Hereford: the place where it all started for Mott The Hoople back in the 60s and the venue for the 2016 Mott The Hoople Fan Convention. For a band I’d been following since my teenage years back in the 80s (although they’d already long packed up by then) this was something I decided I just couldn’t afford to miss. There’s music, of course, but there’s also Q and A sessions with key figures associated with the band, there’s a fundraising charity auction of Mott memorabilia (proceeds to the Alzheimer’s Society), there’s film screenings and there’s lots (and lots) of opportunities for fans to mingle and chat with both each other and with MTH personnel, both band members and crew. Apart from the time the musicians were actually up on stage, there’s a complete and very refreshing absence of any ‘them and us’ attitudes. And so it wasn’t just in the Q and A sessions you could get first-hand insights into life on the road with Mott The Hoople, you could also get plenty of those just sitting in the bar and chatting, too.
But the music of course, was what brought people together in the first place and the music this weekend had some pretty special moments. First up is local punk band Terminal Rage. There was always a ‘punk-before-punk’ side to Mott anyway, particularly in the early days. But of special interest to Mott fans is that this band features the younger brother of Dale Griffin (MTH drummer who tragically died from Alzheimer’s this year) following in his brother’s footsteps at the drum-stool. Griffin leaves his kit and takes centre stage for one song to sing Bowie’s Starman as a moving tribute to his two musical heroes who died within a week of week of each other this year: David Bowie and his brother Dale.
Fellow Hastings resident, Mick Bolton, who toured as part of Mott The Hoople for a period in the early 70s, is next up on stage for an eclectic mix of numbers, including some pounding rock’n’roll boogie-woogie piano, to Jupiter – from Holst’s The Planets suite, to a self-composed song originally written as possible material for Mott The Hoople in mind. Circumstances intervened and it was never used by the band but it does capture the vibe of mid-70s Mott the Hoople very nicely and it’s great to hear it performed.
Bolton is then joined on stage by guitarist Luther Grosvenor (who, of course, went by the gloriously rock’n’roll pseudonym of Ariel Bender during his period in MTH) and an ad-hoc band assembled for the occasion. Grosvenor is marking his retirement from live gigging with a special performance tonight. This is the first time that Grosvenor and Bolton have performed on stage together since 1974 and we get a short but explosive set, revisiting key songs from Grosvenor’s long career. Simon Savage (who will return to the stage later in the evening as front-man for the tribute act, Wott The Hoople) provides some great vocals and interacts well with Grosvenor on stage. Notable song highlights include Spooky Tooth’s Better By You Better By Me (the original version of the track that saw Judas Priest up in court on that ludicrous charge where they were accused of encouraging their fans to kill themselves) and a glorious, wonderful, celebratory version of The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll. A point that was touched on earlier in the day during the Q & A was how Mott The Hoople’s first guitarist, Mick Ralphs, and his replacement, Ariel Bender (AKA Luther Grosvenor) were at opposite ends of the spectrum in their style of guitar playing and in their on-stage personality. Both the modest, unassuming but technically brilliant Ralphs and the explosively bonkers Bender were an essential part of Mott The Hoople’s history. Although sadly, and I would say unjustly, left out of the 2009 and 2013 reunion shows it’s wonderful to have the latter’s contribution celebrated here tonight. Grosvenor gives a heartfelt, emotional thank you to everyone who’s supported him over the years but I do wonder what he’s going to do in retirement. I can’t quite see him digging an allotment. So if he can be persuaded to do the odd bit of gigging here and there I think it would be glorious to see him back on stage with Simon Savage again.
Next up is Herefordshire-based The Troy Redfern Band. His brand of melodic blues rock is normally just the thing I’d be lapping up. But as I indicated earlier, the weekend was always about far more than just watching bands. So I took time out in the bar area: chatting to fellow Hoople fans (one of whom I discovered also shared my love of Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny) chatting to Bob Griffin about having Dale as both an older brother and a musical mentor, chatting to original keyboard player, Verden Allen (who wasn’t performing but still came along to be part of it all) about his experiences of the two reunion shows, chatting to Luther Grosvenor and joining the impromptu lobby to encourage him not to make his retirement quite so final, chatting to Mick Bolton about making the move from Lancashire to London as a young man (something we both did) and many similar conversations besides (as well as a plethora of the inevitable selfies, of course).
It was then back to the front of the stage for the tribute act Wott The Hoople to take part in a joyful, if slightly drunken celebration (certainly on my part by this stage) of Mott The Hoople’s music. A nice touch was getting Stan Tippins up (the original band’s vocalist from the pre-Ian Hunter days, turned MTH tour manager and occasional backing vocalist). They encored with Tippins singing the harmonies on a spectacular All The Young Dudes. A fantastic end to a fantastic day.
Forty-two years after their original demise Mott The Hoople is still a band that’s loved, celebrated and cherished by its many fans – and rightly so.
Thanks to Phil John and everyone else who worked to make this such a memorable event.