INTERVIEW: MOTT THE HOOPLE’S MORGAN FISHER BRINGS US UP TO SPEED ON FIVE DECADES OF HOOPLE HISTORY!

Sometimes, it’s not enough to just sit around and wait, simply hoping that the iconic performers of rock will eventually make it down to Australia at some undetermined time.

Sometimes, you have to be just a little proactive, provide some encouragement, effect a gentle push, to try and make it happen…

One esteemed act who has never made it to Australia, who would certainly draw a significant number of fans to their shows, as well as attract those curious to see a band that has had such an influence on modern rock music, is English rock band, Mott The Hoople.

It has been heartening to see some Australian fans actively lobbying to get the group to reform one more time and finally play shows in Australia. And it is having an impact.

Melbourne Mott uberfan, Tom Caulfield, has been running an online group, The Ian Hunter To Tour Down Under Campaign Group, that has steadily grown in membership over the years, and is starting to be a significant factor in having the band seriously consider a tour to the antipodes.

Having seen Mott The Hoople Mk. II play in July this year as headliners at the large Ramblin’ Man Festival in Kent, and previously seeing Mott The Hoople Mk. I play live at their 2009 reunion shows at the Hammersmith Odeon, I can certainly state unequivocally that Mott are still a force to be reckoned with despite their advancing years!

In the five years they were initially together – 1969 to 1974 – Mott built a fearsome live reputation and released a quick succession of seven stylistically diverse studio albums and one live album that have since been recognised as classics.

They have been cited as a major influence on the punk movement, and many contemporary performers openly acknowledge their debt to, and admiration for, the band.

So, in the spirit of adding momentum to the push to bring them down here and finally give us all the chance to see and hear the ageless power of Mott, I contacted their debonair keyboard player, Morgan Fisher, and asked him whether we were getting any closer to winning the battle for bringing them here.

As a long-time fan of the band I also couldn’t resist the chance to ask him about…well, everything!

Mott always prided themselves on being non-elitist and allowing fans access to the group, and this ethos is obviously still alive and well today, because I found Morgan wonderfully forthcoming and willing to talk at length on all things Mott.

What a bloke!

I started off by asking Morgan about the latest reunion shows that saw he, and guitarist Luther Grosvenor (aka Ariel Bender), back and playing with the band for the first time in 44 years…

The Upside News: Who actually initiated the coming together of the latest incarnation of Mott The Hoople?

Morgan Fisher:  It was absolutely Ian [Hunter}’s idea. As he wrote on his website, he realised that quite a lot of fans had been disappointed that Ariel Bender and I had not been included in the previous reunions, so he wanted to give us a chance. And certainly, in America, quite a lot of the fans were more used to, shall we say, ‘Mott The Hoople Version II’, which was with me and Ariel, as that was when the band started to have some really big success.

Ariel and I had talked to Ian when the earlier reunions had happened and we didn’t complain. We understood there were reasons why [we weren’t included in these shows].

It wasn’t a problem, and, in fact, I went and watched the first reunion shows in 2009 – all five nights!

TUN: Were there any logistical issues that initially proved difficult? If so, how were these resolved?

MF: I didn’t see any logistical issues at all. Rehearsals were pre-rehearsals, and were very simple. We decided on the repertoire – mostly Ian’s suggestions – and mostly we wanted to play as much as we could from The Hoople album. Me and Ariel each rehearsed at home, and Ian and the Rant boys rehearsed in America and sent us tapes of their rehearsals.

Obviously, they had previously done quite a few Mott songs in the past so they didn’t need to rehearse those.

Other than that, you know, I flew in from Japan and we all went to Birmingham and rehearsed. It was very quick, very smooth, easy and natural. A back in the saddle kind of feeling.

 TUN: Now you’ve had a few months to reflect back on the band’s mini European tour, what’s your take on how the shows went?

MF: How did the shows go? Brilliant!

I mean, I’ll tell you one thing. On the last day of rehearsal in Birmingham, the fifth day – we’d been rehearsing each song one at a time – we went right through the set, in order, quickly, with no gaps in between, just to see if we could do it. Because things [sometimes] need to change between songs –  like guitars change, or keyboard sounds change.

We went straight through the songs – about eighteen of them, I think – and when it was lunchtime I said to Ian, ‘Well, should we do it again after lunch?’ and he said, ‘Nah, I like it loose.’

 And just those four words were brilliant – I like it loose…!

We didn’t have to be perfect. This is not Queen! [Laughs] Because I know what Queen are like!

It’s a loose band. It’s like The Rolling Stones – it’s nice if it’s a bit ragged.

So, when we went on stage the first time in Spain it was very interesting to watch myself and see how I was feeling. I felt terribly confident. There were no nerves except for the usual adrenaline build up before the show – which I always like anyway. And that’s smoothed over by a glass or two of red wine.

There were a few little mistakes, little fluffs. Ian forgot the odd line or two of a lyric. There were no really bad mistakes, but I sensed there was a slight forgetfulness. In fact, I said to myself, ‘What is it when these [moments] happen?’

I think there are two kinds of mistakes.

 One is where you just get carried away and you get excited and you just slip onto the wrong note. The other one is where you get a momentary freeze – almost like stage fright, which I’ve never really had – but for a moment your mind goes blank and you wonder what the next note is, or the next chord. Interesting phenomenon. It is a sort of stage fright, but very momentary. I did have one or two of those moments, but it didn’t matter, you just carry on.

So, anyway, the shows were much as they were back in the day. I mean, wild – and fun – and slightly unpredictable and with room for improvising, for surprises, to get a little bit crazy…

I mean, in one song, Sweet Jane, which is mostly a guitar based song, I’m just sort of vamping along, and the rhythm of it is so amazing I couldn’t just sit there! It’s no fun being a keyboard player and having to sit right through a wild rock and roll concert. You like to get up and move around a bit – so I did. I just got up and went for a wander across the stage, even doing a little dance, and no problem!

So, it was really pretty much like being back in the old band. And the audience were great.

I mean, two of the shows were festivals, so it was a mixed audience – our fans, plus people who just came to the festival for other reasons – and they were all very welcoming and a lot of people sang along with a lot of the songs.

Sweden was our own audience, it was just us, so it was a captive audience and they knew all the words to all of the songs.

All in all, a really successful, and fun, ‘toe in the water’ – that’s how I think of it – a toe in the water to see how we were, and to see what the reaction was like.

And it was great on both [counts]. I’m looking forward to [doing] much more…

TUN: How did Ian Hunter’s long established Rant Band take to being temporarily ‘rebadged’ as members of Mott?

MF: Well, you know, they’ve been playing with Ian for most of the last fifteen years, which is three times longer than Mott, so they know Ian almost better than the Mott guys did. Obviously, they’d played the hits – All The Young Dudes, [All The Way From] Memphis, and quite a few other Mott songs, I believe, in their long career, so they probably felt half like Mott boys anyway. So, I don’t think they felt any difference at all. The whole thing was just so friendly, and fun.

I didn’t see any neuroses, bad feelings, bad habits, at all. It was just like suddenly I’d got a new family.

TUN: Did it feel strange playing the old Mott tunes without [now deceased, original drummer] Buffin and [now deceased, original bass player] Pete being there?

MF: Well, yes. That was my first reservation – that Pete and Buffin weren’t going to be there. That was my only worry about this project.

They are the best rhythm section I’ve ever played with bar none. I don’t mean they’re the best like Billy Cobham or Ginger Baker, kind of super-duper incredible virtuoso musicians. They were just pure Mott – and the feel was just right all the time, no matter what kind of song we were playing.

Buffin’s drums were always unpredictable and just astonishing and surprising and powerful.

Pete’s bass was always melodic. He never, or very rarely, played the root note of a chord. He’d play a harmony note – he played melodies on the bass. Probably something like Paul McCartney.

And, you know, those two started the band. They were the core.

So that was my only reservation going into this, but after hearing [the others’] rehearsal tapes, before we’d even got together, I knew we were in good hands.

By the time I got into the rehearsal studio, and you know, there’s nothing better than hearing real drums and bass in the same room, I knew there was absolutely nothing to worry about.

I mean, Steve [Holley] is a colossal drummer. He’s played with Wings and many, many other people. Very powerful. Very creative.

And Paul [Page] was so devoted to kind of recreating Pete’s style but adding something of his own – and he really worked at it.

So, it was just a total pleasure. No more reservations – they all went out the window!

TUN: Had you had much contact with Luther Grosvenor [aka Ariel Bender] in the ensuing years between the end of his time in Mott and the recent reunion?

MF: I hadn’t really been in touch at all with Luther – maybe the odd Facebook message or something funny like that. I know he used to turn up at Mott Fan Club conventions, and things like that, occasionally. He even went out on the road as Mott, I think, for a short time.

But no, we just hadn’t met up because I’ve been in Japan and, when I go back home, there’s so many people to meet up with that me and Luther just never crossed paths.

So it was great to see him again after, what? Forty something years? And nothing had changed really.

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Mott The Hoople at Ramblin’ Man  (photo: Martyn Turner)

 

TUN: The setlist you worked your way through while headlining the Ramblin’ Man Festival had some delightful surprises in it – Rose, Marionette, Lounge Lizard, Pearl ‘N Roy (England), for instance – was there quick consensus on the songs that you eventually included in the set?

MF: Looking at the songs you mention, well, half of them are from The Hoople anyway, and the point was to play most of The Hoople album that could be done live, because me and Luther had played on that album.

That was the only time I kind of felt let down when I went to see the 2009 reunion gigs in London – songs from The Hoople album, or from the time me and Ariel were in the band, were…not quite as sparkling as they should be – and things like, you know, Saturday Gigs [where] the piano in the intro was a bit naff. In fact, I don’t even know if they did [the intro].

So, it was great for us to say, ‘Right – we’re going to play the songs the way they should be played!’

 And things like Pearl And Roy and Alice had never been played live before. I don’t know if The Rant Band might have done them once or twice, but Mott never did them. It was great to get those out of the cupboard and bring them to life.

 Ian pretty much came up with the setlist. There was very little discussion. He pretty much nailed it. The medley gave us a chance to do some of the older songs, and of course there are the various hit singles, so I thought it was a very well-balanced set.

TUN: Were there any songs you wanted in that didn’t make the cut?

MF: One was Trudi’s Song – which I adore. Of course, there’s piano all over it! [Laughs]

 But I play that one myself, at times. You know, occasionally, I’ll do a gig here and sing a few Mott songs and that’s one I like to sing. It’s one I’m capable of singing! And playing…

 But the thing was, we had enough slow songs. We had Rose, Rest In Peace…so there would have been too many slow songs for one set.

 So Trudi’s Song is on the back burner, shall we say, but I think once we get….[did I say] ’once we get’?… if we get into more touring, we might vary the set a bit and slip in some songs like [that]!

 I wouldn’t mind having a go at Through The Looking Glass too, which is basically an orchestral song, but it would be interesting to try and do that one live.

TUN: While certainly being much loved, Pearl N Roy, in particular, seems heavily rooted in the seventies zeitgeist – did you all feel it still had some lyrical ‘currency’ in the present day?

MF: Pearl And Roy? Yeah, I think it’s certainly relevant now. It’s a politically based song. There’s a couple of things in there that may refer to actual things of the seventies but you know, politics are always shit. And particularly now, they’re really shit. Which makes Ian’s songs even more relevant. The political songs he wrote. And there’s lots. I think he’s always been concerned with expressing this zeitgeist, and still is. Look at his album titles – When I’m President, or the new one, Fingers Crossed. I mean we’ve all got our fingers crossed right now about the near future.

So, yes, I’m very happy to play that one again.

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Morgan Fisher in full sartorial glory.   (Photo: Martyn Turner)

TUN: Was there any discussion about dusting off the Broadway marionettes and having them appear during the show?

MF: There’s absolutely no chance those marionettes exist, I would think, after forty-five years!

 They weren’t ours anyway. We just invited a puppet company to come – I don’t think they were made specially for us. They probably had these and used them in other shows and maybe changed their clothes a bit or something.

I really have no idea what happened to them after Broadway was done, so we didn’t talk about them, no.

I think there was enough to get right, after this period of time, that we did’t want to complicate things too much.

But then again, who knows?

And frankly, I would love to play the same Broadway theatre again. It’s called The Gershwin now, I think, it’s not the Uris Theatre anymore. It would be fabulous to play it again if that came about.

We could sort of look around, but everyone’s getting old, you know! I mean, how many of those puppeteers are still alive? Who knows? But it was great fun when we did do it.

TUN: Why do you think Mott has maintained such a hard-core fanatical fan base for so long?

MF: Well, it’s a peoples’ band.

There was some showing off going on in the band, especially when I was with them, but there was no ego. We were just having fun and our main point, our number one priority, was to reach out to people and to commune with people in different ways – by hard rocking, by playing beautiful ballads, and face to face contact.

We didn’t want to be a stadium band where the first row is a hundred yards away. The best gig for us is like, say, Hammersmith Odeon, which really is ideal because it’s like, three to four thousand people – which is big enough to make a noise – but the first row are leaning on the front of the stage. I mean you can shake their hands. That’s perfect for us. We’ve always loved that.

And we’ve always loved meeting the fans after the show, hanging out. It’s a big part of touring.

Ian is one of the most honest and frank songwriters I know. He writes about personal stuff – stuff that we’ve all experienced.

It’s no surprise that his book, Diary Of A Rock And Roll Star, is so well received because he writes from the point of view of everyman. He’s amazed by the lifestyle he fell into and wants to share it – and we all do.

It’s such a great band…talk about lucky! I mean, I wasn’t even a fan when I joined them, I just went for the audition, and we just got on like a house on fire immediately. I’ll never forget it. It’s the most fun band I’ve ever been in.

TUN: Why does the band remain such a strong concert draw – it sold out its previous reunion shows in 2009 and drew big crowds in 2013 too – when many of your contemporaries, other bands from the ‘glam’ era, who are still on the circuit, are seen as little more than cabaret acts these days?

MF: I think partly the rarity value, because we didn’t do anything for over forty years, unlike some bands who keep plugging away on the revival circuit.

Ian, of course, kept going all the way through, so, in a way, he was sort of keeping the spirit of the band alive, and he used to play some of the old songs. I think that sort of kept an old flame alive that maybe, maybe, one day, there might be a reunion. It was down to Ian because the rest of us just headed off and did other things…or did nothing!

And I think there are a lot of people for whom the early albums and the early hits mean a great deal, and so they’re just ready – any time. They’ll travel the world. People flew from America, Japan, Australia to go to the gigs in London. It’s incredible.

A few months ago, people flew from America to Sweden for one gig! Extraordinary!

It’s nice that we’re all a bit older now and we’ve got a bit of spare cash, that certainly helps…

And, you know, we can still do it. That’s the point. We can still play. It’s not watered down, or diluted in any way. In fact, I think Ian might be in better voice now than he was forty odd years ago.

He’s taken such good care of himself. He does long walks every day, drinks very little and eats well, sleeps well…and it shows. Look at him – he’s 79, and he’s got a better figure than the rest of us! He’s got this rock and roll attitude in his body. He just walks on stage and you feel good when you see him.

So, you know what? We’re a damn good band. Nothing [else] to say!

TUN: Am I wrong in assuming the years spent with Mott are closer to your heart than your time spent in The Love Affair, or on the road with Queen, or your other ventures in band life such as in the prog rock band Morgan? What was the key difference between these experiences?

MF: Yeah, Mott was certainly closer to my heart than The Love Affair, and certainly more than Queen.

I mean, Love Affair was very exciting. I was eighteen. But it was like Beatlemania. We literally had entire audiences screaming at us, which is not the greatest thing when you’re trying to play and the amps are not as powerful as they are now. And you’d go outside after a gig and they’d try to rip your clothes off! There was very little security.

It was exciting, of course, for a teenage boy, but we went through changes.

We tried to ‘go heavy’, as they say, you know, the way The Small Faces turned into Humble Pie, or The Faces…we tried to get into hard rock. Of course, the fans didn’t want that, they still wanted the ‘pop’. So, Love Affair basically had a gradual decline. It was boring at the end.

Whereas, when I joined Mott The Hoople, they were at their peak and they were conquering America which I’d never been to. In fact, that was one of the main reasons I joined them.

They said in the original ad [for a new keyboard player after original organist Verden Allen had left the band], ‘We’re going to America soon’, and I thought, ‘That’s for me!’

It was a total eye opener. It changed my view of rock drastically, and I understood how great people like Elvis Presley, or Buddy Holly are, because I saw the American lifestyle and that’s where this music had come from.

It was an absolutely fantastic, exciting period – meeting Bowie, and meeting lots of other people. Just a total eye opener for an English lad. I was twenty-three.

It was only a couple of years really, but it still stands out like a beacon.

Obviously my more personal projects, my more personal music, is equally satisfying but in a much quieter way. So, Mott was like a peak in every way. We weren’t just wild and crazy, we were making great music too. The making of The Hoople album, especially, was such a creative joy. We were on a roll, we just went from one song to the next and made this great album.

It was a shame that it all fell apart, but there you are, things happen…

Queen was really just a job, I’m afraid.

Obviously, I knew Queen because they had toured [as support band] with Mott. In fact, I knew them before they toured with Mott. I knew them before they were called Queen.

They suddenly said, ‘We need a keyboard player, can you do the job?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, OK.’

But you know, as I said earlier, you had to be perfect every night. There was no room for fun and inspiration, or improvisation – except for with Freddie, of course. That was the best part of the show, for me, when Freddie would sing to the audience and have them sing back at him. That was tremendously amusing and funny, and the way he handled it was ‘virtuosic’, nobody else has done that. And it was different every night. I really liked that part about [working with] Queen.

My prog rock band, Morgan, which was just before Mott, was a very, very intense experience. I worked my arse off in that band, and nearly collapsed. So, I can kind of understand how it happened with Ian a few years later. But it was what I wanted to do. Young men want to hone their techniques and try complicated things, or some young men do, and I certainly did that with the Morgan band.

We recorded in Italy which was a great experience. We ate well – and drank well during the recording. Italy was the most addicted to prog rock of any other country.

All good experiences, and the albums still remain worth listening to, I think.

TUN: I noted that same sense of proud belonging and affection for the band amongst the other Mott keyboard players at the intimate ‘MTK’ [Meet The Keyboards] lunchtime shows you played back in 2009 with your Mott touring bandmates, Blue Weaver and Mick Bolton.

MF: Well, I think Blue and Mick felt very much as I did about playing with Mott, because (a) they’d not really experienced America much; and (b) because they’d both been with bands, especially Blue, that were more towards pop, and maybe soul, and this was their first experiences with some really good, solid, high quality rock.

And that’s the thing about Mott – it’s rock without aggression. We’re not Metallica, and we’re not Judas Priest, we are a band that sees rock and roll as joy. Not as a war, do you know what I’m saying? We were incredibly powerful, but I never felt any aggression in the music.

Of course, Pete and Buffin were the core of the band. A lot of people think, ‘Well you know, Ian’s the leader and he’s the songwriter.’ [Original lead guitarist] Mick Ralphs, he wrote a lot of the songs too. But the fact was that the band started with Pete and Buffin. They’d played together before Mott in school, when they were like, thirteen and fourteen, and they’d been together all the way through, so, in a way, with the band’s members changing around them, they kept this core alive. They became, as I said, the best rhythm section I’ve ever worked with, or heard.

When it all fell down, we tried [to keep it going]. I mean, we got another singer into Mott – without the Hoople;  then we got John Fiddler [from Medicine Head] in, and we did the British Lions thing. And [it was] just because of exterior problems – no problems in the band, and no problems with the music – the fact that things were changing, punk was arriving, and the record company started having different priorities, we lost the support that we needed to make it.

And once that went down, well, we splintered really. And Pete and Buffin just said, ‘Well we’re just not going to play anymore. We’re not going to join another band.’

Personally, I’m just a musical whore! And I’ll play with all kinds of people because I like variety. But I really admire the purity of people like Pete and Buffin saying, ‘We’re not going to do it anymore – we gave it our best shot and that’s it.’

Buffin went into producing BBC live music, and Pete went on to run his antique shop!

They also went on to making a little promotion company for bands in London for a short time, but basically, they said ‘No, that’s it. We’ve given it our shot.’ Which was what? About ten years of really going for it?

But yeah, they didn’t want to play with anyone else – and I really respect that.

Amazing.

TUN: After you originally responded to the band’s trade paper ad for a keyboard player to replace Verden Allen, you went on record as saying you jumped at the opportunity to join mainly so you could finally get to tour America – how long did it take to realise that the band was something significantly more than just a journeyman’s meal ticket for you?

MF: I’ve covered that a bit already, but yeah, frankly, I didn’t know Mott much. I’d seen them once. And I was in my prog rock phase at that time so I was just thought, ‘Yeah, they’re a basic rock band’, so when I auditioned I wasn’t expecting a lot.

I didn’t even know who it was when I answered the ad. They don’t say who the band is when a famous band puts an ad in. They just say ‘name band’ because they don’t want to get a long of hangers-on, people just showing up. I didn’t know who they were until I got there, and they played a couple of songs and said, ‘Now you play them with us.’ And I played them immediately, no problem. No score required or anything. And I got the job.

First of all, I immediately knew they were a nice bunch of guys. I remember, almost immediately after I joined, we went out for a cup of tea in a restaurant – a local café – with Andy Mackay of Roxy Music, which kind of blew my mind a bit. I thought, ‘What a cool guy!’ He looked impeccable. And I thought that this band must be really something, if people of the quality of Andy Mackay want to hang out with them.

It didn’t take long really, for me to really get into the music. And I’d just never seen such an exciting stage show. I wanted to give it my best too, so on came the ‘piano suit’ and the champagne bucket, and all that!

And I’m amazed and grateful that they actually toured with a grand piano which we put in a huge flight case and trucked it every day, and tuned it every day. What an honour!

So when I played the recent gigs in Europe, I did say I would’ve liked to have had a grand piano, but I eventually said, ‘Get us a digital grand anyway.’ They exist now. So at least, at the Ramblin’ Man gig I had a Yamaha digital grand.

And I realised it wasn’t really about the sound or anything, it’s having a weighty instrument in front of you. Normal digital pianos are like a synthesizer. They’re kind of lightweight and they wobble a little bit. But this one was heavy – I dunno, two hundred kilograms? – so I could really whack it and it didn’t budge an inch. I thought, ‘I need this for this kind of music.’

Hopefully, I’ll be having the same sort of thing at future gigs… if they happen!

But what really made me realise that I was in a band where interesting things could happen was when we got into recording The Hoople. I just dived in and threw ideas out left, right and centre – and most of them were accepted. That was a real pleasure and that’s when I really bonded musically with the band.

TUN: Mott always seemed to be a little less interested than most in the associated trappings and diversions of the rock and roll life. It always seemed more about the music. Is that a fair assessment?

MF: Well, you know, we were young men. Of course Ian was ten years older than most of the rest of us and was much more serious minded, so after a gig in the States, for example, we’d go off and party and Ian would go back to the hotel room and carry on writing a book or a song. He’d come out with us occasionally.

We were a good time band, and we had parties in our hotel rooms most nights where we would invite these young support bands, like Queen and Aerosmith, to come and party with us.

One very important point – I almost never saw any drugs around, and I never took any either, [although] I certainly took in a certain amount of alcohol!

Maybe I’m naïve, but I actually didn’t see any drugs being absorbed, or handed around. I didn’t notice anybody in a drugged state, and I’m very happy about that. I’m very glad. I mean, drinking [on tour] is enough of a problem already, and I overdid that a bit. Never to the detriment of playing though, I think…

People say to me sometimes, ‘Oh, when you’re drunk you just think you’re playing well’, well, my answer to that is, ‘Well excuse me, listen to the live album!’

There’s the evidence. It didn’t mess up my playing at all!

Going on stage in front of five thousand wild, happy fans removes any of the bad effects of alcohol and the good effects make it a fun gig somehow.

And you know, there wasn’t really enough money for us to get into silly extravagances.

Ian bought a Jaguar – that’s about as far as he went. We spent money on stage clothes – put the money back into the band, really.

It was a very level-headed, down to earth band!

TUN: The Mott family tree seems a pretty intricate one to me – a lot of intertwined branches with other bands! I was reminded of one example with the recent sad passing of Spooky Tooth’s Mike Harrison. I had forgotten that you had played on some of his solo stuff, along with Mick Ralphs and Luther. And Mick Ralphs had played on Luther’s first solo album too. Was there a lot of supportive interaction between groups back in those days?

MF: I think the interaction was often between the bands who were on Island Records. They had Free and Spooky Tooth and Mott The Hoople and…I don’t know, who else? There were lots of bands…Jethro Tull? I used to know Jethro Tull’s guitarist…

When I look back on that era it was like a small family. There weren’t actually that many of us – probably just a few hundred guys created the entire rock phenomenon.

We’d often meet up in bars. There was one particular bar, called The Speakeasy, where everyone went after hours and you’d meet everybody there from Jimi Hendrix to Tiny Tim to the Beach Boys to The Who, George Harrison and so on.

So we were always hanging out together, and it was quite normal for people to play on each other’s albums.

I think it was because of Luther joining Mott that he said to Mike [Harrison], ‘If you need a pianist, why don’t you try Morgan because he’s good?’ I didn’t know that at the time, didn’t even think to ask him about until recently, but he said, ‘Yep, that’s what happened.’

That album was amazing – Rainbow Rider it was called – and it was recorded in a really good studio in Nashville. The band was amazing. We had Mick Jones from Foreigner – he hadn’t created Foreigner then, but he was there. And we had Elvis’s bass player and Dylan’s drummer! Brilliant musicians. And we had The Memphis Horns, so it was a really well-recorded, well thought out album. We also had Chris Kimsey, who was the Rolling Stones’ engineer.

It was a very nice project, and I still listen to that album now and I’d recommend it – Rainbow Rider by Mike Harrison. It’s been reissued on CD, I think. Go for it!

TUN: Is there any obscure session work you have done in the past that hardcore Mott fans (like me!) should be on the look-out for?

MF: Well, let’s see – I played with Wayne County & The Electric Chairs.

Wayne County is now Jayne County, having gone through a gender change – one of the first people I knew who did that. And I’m going to say ‘he’, because I knew him as a ‘he’ – he came over with the Andy Warhol musical called Pork, which I never saw, but was a big sensation in London.

David Bowie went to see it, and there’s a photo of Wayne County kind of counselling David Bowie on how [to] be wild and contemporary and artistic, and Bowie’s listening very carefully…

Wayne was a very, very good performer in those days – such power and humour on stage. It was one of the best punk bands I ever saw. I did a few gigs with [him], and I played on his album called Storm The Gates Of Heaven.

Another band who came into my life were the Dead Kennedys.

I think it was because of the Cherry Red Records connection, because I, in 1979, made a couple of records for Cherry Red, [a label that is] still going. One of the longest running indie labels.

The boss of Cherry Red, who has always suggested interesting things to me, said that the Dead Kennedys were coming over [to the U.K.] and they wanted to do a little recording, and could they do it in [my] home studio –  a tiny bedsit flat in Notting Hill Gate.

I said ‘sure’, so the boys walked in, and we made four songs in one evening, and it came out as an EP called ‘The Witch Trial’, which I think is still out on CD and vinyl. Pretty dark – but an interesting project.

Oh – I played with Neil Innes, who was the musical leader of the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band. I played mainly on his TV series, which was called The Innes Book Of Records. He’d do parodies of songs in any style at all, so we covered a lot of area in that series.

Then he went on to do an album by a complete nutcase called John Otway. I’m not even going to try and describe him. Google him and go on to YouTube [and see for yourselves]. On that album, Neil was producing, and we had Ollie Halsall, about whom it has been said – ‘He may not be the best guitarist in the world, but he’s among the top two…’

And he was – he was a total phenomenon. He used to be in a band called Patto. He was just mind-blowingly brilliant. Again, someone else to Google! He became one of the musical elements of the band who became The Rutles, which, of course, Neil Innes was in, along with Eric Idle of Monty Python. The drummer from Patto, John Halsey, he was also in The Rutles…and still is, as they’re still touring.

Ollie, unfortunately, OD’d when he was about forty-four. But he was an insanely brilliant guitarist and it was a real pleasure to work with him.

More? OK – I played briefly with Hanoi Rocks and Slaughter & The Dogs on their singles. This would have been around ’80,’81 or ‘82. I can’t remember the titles. I think, Back To Mystery City was the Hanoi Rocks one. There’s some quite good bits of piano on those.

What I also did, once the British Lions had fallen apart, was I basically decided I didn’t want to work with big record companies and big name bands anymore.

I wanted to be independent, which was [something] happening very strongly in the punk movement, of course.

I was in that movement. I loved the whole punk thing, and I’d go and see bands twice a week. All the punk bands, you name them – I saw them, and I met most of them. I just liked the spirit of it.

I didn’t necessarily want to play what they did, but I liked the feisty do-it-yourself spirit. And it was just about the time when you could buy cheap enough equipment to make a home studio and record an album in your bedroom, which is exactly what I did.

It was something like taking a lid of a pressure cooker. I had so many ideas I didn’t know what to do, so I made this weird album called Hybrid Kids for Cherry Red. It came out in ’79. And each song was a kind of parody version of a known song but in a completely different style. So you had a Perry Como song sung like Devo. You had a Sex Pistols song that sounded like puppets – like The Archies, or Pinky & Perky. You had a Kate Bush song done in [the style of] a kind of Cornish rapper. I liked the name Jah Wobble at the time, so I called him Jah Wurzel, ‘wurzel’ being a famous, and rather corny, Cornish vegetable!

Anyway, it’s a pretty bizarre album, and the boss of Cherry Red said, ‘Let’s present it as a compilation album of, like, twelve different bands. Think of an obscure town where they might have come from.’ Because, you know, things like that were cool at the time – like you know, oh dear…what’s that city? Cleveland? That was one city where a lot of small, cool, hip bands came from…No! Akron! Akron, Ohio. It was where Chrissie Hynde came from.

So I just looked at a map and found a tiny town in Texas called Peabody. We promoted the album as twelve bands from Peabody! And the BBC actually bought the idea and had me go on the radio and talk about it.

Pretty quickly we owned up to the joke. But people have talked about that album as kind of ground-breaking, because I was doing some pretty weird stuff in my room, making sounds that maybe hadn’t been heard before.

Only in recent years did I get an email from Andre Shapps, who was a member of Big Audio Dynamite, Mick Jones [of The Clash’s] band. He said he had been producing one of B.A.D.’s albums once, and [my] Hybrid Kids album was the main inspiration for the production of the album. So that was kind of a nice nod!

I had a good time [in that era], and I also made my first ambient album [around that time]. [Followed by] an album called Miniatures, which was just one-minute pieces by fifty different artists. And this was all done at home on a budget of zero!

A very creative time indeed!

TUN: The band toured with some pretty big names during your time with the group – are there any particular artists who made a strong lasting impression on you from those days?

MF: My introduction to America was straight in at the deep end. We did our first gig in Chicago, and opening for us was an extraordinary band – Joe Walsh and Barnstorm.

This was after he had left the James Gang and before he joined The Eagles. His band, Barnstorm, were at their peak. To me that was the total peak of Joe’s career. They had the song Rocky Mountain Way, and many others. It just totally blew my mind when I watched them, and I thought – ‘We’ve got to follow these guys??’

Of course, we did and we did OK!

His sound was really raunchy and funky American rock, with very tasty guitar solos, and then when we came on with some attitude and we sort of smashed the audience to the back of the hall! It was a pretty good combination really.

Second night – in another town. Opening act? The New York Dolls! A completely different cup of tea! New York punk it was. It was punk before punk. First time I had ever seen a band where I could really say that this was punk, but I didn’t know the word yet! This was 1973. It would be three years before punk arrived.

The New York Dolls blew my mind and I watched them every time we played with them – at least ten times.

You know, just meeting people…like there was a band called Jo Jo Gunne, who used to be Spirit. I was a huge fan of Spirit. So two of the guys in Jo Jo Gunne had been in Spirit and I was really happy to get to meet them and get to know them. I mean – meeting your heroes, you know?

Sha Na Na. Fantastic! The best revival rock & roll band ever. Great moves, great dances, lots of humour. We hung out a bit.

We did some TV shows with some good people too. Blue Oyster Cult – real nice guys.

 [If you’re interested in this stuff] let me give you a link. It’s a list of every Mott The Hoople gig, usually with the support act included, and often with images of the tickets and posters. List of Mott The Hoople’s live shows

It’s a perfect list of every gig from 1969 right up to 2013, but they haven’t got the 2018 gigs up there yet!

 [The first New York Dolls gig with us also featured] Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show! They were hilarious! The funniest bunch of guys I have ever met. A bit like an American Bonzo or something like that, except not trad jazz, they’re rock. And Rainbow were on the same gig – so what a mixture! [Obviously, Morgan is now looking through the site list mentioned above…]

Who else? Frampton’s Camel…The Pointer Sisters. Yeah! We played a beautiful old theatre called the Orpheum in Boston and The Pointer Sisters were on and they’d just had their first hit, I think. They were walking around with these beautiful coloured scarves on their heads. They looked gorgeous!

Blue Oyster Cult, yeah. Robin Trower – a stunning guitar sound. Hendrix all over again!

Santana? We didn’t actually get to play – it rained. {Laughs)

Oh, here we are! October 19, 1973. We stayed at the Watergate Hotel – and that was already a bit of a buzz – and I got in the lift, and I didn’t know who was going to be opening for us that night. So I get into the lift and we go up to the fourth floor and the doors open. And standing about one foot away from me is Iggy Pop!

He looked at me and the first thing he says to us is, ‘Hi guys! Got any drugs?’

I made this gesture of looking through my pockets, and said, ‘Sorry Iggy, I’m fresh out now…’

We did the gig that night and Iggy was really in his, sort of, horror, dark, gothic element. It was a scary gig! I don’t know if he actually walked on the hands of the people, I don’t think he did, but at one point during the gig a young girl jumped on stage and just stood right in front of him. Normally, [you’d think] she would hug, or kiss, her idol – but she just stood about six inches away from him and looked at him. A very eerie moment!

Then, once again, we came on after that and smashed the people to the back of the hall…another great combination. And that was at the Kennedy Centre. A very classy joint!

I often watch the Kennedy Awards, where you get amazing gigs like Heart playing Stairway To Heaven whilst Led Zeppelin [in the audience] look on and weep for joy. I like those shows…

What else have we got on this list? Black Oak Arkansas. Earth, Wind & Fire? Oh, that was a TV show…Nazareth, ZZ Top…that was pretty early on ZZ Top.

Can’t remember that ZZ Top gig at all really. I know that later on that they did a gig called ‘Taking Texas To The People’ where they had the stage as a map of Texas, and they had real animals. They had bulls and rattlesnakes and eagles and stuff, and the roadies kept complaining about the bullshit – like the real bullshit!

And of course, then there was Aerosmith. We did a lot of gigs with Aerosmith. They were quite Jaggerish weren’t they? But a good band, and – gosh – didn’t they do well!

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Mott The Hoople at Ramblin’ Man Festival July 2018  (Photo: Ken Grady)

TUN: Ian Hunter, it appears to my somewhat biased eyes, is very much under-rated as a songwriter. Most people hardly know any of his songs beyond Once Bitten Twice Shy. Do you think he deserves a little more recognition, or appreciation, for his songcraft? What do you see as his key strengths?

MF: A big question!

Once Bitten Twice Shy might have been a big hit, but people who know Ian know that he is incredibly prolific, and a very deep, and thoughtful, and creative songwriter.

When I say prolific, his recent box set [Stranded In Reality] has thirty CDs, OK? It’s the biggest box set I’ve ever seen.

He’s been at it all the time. I think, partly, the reason he left Mott was because he didn’t want to be a superstar. He didn’t want the pressure. He just wanted to be a musician, and he’s managed it – somehow.

He keeps going, keeps making new albums. And every album has at least two or three incredible songs, as well as a bunch of good songs.

I haven’t listened to them all, I must admit. But after buying his last album, Fingers Crossed, I said to myself, ‘He is England’s Bob Dylan’, and there’s no question [about that]. Like Bob Dylan, he can be inconsistent, he goes through style changes, but there’s just this core in the lyrics. It’s about the lyrics. He reaches deep down into his heart and writes from a space of humanity to share with humanity. I don’t how else to put it. But he should be up there, lauded for his work. I mean, who else is there? Who else writes songs of that quality these days? And for fifty years he’s been at it!

He probably doesn’t want all the adulation, he just wants to get on with it. People talk about whether he should have more recognition, or less, but I don’t think he cares much. A good man!

TUN: You have had a fascinating journey in the years since Mott/British Lions folded – solo instrumental work, the ‘Miniatures’ project, your translation work in Japan, and your multimedia projects. Can you give a brief summary of your main musical and artistic work in those ensuing years?

MF: This could be a very long answer, but I don’t want to spend too much time on it, so I’ll just say that after my mad, creative time in Notting Hill Gate, I felt like walking away.

I don’t know why. I just felt that, well I’ve done that, I was kind of satisfied with it…it wasn’t a negative thing. I just thought, ‘I think I need a break’, you know?

I’d been a professional musician for like thirteen or fourteen years straight, pretty much without a break. I don’t remember taking any vacations, other than the odd weekend. It was all working, touring, recording. A delightful experience, of course. But I was completely wiped out – mentally, physically – so I just headed off to India, possibly forever…

I went there and meditated and got my life back on track. Ate good vegetarian, organic food. I learned about how to eat properly, about things like acupuncture, which helped me get back on track. I lost a lot of weight, I got very fit.

So, then I decided I didn’t want to go back to England. I mean, I’ve lived through two ‘golden ages’, in a way – the sixties and the seventies. And punk was the end of it. Punk was the great ending – I mean, after that, what was there? People with funny haircuts and strange trousers playing synthesizers! That didn’t really speak to me. I just wanted to get away. Thatcher was in power, and all that. So, I’m a simple kind of guy. If I don’t like the scene, I just walk away.

After India, and not wanting to go back to England, I had a kind of look around, put the feelers out, and almost by a random process of connecting with people, I ended up in Belgium for a year. Then I ended up in the States, living in various places, and after a couple of years I found myself in Hollywood, waiting for Steven Spielberg to call and ask me to score his next movie, but it never happened…

I still hold out some hope that there will be some good film scores coming up for me over there one day.

What I did was, a friend of mine had a big world atlas and I opened the page to America and looked at every major city, and I thought, ‘Well, I’ve been to all of them, and nothing’s really calling to me’, so I literally turned the page and, for some reason, the next map was Japan.

It was sort of beaming at me, saying, ‘Come to Japan!’

It felt like a great adventure, and I’ve always been fascinated by the culture. I was with my English girlfriend at the time and I said, ‘What do you think?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, let’s give it a whirl!’

Within a week we were here, in Tokyo, and by that time I had pretty much sold almost everything I owned, all my instruments, all my records, to finance my travelling. So we came here and started from nothing – and what better place to do that? It’s such an agreeable place, a friendly place, a safe place, and also an interesting place in terms of both traditional and modern culture. I felt completely at home from day one. I still do, really.

My girlfriend only lasted here six months before she got homesick, so we said goodbye. But I stayed here.

I didn’t do music at first, I just did odd jobs. Then people gradually started inviting me to play in little clubs and I did things that I had only done in private before, when I would just go to a piano and improvise. And people actually wanted to listen to this.

That encouraged me to go further into more ambient kinds of music and I started acquiring synthesizers again and making independent records. Then making music for TV ads which helped finance the independent stuff.

And life’s been going on like that pretty much ever since.

I did also play with several major Japanese bands.

But the ambient stuff suited me. I like the whole Brian Eno approach, although he’s not really a keyboard player – he’s almost a theorist. I am a player, so I do want to play, and I like playing in a slow tempo, and I think I’ve got a knack for it, where it doesn’t get too ‘new age’, but has a slight edge to it. A tension that makes it, you know, bearable – it’s not like syrup!

I got invited, because of that stuff, to play at an Expo in Osaka in 1990, where I played in a pavilion for six months, which kind of drained me actually. But it was an interesting experience playing to people who had never seen you before, and don’t know who the hell you are.

I had a little old lady come up to me and weep and say, ‘Your music reminded me of my childhood.’ And I thought that a lovely comment and what I’m doing, I think, is tapping into something primal. It’s almost like the Mozart Effect where a certain kind of music actually takes you back to the feeling you had when you were in the womb.

I dunno, things like that, they just came out of me doing things that were very personal, without any particular goal in mind, but somehow it touched certain people.

It still does, and I still enjoy playing live like that. I do concerts in my home where I have a studio where I can seat forty people. I like doing that on a regular basis.

TUN: Can you tell us a little bit about the rare Japanese only Mott tribute, Moth Poet Hotel, that you put together years ago, and its genesis?

MF: First of all, the title is obviously an anagram which I didn’t make up – there’s software, an App, for that!

So Moth Poet Hotel kind of fitted, I thought. ‘Moths’ because they come out at night, like rock stars do. ‘Hotel’ was where we lived all the time. And ‘Poet’, which is Ian.

My initial idea was to do an international tribute album, because a lot of that was happening at that time. This was the mid ‘90s. There was almost too much – everyone was doing it, getting a bunch of musicians to cover one artist’s repertoire.

But I thought, why not? We deserve that, we’ve got some good songs. I actually spoke to a couple of bands. I wrote to Brian May of Queen. I spoke to Aerosmith when they were over here. I think I sent a note to R.E.M., who did that single, Man in the Moon, which starts – [sings] ‘Mott The Hoople and the Game Of Life…’. I’d figured they might be fans…

Basically, I got good responses but at a certain point I thought, you know I’m just doing this on my own, which is how I like to do things, but I didn’t think I was really qualified to deal with the high-powered managers and lawyers of mega American bands.

So I thought, ‘I don’t think I want to pursue this’, and then I was talking to one of Japan’s biggest bands here – who are called Yellow Monkey, who I’d played with a bit because they’re great Mott and Bowie fans – and I spoke to their producer about it and he said, ‘Why don’t we do a Japanese tribute album? I’ll help you and I’ll sort it all out and you just produce’. Well, how could I refuse an offer like that?

So him and me decided which bands, and he just got on dealing with all the managers and sorted things out, and I just went in the studio and didn’t do a lot really, just sort of gave the thumbs up to every band and said, ‘Yeah guys – it sounds good!’ maybe there was the occasional bit of arrangement advice, but I just sort of encouraged them all.

It turned out quite good! Some of them sang in Japanese, some of them sang in English.

Of course, everybody wanted to do All The Young Dudes, so I said, ‘If everybody wants to do All The Young Dudes, everybody will do All The Young Dudes!’ I handed out one line to each artist! A bit like We Are The World, and that turned out quite nicely.

By that time, Brian May, who has always been so enthusiastic about Mott, had already recorded his track before I’d told him that the planned international edition was off, and he said, ‘Well you can have my track anyway, if you like. I’ll be your token foreigner on the album!’

He then sent me his version of All The Way From Memphis and the album came out in 1996, and sold pretty well. But it was only sold here [in Japan] because the agreement with Brian was that we wouldn’t sell the album outside Japan because he wanted to include that track on his own album and so it might conflict. So, unfortunately, that’s why Moth Poet Hotel never got released abroad.

You can find [copies], used, on Amazon Japan here, but there’s not many other ways of finding them. I’ve actually bought some used ones myself just to give to friends. It’s out there somewhere folks! Don’t give up!

Who knows, one day, it might even get a re-release. You never know. I mean, look at Mott The Hoople. Things can always start up again. Start up – and keep going, I hope!

TUN: As you aware, there has been a groundswell of grass roots support here in Australia for having Mott come and tour Australia. Should fans here remain hopeful that it could actually come about?

MF: Yes! Remain hopeful Australian fans – because Ian has never been there, Mott have never been there. I’ve only been there as a tourist, and I loved it! I’ve only been to Sydney and to Melbourne, just a week in each place. I loved it and I’d really love to come back. And I think it’s great that our friend, Tom [Caulfield – creator of the Australian Facebook page that is lobbying for Ian Hunter/Mott The Hoople to tour down under], is really pushing hard to help make it happen. What a bloke!

I mean Ian only got to Japan three years ago, but he finally got here…

We [Mott] missed Japan. You know, our manager turned down a tour of Japan and offered it to Queen instead, who cleaned up! So thanks a lot our manager!

I know there must be lots of Australian fans, because they’re such good people…you lot are such good people and you know what good music is. So definitely remain hopeful!

So, fingers crossed for playing in Australia. We’d have an absolute ball, and I know you would too!

 

 

Morgan Fisher’s website: Morgan Fisher.com

The Ian Hunter To Tour Down Under Campaign Group:  Tom Caulfield’s Ian Hunter To Tour Down Under Campaign Group link

 A revised and expanded edition of Mott The Hoople lead singer Ian Hunter’s classic tour memoir Diary Of A Rock And Roll Star is being reissued by Omnibus Books on 27 September.

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Mott The Hoople will release a deluxe boxed 6CD set of their early pre-Bowie output, Mental Train: The Island Years 1969-1971 on Universal Music on November 2.

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