Formed by madcap producer Guy Stevens 45 years ago this month, Mott The Hoople presaged punk rock in music, attitude and audience rioting before becoming a perfect pop hit machine and imploding five years later. When the original lineup unexpectedly returned in 2009 it was a major triumph, bringing to flesh and blood life a legend which many had only heard on old records and seen on Youtube footage.
For the previous 35 years, the closest anyone got to this tasting the magic of this unique band was through Ian Hunter’s solo albums and shows, which had established him as one of the UK’s most revered singer-songwriters by the end of the seventies. 2009’s five night Hammersmith Odeon run was the kind of occasion where eyes widened and jaws hung limp in the presence of monumental greatness, the likes of which was never expected to stalk the Earth again.
The group repeated the exercise last November, this time taking in the rest of the UK. Although it was good for Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle to witness the legend that is Mott, the return bout was inevitably missing the stratospheric buzz of the return which devotees had been praying for in sheer hopelessness for decades. The controversial London show at the vast, soulless O2 arena gave the band the payday they’ve long deserved but thrust faithful Hooplers into a cavernous barn. The band admit they were under rehearsed this time so there were no low-key warmup gigs and a modified set. Most sadly, drummer Dale Griffin was absent. Martin Chambers again stood in admirably but the emotional highlight last time was Buff coming on for the encores. Now he was too ill to even make the gigs.
Other than Angel Air’s archival concert recordings, Mott’s last live album was 1974’s Live, which turned out to be their swansong. As the 2013 shows were again a strictly one-off reunion rather than the sort of reformation which spawns new studio recordings, some kind of documentation was to be expected but this is very welcome, running the whole show rather than edited highlights. The Manchester show provides the two CDs and DVD gathered here, resulting in more a priceless souvenir rather than crash course for the ravers.
In 2009, Mott bravely started the show with the crashing majesty of Hymn For The Dudes and took off on an emotional journey from the early Island years through to the hits. This time the selection was more wham-bam, hell-for-leather and missing the ‘unplugged’ interlude’. After the haunting strains of Holst’s Jupiter from tThe Planets Suite, which started introducing the band around 1972, it’s straight into the clrion call rifferama of Rock and Roll Queen, One Of The Boys and The Moon Upstairs, then a soaring Hymn…, lascivious Sucker and - first departure - wildman Hammond organ maestro Verden ‘Phally’ Allen’s Soft Ground, from the All The Young Dudes album. Phally was again the driving force behind the reunion so deserved his three minutes in the vocal spotlight. The real shock then utter delight was Hunter tackling the impossibly poignant Waterlow. On 1971‘s Wildlife album it was a string-backed ballad about marital breakup. Now stripped bare and sung with raw soul by the 74 year old Hunter, it takes on a fragile but heart-savaging new resonance. The ballads have always provided Mott’s most overlooked but strongest sub-texts and provide the most moving moments on this set. Next it’s bass Goliath Overend Watts’ turn to step up, pouring his undimmed enthusiasm and mood-elevating charisma into Born Late ’58. After a raucous trawl through Death May Be Your Santa Claus, the first CD ends with Ballad of Mott The Hoople, the autobiographical confessional for which the term “not a dry eye in the house” could have been invented. To have a record of the band playing this song over 40 years since it was first recorded is worth the price of admission alone.
The second disc kicks off with the Stones-homaging Walking With a Mountain, ruck-accentuated Violence and climactic The Journey (introduced with a few bars of When My Mind’s Gone and No Wheels To Ride). This writer’s personal peak, Hunter’s most sweeping, cataclysmic ballad even managed to stop the clocks at the cold O2 and still shimmers here with unearthly power and unfettered emotional roar.
Then it’s the hits - Honaloochie Boogie, The Golden Age Of Rock ‘n’ Roll, All The Way From Memphis, All The Young Dudes (with customary support from Joe Elliott, who’s just released his second Down ‘N’ Outz tribute set to warm the cockles of any proper Mott fan’s heart), Roll Away The Stone and, finally, Saturday Gigs. Okay, so that last one wasn’t a hit and partly prompted the band splitting up. In 2014 it’s their melancholic last look at what happened to the band back then. Those goodbyes at the end mean what they say.
Beautiful, well-paced, necessarily ragged but sounding fine in the comfort of your own home, Mott’s last shout is accompanied by the beautifully shot concert film they’ve always deserved (a perfect companion for the coffee table book which came out earlier this year).
Mott now seem untouchable, immortal and unique. Even at the time they didn’t make bands like this any more. Now they never will. While the world obliviously turns around the latest new rock mutant whose roots and lineage stemmed from this remarkable band, their name now has to occupy a special domain where the Hall Of Fame never dares to tread. The fans will need this like blood but anyone ensnared by some latest rock sensation purporting to be deep, diverse and dangerous should investigate Mott’s old albums. Once under the spell, they could well need this grand finale too.