Every few months there a new poll will pop up or article listing the greatest live albums of all time. The usual suspects always feature near the top spot; Strangers in The Night, Live & Dangerous, Live In Japan. All are deserving of the attention, but there is often one that is overlooked; Mott The Hoople’s 1974 offering Live. A single disc recorded over two gigs, one in Broadway and another at Hammersmith Odeon, it captured the vitality and raw brilliance of a band at the top of their game. Shortly after its release, the ebullient Ariel Bender left, later resurfacing in Widowmaker, and frontman Ian Hunter was not far behind him taking his replacement, Mick Ronson, with him to embark on an exemplary solo career. Mott eventually called it a day in 1976 until a couple of reunion shows took place in 2009 and 2013 with the early line up (Hunter/Ralphs/Watts/Allen/Buffin). Given the task in hand at the time, it was understandable, albeit disappointing, that Ariel Bender and Morgan Fisher weren’t involved in the reunion. Move forward to 2018 and the news that a Mott The Hoople ’74 reunion was on the cards came out of the blue and was met with much anticipation. Fans were wondering whether they could recapture that excitement from the 1974 live album in 2018. We’d sadly lost Buffin and Overend Watts, so along side Fisher & Bender, Ian brought along the whole of his Rant Band to complete the lineup. Three successful European dates, including a headline spot at Ramblin Man Fair, whet the appetite in anticipation of a full on tour which which Midlands Rocks were able to catch at the first show at Leamington Assembly, and just over a week later at Birmingham Symphony Hall.
First up, however, are Tax The Heat. No strangers to the Midlands, the hard working quartet have always come across favourably when they’ve been headlining their own shows or as support to the likes of Black Star Riders and The Union. Over the years they’ve grown from a hard edged blues to a more commercial sound. Planet Rock love them, and with good reason. Their newer songs from second album Change Your Position are slick and concise. Live they are certainly not lacking the energy and power. Drummer Jack Taylor is a joy to watch as he finds it difficult to contain himself to the drum stool, meanwhile Alex Veale and JP Jacyshyn’s guitars pack a real punch. The newer songs, ‘Cut Your Chains’ and ‘Change Your Position’ stand out and go down a treat, sitting comfortably alongside ‘Highway Home’ and ‘Fed To The Lions’ from their debut. If they were on form tonight, then they were positively on fire by the time they hit Birmingham just over a week later. On both occasions they seemed to be doing well on the merch afterwards.
The Leamington show was a later addition to the Mott tour and was announced as a warm up show for the main dates. On arriving it was immediately obvious this was going to be a cosy one. Morgan Fisher’s grand piano must have been fun for the crew to get onto the stage and it certainly swallows up a lot of space. The band filter on slowly and Morgan Fisher backs Hunter as he sings the intro of ‘American Pie’ before the rest of the band kick in with ‘The Golden Age Of Rock N Roll’. Bender is as animated as ever and seems to be having the time of his life. He mentions how great it is to back in the UK and as a near hometown show seems delighted when he spots people he knows in the audience.
The Rant band seem happy to let Hunter, Fisher & Bender provide most of the ‘theatre’ of the show tonight, but their contribution should not be understated. They have a wonderful synergy. In particular James Mastro impresses as he switches effortlessly from guitar to sax on the likes of ‘Golden Age’ and to a fantastic mandolin on ‘I Wish I Was Your Mother’.
The atmosphere is a strange mix of laid back and relaxed (a roadie doubles as a waiter at one point to pop open a bottle of Tattinger for Morgan Fisher) but never seemingly too far away from descending into chaos. I guess that’s just the essence of a good Rock N Roll show.
Understandably the attention is focused on The Hoople album and some lesser known gems such as ‘Alice’, and ‘Pearl ‘n’ Roy’ are given an airing which are much appreciated by the Mott aficionados. However, the bigger songs are never very far away. Hunter is keen to point out that ‘Roll Away The Stone’ was their biggest hit selling double that of the ‘Bowie one’.
Hunter dons his infamous Maltese cross guitar and strips back the years with a raucous ‘Walking with A Mountain’. It’s a delight to be up close to watch Bender pick and work his magic on the tremelo through the solo. The song ends with a flourish from Fisher. ‘Marionette’ sounds glorious and gives Fisher another opportunity to shine. A voice declares “Bender is God!”, but Morgan is quick to retort that “he can’t be a god. He’s still alive!”
And what can be said of the man himself? There won’t be a single review of this tour that doesn’t mention Ian Hunter’s age and he’s just as much an inspiration now as he ever was proving that even when the free bus pass is well worn they can still rock hard, show kids half their age how it’s done and “play better than they do”.
A rip roaring medley takes in ‘Violence’, ‘One Of The Boys’ and ‘Rock N Roll Queen’ and mixes with in some rock standards; ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Johnny Be Goode’ and culminates with a judiciously re-titled ‘Leamington Rocks’ which helps squeeze in as many songs as possible.
Having caught the Leamington warm up show it was good to see the contrast to one of the main dates at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. The set was may have remained the same, but there were far more dynamics to the show. A full stage lighting rig with a big illuminated ‘M’ provided the back drop. The extra space allowed for more movement and antics; Morgan Fisher playing matador to Aerial Bender’s strat being particularly memorable moment, as was when Bender presented Hunter with a list of superlatives which he insisted he use when introducing him. Ladies and gentlemen; the great, the magnificent, the amazing, the incomparable, the sexy Aerial Benderrrrr!
The encores for both shows are the same. Fisher is first back to the stage and his insistent intro builds announcing the arrival of the rest of the band who kick in on the button for ‘All The Way From Memphis’, on which Mastro’s sax really shines. It’s then left to an emotional ‘Saturday Gigs’ and ‘All The Young Dudes’ to close what has been a superb set proving the irrelevance of age in rock and roll and confirming that 45 years later we’re all still living through the Golden Age of Rock N Roll.
American Pie / The Golden Age of Rock ‘N’ Roll
Rest in Peace
I Wish I Was Your Mother
Pearl ‘n’ Roy (England)
Walking With a Mountain
Roll Away the Stone
Medley: Jerkin ’ Crocus / One of the Boys / Rock and Roll Queen / Crash Street Kidds / Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On / Mean Woman Blues / Johnny B. Goode / Violence / ‘Leamington’ Rocks / You Really Got Me
All the Way From Memphis
All the Young Dudes