Dale “Buffin” Griffin: An Emotional Eulogy

Former Mott The Hoople Fanclub president Kris Needs remembers the Mott drummer’s highs, lows and “extraordinary consideration”.

Dale “Buffin” Griffin: An Emotional Eulogy
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Terence Dale “Buffin” Griffin was a founder member of Mott The Hoople, the band who rose to notoriety presaging punk with the wildest stage act the UK had seen since the early Rolling Stones. They were always cult heroes, scrappers who became chart stars and defined an era when they took David Bowie’s All The Young Dudes into the UK Top 5 in 1972.

“He was a quiet soul with a devilish sense of humour.”

Born in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, on October 24, 1948, Griffin was presented with a full-size Premier drum kit by his rock’n’roll-loving parents and gained his lifelong nickname “Buffin” (an amalgamation stemming from “Sniffin’ Bugger Griffin”) while at school, where he met future Mott bassist Overend Watts. After playing in local bands, the pair hooked up with guitarist Mick Ralphs and organist Verden Allen to form the Doc Thomas Group in 1966, enjoying enough success in Italy to make an album.

The group was on the verge of splitting when they decided on one more stab at UK success, changing their name to Silence and moving to London, where they were recruited for madcap producer Guy Stevens’ fevered mission to assemble a hybrid of the Rolling Stones and electric Dylan. Renamed Mott The Hoople after gaining singer-pianist Ian Hunter, the group made a name for having the longest hair and loudest amps. No other British band inspired such mania, which got them banned from the Royal Albert Hall in 1971.

Mott The Hoople’s <em>All The Young Dudes</em> album. “The worst thing that ever happened to Mott,” reflected Buffin.

After producing four albums which didn’t sell, Mott split in March 1972, but a mortified Bowie came to the rescue with All The Young Dudes. It later rankled with Buffin that this success cost Mott their faithful core following. “David Bowie was the worst thing that happened to Mott because it killed our audience stone dead,” he once remarked.

But Mott became pop stars, following the single with a Bowie-produced album – also titled All The Young Dudes – although they chose to strike out on their own for 1973’s career-peaking Mott album, which was followed by hits including All The Way From Memphis, Roll Away The Stone (see below) and The Golden Age Of Rock And Roll. In late 1974, an exhausted Hunter quit, leaving Griffin and Watts to carry on with a new line-up as Mott, who made two albums before hooking up with former Medicine Head singe John Fiddler to form British Lions, which faltered in the face of punk.

During the ’80s, Griffin and Watts formed a production company, helming albums by Hanoi Rocks and The Cult, and hits such as Department S’s Is Vic There?. Griffin joined Radio One as a session producer, responsible for many Peel sessions between 1981 and 1994, including Pulp and Nirvana. He later oversaw the remastering and reissuing of Mott’s back catalogue.

Department S's Is Vic There? (1980): a Griffin-Watts production.

For 25 years, he dreamed of the original Mott line-up playing together again but, in a cruel twist, was diagnosed with dementia when the band reunited to play their now mythical Hammersmith Apollo shows in October 2009, although he insisted on joining stand-in drummer Martin Chambers for the encores. Griffin was also a game, smiling presence at that year’s MOJO Honours festivities, when Mott were given the Hall of Fame trophy.

As president of Mott’s fan club for four years, this writer recalls Buffin’s extraordinary consideration when it came to writing newsletters. He was always ready with advice for this mixed-up teenager and later presented me with Tramp, a stray Shih Tzu dog he had rescued from Battersea Dogs’ Home, which his landlord wouldn’t let him keep. A quiet soul with a devilish sense of humour, he spent his last years with long-time partner Jean Smith, who became his carer after his illness kicked in. Finally, he was admitted to a nursing home.

“Inside, I’m just the same old Buffin”, he once stated, although it was crushing when, at our last meeting, he obviously didn’t have a clue who I was. Jean said there were days when he was like the old Buffin, trying to bring attention to this often overlooked disease. But these grew fewer and, on the night of January 17, he slipped away in his sleep.

One of Mott’s most vocal fans, Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott, whose Down ‘N’ Outz Mott tribute band supported at the Hammersmith shows, said “Buffin was always one of my favourite drummers and I think he got better with age. His style was quite unique within the field of rock.”

Photo: Dale Griffin backstage at Hammersmith Odeon, London, 1973, by Kris Needs.