The Return of Mott…
After reunions in 2009 and 2013 it appeared the door was finally closed on any future activity from the 70’s Rock n’ Roll legends Mott The Hoople, particularly given the passing of Dale Griffin and Pete Watts together with Mick Ralphs illness. So it was something of a surprise when the band were confirmed to headline this coming week’s Ramblin’ Man festival In Kent with a line-up of Ian Hunter, guitarist Luther Grosvenor (a.k.a. Ariel Bender) and Morgan Fisher on keyboards, accompanied by Hunter’s long-serving Rant Band. Absent from previous reunions, Luther and Morgan appeared on 1974’s classic The Hoople album, which included the likes of ‘Roll Away The Stone’ and ‘Marionette’, and the same years Live which was recorded during their debut US performance on Broadway. With the band spending a few days rehearsing right here in Birmingham, Midlands Rocks’ Dean Pedley was delighted to have the opportunity to speak with Morgan.
Morgan, it’s a real pleasure to have the chance to sit down and speak with you today. I know Mott have been rehearsing for several days now, so how as it all been going so far?
Brilliant. We went through nearly twenty songs in the first day and its all coming back. We worked on tidying them up adding a few new ideas and just getting the feel and the vibe going. My main concern was that Pete and Buff are not with us anymore, and they were the best rhythm section I ever played with in my life but Steve and Paul from the Rant Band are doing a great job, they are fantastic. We are playing with the same passion and the same power and now I’m not worried about it at all.
How did this reunion of yourself, Ian and Luther all come about?
Well it was Ian’s idea and last year and it was first mentioned last year but there are a lot of details to work out and then about three months ago he said “We’re on”. Everyone has been asking please come and play in our town or our country and of course we would love to but at the moment there is nothing planned after the three shows which are the festivals in Spain, Sweden and Ramblin’ Man.
There were a couple of previous reunions in 2009 and 2013 which you weren’t part of. Were you disappointed at the time not to be involved?
I was initially of course. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing but it was quite complicated because there were three managers involved and so that’s a recipe for chaos. And they hadn’t been together for so long and Pete and Buffin had hardly played for thirty years so I think they were quietly shitting themselves as to if they could pull it off. So it was decided to stick with the original five members and see if they could still do it. And Ian said to me he was powerless to change what was happening and now we’ve talked about it more I realise that they had to come to an agreement that satisfied everybody and not take too many risks. And they pulled it off. I’m a think positive kind of guy and thought well I’ll just go and watch and fans came from all over the World and there were people I hadn’t seen for a long time. Joe Elliott, Jimmy Page, Queen all came along and I went backstage and hung out with everybody so there were no hard feelings on my behalf although I wish I could have at least done the encores. But there you go and they were the original band, they played they original songs. But after Verden and Mick left we did songs, we recorded them…I created the intro to ‘Saturday Gigs’ so this is a chance to redress the balance.
You mentioned Joe being there who of course has been very vocal about being a huge fan of Mott…
Indeed he has and I was sat next to Joe in 2009.I actually sold him my entire archive of Mott memorabilia, because I’m not really attached to it. I scanned it all first so I still have copies of everything digitally. I thought well I can make a few bob selling it and Joe said let me buy it. I’m not a hoarder in that way; I like memories but digital stuff is fine…as long as you back it up of course.
You also mentioned Queen just now and I so have to tell you the first ever concert I attended was at Milton Keynes Bowl in 1982 on the Hot Space tour when you were playing keyboards for them.
I’ve got the video of that show and Freddie introduces me as “Morgan in the delicious pink, I don’t know if he’s AC or if he’s DC”. They are very methodical, perfectionist musicians, almost too much so in my opinion and when they came to choose a keyboard player I guess they went with a safe bet because they knew me from when they were supporting us in 1974 on their first English tour and first American tour. But before I joined Mott I had my own progressive rock band called Morgan and when I was auditioning for singers a guy came along with an acoustic guitar and had a beautiful high voice and I asked him what he had been doing before and he said he was in a band called Smile. And of course it was Tim Staffell and after he joined me we played the Marquee and Brian May would come along and watch. I was in Belgium in 1982 and fancied getting back in the saddle so I wrote about twenty letters to friends saying if you hear of anything let me know. And suddenly a telegram arrived and simply said “Do you want to come on tour, Brian” and I thought well that sounds like a good job. It was fun, they are a precision machine and it was very much the same every night, like a musical everything was spot on. Except for Freddie of course; he was the loose cannon in Queen and sometimes the best bits were just him and the audience when they were singing “Day-Oh” backwards and forwards.
I know you’ve been living in Japan for some years now; what first attracted you to living in what is a very different culture to the UK?
Yes, I’ve been in Japan now for 35 years. The first step to that happening was I sort of fell out of love with England. I’d lived through two golden ages, the sixties and the seventies and they were magic times. And then the last thrill I got in England was punk which I loved and I would be down the Roxy club twice a week when it was happening. And I got to know bands such as the Clash and so on. And then for me it all went a bit pear-shaped, bands with funny haircuts came along in the eighties who were a bit twee and not raunchy enough. I felt that the spirit had started to go out of popular music and I felt like living somewhere else. I had travelled a lot in my life and thought I would take time to look at some countries on my own and so the first one I went to was India where I mediated for several months. Then I went to Belgium which was where I finally learnt to drink beer, which was something I had never liked until then. I stayed there a year and then stayed in various places in America, ending up in LA which I kind of liked but as a town when you’re not working on movie scores or something it was quite boring. And then I looked through a friend’s atlas and nothing was calling to me and then I turned the next page and there was Japan. I went there with practically nothing because by that time I had spent most of my money travelling and had sold most of my instruments. So I went there with no plan and I felt completely at home there from the first day. It was like since I was a kid I felt like an outsider but in Japan I knew I was an outsider that was fine. Its very safe, clean, hi-tech and with a lot of tradition and I didn’t make a decision to stay forever and I just stayed longer and longer and longer and now its thirty-five years. But even now I don’t say its forever, who knows?
You’ve had a varied and interesting career…have you considered writing an autobiography?
People have asked me about it. A good time to write it would either when I’m in hospital for a long time or on tour for a long time so hopefully the latter. I read a lot of books by musicians and I find some of them fascinating. But if I do write it then really want to try and make it different, give it a different angle and not just a calendar of events.
How has it been reconnecting with Luther and Ian after all this time?
When you’re playing with Bender he doesn’t just rehearse he performs. He’s been bumping into Ian and Ian’s been pushing him away like they used to and after two hours of that he’s exhausted and needs a break. But he’s great, he’s full on. This is a toe in the water and if we get a good response its highly likely we will get offers from promotors in different countries. But frankly I think this reunion is going to be wilder than the previous ones. Ian is amazing, he just goes on and on, he’s 79 now and acts like a 50-year-old. Nearly every week I see an announcement on Facebook about someone who has passed on. As Vivian Stanshall used to say “I like to get the Sunday papers to pour over the obituaries” and when I get Mojo it’s almost the first page I look at. And often it will be someone I know. But a lot of us didn’t take care of ourselves we over indulged. In Mott we drank like fishes but nothing dangerous. Ian always took care of himself he would go swimming every day at the hotel and after a gig if we were out partying and he would go back and write a song or two. And here we are; it pays off.
All these years since Mott came to an end it sounds as if you are really enthused about these upcoming shows and can’t wait to take the stage…
Well until this week we hadn’t all been in the same place. The Rant Band were rehearsing in New York with Ian, I’m in Japan and Bender’s here all rehearsing in separate places. I cranked it up really loud in my home studio; I know the chords, I know the arrangements but what I was working on was sheer stamina because I hadn’t played for two hours for a long time. But when we played together this week it all came alive. The Rant Band are amazing, I played with them four years ago when Ian came to Japan and I played a few songs with them during the encores. But they’ve been together longer than Mott and are very tight; when they play Mott songs they bring them to life and it really does sound like the old days. I see people on Facebook say that’s not Mott The Hoople but it fucking is – it’s sixty per cent of Mott The Hoople and a cracking rhythm section; we’ve got a great guitarist and we’ve got our lead man so don’t be so cheeky!