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The Artful Codgers

3 March 1990
by Grahame Bent

The seeds of what became one of the great on-off partnerships in British rock were sewn in '72 when Mick Ronson shared the production chair with David Bowie during the recording of Mott The Hoople's 'All The Young Dudes'. With the demise of The Spiders From Mars, Ronson enjoyed a brief fling in Mott before in-fighting and petty jealousies convinced Ian Hunter that time had come to jump ship himself. And he did - with Ronson as his right-hand man.

Despite a high level of public interest, the resulting original incarnation of the Hunter- Ronson band was forced off the road after nine months due to contractual and management hassles. Hunter went solo and Ronson joined Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue before concentrating on producing. So ended the first chapter in British music's greatest saga of rock interruptus.

Today Hunter-Ronson are a little older, a little wiser. As with all great double acts one half of the team complements the other; Mick Ronson is the extrovert to Hunter's laid back, sardonic manner. With an almost malicious perversity in their sense of timing, Hunter + Ronson have never made it easy for themselves - operating with a sneering indifference to the prevailing wind of the time. Initially surfacing as punk's storm clouds gathered on the horizon, the partnership was dissolved before it really got off the ground. They reappeared in '79 with 'You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic', and now they've come back when most had assumed that they'd settled into quiet obscurity. Hunter had been holed up in his studio in upstate New York working on a succession of movie soundtracks (among them 'Fright Night', 'The Wraith' and 'Light Of Day') since the release of his last solo LP, '83's 'All Of The Good Ones Are Taken'. Ronson, meanwhile, had become immersed in production. Appropriately, his decision to pick up his guitar again coincided with his old sidekick's invitation to join him on a low-key tour of Canadian strip clubs in May '88.

'We both lost ourselves for about six years in the middle of the `8Os,` says Ian.` 'I thought I was so far off the rails I'd never get back on the road again. I'd got rid of my manager, I'd got rid of everything and it felt really good. Then Mick rings me up and here we are. It's got a way of digging into the back of your neck and you just can't seem to say no. I've given it up twice and I'm still comin' back for more!

For once, Hunter + Ronson's wayward timing has served them well, as the demand for tickets and the responsiveness of crowds on their recent British dates has proved. 'When we did 'Irene Wilde' at Nottingham I had to sing it in the third person 'cos it was starting to choke me up. That song's not about Germans or Americans - the Barker Street bus station could only be somewhere in England. I looked at those people and I knew the same things were going down in that town. It really got to me and that's great cos you don't expect to get affected like that after you've been around as long as we have. '

'It was never meant to be anything like the Stones or The Who coming back. We're just two guys who play when we wanna and don't play when we don't wanna. We never took care of business and we still don't we should've toured for two years after 'Schizophrenic' but we only toured for two months cos we got real sick of the music. 'Don't ask me why, but for some strange reason we ain't got bored with this one yet.'

'This one' being 'YUI Orta', the current Hunter-Ronson album. Produced by Bernard Edwards and recorded at New York's Power Station studio, 'YUI Orta' is very much a state of the art FM rock album and probably the most overtly 'Americanised' project this most English of duos have ever collaborated on. Despite some less than positive reviews, Hunter is convinced that its uality will only be recognised in the future, when seen in context of the rich, varied discography that preceeded it. 'It's as good as anything that's gone before it, if not better. It feels like the first time, to coin a pun. When I first played 'All The Way From Memphis' people wanted to hear 'Brain Capers', when I first played 'Cleveland Rocks' people wanted 'Memphis'. If we're still around in ten years from now people are gonna want to hear 'The Loner'.

'People always seem to figure us out a couple of years after the event. It's a real pain in the arse we've been trying to sell out for years but it just doesn't seem like it's gonna happen.'

Last autumn, the imminent Hunter- Ronson revival got an unexpected shot in the arm from Great White's limp cover of their 'Once Bitten Twice Shy'. It took a lousy cover of a great song to hit the US Top Five, while the original was never actually released as a single in the States. And the irony doesn't end there ...

'When we were playing our way around the Southern states people were asking us if we were a cover band - they thought 'Once Bitten' was a Great White song. It was even worse when Barry Manilow had the hit with 'Ships' then it was, F***, what the hell's he doing that for? '

'When you've got a large catalogue the strangest of things can happen. I remember, all of a sudden, the royalties from 'The Golden Age Ot Rock 'N' Roll' shot right up and I couldn't figure out why. It wasn't in the charts anywhere so I thought some DJ must've been using it in his programme seven days a week cos we were talking about a lot of money. Then I get to Sweden on the last tour, they bring this guy into the dressing room and some other bloke says, When you were here in '81 you said this guy would be a star - well now he's the biggest star in Sweden. He'd covered four songs, translated them into Swedish, sold quarter of a million and, of course, one of 'em was 'Golden Age'. But he got a co-writing credit cos he translated the lyrics and I never knew you could do that.'

' You've no idea where the next cover might come from?

'I dunno, it always surprises me. Who knows, Willie Nelson's covered 'The Other Man' twice I'd love to hear that but neither version's ever come out. Some other geezer's done 'Once Bitten' in Europe and a couple of other people have 'done 'I Wish I Was Your Mother'. I don't like any of them. When I heard the Pointer Sisters had done 'Who Do You Love' I thought, Now that'll be something. But it wasn't, it sounded like they'd just run it off in half an hour. Sometimes I think people should stop f***ing with my art but then I'm grateful they take the trouble now and again - every little helps you know ... '

'The thing that intrigues me is we're not supposed to be doing this now. When we were supposed to do it we were a little contrary about it all. When I was looking through my mother's scrapbooks I came across the original reviews of 'Once Bitten' and they were saying, This is just a pokey little rock song. But then, maybe the time's right for it now. '

'Which brings us back to the point, we're old '70s guys - what the f''* are we doin' here? Now's not the hip time for us to be doin' this and that gives us a sort of kick - I think we need that little bit of aggro - cos it gives us something to battle against. We're both battlers. Success ain't much fun without it. In fact it can be quite boring.'

Terminally unfashionable or just instinctively two steps ahead of the mob what's the difference? Nobody does it quite like Hunter + Ronson.

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