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I was too young to go and see them do their legendary shows in my home town Stockholm in 1971. Before they, thanks to Bowie, went all glam, fame and glory, dudes in satin suits and all. And to be honest with you it was not until early 1974 or so, with hit single ‘Roll Away the Stone’, that I actually got to hear Mott The Hoople for the first time. But since then the band’s been part of my staple food. It was in fact the lead guitar intro of 'Roll Away The Stone' that had me wanna play electric guitar in the first place.

Now to get to see these guys perform live – 35 years after they split up is breathtaking. And judging by the kind of welcome the band gets at the Hammersmith Apollo, the second night of five consecutive nights, the rest of the audience feels the same, for all kinds of different reasons I suppose. As soon as Ian Hunter and the rest of the lads enter the stage everyone in the crowd is standing up (and remain on their feet for the whole gig). It takes about a good five minutes of bowings and greetings before the band kick off their first tune, a breathtaking version of ‘Hymn For The Dudes’ from the Mott album – with lead guitarist Mick Ralphs setting the standard straight with glorious guitar work.

What then follows is a line of tunes like ‘Rock And Roll Queen’, ‘One Of The Boys’ and ‘Sucker’ before it’s time for Hunter to chat a little with the audience. He’s very entertaining as always, joking about everybody standing up, “There are seats, you know!”  And he’s in incredibly good shape; I mean the guy just turned 70 this summer. And this goes for the whole band. Overend Watts is running up and down the stage with his Firebird bass and Verden Allen almost looks like a young guy they picked up to play the keyboards, and the band’s so powerful and they play with such energy. I’ve seen plenty of younger bands that can’t hold a candle to the amount of energy than this unit puts on display.  No wonder Mott The Hoople were one of the prime influences of the early punks, and no wonder Mick Jones of The Clash is in the audience.

As for Hunter’s voice, well it is even huskier than in the old days – but we all know what they say about a good wine, don’t we? And his phrasing is in fact even more ‘Dylanesque’ than it used to be. In a ferocious version of The Velvet Underground's classic ‘Sweet Jane’ he manages to turn this tune into a very British rendering of Bob Dylan impersonating Lou Reed. Brilliant!

Of course we do get classics like ‘I Wish I Was Your Mother’, ‘All The Way From Memphis’, ‘Honaloochie Boogie’ in wonderful thunderous versions. But what we also do get is some of the older stuff – the pre Bowie and Mainman-period. A little after mid-set Hunter sits down and plays the beautiful ballad ‘The Journey’ – with his foxy daughter Traci (plus another girl whose name I didn’t catch) on fine backup vocals. 

I did mention that all the boys in the band are in good shape. Well I’m afraid Buffin, the drummer, is not. Sadly, his health deteriorated considerably before the gigs – so he had to hand kit and sticks over to Marty Chambers (The Pretenders).  The latter clearly is a great drummer too, but it’s really sad Buffin couldn’t make it. However, as the band comes back for the first encores yet another drum kit is unveiled, and Buffin is being lead up to it.  So on ‘Roll Away the Stone ‘, ‘All the Young Dudes’ and ‘Keep a-knocking’ we get two drummers before the band returns backstage.

But the crowd calls out for more – of course.  And Mott The Hoople are soon back for a breathtaking ‘Saturday Gigs’. And as this last single from the band turns into the closing part with the ‘Bye Bye, Bye Bye’-part, the band puts their instruments down and walks around on stage just singing the bit, with the whole of the Hammersmith Apollo singing along – before taking their bows and disappearing out into the wings (with the crowd continuing singing the ‘Bye bye’-bit for a good ten minutes). Mott The Hoople gone. For good? Who knows, but it was sure sweet to see them.

Reviewed by Hawk, aka Håkan Soold (singer and guitarist of Swedish band The Plastic Pals)
Photos: Marianne Harwich