Mott The Hoople
The great Overend Watts staggers through the dry ice with his lime green winkle pickers skidding across the stage and that cool noose around his neck- every inch the eccentric rock n roll star. He grabs the mic after the finale to this stunning Mott gig and shouts ‘ I’m not going anywhere’ he cackles to a cheering crowd, adding, ‘we’re not going anywhere I’m staying here’ and then adds with a mysterious glimmer in his eye, ‘ and we will be seeing you all soon…’
Not only is it classic unsolicited moment of lunacy from the ever endearing Watts but also a hint that this Mott the Hoople mini tour- their first for 4 years may not hopefully be their last and leaves the right kind of question marks over whether this band- one of the greatest the UK has ever produced- will be doing a triumphant round of the festivals this summer.
We can only pray.
Surely Glastonbury must be in the bag. It would be a triumphant romp on the main stage on the Saturday evening. That should be a shoe in for this much loved and massively influential band. A band that helped create the template for punk and then for Britpop and many other classic UK band scenes with their swaggering songs and gonzoid charisma allied to a genuine talent for writing great songs that transcend the decades and are part of the lexicon of anyone who genuinely loves rock n roll.
Tonight’s set was, of course; a triumph- a rip roaring waltz through the band’s back pages, from their stomping Guy Stevens lunacy mentored early days to their glammed up, whizzkid, barrelhouse piano pumped hit machine era. These are songs that were signposts to growing up for my generation from a band that were big but should have been the biggest and it’s this idea that the Hereford/Shrewsbury outsiders got the chance to get their hands on the trophy and then lost their grip that makes Mott to endearing.
They were a small town Dylan jamming with the Stones, who wrote far better songs than their own heroes could manage in that decade. They were the everyman running down the corridors of rock n roll power that never got tainted by the sniff of the cordite of success, but they were also proper rock n roll stars from Ian Hunter’s shades embellished charisma to Overend’s silver spray paint hair and platform boots inventing the glam look on his own. They came back to report on rock n roll for the rest of the mad eyed dreamers and mini droogs in the key glam era and their songs are laced with emotion and drama that never fades.
When people ask what the seventies really sounded like before punk, I always think of dear old Mott- of course Bowie was the perceived king and Bolan released some of my favourite all time records, but Mott really caught the confusion and complication of the time and perhaps had the best songs of them all. They grabbed the disillusionment and the thrill of the much maligned and misunderstood decade perfectly. This was a time that was the hangover from the sixties with the three day week, the suppressed violence and anger of a disappointed country but also had the camaraderie and the community and the glimmers of beauty and romance that were still there. This was a time when pop music really mattered; Top Of The Pops had 17 million viewers and bands like Mott were central to British culture. They were the small town heroes who never lost touch with their roots. They reached for the stars, and all the anger and the pain, and even the touch of camp inflections in Hunter’s voice are a perfect reflection of an underrated musical time that creatively ranks to me, as one of the key periods in British rock n roll.
Tonight the band are on fire, and the Mott set has been built into a show- they always loved those theatrics! It starts off with dry ice and the band enter as mad shadows before blasting into their set without pausing for breath for the stomping intro hat trick of Rock N Roll Queen, One of the Boys, and Moon Upstairs. Martin Chambers is still doing the drum duties- filling in for Dale Griffen for his old Hereford muckers (he is as close to Mott family as you can get, with his own pre Pretenders career crisscrossing with the band) but the rest of the classic line up is in place with the exquisite guitar playing of Mick Ralphs combining with the ageless Verdan Allen’s Hammond swirls and Watt’s rumbling bass to give the backdrop to Ian Hunter’s poetic tales of rock n roll and life that are some of the greatest lyrics ever written.
These are lyrics that are full of sentimentality and romance, dark humour and brilliant imagery. He was always one of the great poets of R n R and these words are tattooed into my brain telling a truth in a decade of lies. His great bruised voice in place as he hammers the chords out on the classic Maltese Cross guitar. He croaks the lyrics in that great voice that is stained by the mighty long way down rock n roll voice and oozes charisma from behind his shades. When Hunter is on mic you know that everything is perfect in Mott world.
Age, somehow, doesn’t’ wither rock n roll and it certainly doesn’t wither the band who look well with Ian Hunter looking barely a day older than in 1974 when he quit the band. Now 74, Hunter is an inspiration as he rocks the stage with his ever present shades and his still long curly hair.
Time and time again these bands like Mott keep coming back and make it all look so damn easy- they must be nearly averaging about 70 years old but Mott defy everything tonight with a gig that underlines everything that is wonderful about rock roll.
This is a heart-warming gig in a sold out Apollo that has moments of pure swagger, heartbreak introspection, 96 decibel bludgeon raw power and the seering sensitivity of songs that were written 40 years ago, but sound more alive and perfect than they did when they were of the moment.
The last time Mott played in Manchester was on November 26th 1973 but the years melt away with tonight’s set which was a perfect representation of the band’s career- mixing their early days as a powerful live band who just couldn’t get the break to the triumphant hits period of songs like the classic All The Way From Memphis, which is only slightly marred by Mic problems which make it tricky to hear some of Ian’s vocals but the powerful version of the song still justifies it as one of my favourite all time singles,
As Hunter intones, ‘you look like a star but you’re still on the dole’ from the jagged verse section of Memphis you are smiling as you realise that this is the perfect distillation of all the mad eyed dreams of British rock n roll and summons up it’s quicksilver beauty to all the crazed dreamers in the gutters of small town England. Mott took the rainy day of seventies UK and made it seem magical. They had one foot in the stars and one on the dole, and it’s this understanding of magic of real life they makes Mott the kings.
The set is unrelenting- the biblical hit, Roll Away The Stone, with its’ perfect distillation of fifties rock n roll updated for the then seventies but sounding brilliantly perfect now in the 21st century is anthemic, Honaloochie Boogie still has that swagger and hint of an undertow of sadness, whilst non singles like Violence still detail the frustration and barely repressed anger of the non ruling class world that Ian Hunter grew up with. The song is still, arguably, one of the first punk rock songs as it sprawls out its clenched fist frustration with its raw power and great lyrics.
They also deliver a great version of the touching and atmospheric Waterlow, from the earlier Wildlife album- a great example of the schizoid Mott – a band who could play the most powerful of rockers and the most touching of laments back to back, and it’s this variation in style that makes them such a fantastic band. They have the ability to place the romance and beauty of Waterlow right next to the riot strewn power of Violence which comes complete with Overend Watts picking out the bass line of a one string Flying V bass that comes complete with a pirate sword taped on the end! Then there is the swirling keyboard roll of the distorted Hammond stomp of Verden Allen’s Soft Ground or their zig zagging take on the Kinks klassic You Really Got Me that makes them one of the great bands.
Overend then takes the guitar and the mic for his Born Late 58- one of those Mott songs that could have been a great A side – it was a b side that should have been an A side- a grinding and great rocker that rides a cheeky guitar groove and was recorded whilst Hunter was away from the roost doing a press tour of America. He returned home and stated he loved the song and bashed his own piano part on it, giving it his own seal of approval.
One Of The Boys is still the powerful yob anthem that it ever was- a cry for the then long haired supayob individuality and escape from the imposed drudgery of real life and one of the great resounding anthems of high street independence before they grey monotone of real life clamped down.
The encores, of course, are all anthems, All The Young Dudes brings the house down with backing vocals provided by Joe Elliot from Def Leppard and Hunter’s own daughter Tracie as well as the full house joining in on one of the GREAT choruses. It’s a climactic version and the perfect proof of how to make someone else’s song totally your own with Mick Ralph’s classic intro guitar lick and Hunter’s era defining vocal. Mott always owned this song- a song that Noel Gallagher nabbed for three Oasis hits- and a song that remains the anthem of the glam generation. It’s a song that lifted the curtain on that era and still sounds as potent and powerful to this day.
After a brisk run through of Roll Away The Stone the band end the set with Saturday Gigs, which is one of the great self mythologising songs with its lyrics telling the band’s story. The song was written as an epitaph to their curious carrier and with its’ great ‘Goodbye’ end section it has the crowd singing along as the band fade away with Watts leaning over the audience swinging his bass over their heads and Ian Hunter imperious. It’s a reminder of the power of the seventies terraces and singalong sections with its poignant and powerful message amplified by thousands of gruff voices and also another hint that this may be the end (they also throw in a snippet of the Stones The Last Time to keep us guessing- for me if this was purely a nostalgia exercise then this would be enough but this band is on fire and the powerful emotions they unleash have to be savoured and not tidied away neatly).
It’s hard to think of another band like Mott The Hoople. They broke all the rules and paved the way for so many others, but they are also one of the great British rock n roll bands and fully deserve these laps of glory. The love from the audience is overwhelming genuine- post gigs it’s all a bit emotional- hipster bands get the press but people’s bands get the love- that’s the first law of rock n roll.
This is a band that really meant something, and these are the songs never died and tonight’s performance of them is still full of the fire and brimstone of their seventies pomp.
For fuck’s sake keep playing into the sun Mott….