Ian Hunter turned to autobiography in the early 1970s, writing several rueful story-songs about his band’s travails and publishing a revealing book about the mundane reality of fame (“Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’’). Though he was then near the top of Britain’s disposably wonderful glam-rock heap, Hunter nonetheless looked into the deep, dark truthful mirror and deemed rock ‘n’ roll “a loser’s game.” As he went on to sing in “Ballad of Mott the Hoople”: “Behind these shades the visions fade/As I learned a thing or two/Oh, but if I had my time again/You all know just what I’d do.”
And do it he has. Always a mature and frankly honest commentator — on stardom’s ups and downs, politics, relationships and people — Hunter has never ceded an inch of his spirited commitment to playing that loser’s game. Now in his early 80s, at an age when the word “rocking” is most reliably followed by “chair,” Hunter is still at it, rocking stages with no appreciable loss of enthusiasm. (Or of his distinctive mop of curls.)
I last saw him play in 2012 and can attest to his unwavering conviction and energy. Mott the Hoople’s dark, swirling power — used in service of everything from psychedelic chaos to Dylan tributes to covers of songs by the Kinks and Sonny Bono — was headed down a commercial dead end in 1972 when David Bowie came to its rescue with a sure-fire hit song, “All the Young Dudes.” The band, which would influence British punks from the Clash to Generation X, enjoyed fame and fortune for a few years before Hunter struck out on his own.
In this 2004 London gig, which mixes selections from his solo career and a handful of Mott hits, the visible changes from those glory days are the casual clothes Hunter wears and the acoustic guitar replacing the unique, silver-coated H-shaped electric he used to play. For a firm connection to Hunter’s past, original Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs (later of Bad Company) is on hand to school hot six-stringer Andy York of Hunter’s four-piece Rant Band. For added fun, Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott and two of Hunter’s adult children turn up to sing “Dudes” with him.
A wry and romantic poet with a husky voice, Hunter remains a singular figure who can lace together a stirring protest song (“Rollerball”), a paean to groupies (“Rock and Roll Queen”), a poignant love letter (“I Wish I Was Your Mother”), a rousing anthem (“Cleveland Rocks”) and a 1930s classic (“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”) with ease. He even sings a heartbreaking tribute (“Michael Picasso”) to the late Mick Ronson, the Ziggy/Bowie sideman who was briefly in Mott before starting a duo with Hunter.
He restarts a botched song with nary a hint of embarrassment and later teases a fan who thrusts an autograph book up at him onstage (“I’m busy!”) — and then signs it!
A warm and winning performer, Hunter exudes cool aplomb. He restarts a botched song with nary a hint of embarrassment and later teases a fan who thrusts an autograph book up at him onstage (“I’m busy!”) — and then signs it!
In 1974, Mott the Hoople did a week-long residency at the Uris Theatre on Broadway. The band members were colorful glitter peacocks towering in platform boots, and it was the show of the season for New York’s glitterati. Mott’s opening act? A new band called Queen, a fact Hunter mentions by way of introducing Queen guitarist Brian May (along with Joe Elliott) to supercharge “All the Way from Memphis,” another autobiographical song Mott played at those shows.
“You gotta stay young, man, you can never be old,” Hunter sings, ending the night in a roaring blaze of memory.