As a kid growing up there were a lot of albums that had cover versions on. Be it Great White, Thunder and even Bruce Dickinson, there were covers of songs written by I Hunter and M Ralphs. Who were these people? Who were the geniuses that wrote “All The Way From Memphis” and all the others?
These were innocent day’s pre-Google and it was hard to fathom, until we heard of this band with a fabulous name Mott The Hoople. These were the men who sounded in parts like the Rolling Stones with a Hammond Organ and at other times like Bob Dylan at his most tender. And they were brilliant. (OK The Great White one is a cheat as it was “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” which was Ian Hunter solo – but RTM didn’t know that then, we just knew that as a 14 year old we loved that track)
After their split in the mid 70s they have only played together just a few times, at the Hammersmith Apollo four years back. It was with a great sense of excitement, then that RTM and just about anyone else who loves British rock n roll (and the band could only be British – no other nation could write the line “you look like a star/but you’re still on the dole” the way they did in “….Memphis”) greeted the news that four of the original members, minus the sadly ill drummer Dale Griffin, who is replaced by Martin Chambers of The Pretenders, were back to play five shows.
There is a sense of excitement as the band take the stage and then….well….it sounds terrible. In fairness the sound does improve in time for a rip roaring “One Of The Boys” but that number is ruined by lighting issues. “As usual something has gone wrong” smiles Hunter, who looks incredibly spritely for a man in his 70s.
It is a faltering start, but “The Moon Upstairs” improves things and “Sucker” retains its menace, sounding incredibly heavy. However, there is still a problem. Despite the brilliant songs on show – including a snippet of The Kinks “You Really Got Me” - the show feels just a little flat. It doesn’t feel like the triumphant celebration of Brit rock that you thought it would, and there seems to be something missing.
After a messed up opening, “Honaloochie Boogie” still remains an almost perfect pop song and the rest of the gig is wall to wall classics. “The Golden Age Of Rock N Roll” which contains the key line “you gotta stay young, if you never grow old” and seems to sum up the whole attitude of this gig, gives way to “...Memphis” which is suitably incredible, still sounding like the best song the Rolling Stones never wrote and a pub rock knees up all at once.
The band are back for an encore and Ian Hunter appears to have picked up on the somewhat quiet vibe: “Right from here on in, enjoy yourselves, have a good time,” he says. And to be fair it is impossible not to when “All The Young Dudes” starts up. By now the band are joined by assorted children and grandchildren on backing vocals and finally it has clicked into gear. “Roll Away The Stone” and a poignant “(Do You Remember) The Saturday Gigs” closes things down with Hunter and the band waving goodbye to the crowd, echoing the song’s last line.
This was by any stretch of the imagination a great gig, but it wasn’t the gig of the year contender we were expecting. By the end of the week, though, with the teething problems ironed out, you would guess that Mott would be one of the best live bands in the world again, but they weren’t quite that tonight.