I asked for first-hand recollections of Mott live before 1972 and the following was kindly posted by the user grastark on the ianhunter forum:
short answer – the dog’s bollocks
slightly longer answer – having seen them since 1969, their first disappointing gig was at The Albert Hall in July 1971. This was their "big" gig – supposedly marking that they had "arrived" – also this was a "homecoming gig" – the first London gig in a UK tour having spent a couple of months or so in the USA – previously they were always playing somewhere around London.
So there was a lot of expectation and I was proud to be a fan.
But I was so disappointed with their performance that night.Compared to all other previous occasions they were lifeless and simply going through the motions – their batteries were flat and their playing was not up to scratch – not achieving the power of many previous nights.
The highlight was when Ian produced his newly obtained Maltese Cross guitar – it does not come flasher than that!
However, history has it that they played a storm that night, causing a riot which led to a ban of rock bands playing at the Albert Hall for some time afterwards.
So that was the general public’s perception of Mott The Hoople on an "off" night. Well they should have seen the band over the previous couple of years when they were really tearing it up, with the real fans going totally bonkers for the last half of each gig. So much power to each song, with a true sense of light and shade and use of dynamics so that at quieter (relatively!) times a sense of expectation was built up, to be released as the song or next song was played (some songs included times of tension which was then released as the song developed and others just rocked throughout. Those first 2 years were something to behold and they never achieved the same feeling even though they became more polished after 1972.
Another side of early MTH was Ian Hunter’s pent up aggression. A couple of examples -
At the Roundhouse half way through their set (earlier playing the instrumental You Really Got Me) when Ian started to sing something. But he realised that nothing was coming out of the PA. After a few attempts of pushing and pressing a few things (mid song), he shouted to someone at the side and threw the microphone down, then led the band into another You Really Got Me because they had no other reasonable instrumental to play. Hunter was absolutely furious seeing to want to fight somebody if he could. The atmosphere was electric. Meanwhile the mic set up got changed by somebody and they were able to continue.
Waiting in line before the doors opened at Farx Blues Club – Northcote Arms Southall quite a large queue had already built up to the front door which was at the side of the car park, when the bands van swung into the car park and did a large circle before parking. As it did so some local children who were the other side of the low boundary wall threw a few stones at the van. Before the van actually stopped Ian leapt out of the van and came running over to the queue, hair flying and fists ready demanding to know who it was that threw the stones. Someone shouted that it was the kids (who had now disappeared) and a couple of others meekly agreed. Ian did not reply, but stared at us then turned and went back to the van. Basically he put up a solo challenge to about 30 or so people with no thought of the possible consequence. He was actually frightening. Yes they did another blinding gig a few hours later. Brilliant.
Big Brother club Oldfield Tavern Greenford. This was basically a fairly narrow but long hall, with a stage and a bar around the other side of the stage. The place was heaving ( unusually we were near the back, unable to get near the usual front slot, but as it was narrow, there was not much distance from stage to the back wall). The support band had come and gone and we were waiting for MTH to appear. The dj then announced that Ian was not willing to play as the place was too small for them, but discussions are ongoing and he was hoping to change Ian’s mind. Another electric atmosphere ramped up the evening, until eventually yes they did come on.
Some of this gig was filmed for Australian tv – I have seen a small snippet but it is very grainy and not well filmed (not surprising given the nature of the place). I do remember that MTH did a speeded up version of Walking With A Mountain which did not have the same energy as their normally slightly faster than disc version – probably thought it would be good for tv. The rest of the gig though was typically great.
I think that part of the reason for Ian’s aggression was being confined to sitting behind his electric piano (on left of the stage looking from the audience). At earlier gigs he played mostly there with little guitar work. Playing some of the rockers, he would edge the keyboard closer to the edge of the stage and tip it slightly forward with his knee, all of which brought him closer to "us". I never saw the keyboard tip right over though although it must have come close a couple of times. This would be towards the end of the set as general chaos was going on at the front of the audience. I also recall Ian stalking around the stage and going over to the front of Verden’s Hammond and stroking it gingerly – as if to say that it is very precious to Verden (which it probably was), but generally it was a piss take.
Another first-hand report, this one from Geoff on the Ian Hunter forum:
Guildford Civic Hall, 1971.
I was 15 and it was only my second gig. I knew nothing about the band and certainly didn’t know any of their names, but by the end of the evening I was hooked and have been a fan ever since.
Memories of that night? A bit hazy, it was a long time ago, but I remember:
– The dramatic Jupiter intro
– Thunderbuck Ram and Mr Tambourine Man
– The persona who was all hair and shades, fronting the band with controlled aggression
– Ralpher replicating some Chuck Berry moves
– Buff thrashing several drumsticks off his skins and into the crowd
– The gig ending with both the band and the stalls in something of a frenzy
– Wanting to rush out at the end and charge down Guildford’s cobbled high street, yelling incoherently
I became convinced that night that it was cool to wear shades all the time, whatever the light conditions, much to my dear dad’s puzzlement. But he did buy me a pair of mirror-lensed Rayban aviators, bless him.
I bought all their albums (just four at the time) and was disappointed that the high octane energy I had witnessed, didn’t really come across on the vinyl.
and another, from gm2015:
I saw them in May, 1971, at the Fillmore East. I went with my friend, who had seen them a year before when they opened for Fairport Convention and Traffic.
We were sitting in the 11th row, I think, off to the side. I have an audience recording of it.
Mandrill, a Brooklyn Latin Jazz Rock band opened. Mott was 2nd on the bill. Free was scheduled to be the headliners, but they had broken up, and Delaney and Bonnie were late replacements.
Overend Watts was directly in front of me, and Verden Allen was near him to the side. Dale Griffin’s drum kit was in the center, in front, which is something I haven’t seen a band do since. Mick Ralph’s was to Buffin’s right, and Ian Hunter was to Ralph’s right.
They started off with “Ohio, a more aggressive sounding version than what’s on Fairfield Halls, then they played “Angel of Eighth Avenue,’ followed by “Walkin’ With A Mountain,” very similar to what’s on the Stockholm 1971 CD.
From there, they went on to do “Whisky Women.” After that, Ian went to his electric piano, and said they were going to play something they no longer did, but were bringing back just for this show (probably either “Laugh At Me,” or “Now Wheels To Ride,” judging from the opening). He had a problem with the piano and then just shoved it aside (this was edited out of the recording that I have), and they did “Rock and Roll Queen” instead. They finished with ‘Keep a Knockin’” and then came out to do a “You Really Got Me” (not on the audience recording I have).
With Free not showing up, there were more than a few empty seats, but just about everyone who was there came to see Mott The Hoople, and they went over very well.
The same could not be said for Delaney and Bonnie, who were not well received by all the Mott fans. It got so bad that near the end of their set, Delaney Bramlett turned his back to the crowd and raised his middle finger up high. Needless to say, they did not come back for an encore.