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Fairfield Halls Live 1970

Fairfield Halls Croydon 13th Sept 1970

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1.Ohio
2.No Wheels To Ride
3.Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen
4.Thunderbuck Ram
5.When My Mind’s Gone
6.Keep a-Knockin’
7.You Really Got Me

Stockholm, Sweden 16 Feb 1971
1.Long Red
2.The Original Mixed Up Kid
3.Walkin’ With A Mountain
4.Laugh At Me
5.Thunderbuck Ram

If you have been following this thread, you will know the gist of what went wrong in Mott the Hoople’s Island years (or at least one aspect of it), which is that the band was immensely popular live but lacked success in record sales. One likely factor was that the albums, excellent though they were in many ways, lacked the energy of the concerts, at least up until Brain Capers.

The obvious solution would have been to record a live album, and in September 1970 exactly that was planned. Two shows were recorded at Fairfield Halls Croydon, where Mott were supporting Free.

The concerts were a little over-energetic and the tapes were deemed unusable due to connections being inadvertently pulled from the mobile 8-track machine borrowed from The Who. However, Keep a Knockin’ was salvaged from the tapes and included incongruously on Wildlife, the band’s softest album.

The band’s biographer Campbell Devine remarks, “Over 20 years later, reappraisal of the Croydon tapes reveals the scrapping of the recordings to be a considerable misjudgement on Guy Stevens part, as the tracks survive unscathed, intact and almost wholly useable in Island’s archive.”

In 2007 Angel Air released Fairfield Halls Live 1970, though only 7 of the 12 tracks on the CD are actually from Croydon. Even so, it is powerful evidence for what a fantastic show Mott put on in this era. “This group’s about to wreck your mind completely, absolutely,” says the announcer – could it be Guy Stevens? The performance opens with a muscular cover of CSNY’s Ohio, with Mick Ralph’s reedy voice a good substitute for that of Neil Young. Next up is No Wheels to Ride from Mad Shadows, then the concert takes off with a performance of Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen that makes the studio version seem slow and tame.

The group is warmed up now, and moves into the excellent Thunderbuck Ram, sounding as thunderous as it should, and described as “a number off the Bumpers album” – Mad Shadows was yet to be released.

Things calm down a tad for When My Mind’s Gone, but not for long, as Mott closes its short support set with Keep a Knockin’ in a different take from that included on Wildlife. There is also an encore, an eight minute instrumental version of You Really Got Me from the first album.

Tacked on to the CD are five songs from a Stockholm concert in early 1971. The funny thing about this event is the polite applause from the audience, who clearly were not engaging with the music in the way that Mott expected. “It would be nice if you helped us, don’t sit all tight, loosen up!” says Hunter, without much success. It’s still a high quality recording and an energetic performance, including a cover of Mountain’s Long Red, Walking with a Mountain from Wildlife, Laugh at Me from the debut album, and another strong performance of Thunderbuck Ram. It still sounds a bit tame compared to the Croydon set. An additional song from Stockholm, Keep a Knockin’, is available on the release From Stockholm to Philadelphia.

The interesting point of speculation is what would have happened if Island had in fact released Mott the Hoople Live instead of Wildlife. It would have almost certainly been more successful, though whether it would have delivered the hit album the band needed is still open to question; it would not have solved the problem of “where’s the hit single”.

Nevertheless, if you like the original wild and dangerous Mott the Hoople this is an essential listen.

The CD is out of print; it was reissued as part of an In Performance box but that is also out of print.

A review on Amazon uk provides a first-hand account of the original event:

I was at this gig, 16 years old, and I kind of understand why they may not have released it before… it was wild. Overend was travelling fifty feet out into the audience with a long lead, clambering over seats – the Fairfield Halls is an all seated venue built for Classical concerts – I would expect a few extra or missing bass notes resulted! Ian Hunter invited the audience up on stage – soon you couldn’t see any band members at all and probably half the recording equipment was knocked over.

… I had seen Mott the Hoople and Free several times before at the better venue across the street – the Greyhound. At the time I thought it was ridiculous that Mott supported the Free – I watched a couple of Free’s songs, then walked out, along with many others. Early Mott the Hoople at the Greyhound were among the best gigs I’ve ever seen, just amazing. So this is the proper Mott the Hoople with Mick Ralphs and Verden Allen, and in their prime. As you can probably tell, I haven’t even heard this yet, I only just found it was out, but I know it will be a real recording of a band that could really tear it up live. And they liked those Croydon gigs too, as they say in the later "Saturday Gigs".

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