The Ballad of Mott the Hoople – TV review

Mott the Spinal Tap? Almost, says Tim Dowling of a wonderful Hoople rockumentary

We have grown used to documentaries where old men talk about the heyday of rock with a solemnity once reserved for memories of the Salonika campaign. The Ballad of Mott the Hoople (BBC4) was no different: this show was exuberant, sad and – occasionally – as funny as This Is Spinal Tap.

There is something reliably comic about the names of minor bands in any rock'n'roll family tree. The members of Mott the Hoople came principally from two Herefordshire groups, the Buddies and the Soulents. They were the musical clay from which the band was moulded by the notorious Guy Stevens of Island Records, whose choicier utterances were spelled out in captions. "There are only two Phil Spectors in the world," he once said, "and I'm one of them."

In true rock style, the singer was dismissed immediately: Stan Tippins was relegated to management. Ian Hunter answered a small ad and Mott the Hoople was born. They quickly established a following as a raucous live act. Mick Jones of the Clash was an obsessive fan, tracking them between towns with his schoolmates. Journalist and former fan club president Kris Needs endearingly described Mott as the approachable face of rock, transforming it "into a thing we could reach out and touch".

The band fared less well in the charts. In spite of Stevens's enthusiasm ("I could well die while making a record," he said. "It's that important"), their second album and third albums sold poorly. Recording their fourth, Brain Capers, strained the relationship with Stevens. "Guy was throwing chairs at the wall to inspire them," recalled an eyewitness. A terrible Swiss gig in a disused gasholder inspired them to give up. Then David Bowie gave them All the Young Dudes. Singer Hunter was grateful but bemused. "If I wrote All the Young Dudes," he said, "I wouldn'ta give it David."

How much you enjoyed this may well have depended on how much you already knew about Mott the Hoople. I knew precious little and loved it all.

Contributor

Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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