Mott the Hoople Live

Live (November 1974)
CBS 69093
UK: 32 US: 23

At last a Mott the Hoople live album! And a fine thing it is, though a shame that the band captured here is latter-day Mott without Mick Ralphs and something of a tamed beast compared to what you hear on, say, Live at Fairfield Halls Croydon.

On the other hand, this is the band at its peak of popularity. In November and December 1973 the band toured the UK, supported by Queen, and in April 1974 toured the US, again supported by Queen, including a one-week residency at the Uris Theatre on Broadway. “Mott the Hoople arrived on Broadway Tuesday night for the first of six shows, the first hard rock group ever to appear there, and the Uris theatre will probably never be the same again,” reported John Rockwell in the New York Times.

On this tour Morgan Fisher played piano and Blue Weaver the organ.

At the Uris the band performed Marionette with life-size puppets on stage, as seen on the cover photo, though naturally the original release of Live did not include the song.

There was a famous incident at the Uris when Led Zeppelin arrived backstage and John Bonham announced that he would play on All the Young Dudes during the encore. The band was not happy and refused.

In June 1974 the band released a single recorded during the Hoople sessions, Foxy Foxy, which disappointed by barely charting. “I wanted just wanted to do a song like Phil Spector”, said Ian Hunter, quoted in Campbell Devine’s biography of the band.

The live album was edited in August 1974 and included one side from London’s Hammersmith in December 1973, and one side from Broadway.

Before it was released, guitarist Ariel Bender had left the band. “Stan Tippins came to see me almost in tears and said, ‘the boys don’t know how to say this, because they love you dearly, but they feel it’s time for a change of guitarist.’”, recalls Bender.

At the end of September, it was announced that Mick Ronson, formerly of David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars, had joined Mott the Hoople. It seemed a perfect fit. Ronson went into the studio and overdubbed guitar onto an existing backing track laid down by the rest of the band for its next single, Saturday Gigs. The band also recorded Lounge Lizard with Ronson for the B side.

Saturday Gigs was released on 18 October, and fared even less well than Foxy Foxy. A shame because it is one of the band’s finest songs, though it is yet another nostalgic look at the band’s history from Hunter. The song closes with “Goodbye” making it a fitting finale for the band, even though at the time it was meant to be the beginning of a great new phase with Ronson.

Following the failure of Foxy Foxy and Saturday Gigs, the band’s morale was low when Live came out in November 1974. Worse than that, Ian Hunter suffered some kind of breakdown on a visit to the US, apparently collapsing during dinner thanks to physical exhaustion. Tour dates were cancelled and Mott the Hoople broke up – though the band continued without Hunter or Ronson as Mott.

But what of the album? For sure an album of two halves, the Broadway side is more restrained, featuring two of the band’s biggest its (Memphis and Dudes), a decent take on Sucker, the excellent Rest in Peace (another portent of the band’s demise?), and closing with Walking with a Mountain, though much shortened from what was performed.

The Hammersmith side is the familiar, energetic, chaotic Mott, kicking off with Sweet Angeline from Brain Capers (in which Hunter calls most of the females present “slags”), going on to the strong B side, Rose, and continuing with a medley of Jerkin’ Crocus – One of the Boys – Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen – Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On – Violence (with a line from Bowie’s Jean Genie snuck in as Hunter asks, “What’s happenin’ now?”).

Listening to the original album now, it’s really the quiet numbers that shine, Rest in Peace and Rose.

In 2004 an expanded version was released for the 30th anniversary. This is a double CD, with most of a Broadway concert on one CD, and most of a Hammersmith concert on the other. This makes a more satisfactory package overall, and at last we get to hear Marionette from Broadway.

The New York Times review of the Broadway concert mentioned above was relatively positive. “Ian Hunter, the lead singer and chief composer, does in fact write pretty good songs, memorable and inventive, and if his words more often skirt profundity than plumb it, they still deal in concepts that have a lot of appeal these days—rejection, disappointed dreams and the state of rock ‘n’ roll. And Mr. Hunter anchors his references musically, as well, with pointed quotations from Don McLean, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan.”

Queen fans though – look away now.

“Queen, another British band, opened the bill. This was its first New York performance as part of its first United States tour, and the group made a mixed impression. It was enjoyable enough to listen to, particularly Brian May’s virtuosic guitar playing. But Freddie Mercury, the lead singer, is addicted to toothy, unconvincing posturings, and the other three members just stand about limply, unable to provide much visual relief.”

Sounds magazine review of the Hammersmith gig, quoted here – but who is the writer?

"I was sat in the dressing room before the gig, tuning up my guitar on the automatic tuning-up machine. I was there alone. Suddenly, the door flies open and I hear ‘Look who’s preparing to face his public then’. It was ‘im – Mick Jagger, and David. I say ‘Well, you’re not doing so bad yourself after ten years’ – and so it went on – it was great. I’ve always admired him. He’s the guvnor controller, really, and that’s what I try to do."

The scene is the Hammersmith Odeon, just before Christmas last year [1973]. Mick Jagger and David Bowie are paying a backstage visit to Mott The Hoople’s lead singer and popular hero Ian Hunter. The banter continues at a laugh a minute; later, during the performance, the two muckers stroll around the stage, unnoticed, watching Mott’s heavy, menacing act and marvelling at the way Ian himself has joined the ranks of the controllers: the select few who can put an audience exactly where they want it.

During the quiet "Rose" Ariel Bender fiddles with the stone in a bracelet he’s wearing (flash bastard). It looked as though he was looking at his watch. The same stylised London accent jeers from the sidelines: "You’ve still got forty minutes to go, you lazy sods." Such was Mott The Hoople’s mastery that even when our two spectators made their way round to the front to catch a punter’s eye view, nobody noticed them… I know, I was right there in the front row. I had only eyes for the group on the stage. But David, silly fellow, blew it when he started pinching the girl’s bums…

Fuller of themselves than they’ve ever been, perhaps, the band plays on and on… the safety curtain comes down… Morgan Fisher shoves his piano under it to prevent its descent… Hunter and Bender advance over the catwalk into the very audience… V-signs are flashed and punches thrown… the bouncers put up a fierce last-ditch stand but the front-row kids, Mott’s long-time "Lieutenants", swarm on to the stage… chaos. Rock and roll madness rampant.

It will surely go down as one of the historical gigs when the annals of rock and roll are finally compiled. At the final judgement, Mott will be tried and not found wanting. It was their coming-of-age, just as "All The Young Dudes" was their arrival at the age of consent…

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