehearsing, and then went into the studios to record their debut album. Originally to be called Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Disaster Blues, it ended up as just Mott the Hoople. An album which, like all the others, illustrated the Mott dilemma: the hard-rocking live band that were never quite so manic in the studio. It opened with an instrumental cover of the Kinks' You Really Got Me, followed by Doug Sahms' At The Crossroads and Sonny Bono's Laugh At Me ("At the time I actually liked Sonny Bono" - Hunter). Side 1 closed with Backsliding Fearlessly, a heavily Dylan-influenced Hunter song. Side 2 opened with an out-and-out rocker Rock 'n' Roll Queen (a number which would remain in the live set to the end), and featured the epic Half Moon Bay before finishing with Wrath and Wroll, the remnants of an end-of-session jam.
Mott the Hoople then went out to the Bat Cavern club in Italy (scene of many a Doc Thomas Group triumph) to get a stage act together. Their first night was met with an ecstatic reception, beyond their wildest expectations. The next night - nothing. Why? As Buffin remembers: "With all the fumbling, bad chords and missed cues, they believed Ian to be blind. When they discovered he was sighted, they lost all interest." When Mott returned to the UK, the result was the same until, at a long-forgotten gig, something clicked and the audience erupted. Mott soon gained a devotion and live following few bands get, but despite the explosive, packed-out gigs their debut album sold poorly, only nudging the lower reaches of the top 50.
1970 was a traumatic year for Mott. Sales of their debut album had been poor, but their live success was beyond their wildest expectations. Everybody was having problems of one sort or another; Stevens was pretty much out of control, and Hunter especially was finding it difficult coming to terms with their live success.
Stevens hit on the idea of recording their second album "live in the studio", to try to capture the live feel of a Mott gig. The result, Mad Shadows, was Mott's "black" album, and reflected the rather dark mood of the band. Hunter soon went off the album, saying it was "the only [Mott] album I don't have at home". Today, he reflects "I single-handedly ruined that album... you can hear the guys trying to play, and I'm all over the place... it's just me egoing out".
The highlights of the album are When My Mind's Gone, a bleak "stream of consciousness" ("I'm one of the few people who can do that" - Hunter) portrait of despair supposedly recorded when Hunter was hypnotised, and Walkin' With a Mountain which comes complete with a spontaneous segue into Jumpin' Jack Flash when Jagger and Richards happened by the studio (the Stones were recording Sticky Fingers in the next studio).
Mott then embarked on an extremely gruelling tour of the UK, which left everyone, especially Buffin, physically exhausted. Mott paid their first visit to the USA in May/June, and met with the same reaction: explosive gigs but poor album sales.
With Mad Shadows about to be released, Mott tried to record a live album at Croydon's Fairfield Halls. Difficult, given the primitive technology available in the UK at the time (the only mobile was the Pye eight-track mobile, which the Who had used to record Live at Leeds). This was actually a live recording for Free (who were headlining), but all planning went haywire when fans seized the stage - "stage diving" was common at early Mott gigs, today's bands have nothing on these guys! There were also problems faulty equipment, crossed lines, and so forth.
All that remains of that attempted live album is a ten-minute version of Little Richard's Keep a Knockin', released on Mott's third album. This is a shame, as by all accounts Mott blew Free off the stage that night (Mott frequently blew headliners away - so much so that many bands refused to work with them).
Becoming increasingly disillusioned with Stevens' production, Mott decided to produce the next album, Wildlife, themselves. Dubbed Mildlife by all concerned, it reflected a quieter, more musical, side to the band. It is the only album where Ralphs' songs predominate, reflecting his Country and Western influences in songs like Wrong Side of the River, Whiskey Women and It Must be Love. It also features one of Hunter's first self-referential songs (Angel of Eighth Avenue), a cover of Melanie's Lay Down as well as the aforementioned live version of Keep a Knockin'.
Mott toured Europe at the start of 1971, promoting Wildlife. But with sales remaining poor, a planned tour of the USA was postponed as Mott entered the studios again to record their fourth album. With Guy Stevens back in the producer's chair, and convinced they were about to be dropped by Island, they decided to go down with all guns blazing. Again, it was a "live in the studio" affair, and was recorded in about four days. To get the right atmosphere, Stevens and Andy Johns (engineer) dressed as highwaymen (complete with zorro masks and pistols) for the first two days of recording. The sessions ended with Stevens attempting to set fire to the studio, all to the dismay of Island boss Chris Blackwell.
There were various working titles for the album, AC/DC, Sticky Fingers, Brain Haulage, Bizzare Capers - eventually Buffin suggested Brain Capers. The Stones promptly snapped up the title Sticky Fingers for their album.
Mott returned to the States in the Spring, where they made their first attempt at recording a commercial single. With Shadow Morton producing, they recorded a song called Midnight Lady. When the single was released in the summer, it got plenty of airplay in the UK, and sales were so strong Mott were offered an appearence on Top of the Pops. The day after their TotP appearence, the single stopped selling - which must be some kind of record.
Mott played at a number of festivals over the summer, but another single, a cover of the Neil Young/Crazy Horse number Downtown, also flopped. Mott toured the UK extensively in the autumn promoting Brain Capers. Live tapes from the time show just how well that album captured their live sound, but sales of the album remained poor. This was a punk album years before its time - the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks sounds tame in comparison! The year ended with an appearence on BBC Radio 1's In Concert show - this would eventually surface in 1991 on the Sticky Fingers LP (bootleg!), but it would be 1996 before it was released officially on the BBC Sessions CD Original Mixed Up Kids.
1972 saw Mott at a low ebb. Their gigs were still as explosive and packed-out as ever, but their record sales remained poor. They were falling increasingly into debt, management contact was becoming distant, Island appeared to have lost interest, and they were playing whatever gigs the Island agency lined up for them. And it was at a gig in Zurich that they decided to pack it in. The gig was at a club in a converted gas holder, and as Hunter recalls "We thought 'if this is fame, then forget it'"
They returned home and farmed out to look for other jobs. Overend Watts phoned David Bowie to ask if he had a vacancy for a bassist.
David Bowie had been a fan of Mott for a long time, although it is unclear whether he had actually been to see the band in concert. In 1971, on hearing that Mott were looking for songs (around the time they recorded Brain Capers) he had sent them a demo tape of Suffragette City. Mott turned it down, but they remained in touch so when Mott split up Watts phoned Bowie to see if there were any jobs going.
Bowie was disappointed to hear that Mott had broken up, as he felt the band still had enormous potential. Instead of contributing to their demise, he instead proposed to save the band by helping them to score that elusive hit (remember this was before Bowie had "made it" himself - Ziggy Stardust had yet to be released). He also offered to try and get his management interested.
Bowie has originally offered Suffragette City back in 1971, on hearing that Mott were looking for songs (for the album which would eventually become Brain Capers). They'd turned it down then, and when Bowie offered it again they turned it down a second time because it "Wasn't good enough". He then played them a demo of All the Young Dudes, a song which encapsulated his vision of what Mott were about. Mott were stunned. "I knew immediately that was it", recalls Hunter. "I'd waited all my life to sing a song like that". They rushed down to Olympic to record it (they were still signed to Island at the time, so this was done in secret), while Mainman (Bowie's management) extricated them from Island and (eventually) signed them to CBS.
Mott were also heavily heavied to fulfill a pre-arranged "Rock and Roll Circus" tour of the UK, as Verden Allen recalls: "Chris [Blackwell] said 'I've spent £2-3000 on organising this for you. It's up to you. You don't have to do it but I shall tell you now. I'll only tell you once. If you don't do this tour, I shall personally see to it that not one of you will ever do anything again, ever ever in the music business.' So we said 'Oh well perhaps we'll do it'". Tapes exist of several shows, and show the traumatic events in Zurich already immortalised in the "Ballad of Mott the Hoople" - they would eventually record this in 1973 for the Mott album.
Mott spent the spring/summer recording their fifth album (their first for CBS), All the Young Dudes, with Bowie producing. As well as ATYD, the songs included Lou Reed's Sweet Jane, and several songs they'd demoed for Island back in January. During the recording of ATYD, Mickie Most stuck his head round the door of the studio and said "You've got a hit there". "Number one" replied Bowie. "Hmm... number three" said Most. ATYD was finally released as the first single off the album, and reached no. 3 in the UK singles chart - Mott's first hit.
A rejuvenated Mott the Hoople toured the UK in September and October, and then flew off to the USA for a five-week tour in November/December, their first as headliners. Ian kept a diary of the tour, and this would eventually be published in 1974. At their gig at the Tower Theatre, Philadelphia, Bowie introduced the band and joined them onstage for the encores. The show was broadcast on local FM radio, and good quality tapes exist of the show. The tour finished with a brilliant show at Memphis, Tn, during which Joe Walsh jammed with them on the encores.
Although their US tour had been a complete success, Bowie's tour of the USA had also been successful. Mainman were concentrating on Bowie more, and contact became problematical. Suddenly it broke off, and Mott were dropped by Mainman. Mott had never actually signed with Mainman (Ian had simply taken the contracts home and "forgotten" about them) and, it seems, Mainman never actually wanted to manage Mott - they'd only taken them on at Bowie's insistence.
Mott played a hastily-arranged club tour of the UK, before entering the studios to record their sixth album. But it was on the tour that Verden Allen left the band. He was becoming increasingly upset that his songs weren't being used and that "the image was replacing the music", and it was felt within the band that Allen's vocals couldn't stand up to the scrutiny of live or recorded performance. During a show on the tour, his on-stage insults and arguments with Hunter reached the point where he just stormed out. Mott had always been a democratic band - they wouldn't sack Allen unless they all agreed - but this time they felt compelled to accept his resignation.
Mott recorded their next album, Mott, as a four piece, although one song was co-written by Allen. They'd wanted Roy Wood to produce it, but he was unavailable, so they decided to produce it themselves. But it was during the recording of one of the tracks on the album, Violence, that Ralphs decided to leave. Although he had always shared vocal duties with Hunter, Mott was moving towards the heavier material penned by Hunter, and Ralphs felt somewhat sidelined. Mott's stage act was, at Bowie's suggestion, becoming more theatrical as well, with dressing up and acting. Mick once asked Bowie "Are you really a queer?", and Bowie replied that it was an act, to get publicity. Mick was uncomfortable with Mott doing that - he just "wanted to play the music and forget that bullshit". Added to which Ralphs had penned several songs which neither he nor Hunter could sing. He had chatted to Paul Rodgers several times about forming a band, and finally made up his mind after a row in the studio with Hunter. Ralphs agreed to stay on for a while until Mott found a replacement.
Having finished recording the album, Mott recruited a new keyboard player in preparation for the forthcoming US tour. Mick Bolton seemed the best, until they listened to Morgan Fisher. Morgan had been a member of Love Affair, although he'd missed out on their no. 1 hit Everlasting Love because he was sitting his A-levels. After the band fragmented in 1971, he ran his own band Morgan for two years before responding to Mott's advertisement in Melody Maker. When it became obvious that Fisher was a much better pianist, Bolton stayed on to play the organ. Meanwhile, Mott rushed back into the studio to record a new song, Roll Away the Stone. Mott then toured the USA in July/August before Ralphs finally left to form Bad Company.
Mott were now in a predicament. Ralphs had left, and they had the rest of their American tour to fulfill. They wanted Mick Ronson, but he had just turned solo, and wanted to see how things would turn out. They asked Ray Major (ex-Hackensack, whom they'd known since their Island days), but his new band looked like it would "make it", so he turned them down. They considered various other "name" guitarists, people like Tommy Bolin, Joe Walsh, Ronnie Montrose and Eric Clapton, but none seemed suitable. With the US dates fast approaching, Ian phoned Luther Grosvenor (ex-Spooky Tooth), whom they'd also known since their Island days.
Having made his name in Spooky Tooth, Luther Grosvenor had tried his hand at a solo career, without much success (his solo album, Under Open Skies, hadn't exactly set the album charts on fire).
Ian had met UK singer/songwriter Lyndsey DePaul on a TV show earlier in the year, and they had came up with the name Aerial Bender, inspired no doubt by someone seen vandalising a car. All they needed was someone to christen. Ian had read several interviews Luther had given ("they were the words of a guy who was stoned"), and wanted to lose the 'loser' overtones. Luther was willing to adopt a change of identity and, with a slight spelling change, Ariel Bender was born.
After a couple of days' rehearsal, Mott appeared on Top of the Pops to promote the new single, All The Way From Memphis, before jetting back to the States for the second part of their tour. Bender simply copied Ralphs' guitar lines, and fitted in easily. He was wild and appeared flash and out of control (at a time when this was not in fashion), running around all over the stage. The fans really took to him, and the tour was a complete success.
Mott returned to the UK in November. They appeared on Top of the Pops again, this time promoting Roll Away the Stone (recorded in the summer), and toured the UK (with Queen as support). The tour was a complete success, and finished with two shows at London's Hammersmith Odeon (both of which were recorded for a possible live album). The second show ended in a near riot as the Odeon management, in a desperate attempt to get everyone to finish up and go home, lowered the safety curtain when the band was still playing. Reviewing the gig in Sounds, Martin Hayman said "This will go down as one of the great gigs when the annals of rock 'n' roll are finally compiled"
Mott entered the studios in January to record their seventh album. Things didn't go according to plan. They wanted Air studios (where they'd recorded the Mott album), but it was booked, so they settled for Advision. They wanted Bill Price (who, with Alan Harris, had worked on the Mott album), but he too was busy. They wanted to call the album Bash Street Kids, after the cartoon strip in The Beano, but Thomson's wouldn't let the name go. The country was in crisis, with frequent strikes and power cuts. And they discovered that their new guitarist, who had made their '73 USA and UK tours such a success, suffered from a distinct lack of creativity in the studio.
Mott recorded the album that was to become The Hoople in Advision studios in January with Mike Dunne and Alan Harris. After a while, however, Mike just stopped turning up for work, so Alan took over and finished the album.
Mott then mixed and overdubbed in Air (with Bill Price) in February. They were horrified to find the Advision tapes didn't sound too good. They checked head alignment, test tones, the tape tension... any other band would have scrapped the Advision tapes and started again, but (under management pressure) Mott soldiered on with the Advision tapes. Today, Buffin now knows that it was the AIR tape machines which were at fault, and that there were technical problems between the AIR and Advision tape machines which would affect the sound quality.
Ian disappeared to New York half-way through the recording, for no adequately explained reason, leaving instructions to "sort Bender out". He was furious when he got back, but was pleased with Born Late 58, a Watts song they'd recorded (believed to be the only official Mott song without Ian). Ian, wanting a sound similar to Roy Wood's Wizzard, arranged the songs with lots of Sax, Cellos and keyboards. Morgan Fisher's keyboard playing is a high point of the album, with Bender's guitar turned down in the mix (and in some cases appearing as nothing more than rhythm).
After an appearence of Top of the Pops to promote the first single from the album (Golden Age of Rock n Roll), and a brief warm-up tour of three or four UK clubs, Mott flew over to the States for another ten-week headlining tour, again with Queen as support (though frequently local bands would also appear as support). The stage show was, by now, nothing short of spectacular, being based around an increasingly aggressive duel for supremacy between Hunter (leader and "old boy") and Bender (axe-hero and "new boy"). This would start at the end of Sucker, with Bender slapping Ian about the face, and end during Walkin With a Mountain, when Bender would wander over and (still playing) shove his guitar in Ian's face - at which point Ian would lose patience and wrestle Bender to the ground (while he was still playing!). The high point of the show was the new song Marionette, which featured huge puppets operated from behind the stage
Their show at Santa Monica Civic Centre on 13th April 1974 was broadcast live on FM radio, and good quality bootlegs exist of this broadcast. Several other shows were broadcast on radio, and their show on 8th May 1974 at New York City's Uris theatre, Broadway (on the second of a seven-day residency - Mott were the first rock band to play Broadway!) was recorded for a live album (Mott's management did a deal with DIR broadcasting - KBFH could record the show if Mott could use the tapes for their album).
The tour was an outstanding success, and The Hoople charted on both sides of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, however, a non-LP single, Foxy Foxy, failed to make the UK Top 30. Mott returned to the UK in June, to mix the live album. They also headlined the Buxton Festival. Like all festivals in the UK it poured with rain, but Mott put on a spectacular show. It was to be their last mainland UK live appearence.
Mott the Hoople virtually split up when Foxy Foxy failed. Everybody, especially Ian, was frustrated by Bender's lack of input. Buffin was unhappy at having Foxy Foxy was the "final" single, and wanted to put out a "proper" farewell single. He, with Watts and Fisher, persuaded CBS they had this "great song" (Sunset Summer Nights), and so went in to the studio to record it (actually, they had nothing!). They recorded the backing track and even got Howie Casey in to lay down the sax line, and everybody was enthusing what a wonderful song it was, while Ian was looking more and more worried. Just as Buffin was laying down his guide vocal, Ian muttered "I have an idea for a song", and proceeded to play the first draft of Saturday Gigs (which was called The Saturday Kids at this stage). Bender was still in the band at this time. Buffin recalls "The guitar solo on Saturday Gigs was Bender's last chance - he blew it!"
There is an awful lot of rubbish written about this period in Mott's history. Much of it has been based on (mis)quotes taken out of context and misunderstandings which have been repeated over and over in magazine articles (and, sad to say, in sleeve-notes) until they become "facts". I have taken all relevant articles and attempted to sort truth from fiction. I hope I have succeeded.
Once again Mott were faced with the prospect of finding a guitarist, and quickly (they had a European tour coming up, with a UK tour to follow). The subject of Mick Ronson came up, and Ian was very enthused. Buffin was less happy, as it meant getting involved with Mainman again, and all the attendant "high-pressure nonsense". However, all recognised Ronson's abilities - it seemed as if Ronson would be the perfect match. Ronson, who was now free of the contractual entanglements which had prevented him from joining in 1973 when Ralphs had left, accepted Ian's offer and quickly joined Mott in the studio where they were still messing around with Saturday Gigs.
Mick came from Hull in Yorkshire, and had played in a local band called The Rats, but he was working as a gardener for the local council when he was called down to London to audition for David Bowie's new band. At the time Bowie was a one-hit wonder: Space Oddity had been a successful single, but he had failed to score a follow-up.
Mick turned Bowie in a much heavier, rockier direction, and was very much responsible for helping Bowie break through into the mainstream , playing on the albums Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. After Bowie disbanded the Spiders in July 1973, Mick tried his hand at a solo career, releasing the first of two solo albums (Slaughter on 10th Avenue) and touring early in 1974 to promote it. But Mick, who was a rather shy character, didn't much like fronting his own band and so quickly accepted the offer to join Mott.
Ronson was well-respected as a musician and arranger, and his guitar skills were held in high esteem by all concerned. After all the problems with Bender, he was the man who could put the musicianship firmly back into Mott, and make it a five-man, equal-shares band again, and above all contribute. Everyone had every incentive, both musically and financially, for this version of Mott to survive, be successful and have longevity. On paper too, it looked as though the combination of Mott and Ronson had unlimited potential, and that they would soar to new heights. And at first, things worked fine within the band.
"When Mick joined, it seemed like a whole new band" says Ian Hunter. "I started writing again. But then the atmosphere turned sour...real hateful". Ronson was responsible for musical and stage arrangements, and felt that the band had been resting on its laurels for too long. Glam-rock had run its course in the UK, and although Mott were definitely at the heavier end of the glam spectrum, they had still taken the suits and platform boots trip to the hilt, both revelling in and ridiculing it.
Mick, too, was enthusiastic, and in a November 1974 TV interview on BBC2's Old Grey Whistle Test enthused how much he was enjoying playing in a band again, adding poignantly "It's tough on your own".
The new-look Mott the Hoople toured Europe in October/November, to packed houses, promoting the imminent Live album. The set included Saturday Gigs and a new number, Lounge Lizard (which was to have been the B-side to Saturday Gigs, but was dropped at the last minute). They also played a song from Ronson's soon-to-be-released second solo album Play Don't Worry: Angel No. 9. The tour was a complete success. In Scandinavia especially they were mobbed by screaming fans in scenes reminiscent of Beatlemania - even today these gigs are widely regarded as the best shows ever seen there.
During a one-week break in the schedule (Mott were due to tour the UK in November/December), Ian flew to the States to sign the papers on his new house. While he was over there, he collapsed and was diagnosed as suffering from mental exhaustion. The band sent Ronson over to check on his progress, while the UK dates were hastily rescheduled.
Hunter recovered, but felt he couldn't go on with Mott. He started talking with Ronson about the possibility of doing a solo album. A brief press release stated that he and Ronson had left the band. The others were shocked, but realised that such a split was inevitable. The UK tour was cancelled, and Mott the Hoople was history.
In the years since, many retrospectives (including some LP sleeve notes) have commented that during the recording of Saturday Gigs the band sat in the studio control room wondering why Ian was singing "goodbye" at the end. No mystery... the plan always was to put the band "on hold" for a while. Hunter was going to do a solo album, Fisher was going to do session work, Watts and Buffin were going into production. The single was meant as a letter to fans saying "Goodbye, for a while, but we'll be back".
Again, stories circulate about how the band resented Ronson's presence and were jealous of all the attention he was getting. Again, untrue. As I have said, they wanted him to be in the band, to put the musicianship firmly back into Mott, and to contribute - something they'd badly missed with Bender. On their Top of the Pops appearence (promoting Saturday Gigs), they'd asked for the cameras to concentrate more on the rest of the band, not just on Ronson. No jealousy - Mott were a band, not just a singer and guitarist. They'd done this before when Ralphs was still in the band, no one commented on any alleged jealousy then. Other bands suffered from this at ToTP as well, not just Mott.
So, just why did Ian Hunter leave? Hunter refused to discuss the subject for some time after. Just a few months previously (during the hugely successful US tour), Hunter had said "I'm an ace front man because I've got an ace band behind me. I'll never leave... I'd be a mug on my own". Mott had ridden the glam-rock trip to the hilt, both revelling in it and ridiculing it. But glam had run its course, and Ronson realised the band had to change if they were to progress to new heights. As I have said, Mott were a democratic band - they wouldn't do something unless they all agreed - and it seems some members of Mott, perhaps having grown comfortable with Mott's success, were reluctant to risk such a change.
In later years, Ian was to say that Mick Ralphs' departure was the turning-point. "It wasn't losing a limb... it was like losing half the trunk. That was the end for me, looking back" he said. Indeed, in 1974 he said "I didn't want Mick [Ralphs] to leave... I offered him half my royalties on a total song-writing partnership and I was writing ten times what he was, but he wasn't interested." Ian has also said that he needs someone who'll argue with him in the studio, to act as a balancing force. "That's why I got Mick [Ronson] in, 'cos I knew he'd argue with me"
Hunter hated bearing all the responsibility for Mott's success, and was thankful that Ronson was shouldering some of the load. He also felt, perhaps unfairly, that the others weren't pulling their weight. Ronson agreed that Mott needed to change, and so this effectively meant that Mott was dividing into two camps. Various other events on the European tour reinforced this view. Mick Ronson was still signed to RCA at the time, and they provided a limo for him - in addition to the one CBS provided for the rest of the band. Things weren't helped either by Mott's management, who also courted Ian, and regarded the rest of the band as entirely disposable. So the "dream ticket" turned rapidly into a nightmare, and as the atmosphere soured, Hunter realised he had had enough.
At first changing their name to The Hooples, and then settling on MOTT (note the capitalisation, as Mott the Hoople was often abbreviated to 'Mott'), the rest of the band wasted no time finding a replacement guitarist. Ray Major's solo career hadn't taken off, and he quickly accepted Mott's invitation to join them. Finding a vocalist, however, proved more difficult. They listened to some 250 tapes and auditioned dozens of hopefuls, none of whom were suitable. "At one point I considered doing all the vocals myself" said Watts.
Morgan started writing songs with Blue, and they put a couple of demos together. CBS were encouraging, and told them to carry on. Then one day, Blue received an offer from the Bee Gees. It was worth much more than Mott were paying him, so he left. He joined them at the right time as well (moneywise), as they became the major disco band of the mid- to late-70's.
Nigel Benjamin was a virtually unknown vocalist in a band called Royce. Mick Ralphs had seen them at the Marquee and suggested to the others to give Nigel a call. His bass player went along for support and Nigel took a couple of weeks to decide to join.
They entered the studios almost immediately to record their debut album Drive On. They then toured the UK, mostly to full houses, but soon went to the USA, where they spent six months supporting the likes of Kiss and Aerosmith. They returned to the UK to record their second album, Shouting and Pointing. With all the band members contributing to the song-writing, this was a stronger album than its predecessor.
After a very short UK tour, they returned to the USA, where they toured until the autumn, when they returned for a full tour of the UK (as headliners). The press coverage was generally very favourable, but Nigel was realising that MOTT weren't the band for him, and so he quit at the end of the tour.
Nigel realised within six months of joining what an awful situation he was in - he was allowed little input songwriting-wise, with only "Apologies" and "No Such Thing As Rock and Roll" being recorded.
By now Buffin, Watts and co. were absolutely penniless. They also realised they couldn't carry on as Mott any more. A friend of theirs, Steve Hyams, phoned them up and asked them to back him on some demos he was recording. In a move possibly born out of desparation to survive in an increasingly hostile punk-rock world, rumours were leaked to the press about a "Mk 2 Mott the Hoople". After a week or so everybody came to their senses, and called time on the whole idea ("the darkest, most shameful episode in Mott's history" is how Buffin describes it today). These demos would eventually surface on CD in 1993 - credited to Mott the Hoople (featuring Steve Hyams) (despite Buffin and Overend refusing him permission to use the Mott The Hoople name).
Then one day Morgan asked why they hadn't asked John Fiddler to play with them. John had enjoyed success with progressive rock band Medicine Head, but they had finally disbanded early in 1977 (Morgan had helped out on their final UK tour). Everyone agreed, and John was delighted when Morgan asked him to join. Changing their name to British Lions, they were soon signed to Vertigo by Colin Johnson (Status Quo's manager) - his first since signing the Quo themselves seven years previously!
After recording their debut album British Lions, they toured the UK extensively, first supporting Status Quo on the UK leg of their Rockin' All Over the World tour, and then in their own right as headliners. At their Friars, Aylesbury gig on 23rd December 1977 Ian Hunter joined them on stage for the encores, a really special moment I'm sure none of us who were present will ever forget.
British Lions soon left for the USA and toured extensively, returning in the autumn of 1978 to begin recording of their second album. There were slight differences in the band over the direction they should take - Overend, for example, didn't want to tour the UK again like they had done, and felt they should concentrate on the USA more. They also didn't really have the material together for an album, but they eventually recorded an album that was aimed specifically at the American market. It came as a tremendous shock to everyone, therefore, when their American label, RSO, refused to release it, and when Vertigo in the UK followed suit, funds dried up and they disbanded. Eventually, Cherry Red records in the UK bought the rights to the album and released Trouble With Women in 1980.
Fans always ask what chance there is of a reunion. On several occasions in 1975 and 1976, Ian stated emphatically that he was not rejoining Mott.
In 1981, after Ian's appearence at Milton Keynes Bowl (supporting Thin Lizzy), he met up with Buffin, Overend, Morgan and Mick Ralphs and discussed the possibility of a reunion. Buffin recalls that they nearly rushed over to Wessex studios to play, until a realisation of the problems involved put paid to the idea. They also nearly reformed for the B.A.Robertson TV show, but as Buffin recalls ("... the show turned out to be so piss-poor, and their plans for us so small, that I pulled us out").
In 1991, after some Scandinavian shows, Ian told fans backstage that Mott were reforming. They had even signed to a major record label, but nothing ever came of it, so again it seems like the plans fell through.
Buffin has said that the only line-up that would work would be the Hunter-Ralphs-Watts-Griffin-Fisher one, and for many years it seems that Mick Ralphs simply isn't interested. Remember that Bad Company have been superstars for twenty years or so, and that Ralphs has enjoyed much success with them. He regards Mott as just the band he was in before he made it big.
Ian has also said recently that he isn't interested, although the money is serious and keeps going up. He also adds, teasingly, that you should "never say 'never'..."
More tantalising, reformation rumours surfaced again in December 1997. It seems plans were laid to go into the studio to record a version of Like A Rolling Stone for the forthcoming Mott boxed set. And rumours started circulating about a possible handful of dates. Ian, Mick Ralphs, Buffin and Phally were all said to be interested. This time, however, it seems Overend was not interested. Oh well...
So it would seem that Mott are unlikely to reform. Buffin has said that any reformation would have to be done properly, with an album, a tour, with major financing from a record company (ie no half measures). He adds, though, "It would be a shame to burst the bubble of fond remembrance with contemporary mediocrity." Today, Buffin can see little point in reforming Mott the Hoople. "Be honest," he says, "What's the point of 'All The Old Dudes'?"
I wrote the above in 1995/6. A lot has happened since then, most significantly the 2009 and 2013 reunions.
Rumours first started to circulate in the latter half of 2008. In a radio interview Verden Allen hinted that the 40th anniversary of Mott's formation would be accompanied by some reunion concerts. In early 2009 a well-known promoter, squashing talk of a Led Zeppelin tour, added "...another band is on the point of doing it, which if you were of a certain age in the 70's will make you very happy". Some of us took that to mean Mott The Hoople (who else could it be?).
Finally two dates were announced at the Hammersmith Apollo for early October 2009. When they sold out within 24hrs another date was added. That sold out equally quickly. Two more dates were eventually added, making for a five-night run and these too also sold out.
The gigs were very well received, although only the first was professionally recorded. Hindsight tells us that the third night was the best of the run.
Late 2010 saw the premiere of the long-awaited official documentary film (released commercially in 2011). When asked if there would be any further Mott The Hoople activity, Ian Hunter looked at Mick Ralphs and said "Yeah... why not?"
November 2013 saw Mott The Hoople reunite again, this time for a series of gigs across the UK, taking in Birmingham, Glasgow, Newcastle (at the legendary City Hall), Manchester and finally London (at the cavernous O2 Arena). The Manchester gig was recorded and filmed and was released in mid-2014 as Live 2013.
At all of these gigs (2009 and 2013) drumming duties were undertaken by Martin Chambers (of The Pretenders) due to Dale Griffin's ill health (although Dale did manage to appear for the encores in 2009).
January 2016 brought the sad news the drummer Dale Griffin had passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer's. This was just a week after we lost David Bowie. Then in early November 2016 came the news that guitarist Mick Ralphs had suffered a "medium-level" stroke. Although he is responding well to treatment it would seem his guitar-playing days are over. And in January 2017 came the sad news that bassist Overend Watts had lost his battle with throat cancer.
We all thought that was that. It was over, finished, done. It was a shame Morgan Fisher and Ariel Bender weren't included in 2009 and 2013, but with both Buff and Overend now gone and Ralpher ill they couldn't possibly do it again, could they? And yet always at the back of my mind was the thought that they could do just that...
Fans were stunned when it was announced (in February 2018) that Mott would be reforming again, this time for some summer European festivals, and with Morgan and Bender. It seems this time the band will be augmented by members of the Rant Band (Ian's regular touring band). Time will tell whether any indoor gigs will be added for the Autumn, but it seems the last ballad of Mott The Hoople has yet to be sung.
At the end of the day, it's business. If it gives Morgan Fisher and Ariel Bender (who were as much a part of the band as Ralpher and Phally) a decent pay-off/pension, who am I to argue? At times it may feel like the legacy of the band is being tarnished slightly - it just means the bar has been set that bit higher each time. Every other band is doing it, and Mott are no different in that regard. At the end of the day, us fans don't own the band - they do, and we will just have to accept that. And like The Who, there's no need to put out any new product. They can put on a two-hour show without ever feeling 'stale'. Not bad for a band whose last 'new' LP was some 44 years ago...
(Thanks to Justin Purington for supplying some updates to this section!)
After enjoying rude health for many years, in September 2019 Ian Hunter suffered a bad attack of tinnitus. He says he has had tinnitus for years but this time it was bad and relentless. For a while he couldn't even go outdoors (it affected his balance) and it forced the cancellation of Mott's October/November USA tour. He is dealing with it and will resume touring as soon as the doctors allow (and he knows not to believe any of the quack cures found on the internet). In his Horse's Mouth column (February 2020) Ian says "Let me make myself clear here. I've no intention of stopping. I just have to find a way around this – and it's difficult. Working on it."
Dale Griffin worked for BBC Radio 1 for many years, producing some 2000+ sessions for DJ John Peel. Sadly, he passed away in January 2016 after a long battle with Alzheimer's.
Overend Watts lived in Hereford, where he ran a successful second-hand shop for many years. He sold the business in 2003, when he made a hobby out of undertaking long-distance walks. His first such walk is documented in The Man Who Hated Walking, which is an excellent read. Sadly, he passed away in January 2017 after suffering from throat cancer for several years.
Verden Allen fronted a band called Thunderbuck Ram, and they released a CD Long Time No See in 1994. He has since released several more solo albums, and still occasionally involved in the local (Monmouth/Hereford) music industry. In December 2019 he suffered a heart attack, but has since had by-pass surgery and is recovering well at home.
Mick Ralphs has enjoyed tremendous success with Bad Company. Sadly, he suffered a "medium-level" stroke in November 2016 and sadly it would seem his guitar-playing days are over.
Luther Grosvenor ran a decorating business for many years. After contributing to the Peter Green tribute album, his musical career has been resurrected and revitalised, and in August 1996 released a new solo album Floodgates. For many years he played occasional gigs with his Ariel Bender Band but has now announced his retirement from live work (Mott reunion gig excepted.)
Morgan Fisher has been living and working in Japan for many years. He runs his own studios, producing commercials and TV/film soundtracks. He has also worked with Japanese bands Heat Wave and The Boom (live and studio work).
John Fiddler and Ray Major worked the London club circuit for many years. I understand Ray has been quite ill recently, and wish him all the best. John emigrated to the USA in the early 90's and owned a blues bar in Arizona. He has since returned to the UK. He has just (summer 2017) undergone heart surgery, and we wish him all the best.
After leaving Mott Nigel Benjamin formed The English Assassin (with Kinks and future Ian Hunter keyboardist Ian Gibbons) and in 1979 also fronted LA-based London (spawning-ground for the likes of WASP's Blackie Lawless and Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx). He then formed a couple of short-lived LA bands but subsequently quit the music business. He passed away in August 2019.
And Guy Stevens, the man who started it all, dropped out of sight when Mott left Island. He returned in 1980, producing the highly-acclaimed album London Calling by The Clash. Sadly, he died shortly afterwards from a heart attack following years of drug abuse.