The book takes in the highs and lows, the rocks and the rolls and looks at why Mott the Hoople remained such a special memory for Phil who also worked on tours with David Bowie and Queen.
Here, Phil John gives us an introduction to his diary and gives a glimpse of life as a rock ‘n’ roll roadie.
For fuck’s sake Rich, where’d we leave the truck!
It’s dark and I’m in the car park outside the loading bay and there’s no sign of the big yellow chevy 5 tonner with its distinctive Ryder truck hire red and yellow livery. Damn, damn and damn again, I curse under my breath, this can’t be happening to us. Anxiety grows inside me. I scan the empty parking area. Have those bastards from the lighting crew moved the bloody truck to scare the living s**t out of us? It’s the sort of dumb trick those jokers would pull – and it’s working big time.
Turning the corner, it’s a wasteland. No cars. No red and yellow. No nothing. An awful feeling of dread surges through me. Some bastard has nicked the truck and we’re knee deep in the brown stuff. We’ve got a sold out gig with five thousand freaks in party mood. They’re going to lynch us!
With a shudder my eyes open. I’m lying in bed. Sweating, breathing hard. Another bloody anxiety dream. It doesn’t happen that often, maybe only half a dozen times a year. Mind you, it’s not always nightmares. As often as not, we’re celebrating in style. Bowling down an eight lane highway in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. A red hot sun shining high in the sky. Richie Anderson, my best friend and fellow road manager, at the wheel. Feet propped up on the dash. Cruise control set to 75. Does it get any better? A local rock station jock wildly announces that MOTT THE HOOPLE from England are in town tonight. We turn to look at each other. Grins wider than the Grand Canyon feeling ten feet tall. We’re in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA with the one and only MOTT THE HOOPLE, described by top music journalist Pete Frame as a fabulous band, on a good night the BEST band in the WORLD.
Waking from these dreams, good or bad, always leaves me with an inevitable feeling of loss (post traumatic stress disorder, or whatever you want to call it, is not the exclusive preserve of the military. It can happen to us all). Almost as intense as a bereavement, knowing you’ll never, ever recapture those precious moments of your youth when the sun always shone and anything and everything was possible. The world literally was your oyster if you were with the right band at the right time in the right place working with the right people.
From time to time in the four decades since Mott the Hoople disintegrated on a European tour way back in 1974 and my career as a road manager came to an end three years later, Richie and I have kept in touch. But it’s only recently, with the renewed interest in the band (reunion gigs in 2009 and 2013 and a brilliant documentary from Start Productions broadcast on the Beeb) that I’ve discussed the past with him in any great detail and found much to our mutual surprise that he regular experiences the same dreams – and nightmares – about road crewing for Mott.
So why after almost half a century was Mott so special to us? After all, during our time on the road we’d worked with numerous other bands and stars, including Bowie at the height of his Ziggy Stardust fame and Queen after Bohemian Rhapsody elevated them to megastar status and untold riches.
Why do we dream about working with Mott and not David or Freddie, Brian, Roger and John? What’s so special about Mott The bloody Hoople?
Rich and I often speculate late into the night about this over a few pints of Tom Oliver’s excellent cider, like Mott one of Hereford’s finest exports. We’re unanimous. A majestic combination of the music and the swagger of the band. Richie says it’s 60% music, 40% appearance. Spot on as usual Richie.
I still remember the first time we saw them at Chelsea College and being literally blown away by their performance. The sheer energy and power they generated was mind blowing. The opening riff to Darkness Darkness. The stage blacked out except for a single spotlight picking out Ralpher on guitar, in his shadow Pete Watts with the maracas, building ever so slowly towards the inevitable full blown Mott Wall of Sound explosion!
Looking back, I believe both Rich and I spent our pre-Mott years looking for direction and a purpose. We knew from the late sixties onwards that a generational change was coming and we wanted to be a part of it. In particular, we wanted to be involved in the rock music that would become its soundtrack. Only problem was we couldn’t sing. We couldn’t play instruments. And we couldn’t pen tunes. But we could do the next best thing. We could drive long hours. We could carry heavy loads. We could create the stage and an environment for rock ‘n’ roll royalty.
We’d freelanced for loads of bands. But Mott The Hoople was the first group that we felt we wanted to commit to beyond one night stands with the likes of Aardvark, Groundhogs, Nashville Teens, Sabbath, The Deviants and Uriah Heep. Why? Because Mott The bloody Hoople were different. As I said earlier, the band had an air of confidence, a swagger about them, as if they knew they were going somewhere. You felt good to be a part of it. It wasn’t like working for the man. We actually felt as if we were an essential part of the group itself. We created the canvas and they made the noise – and boy, what a noise they could make.
We were all in it together. It’s hard to believe now but once, in my youth, I was a bit of poseur and could readily identify with their image. Many hours were dedicated to searching out flamboyant shirts and tops for Mick Ralphs and Pete Watts, designing and commissioning outrageous boots and shoes and the obligatory tight leather trousers. Everything was new for the band and the crew and we became a tightly knit group.
Together we crossed the mighty oceans, as Ian sang so poignantly on the Ballad of Mott (March 26, 1972, Zurich). Toured Europe, sampling the delights of foreign food, fancy hotels and air travel. In the late sixties and early seventies the farthest most of my friends had travelled was a day trip to Calais, if they were lucky. Air travel was an indulgence only available to the rich. For us it became the norm as the USA welcomed the British rock invasion with open arms.
America was the holy grail for every rock band at that time. Still is I would imagine. Success in the USA could catapult a group in to the stratosphere. And that success, for a brief moment in time in the early seventies, belonged to Mott. We were there. We were part of it. Lived and loved every single second (well most of them, as you’ll see when you read the diary later).
Sadly, really sadly, just as they were on the verge of greatness the band imploded. A prestigious headlining gig at Madison Square Gardens was in the pipeline, a natural progression after our legendary Broadway residency at the Uris. It was not to be. With a simple click of your fingers Mott the bloody Hoople was no more. No more verses to be added to the Ballad of Mott. No more Saturday gigs for the Saturday kids.
Manfully, we soldiered on. UK and USA tours with the Hunter Ronson band. Ditto the truncated Mott, driving on with Nigel Benjamin at the helm. We freelanced for other bands too until Queen invited us to their court.
Although we had some good times with Queen, my golden age of rock’n’roll was over and and after a year I came off the road for good seeking pastures new. Richie says his three years with Queen was never able to match up to the sheer magic that was synonymous with Mott. Yes, Queen were far better at running a rock group as a business but it just wasn’t the same.
In the brilliant Ballad of Mott The Hoople movie (produced and directed by Chris Hall and Mike Kerry), drummer Buffin explains how he only ever wanted to be in one band and that was the strange, weird and wonderful Mott The Hoople, a band that came out of nowhere except in Guy Stevens’ head. It was the same for the road crew. Just as it was the same for the fans the group touched. And it’s stayed with us for four decades and beyond as the original band minus Buffin embark on a UK tour to follow on from the critically acclaimed 2009 London concerts.
After my five years with Mott, I was left with a wealth of great memories that no one, including the HMRC, could ever take from me, a handful of photographs and a tatty notebook, my diary of that fateful, final European tour when Mick Ronson replaced Luther Grosvenor (aka Ariel Bender), who’d left the group to form Widowmaker.
I am still not sure why I wrote the diary? Possibly to ease the boredom of hanging around the dressing room waiting for the support bands to finish so we could prepare Mott for action. Possibly because I was getting really serious about Chris. To be honest, I’d long since forgotten all about it. Until I came across it whilst rummaging through a few old old boxes stored in the loft. I spent an hour reading it, reminiscing with a tear or two in my eyes as I scanned the hastily scrawled red handwritten script.
When my partner Chris and I moved to Hastings, I met up with Mick Bolton, one of Mott’s former keyboard players, and showed it to him. By chance he mentioned it to Helen Tucker, who edits the online magazine Stage & Screen Insiders. She asked me to send her a copy. To my surprise, they published it and quite a few people read it and enjoyed it.
So with the support of a few friends, we’ve decided to put it into print to co-incide Mott the Hoople’s 2013 gigs. Richie and I are also doing a few live shows to add to the celebrations. This book (You Rocked, We Rolled) is our personal tribute to Mott the bloody Hoople. If it sells great, if it doesn’t, what the hell, there’s going to be a lot of people getting a copy for Christmas.
So, friends, what are you getting for your money – or finding with glee under the Christmas tree?
First and foremost, there’s the unedited account of Mott The Hoople’s final European tour, written for some strange reason with a variety of red pens. Richie and I have added footnotes within the text to give you greater context about those mad years riding shotgun around Europe. There aren’t any ‘kiss & tell’ or shock, horror, drug and dwarf-throwing revelations. Leave that to The Who and Zeppelin. Mott was a much more grounded type of band. They liked a beer, a few tokes on a joint and the company of the ladies. The nearest we got to drugs was weed, booze and speed in the form of ‘white crosses’, an appetite inhibiter we scored from truckers. They used them all the time. Besides, we’d never have kept the show on the road if we’d got wasted every night. As you’ll see when you read the diary. Or catch us at one of our shows.
There are plenty of great anecdotes for us to share with you.
Like coping with Pete’s thigh high boots. You’ve seen the pictures. Probably seen him on stage if you’re a more mature reader. It took two of us to pull the monstrosities on. Getting him on stage was a major military-style operation! You can understand why we were overjoyed when Pete finally stepped down from them platforms.
Like our infamous puppets on Broadway. Great in theory: they were supposed to blow confetti out of their hats but ended up driving us nuts. Sadly the puppets were poorly designed, untested and unstable. They still rankle with us, even now.
Like the time we played Carnegie Hall and the band appeared on stage courtesy of a lift 30 feet below. Except nobody thought to tell us about it – until they started demanding extended guitar leads with menaces.
Talking about menaces, one of our most endearing road memories is watching a group of East German guards at the height of the Cold War doing ‘pop’ group impressions using AK47s as guitars. Music unites us all. East and west. North and south.
Mott The Hoople’s lead singer Ian Hunter has generously penned his thoughts on why the road might have appealed to the road crew. He doesn’t know why and suggests reading the diary to find out! And there’s some great images too from our time in the road to accompany the words. We’re grateful to all the photographers who have kindly allowed us to use their images.
If you enjoy reading it as much as Richie and I did revisiting our time as the Mott Road Crew, then it’s all been worthwhile. Now for fuck’s sake Rich, where’d we leave the truck. And we’d better make sure the cabins on the ferry are down in the bowels of the ship where there’s far more rock and a lot less roll.
Mott Road Crew
The Mott Road Crew will be doing live chat along with screenings of the Ballad of Mott the Hoople film at:
- Courtyard, Hereford on 10 November
- Electric Cinema, Birmingham on 11 November
- Cineworld at the O2 London, on 18 November.
The book and souvenir t-shirt will be available to buy at the shows, and available online afterwards.