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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Hammersmith Apollo, London, October 1st 2009

They said it would never happen, but in a year of the most unlikely rock reunions, many prompted I’m sure, by the devastating impact the credit crunch and the fall in share prices has had on many a rock-star’s personal fortune, it has.

Mott the Hoople
Mott the Hoople, whose star as the improbable doyens of glam-rock (as we liked to call it in the UK) shone brightly, albeit briefly, in the early 1970s, leaving behind them some simply timeless recordings, are back. Originally for one night only, they have a week at the Hammersmith Apollo, and on tonight’s opener, fathers have brought sons, mothers have brought daughters, proud grandparents have brought grandchildren, and I’ve brought the Photographer, to witness a moment of rock and roll history. Half of the Welsh Marches seem to be here, pugnacious prop-forwards over-spilling from the confines of their seats, to celebrate the return of Ross on Wye’s most famous sons. They’ve been rehearsing down there for weeks, playing one warm-up gig in Monmouth prior to tonight. And although frontman Ian Hunter has rarely stopped performing and recording since he departed the band in 1974, even he seemed a little overawed by the moment when the original members of the band (minus an unwell drummer Dale Griffin, replaced for the main set by Pretenders sticksman Martin Chambers) took to the stage to a tumultuous welcome.
Ian Hunter I’m not sure that I’m allowed to say how old Hunter is but I can confide that although they’ve dramatically changed colour, he still has the trademark curls sweeping down over his face, and the ever-present sunglasses. His nasal voice, sometimes close to a very poor anglicised version of Bob Dylan, hasn’t changed a bit. Guitarist Mick Ralphs (you may recall that he went on to form Bad Company with Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirk) is chunking out riffs on his Les Paul, whilst bassist Pete Watts is displaying a selection of no doubt ‘original’ seventies vintage clothing, including a very natty pair of white slip-on shoes “from Marks and Spencer in Ross”.
There’s an unconvincing and rather uncoordinated air to things as the band play through songs like ‘Sweet Jane’, ‘One of the boys’; and sadly ‘Born in 1958’ is probably the low point of the set. But after that things picked up magically, with even the hopelessly self-pitying and clichéd ‘Ballad of Mott’ sounding good; the band just clicked into place as they rolled away the years with Hunter in particular showing he’d lost none of his rock and roll moves.
Mott the Hoople
Ian Hunter and Pete Watts
The end of the main set and encore (when Griffin joined on drums alongside Chambers) was reserved for a triumphant rendition of those great songs ‘Honaloochie boogie’, ‘All the young dudes’, ‘Roll away the stone’, and ‘All the way from Memphis’. A potent chorus was provided by a powerful backing vocal group (“Sha la la la, push push”) comprising original singer Stan Tippens and various members of Hunter’s family. The crowd went predictably wild (well, as wild as age permitted) and queues formed in the foyer to buy the exclusive recording that was being made of the show. In the end, after a few sticky moments, it was all quite uplifting. But I was left with one irksome question in my mind, a long unsolved puzzle from the past uncomfortably reawakened. “Where”, I had to ask myself, “where is Honaloochie, and could it be anywhere near Puff the Magic Dragon’s Honalee?”. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: Ian Hunter on MySpace

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