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
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
And he did - with Ronson as his
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
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
'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
'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
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.