archiv: mott the hoople

archive review first posted on the losing today site c. 2003 …..

(Angel Air)

One of the great might never have been’s of the early 70’s where Hereford rockers Mott the Hoople, a band who by a series of happy accidents and co-incidences achieved acclaim long after their initial collective fire had fizzled out, and who for an earlier slice of their career were found often jumping on the wrong band wagon. Yet for all that Mott the Hoople are probably best remembered as the glam rockers whose hits ‘All the young dudes’ and ‘Roll away the Stone’ dented the upper reaches of charts worldwide. However before being asked to reconsider an amicable split by David Bowie, another stab at stardom brought them the success they had craved for nearly 6 years without fruition and into the mix acted as inspiration to two of punk’s leading lights, Tony James and Mick Jones (just listen to the more thoughtful moments found on Generation X’s second album ‘Valley of the Dolls, if you don’t believe me, co-incidentally produced by Hunter), the Mott already had a sizeable history to their name as these 5 re-mastered CD’s from Angel Air prove.

This series covers all there needs to be known about Mott the Hoople pre the David Bowie / glam rock conversion. The commission has proven to be a labour of love for one time member Dale Griffin as the archives have been meticulously searched to unearth an albums worth of unreleased material dating back to between 1969 and 1972, all neatly packaged together for the first time on CD, ‘Two miles from Heaven’. In addition the Mott’s first four albums have been dusted down and re-mastered to include additional cuts each featuring extensive liner notes from Griffin about the sessions and providing an in depth backdrop for the recordings.

Mott the Hoople’s tale begins back in 1966; Tippins, Ralphs, Watts, Griffin and Allen had all been in various outfits and rival groups, under various guises such as Doc Thomas Group (under which they recorded an album), the Anchors, the Soulents settled for the name the Silence and like most bands of the day tripped the live circuits of the UK and Hamburg. Building up a sizeable reputation as a solid live band they had still failed to crack the elusive London scene and on the verge of splitting in a strange turn of events found themselves auditioning for Island’s head of A ‘n’ R Guy Stevens. Stevens was a major player in the industry, friends with the Stones and Procul Harum he had long harboured the desire to gather together a country / rock crossover supergroup with all the zeal of Dylan, Harum and the Stones and had even thought of a name for the ensemble after reading ‘Mott, the Hoople’ by Willard Manus. After the first meeting and new singer was swiftly advertised for since Tippins did not fit Stevens ideal and besides, felt ill at ease at the way the band were developing musically, enter Ian Hunter, the rest as they say is history.

By all accounts the debut albums (‘Mott the Hoople’) only real flaw is that it failed to translate their awesome live thrust, listening in retrospect there is a definite Dylan influence which is prevalent throughout. Opening with a rollicking instrumental take on the Kinks ‘You really got me’ packed to the brim with jagged trailing riffs spraying dangerously about, Doug Sahms ‘At the Crossroads’ is rendered so sweetly toe curling that you’d swear it fell off the back of Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’, equally up there with the best Dylan songs never written by Dylan is the awesome anthem ‘Backsliding Fearlessly’. Elsewhere the monumental blues rocker ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen’ just kicks cool ass full of snaking riffs and the best middle section never written by Richards and Jones.

‘Mad Shadows’ originally released in 1970 is a much heavier affair, gone are the Dylan obsessions and in its place a darker caste is set that oozes despair just listen to the hurting of the gentle gospel tinged ‘I can feel’ and then try getting through the aching ‘When my mind’s gone’ without swallowing back the tears. Recorded as it were live in the studio to capture that missing piece of the jigsaw that nullified the debut, the album though smarting with the smell of over indulgence at times does give up a few gems, the wrenching ‘No wheels to Ride’ pretty much sums up all you need to know about Meatloaf in one neat epic emotional gasp. Highlight though has to be the bluesed out boogie of ‘Walkin’ with a Mountain’ which smartly runs momentarily into ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ in honour of Richards and Jaggers appearance in the studio at the time.

‘Wildlife’ quickly followed, changing gear slightly the band opted for a much more country / folk feel, dubbed at the time as ‘Mildlife’, ‘Wildlife’ is a more focused melodic offering, self produced it features the simply withering ballad ‘Angel of Eighth Avenue’ as elegant as you could wish from four and a half minutes of music, also featured is the cover of Melanie’s ‘Lay Down’ given a storming retread, a mini rock opera all of its own that maybe Primal Scream ought to investigate sharpishly. In between Ralph’s countrified scores pepper the album with a breezy feel, just check out the skipping steel guitar hoe down of ‘Must be love’ while snuggling at the rear waiting to bite is the monstrous live cut of the mental cover of Richards ‘Keep A Knockin’ a providing proof indeed live wise why bands like Free just couldn’t compete.

The best of the bunch though is 1971’s ‘Brain Capers’ now finding the band going back to their rock roots, their punk album if you like mixing in equal parts loud and quiet compositions by now a familiar approach to albums, it’s a stripped down and direct affair, no more extravagances that had supplemented their previous outings, this is the sound of a band nailing down the crudest of rock blues to dramatic effect. That said there are still the trademark Hunter ballads possibly peaking with the epic 9-minute masterpiece ‘The Journey’ (featured here twice with the additional alternative take) along with the moving Allen penned ‘Second Love’. ‘Sweet Angeline’ sounds like Dylan doing a Stones song written by Bowie while the wired ‘Death may be your Santa Claus’ crashes in with a molten hot discordant honky tonk riff on speed, elsewhere the grinding out a hip swinging sweating groove on the fiery ‘The Moon Upstairs’. The purely discordant briefly brawl ‘The Wheel of the Quivering Meat’ is a potent hotch potch of sonic freewheeling.

Last and by no means least the fifth CD in the series is a compilation of rare out-takes and alternate mixes entitled ‘Two miles from Heaven’. Seventeen tracks in total from the opening Ralph vocal on ‘You really got me’, which apparently pissed Davies off no end. ‘Thunderbuck Ram’ has the original Allen solo organ arrangement rightly mixed back up in all its full glory and retouched with some enchanting ersatz harpsi added for good measure. Among the rest of the treats a studio version of ‘Keep A Knockin’, an early demo version of ‘Sea Diver’ here rendered as the superbly frail ‘Ride on the Sun’ and the ultra rare lip sneering snagging folk funk groove of ‘Surfin ‘ UK’.

These five CD’s are a music history lesson and an essential addition to any half decent record collection, a thorough insight into the early career of one of rock’s much under-rated sons.

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