More than thirty years after departing from Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter is still forever associated with the band which gave him his big break. That must be something of a poisoned chalice as he’s produced a significant body of solo work over those years and his current musical unit – the Rant Band – are responsible for two of his finest albums When I’m President and last year’s Fingers Crossed both of which show him to be a songwriter very much at the top of his game. And as befits this status he works as many of the new songs into his set as possible…or perhaps that should be he works as few Mott songs into the set as he feels he can get away with. There will be All the way from Memphis and Roll away the stone – and (rather magnificently) there will be a five guitar lineup at the stage front, but these are incidentals, something for the casual fans. Mostly we’re safely within the last few years. This is not primarily a nostalgia trip.
The Rant Band provide keyboards, bass, drums and two lead guitarists – with Hunter himself adding another guitar or piano as befits the song – for a huge classic rock sound. Very Seventies, but not offensively glam or middle of the road. Ian Hunter is forever behind the shades, the members of the Rant Band strike rock star poses and sport natty titfers as befits the retinue of a Rock God. Rarely falling below the raucous, the two hour set is a holy racket covering the seedy allure of rock band stardom on songs such as Once bitten, twice shy and the untrustworthiness of political ambition of When I’m President which struts along with unconcealed cynicism and distrust of the motives of The Man. It should sound dated, but it doesn’t – “I’m going to lean on the one per cent” Hunter drawls in his distinctive gravely English vocal “when I’m President” before disparaging good intentions that get warped once the office is taken up. And this was pre-Trump. It’s noticeable that Ian Hunter writes often from an outsider’s perspective – the rock star who’s still signing on, the Englishman stranded in America. He, like Ray Davies, can embody Englishness with a deft phrase, but when he trades on the past his nostalgia is for the seventies – when things often felt like they were falling apart but also a time when a gobby guitar wielder from Shrewsbury could make it big.
The encore has become, almost by default, a tribute to Bowie who – of course – gifted Mott their biggest hit, the song that kick-started their greatest period of popularity at the very point they had been considering throwing in the towel. All the young dudes is preceded by Hunter’s tribute to his old friend, Dandy. It’s honest and completely non-exploitative : no fuss, no drama it’s just played and maybe you recognise it and maybe you don’t. It’s a masterful piece of songwriting, capturing that seventies comedown with London no longer swinging but reduced to a grimy desperation of four day weeks and power cuts, a desperate and dismal music scene lit up by just a few exceptions. It also sees Ian Hunter referencing Dylan as well as Bowie “Something is happening Mr Jones” he sings by way of introduction “my brother says you’re better then The Beatles or the Stones / Saturday night and Sunday morning you turned us into Heroes”. These are very English heroes, thrilled by the music and always left “wanting more…and then we took the last bus home”. Then, finally – and trying to not glance around the room for confirmation of our collective non-glamorous, non-young, status – it’s Dudes. Still one of the greatest riffs in rock.