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Mick Ronson: More live than expected?

20 April 1974
by Bob Edmands

Would you buy second-hand charisma from this man? Cynicism is tempting, be deserves to be rebuffed. Mick Ronson became a star, equipped with genuine public acclaim, at about 9.20 a.m. [sic] during his gig at Manchester Free Trade Hall.

The previous night at Preston, he was said to be 'nervous, but fantastic,' so he was probably a bunch of crap. But Manchester changed all that. And it wasn't just the collective will-power of the languid entrepreneurs at Mainman which achieved levitation.

Nor was it merely the ghost of Bowie, whose chains were hear to rattle in the opening chords of 'Moonage Daydream.'

That was the point when the 800 kids in the 2,500 seater hall went bananas and rushed the stage en masse, and the spectre of the millionaire recluse no doubt helped the hysteria along. After all, imagine if Jesus had done warm-up gigs for John the Baptist, instead of the other way round. John would've had stardom on a plate.

Anyway, the point is that Ronson scored his own triumph. The guy is a trouper, he hustles his audience into submission. For his fourth ever solo gig, Manchester was almost miraculous.

'Slaughter On Tenth Avenue' is a truly perverse album. Ronson's made his name as a power-chord axeman...so his album is wall-to-wall vocals. Musical raffia.

The title track, as originally cut by the Ventures, was snarling, raw energy, despite its toe-tapping constrictions. So Ronson's version is slowed down, statuesque, as raunchy as a titled lady adjusting her tiara. 'Stars Fell On Stockton' had more edge. Perverse is the only word.

So expectations for Ronno's live performance were not high. One had more reservations to suppress than General Custer, didn't one?

The show started 30 minutes late with half a side from a Classics for Pleasure album, intended as a fanfare. The occasional cry of 'Bowie' was heard among barely more frequent cries of 'Ronno.'

The man appeared to tumultuous applause. Really. He was dressed as per the album sleeve, an Apache dancer in cricket trousers...one of those platinum blondes you see in Hull who are normally middle-aged and married to trawlermen.

Ronno is nothing if not ambitious. The opener was Annette Peacock's 'I'm The One,' and he really plucked the quills out of this baby. Revelation number one: Ronson can sing loud. His larynx has achieved the heroic power of the great Caruso in mid-haemorrage. He makes Lena Zavarroni sound introvert.

'I'm The One' featured scat singing, and Ronson came close to bringing that off without embarrassment, too. A good omen.

The set seemed all foreplay and no climax until the proceedings spurted a little toward the end of the first half with 'Hey Ma Get Papa.' Until then the music seemed less like a hybrid, and more of a mutant.

Consider the elements: A three piece power trio, with Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Ritchie Dharma; three chick singers, kept downstage to avoid upstaging; six brass players, borrowed from Bob Miller and the Millerman; and Mike Garson, the one-man conservatory, playing the intro from 'Set Em Up Joe' during every number. This ensemble occasionally sounded like Delaney and Bonnie and Acquaintances on 'Growing Up And I'm Fine,' for example, or like the Hull Transit Authority on 'Angel No. 9.'

But the whole thing meshed together on 'Hey Ma Get Papa.' The song is vaguely reminiscent of the Doors' 'Alabama Song,' and Ronson pulled out a real lemon squeezer solo for the occasion. A few token crazies rushed the stage at this point, but they may have worked for the same firm as the guy who stood with professional aplomb to applaud at the end of every song.

Nevertheless, Ronno had conquered his audience at this point, and with immaculate programming, chose to dangle the kids on a string.

Final song of the 30-minute first half was the infinitely boring 'Music Is Lethal,' one of those moody, crumpled Gauloises numbers, tranlated from the original Latvian, and representing the outer limits of Mainman intellectual pretension. Alors, mes enfants, and that.

Ronson perches on a bar stool, platinum resilient in the spotlights, with acoustic rumblings. Garson plays organ-grinder to Ronno's monkey. Fifteen minute break for ice-cream soda.

Ronson works his butt of from then on. No more cerebral indulgence, no more taking the Piaf out of us. Down the line boogie, babes. 'Green Power' is for openers. Leon where are you? And then there's 'Music Maker,' a toon by Donovan of all people, which is made to sound like the Hurdy Gurdy man is still cranking his handle.

A brief, excrutiating pause for the dire 'Love Me Tender:' 'Gimme The Moonlight, gimme the gal, and leave the rest to me.' Ronno does his impression of Old Shep in his death-throes. Then 'Pleasure Man' really scores, with a strutting bass line from the suitably acclaimed Bolder, who proves to be a small avalanche throughout.

Ronno really wears his plectrum to the bone on this one, as if to make up for the axiomatics we missed on the album.

'Woman' is the third number that Ronno includes by Canadian Band, Pure Prairie League. These boys are no bison, and Ronno is lucky to have found a hitherto untapped source of fresh material, or so the audience thinks.

'Slaughter On Tenth Avenue' really tears things up. A rather more vigorous performance than on vinyl, with visions of Lee Marvin in 'M Squad' conjured up. Garson adds some steel-capped keyboards to the proceedings, and Ronno plays some chords which could shatter Hank Marvin's glasses.

'Moonage Daydream' precipitates the acclaim, as reported, and the house wobbles, if not rocks through to the encore.

Mr. Ronson returns after a discreet pause to render Joe Cocker's 'Something To Say.' Now there's no way that Ronno can sing like Joe Cocker, even if his Bowie imitation is first class, but no one is bothered.

The set closes with 'White Light, White Heat,' but Ronson has no need of broken Reeds. He's been a consolidated star for at least 10 minutes, and you can't gainsay that.

The message, young man, is clear. If you wanna be a star, join the Mainman organisation, and work your way up from the ranks. But be sure you play ace guitar, sing better than most, and borrow the best songs.

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