Ian Hunter Recalls ‘Getting on the Mott Bike Again': Exclusive Interview
On April 1, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett proclaimed it Mott the Hoople Day in the city.
This was no prank (or time-machine trip), but a nod to the fact that a later-era lineup of the U.K. rock legends was kicking off its first U.S. tour in 45 years later that night in Milwaukee under the name Mott the Hoople '74.
Going by a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel review of the show, the wait was worth it. The group spun through a set of tunes culled from two 1974 albums, the studio effort The Hoople and Mott the Hoople Live, which was recorded at the Uris Theatre on Broadway in New York and at the Hammersmith Odeon in London: "The Golden Age of Rock and Roll," "Roll Away the Stone," "All the Way From Memphis," and, of course, "All the Young Dudes."
Touring-wise, not everything is the same all these decades later. "The traffic’s worse," frontman Ian Hunter told UCR several weeks before the tour kicked off. "The sound’s better; the lights are better; the monitors are better. The airport is worse. The flights are good. But, you know, it’s backwards and forwards."
The Milwaukee gig was one of just eight that Mott the Hoople '74 are doing in the U.S., to go along with eight U.K. dates. (The group also performed several festivals overseas last year.) As might be inferred from the revamped band's name, the lineup features a trio of musicians from the 1974 version of the group: Hunter, guitarist Ariel Bender and keyboardist Morgan Fisher.
Hunter says they had been thinking about doing these Mott the Hoople shows "for a while," because "we really wanted to give Morgan Fisher and Luther [Grosvenor, Bender's real name] a shot. A fair shot. Because the earlier reunions were the original five, and they never got the shot. And they were just as important. So this is because of that, the ‘74 version, the version that did Broadway. This is the version of the band that Queen opened for, and Kiss and Aerosmith and all of those people."
Watch Mott the Hoople Perform 'All the Way From Memphis' in 2018
On this U.S. tour, the Mott trio is augmented by the Rant Band, Hunter's longtime backing group (and an ace combo of musicians in its own right). Luckily, the Rant Band "got on famously" with Luther and Morgan, Hunter says, and combining the two factions was a seamless process.
"It went off like I thought it was going to go," he says. "I was the only one that knew everybody. And I thought they would all get along — because they all obviously are suspicious of each other, before they actually do it. It was fine, you know. It’s like getting on the Mott bike again.
"We probably rehearsed five days, something like that. But the Rant Band are great. They do their homework. They come ready to go. I’ve had them since 2001, so they pretty much know the Mott catalog. They’re familiar with the Mott sound and how that worked. They get on like a house on fire."
For Hunter, however, what's it like been immersing himself once again into the Mott the Hoople world?
"Everybody asks me that," he says. "It feels just like when I go out with the Rant Band. It just feels the same. A lot of these songs I wrote in the first place, so I’m revisiting them. But this is what I do."
Indeed. As Hunter's 80th birthday looms in June, retirement isn't in the cards. The musician was a surprise special guest at the final jam at the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, performing "All the Young Dudes" with Def Leppard, Brian May and a bevy of other inductees and guests — a poignant gesture, since Hunter, May and Def Leppard's Joe Elliott and Phil Collen also performed the song together at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert with David Bowie and Mick Ronson.
Still, Hunter's Mott '74 tour and recent high-profile in the U.S. are less a victory lap than simply him doing what he's always done. A few months ago, he told Rolling Stone he wants to head back into the studio in August.
"I’m about 80 percent done with a record," he says. "We like to do new stuff. It keeps life interesting. It’s one thing to go back and do the Mott thing now and again, once in a blue moon, but I couldn’t do it all of the time. I like doing new stuff all of the time."