Five decades after his initial Mott the Hoople recordings, it’s fair to say Ian Hunter knows a fair bit about live presence and was certainly on sparkling form in Manchester for this Class of ‘74 reunion.
What’s more, fellow survivors Morgan Fisher and Luther ‘Ariel Bender’ Grosvenor belied their own grand ages, this three-pronged attack steeped in glam legend fronting Ian’s Rant Band with a combined age of 220.
From the moment they stepped out to Gustav Holst’s ‘Jupiter’ from the Planets suite, this was showbusiness done proper, an accompanying snippet over the PA of Mott being introduced by David Bowie back in the day having the hairs up on the back of the neck.
And where to start but the man behind the shades’ spin on ‘American Pie’ seguing into majestic The Hoople opener ‘The Golden Age of Rock’n’Roll’, the huge electronic ‘M’ as a backdrop and – I don’t often say this – the lightshow perfect, the first snatches of James Mastro’s sax an emotional trigger.
If anything, Ian’s own voice got better as the set blossomed, the 79-year-old on his pegs all night, fellow attendee Jim pronouncing him more switched on than for his previous Rant Band visit, and this from someone who first witnessed Mott supported by Queen in Blackburn 45 years ago.
Certainly, credit’s due for Ian’s band, James Mastro also contributing guitar and mandolin, with powerhouse drumming from Steve Holley and assured turns from Mark Bosch (guitar), Paul Page (bass) and Dennis Dibrizzi (keyboards), the latter and Steve also providing backing vocals.
‘Lounge Lizard’ offered a slow-burn Stones-like blues vibe, this aborted late B-side just one fine example of the songwriting strength in depth of early ‘70s Mott, following number ‘Alice’ from The Hoople also impressing.
We were never far from the next hit, ‘Honaloochie Boogie fitting the bill perfectly before a lovely theatrical touch, Morgan being poured a glass of bubbly from an ice bucket by a roadie, his reward for a piano intro signalling a move on to ‘Rest In Peace’, further proof that this band – like several others from that golden era – weren’t averse to putting quality songs on the flipside of their 45s, the song itself all the more touching following departures in recent years for Pete Watts, Dale Griffin and latecomer Mick Ronson.
James switched to mandolin for ‘I Wish I Was Your Mother’, the closer of ‘73’s rightly-lauded Mott, before another cut from The Hoople, ‘Pearl’n’Roy (England)’, the years then peeled back further for ‘Sucker’ from ’72.
From that same breakthrough LP, All the Young Dudes, there was a lovely take on Lou Reed’s wondrous ‘Sweet Jane’, Morgan belying his mature years with a cross-stage dash to goad the gloriously-camp, beret-wearing Bender on the other side, the latter revelling in renewed limelight, the ongoing guitar technical glitches no match for his on-stage flamboyancy.
Talking of quality B-sides, ‘Rose’ saw Ian in reflective mode, memories rekindled for fans and stage personnel alike, while we went further back again for ‘Walkin’ With a Mountain’, Ariel with a metal guitar intro and our esteemed frontman donning his latest Maltese Cross six-string for a song first aired long before his buddy’s arrival.
Then came another major highlight, the mighty ‘Roll Away the Stone’ followed by fellow The Hoople winner ‘Marionette’, Ariel right at home with the maniacal laughter.
With such a rich catalogue there were always going to be songs missed out, but while I’d have loved to have heard ‘Hymn for the Dudes’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’, I’ve no complaints, Ian fitting into his time-honoured medley snatches of ‘Rock and Roll Queen’, ‘Crash Street Kids’ and ‘Violence’ amid classic covers ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On’, ‘Mean Woman Blues’, ‘Johnny B. Goode’ and ‘You Really Got Me’.
After a brief breather they were back, leaving me wondering how many other bands could supply such a wondrous three-song encore of their own compositions. Morgan was first to return, his ‘Name that tune in one’ single piano note call to arms leading to his bandmates reappearing, kicking into one of 1973’s and in fact any other year’s finest singles, ‘All the Way From Memphis’. And that in turn led to a euphoric ‘Saturday Gigs’ and inevitable Bowie-penned finale, ‘All the Young Dudes’, as fresh as ever, the smiles on faces all around saying it all, returning home on collective highs.
For this website’s recent interview with Ian Hunter, head here.