Over the course of the Giants of Rock weekend there appears to be an informal game of one-upmanship playing out between the various artists as they recount to the audience the first time they appeared on a Butlins stage: 1976, 1962 and so on…
But no-one beats Ian Hunter’s 1956. At a time when so many of his rock contemporaries are sadly passing away in their late sixties and early seventies, it’s incredible to think that, at 76, not only is Hunter still going strong, still singing and still performing but that he is still a major creative force, writing songs and making albums as consistently original and wonderfully compelling as the ones he made over four decades ago.
I’ve described elsewhere my almost lifelong love affair with the music of Ian Hunter and Mott The Hoople. And while the long-defunct (and somewhat forgotten at the time) Mott The Hoople were not the obvious choice for teenage boys to hit upon as one of their favourite bands in the early 1980s, I was privileged, during the course of the weekend, to bump into a fellow Hunter fan of a similar age with an almost identical story as my own. I felt doubly privileged when he turned up with a couple of spare backstage passes for my friend and I a few hours before the gig, allowing me to meet one of my topmost musical heroes after the show.
And what a show it was. Hunter is not usually one for a lot of on-stage banter. But his ability to connect with an audience through the quality of his song-writing and through the power and resonance of his performances is second to none. The sheer range of emotions that one can experience during the course of a single show is incredible: from the exhilarating, joyful irreverence of All The Way From Memphis to the heartfelt, introspection of Boy to the sardonic political commentary of When I’m President. All, of course, delivered with Hunter’s unique vocal style, accompanied by the superbly accomplished musicians in the Rant band.
In what was undoubtedly the number one highlight of a weekend of many highlights, we get a set that any Ian Hunter fan would be delighted to hear: from songs of the Mott The Hoople years like Honaloochie Boogie, to early solo material like Once Bitten Twice Shy to more recent material like Black Tears from his last studio album. Soon the set is drawing to a close but the band return for an encore of Rest In Peace (particularly moving following the death of Mott drummer Dale Griffin), Roll Away The Stone, Life (the brilliant new Hunter anthem from his most recent album) and, of course, All The Young Dudes. What better way to pay tribute to its writer, David Bowie (whose kindness and support came in the form of gifting the song to Mott The Hoople at a make or break stage in their career) than to bellow along to this at the top of our voices.
Then it’s all over. But, of course, it’s not quite all over as we head backstage to meet Mr Hunter and the rest of the Rant Band. A wonderful, moving moment in my life but all the more memorable for coming at the end of such a wonderful, moving performance. Thank you Ian Hunter for continuing to make such amazing music.
Previous review: Ian Hunter at Shepherd’s Bush Empire