BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: In Fact, Mott The Hoople Can't
by John Ingham
Even as Mott The Hoople were anouncing Mick Ronson as their new guitarist at a fancy New York press conference, plans were underway for the group to break up again with Ian Hunter pursuing a solo career backed by Ronson.
Originally, the idea was to do European, British, and American tours, record a follow up to the live album, and then pursue solo activities a la The Who. However, two days before the British tour started, Hunter collapsed at the home of Fred Heller, Mott's American manager, and in the wak of the tour cancellation the 'Mott splits' rumors began to grow: Hunter had become increasingly tense and high strung--in Amsterdam he threatened to fire the roadies (who had been with them for years) simply because the monitors weren't working--and the pressure had become too great; there had been fights with Buffin over production of 'The Hoople' and 'Live,' since denied, though Buffin admits to disliking 'Marionette,' 'Judy's Song,' and the formula songs; Hunter was leaving for money, also denied ('I could have sued over that'). Within a couple of weeks it was official--Hunter was to pursue a solo career with the help of Mick Ronson, and the rest of the band would show a stiff upper lip and the Dunkirk spirit and soldier on.
Just why he left, Hunter hasn't revealed, but according to Buffin, 'The demands were getting too great. What was expected of him, the things he had to write for Mott The Hoople, was a diversion from what he wanted to do. He began to write wat he felt was expected of Mott rather than what he wanted--'Crash Street Kids' is an example--and his collapse and subsequent recuperation let him to believe that he should split and go out as a solo, so that whatever he did would be what Ian Hunter did and not Mott The Hoople.
'When we first heard about it we thought, Christ, what are we going to do now? Which was a situation lasting four or five days. But during this time our management and record company and publicist were incredible, boosting us up, and set us on our feet again very quickly. And in two weeks we were in the studio.'
Considering that Mick Ralphs gave six months notice before resigning, it is understandable that Hunter's instant notice caught them unawares. But where one expects a certain nervousness and perhaps depression in the remaining Hooples, the three of them are buoyant and confident.
'It's exciting--it's fucking exciting. All we're really lacking is a complete group. The material that has sprung up since Ian's leaving is incredible. We've got about fourteen songs down. Also, we're not in a really good position, financially. We can get by for a few months, but we're not in a position to hang around. That's what makes it so exciting. It's gotta happen.'
Whilst auditioning guitarists and singers 'who can play some guitar,' Buffin, Overend Watts and Morgan Fisher have been recording demos. All have contributed to the writing, with Overend the driving force. Since Buffin was Mott's production chief, Morgan can handle a panoply of keyboards, and Overend is a guitarist turned bassist (there is talk of him returning to the former), the three have been able to realize their ideas quite well.
Whether they will retain the name Mott, or The Hooples, is unsure--'It's very difficult to decide whether to keep any vestige of the past five and a half years'--but, in case, Overend and Mick Ralphs have thought up a list of new names. So our heroes may become Shane Cleaver and the Clean Shaven, Twentieth Fontury Sex, Cunning Stunts, Dignose and Dognose, or perhaps Short Back and Sides.
And the music?
'What we want to be is what should have happened after the first album, and what should have happened after Mott. We want to be an 'up' group, we want to avoid the introspection that happened in The Hoople and Mad Shadows and Brain Capers. It will be a lot easier to identify with.'
Hunter, meanwhile, is recording an album with Mick Ronson--'it's my writing, Mick's arranging'--fleshing things out with a group of unknowns, including a couple of guys from Ronno's original group, The Rats. They plan to do an English tour in March, and America in May.
'This album won't be a ridiculous change from what I've done in the past. I wrote most of the stuff for Mott anyway, and this is my album. So it'll be about seventy percent the same. I mean, you an't change overnight. To do that I'd have to la off for about a year-which I didn't want to do. It's not going to be like an immediate new direction, that would be frantic, to do it for the sake of doing it. So you'll find a bit of Mott, and bit of Mick, and a bit of me.'
It is well understood that Hunter decided to leave in the throes of nervous and physical collapse, but he doesn't care to expound on the reasons too much. 'When I left Mott I hadn't a clue as to what was going to happen and I didn't particularly care' he told me. 'You know, it's just when a thing's over, it's over. As a matter of fact there was a lot of pressure brought on me the other way around. I knew that I was going to be all right because as long as I can write songs I'll be all right.'
Where Mott have remained with their manager, Hunter, however, has rejoined Tony DeFries. The fact that Ronno's presence introduced a second management was another element of tension. To quote Overend, 'With MainMan we tended to get into the realms of escargot and caviar, rather than meat and veg.'
And, lest ou think this is a one sided affair:
'For Mick's next album I'm determined that he'll have good songs--he's a bit erratic with his songs, they tend to go here, there, and everywhere. And I can play a role for him, in much the same way he's arranger and co-producer for me. He does so much for me. But it's all music, it's got nothing to do with moves or how good we look in lipstick.'