11:00 AM GMT 29/10/2012
OCTOBER'S MOTT THE HOOPLE shows were the most rapturously received reunion gigs in recent memory. Grown men wept in the aisles of the Hammersmith Apollo as the grizzled team - originals Ian Hunter, Mick Ralphs, Pete "Overend" Watts, Verden "Phally" Allen and Dale "Buffin" Griffin augmented by auxiliary drummer Martin Chambers - delivered the signature Mott cocktail of wide-eyed rocking, phlegmatic cool and sartorial eccentricity. The boogaloo dudes carried the news and, as MOJO's Kris Needs observed, they let no-one down.
For Hunter it was the culmination, he says, of "a year of bullshit". There are warm words for each of his Mott confreres, but he's also irked by the Byzantine politics of the reunion, recently revisited as news leaked of a Mott reprise at July's High Voltage festival, only for fans' hopes to be quickly dashed. Meanwhile, the singer keeps busy, with solo shows at Edinburgh Picture House on May 1 and London's Barbican on May 2, affording him the opportunity to play music from his overlooked 2009 album, Man Overboard.
The legendary singer and songwriter, now 70, spared time for MOJO's Danny Eccleston to cover all of this, and more...
MOJO: You're touring with your solo band in Britain in May. An opportunity to revive the Man Overboard album you had out last year?
Yeah. It did get a bit lost in the whole Mott reunion thing, so I have to make up for it a little bit now. It's good live. I tried it out in New York at a couple of gigs before the Mott thing started and it was going down really well. We don't wanna lose that record.
The record is classic Hunter in terms of the empathy it has for ordinary people.
The way the world's going, working people are getting squeezed out. I knew a lot of people like that; before I got in bands I worked in factories. I had a bit of luck; a lot of people don't. Man Overboard was based on a certain person who is no longer with us. The guy's got ambition but doesn't know what to do with himself so he winds up a mess...
There but for the grace of God...?
That was me for years, but for some reason there was a gene in me that pushed me somewhere different. There was always this little thought in the back of my mind that said, 'This is OK for now... but you've got to do something, because that one pound postal order is gonna be worth nothing when you're 70...'
You were an apprentice at Rolls-Royce weren't you?
I started off in Sentinel in Shrewsbury, building diesel engines. That turned into Rolls-Royce. Then I was at British Timken in Northampton which made ball-bearings, very good ones too. I'd do a bit of everything - milling, turning - but I had to give up on the apprenticeship. I was in and out of Germany with bands, so I had to go semi-skilled. I remember working in a place called Brown Brothers in Northampton and me and the personnel officer got quite friendly because I was in his office about four times getting me old job back. When I actually worked, there were never any complaints. If you work hard the day goes quicker.
My dad was a fitter.
They make good money! Skilled man, see. I remember working next to a guy, and the police came and took him at 8 o'clock in the morning. He'd been flashing in the park on the way to work. At that time in the morning, that's pretty dedicated. I was on the next machine - my machine was identical to his - thinking, 'Is this guy the same as me? Am I the same as him? Is this what's in store?' But, you know, it was pretty limited, what you could do academically. I didn't grow up in a situation where you found out what you could do. I mean, to us further education meant more hard work, and I didn't like school anyway. So you went the rough way.
You brought that kind of grit and realism to rock'n'roll...
Rock'n'roll is a night out. That's what rock'n'roll is. It's an escape for people. It's to get you out of the house for the night and have a great time and forget about your troubles. It ain't nuclear science...
Kris Needs has always described Mott as The People's Band. Is that something you hear a lot?
Oh yeah, [former manager] Tony DeFries used to hate us for that. He managed Bowie and he really wanted to do the same with us, but David had that separate star appeal, like he could actually have been from Mars. But no, we couldn't be bothered with all that. If the kids couldn't pay to get in we just got them through the back door. Even the riots we had, they weren't nasty ones, they were just for fun. Everybody got on stage, everybody sang.
I don't know how it worked out like that. It was just a natural combination of the five guys in the band and the audience. We couldn't lose with an audience like that. If we stunk, we all stunk together. The critics might have a go now and again but the audience are extremely loyal - mainly male of course, because we weren't gods to look at. Maybe in retrospect that was a good thing. Girls are more fickle, going with who they fancy, but with guys you've got them for life. I know what that's like, because I was a fan before I started doing it.
Was there a record you heard or a band you saw that switched the on light for you, that made you go... This is it?
Oh yeah. Mick Ralphs loved all those bands on the West Coast. But I was Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard forever. I was blood and thunder... That's what I grew up on that's what I love to this day. That's what Mott was - a combination of those two things slamming into each other.
Last year's Mott shows were probably the most ecstatically received reunion shows we've seen. Why do you think response was so crazy?
I don't know. I suppose if people ask you, 'When are you going to get back together again?' every bloody year for 35 years it's obvious that they really want it. [Organist] Verden Allen said, 'If we don't do it now we'll never do it,' which nobody had really thought about but it was true - you never know how long you're going to last. So the thought was, They want it, so let's give it to 'em. Just give it to them. Just the once.
The question was whether we could cut it. I mean, Mick Ralphs and me had worked pretty much continually professionally; the others hadn't. Buffin [aka drummer Dale Griffin] was only ever gonna do a couple of songs but were [bassist] Pete ["Overend" Watts] and Verden up to it? In the end Pete was telling me what to do. Pete was right on it, totally on it. And Verden hadn't lost an ounce.
There was a sense of jeopardy running up to the show that added an extra frisson of excitement. The Mott story is one of glorious success or glorious failure - no-one knew which way it would go.
Join the club! I mean, Mick had been rehearsing with them a while before I turned up. I asked him what it sounded like and he said, 'It sounds like a pub band.' At that point we had only 10 days till the show. We went down to Rockfield to rehearse and that's where it came together. All I was worried about was whether we'd have that invisible thing which you could never quite put your finger on. Would that be there or would that not be there? The other thing was, we were rehearsing in a very small room, so we didn't quite know what we were going to do when we got on stage. I don't think I stood up once during the rehearsals! But somehow it all came back - I guess you never forget how to ride a bike.
So there was no dress rehearsal really?
Well, we played Monmouth - a local gig for Buffin, Pete, and Phally [Allen's nickname] rather than throw them straight into the big city. That sort of got us going. It was a reasonable size stage, about half the size of Hammersmith. We got a rough idea of where we were going and what we were doing.
But even then Pete rather surprised you with his wardrobe, I believe?
Oh yeah, Pete was quite frightening. I took him to [UK high street ladies clothes emporium] Zara, at which point things improved somewhat. But Pete is such a unique character. He dresses great but it's so individual, always sort of startling. Anybody who plays bass with an umbrella... it's like, 'What are you doing?!' But that's part of the uniqueness of Mott. They're very eccentric people.
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 12:00 PM GMT 18/03/2010