[14 November 2011]
Those who love Mott The Hoople love Mott The Hoople with all their might. This film is for them. Chris Hall and Mike Kerry’s documentary takes us back to the time before there was a Mott, describing how The Buddies and The Soulents merged to create a new entity, how the group came to the attention of mercurial producer Guy Stevens and how the rest became the ballad of Mott The Hoople.
It was Stevens who suggested that then-vocalist Stan Tippins get the ol’ heave-ho. Enter Ian Hunter (a few years older than the other lads) and enter one of the most interesting eras in British rock music. Stevens, more a cheerleader and catalyst than an actual producer, oversaw the sessions for several of the band’s early albums, including the dark Mad Shadows (1970) and the 1971 classic Brain Capers, and the memories shared of him her mostly carry a waft of kindness that the passing of time often brings.
But the studio was not really where the band thrived. The place to really hear Mott The Hoople was the stage (Clash guitarist Mick Jones was an early convert, and he testifies with enthusiasm to Hunter and Co.’s live prowess). The group’s records sold slowly and no one could really seem to settle on a direction early on. By early 1972 the group decided to pack it in.
Enter David Bowie who convinced the band that they should soldier on; he also gave the band its biggest hit, “All The Young Dudes”, and produced the 1972 album of the same name. Success saw a rift grow in the ranks resulting in the departure of Mick Ralphs (who went on to form Bad Company) and Hunter’s ascent to leader of the band.
From there, the end came rather quickly, amid the strains of touring and band politics; no one seemed a good fit after Ralphs (ex-Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson apparently refused to speak to other members of the band) and thus the end came perhaps sooner than anyone expected. What isn’t told in the film is how the group attempted to soldier on without Hunter under the name Mott, then as British Lions. Those years were tough in every sense of the word but their absence and the absence of Hunter’s lucrative solo career is a bit of a letdown.
But the story’s told with an unflinching honesty by the band members and a few who worked for the band (fan club president Kris Needs, for one) and a few friends (the aforementioned Mick Jones and Queen’s Roger Taylor) and if the filmmakers don’t quite strike the proper balance between rising and falling action or manage to maintain a healthy sense of distance from the subject, we understand the importance of the story all the same.
More than an hour of bonus material can be found on this single-disc set, including the story of Hunter’s visit to Graceland, a tour of several old Mott haunts, Jones discussing Guy Stevens in more detail, and 2009 footage of the group performing at the Hammersmith Apollo with the classic lineup intact. An impressive-enough 12-page booklet with notes by Morrissey and a few souvenirs round out the package.
It’s easy to feel that there’s something missing from the story; there’s an insularity about the film that renders it just a notch or two above pure reminiscence but that doesn’t account for the somewhat empty feeling that arrives once the credits roll. Maybe it’s that the real story happened so fast and that Hall and Kerry feel as though they have match pace. That’s too bad because the film could have sparked some new interest in this band. Instead, it’s a souvenir for fans, both deep and shallow, and little more.