Steve Hyams: Guitarist with Mott the Hoople

 

Although he was a widely respected singer, songwriter and guitarist in his own right, Steve Hyams was best known in the rock community, often to his frustration, for his association with the band Mott the Hoople.

He was not part of their original line-up but performed and recorded with them and, after their break-up was invited by the remnants of the band to revive them as what became known to their fans as Mott the Hoople Mark II. It was Mott’s original frontman Ian Hunter who recommended that they take on Hyams as their lead singer and songwriter after he himself had quit.

It was a short-lived deal. A CD by “Mott the Hoople, featuring Steve Hyams” was recorded in 1977 but, due to legal issues over the use of the band’s name, saw the light of day only in 1993 and is now a collector’s item. Hyams went on to play with various reincarnations of the band’s remnants, including the British Lions featuring ex-Mott guitarist Ray Majors.

Having shared a smoky Sloane Street, Chelsea, flat with guitarist Mick Ralphs and the other members of the fledgling Mott the Hoople in the 1960s, Hyams introduced the band to the music of a young singer called David Bowie. That initiated a long relationship between Bowie and Mott the Hoople which resulted in one of the band’s biggest hits, “All the Young Dudes”, written by Bowie.

Living just off Sloane Square, Hyams worked on the record counter of the now legendary Chelsea Drug Store, the record shop which became the magnet for young musicians and wannabes, immortalised in the Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Hyams found himself at the heart of a fast-changing world, musically and beyond. “The Zeitgeist was a-changing,” his friend and eventual record producer Tim West remarked.

During the 1970s, Hyams played sessions with numerous bands including Fleetwood Mac, Spooky Tooth and Ian Dury and the Blockheads. He was not on stage but often distracted the audience between sets when singing and playing among the tents at the first Glastonbury Festival on 19 September 1970, as he recalled “the day after Jimi [Hendrix] died.”

In the early 1970s the American singer/songwriter Tim Hardin heard Hyams in a West London pub performing, among other songs, some of Hardin’s, including “Reason to Believe”. He arranged a record deal and Hyams flew to San Francisco in 19794 to record his first solo album in 1974, Mistaken Identities, for Clive Davis’s Arista label. They released it only in 1977, somewhat late since punk rock had moved the musical goalposts, but it won acclaim among fellow rockers when released by the Angel Air label, with tracks such as I Fall Over, I Fall Down. Marianne Faithfull recorded the latter for her 1979 album Broken English but the track was dropped at the last minute, denying Hyams badly needed royalties.

His solo career peaked with his 1997 album Feather and a Tomahawk, with the former Mott guitarist Ray Majors in blinding form and producer Tim West playing multiple instruments. Hyams went on to play at the Mott the Hoople Convention in Bilston, Wolverhampton, in 1999 but poor health (or internal politics) excluded him from the band’s much-heralded 40th anniversary reunion at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2009. He spent his latter years in Richmond upon Thames and Petersham, close to the Thames.

Stephen Hyams was born in Camden, London in 1950, the eldest of three children. He spent his childhood in his father’s hometown, Brighton, before the family moved to London, where he spent much of his youth caring for his younger brother, Richard, who had polio. Their father was one of London’s first importers of Russian cameras and other optical equipment before he expanded to run one of London’s largest electronic stores, Lion House on Tottenham Court Road, a magnet for the blossoming hi-fi generation in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

Using a bout of tonsilitis as leverage/blackmail, young Steve persuaded his father to buy him a guitar and he proceeded to learn every Beatles or Stones song on the same day it came out. At the age of 17, inspired by 1967’s Summer of Love, he drove to India with three schoolfriends on “a voyage of self-discovery.” Although he shared the driving on that trip, Hymans passed his British driving test only after he was 50.

“Dad partied with the Beatles, the Stones and many others, in stories that probably shouldn’t be published until after everyone else is dead,” Hyams’ son Luke recalled. “One of my earliest memories is of him bursting into my kindergarten to announce, ever so politely, that I would be leaving early – because our house was on fire. My father was on a rollercoaster ride of creative pursuit, misadventure and tragedy. He was a rock ’n’ roll original.”

Stephen Hyams, singer, songwriter and guitarist: born London 4 November 1950; married firstly Caroline Norton (deceased), secondly Isabella Dulaney, partner to Jennifer Wilson; one son, one daughter; died Kingston upon Thames 11 May 2013.

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