All the old dudes: the return of Mott the Hoople

Joe Elliott interviews Ian Hunter


Mott the Hoople were one of the dominant bands of the early 70s glam rock era. They split in 1974 but are about to embark on a series of reunion concerts.



Joe Elliott, lead singer with Def Leppard, is one of the many musicians inspired by Mott the Hoople. He talks to the reformed band’s frontman Ian Hunter before they begin their five night comeback at London's Hammersmith Apollo. Joe Elliott supports Mott The Hoople on the final night, 6 October.

Joe Elliott: The question on every Mott the Hoople fan's lips is why now and what prompted a yes that didn’t when it was mooted in the 80s and the 90s?

Ian Hunter: I don’t think we were ever considering doing it and then Phally [Verden Allen] opened his mouth and said "if we don’t do it now, we never will" which was a bit of a shock to me because I’d never really thought of it like that. And I said "if it's easy and uncomplicated" and he said "well, Pete [Watts] and Buff [Dale Griffin] want to do it" and I rang Mick [Ralphs] and he said "yeah, fine" and it was as simple as that. For some reason it never was before - somebody was busy, Pete didn't want to do it, whatever.

JE: There’s been a general thawing over the last 10 to 12 years. Remember when the box set came out and you and Mick were there and then you did a gig after the Mott Convention in Bilston and Verden got up with you then?

IH: When he came out with me he began to realise "well, I can trust this bloke" and that's a big thing with Mick. There was never any ill feeling with Pete. Me and Buff didn't totally get on for a while then. These things happen.

JE: You mentioned to me after the second show in Monmouth that you guys were "getting on like a house on fire". Was that something you expected or was it something you hoped and prayed for?

IH: No, I expected it because Pete had rung me a few times by that time, Phally, Mick, they were all highly excited and it seemed it was going to be all right. I wasn’t losing any sleep over that nor the music, actually. It was exactly as if we’d stopped last week and started again this week. Except Buff's up and down with his illness. Martin's doing a great job [The Pretenders’ drummer Martin Chambers is sitting in for Buff].

JE: So you're back together, you've done two warm up shows in Monmouth. Would you like to do more? I'm thinking specifically of headlining Glastonbury next year or at least being on the bill? It would be inspiring for a lot of fans that can't make it to London to think that there might be more to it than just these shows.

IH: I really can't answer that. I can't speak for the band because we haven't spoken about it. We've been trying to learn songs.

JE: But in your heart would you like to or is it something you wouldn't be interested in?

IH: If it was like it has been down in Monmouth then I wouldn't mind, but I don't think they're up for tours or anything like that. If they did something it would probably be the same as this. I don't see this band touring, I don't think it would tour well.

JE: Do you think this would open you guys up to making new music? In this day and age you could do two or three songs and put them up as a download.

IH: There are a few things to be sorted out before we can get into that. It's not easy business wise.

JE: Taking political questions out of it, would you be up for doing new material with Mott the Hoople? Do you believe that, stood in a room with those four other guys, you'd start becoming more laddish if you approached the songwriting as opposed to what you'd be doing as a solo writer?

IH: Well, the one thing I noticed is it's a damn sight more powerful than I'd remembered it. This band is an extremely powerful band so it’s in its early days - I actually wrote one when I was down there with them but we can't do it because we haven't got time to learn it.

JE: Trust me, everybody like me will be chomping at the bit to hear this. I've noticed from watching out front that when you front a powerful band you behave differently. You act more like the frontman of a rock band. I wonder if, mentally, you'd be a different songwriter writing for Mott than for yourself?

IH: I really don't know because we've only done a couple of gigs and the rehearsals basically learning all the old stuff. But you're right when you say it changes your persona - it's ballsier, it's a democratic situation. They're all stars.

JE: You yourself have been pretty prolific over the last few years compared to, say, in the 80s or part of the 90s. Why all of a sudden are we getting an album every 18 months from you when we used to get one maybe every six or seven years? What do you put that down to?

IH: The American political situation, probably. The last eight years have been insane. And the 18 months between this one and the last one is because the band played so well on Shrunken Heads [Hunter's solo album] I just thought we've got to go back and do this again.

JE: So do you just start jamming away and making yourself feel better? Is that how you do it?

IH: That's the last thing I want to do. It's a process of getting to the point of self hatred where nothing else will help. You've got to go down in order to feel better about yourself when you come up.

JE: If I remember rightly, wasn't "Apathy for the Devil" a result of you having seen the Stones and they just didn’t do it for you that night?

IH: Dylan asked me what did I think of the Stones and I said I hadn’t liked them they seemed desultory at that particular time. I've always loved the Stones but that particular time, no. And he said "yeah, apathy for the devil".

JE: To us fans of Mott there's been an overwhelming outpouring of positivity regarding the band’s decision to reform. Have you actually begun to accept or even understand the value of Mott the Hoople and do you embrace it now? I know in the past it appeared the five years that Mott were together you didn’t quite understand why it meant so much to a small bunch of people.

IH: I still don't. There are a lot of things going on with this band and to tell you the truth it bemuses me. Because when you're in it, all you're thinking is Pete's late, you just think they're normal things. The buzz quite amazes me. I hope it lasts. Man Overboard [Hunter's last solo album] came out three or four months ago and it's obliterated in my mind by this. It's a very powerful band.

JE: You have obviously been drinking from the fountain of youth and I would like to know where it is. A lot of people have commented on how well the band looks.

IH: You've got to get out and about and exercise. In my 40s I was doing 12 mile walks one day and swimming two the next, because I wasn't doing anything else. There's plenty of time on your hands when you're a songwriter.

JE: I'm opening for you guys on the last night at Hammersmith. And amongst some of the songs that I'm playing I'm going to be doing some of your solo stuff that you've openly admitted to me that you don't like very much. It's my job on that night just to convince you that you're wrong. Do you think you’d be able to hear it and think that's a really good song?

IH: No, I'd probably still think it was a lousy song, just a better singer doing it.

JE: Do you prefer the audience to be more reserved these days or do you still like the idea of a riot?

IH: I think it's too dignified. Most of the audience are probably in their 50s and 60s, and I don't know what that would look like. I'm not bothered. You saw what happened in Monmouth. I'm perfectly happy for the whole place to be going nuts - that was the whole idea in the first place. But I don't know if they will, and there's quality in the music so if they don't want to go crazy that's fine.

Mott The Hoople play Hammersmith Apollo tonight (Thursday 1 October) until Tuesday 6 October.

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