The Stables, Wavendon
27th February 2008
In his excellent, and oft reprinted, book Diary of a Rock ‘n Roll Star, former Mott The Hoople front man Ian Hunter relates how he once climbed down from the stage during a gig in the USA to punch an audience member who had thrown a bottle at their guitarist.
Thankfully no Gene Hunt-style strong arm tactics were needed on this occasion as Hunter mastered the crowd by the sheer quality of songs written at various times over the last 30 odd years.
Back in the Life on Mars era, it was the gift of the song All the Young Dudes by David Bowie which revived Mott after they had called it a day, led to the period of their greatest commercial success, and provided Hunter with a fresh stimulus for his own writing.
Mott the Hoople
He has enjoyed fresh critical acclaim from peers and music journalists in recent years as a result of two albums - Rant and Shrunken Heads - which are as strong as anything he has released since leaving Mott in the mid 70s.
But Hunter likes to try different things, and after promoting Heads last autumn with his full Rant band, he decided to return to the UK for a 10-date tour featuring stripped-down acoustic arrangements with only James Mastro (guitars, mandolin) and Steve Holley (percussion) - dubbed the Runt band - to provide musical support.
Such an approach was perfect for an intimate venue like The Stables and after opening with the shuffling rhythm of 1973 Mott B-side Where Do You All Come From, he launched into Words (Big Mouth), the opening track from Shrunken Heads.
Hunter maintains a close relationship with his fans, taking time to answer e-mail questions on his website twice a month, and for this tour, he has responded to requests by including several rarely performed numbers in the set-list.
The Other Man, Scars and Rain were played and sung superbly as was the insightful Following In Your Footsteps from 1990’s YUI Orta which he once described as being about “the inevitability of the genes, the old father-son syndrome”.
Returning to Shrunken Heads and the political themes which provide the context for several songs, Hunter played the title track and Soul of America, the country where he has made his home since splitting from Mott.
And with Mastro and Holley taking a short break, he then switched from guitar to piano for the emotional, melodic ballads Irene Wilde and Ships before tackling what he described as the most ridiculous thing he could think of to play in an acoustic set, Mott’s post-Dudes single Honaloochie Boogie.
Hunter’s set featured story songs, confessional songs, autobiographical songs, observational songs, and sheer fun songs like crowd-pleasing rocker Once Bitten Twice Shy, his biggest solo hit.
These days, humour has replaced some of the anger which once fuelled his lyrics, but it has certainly not diluted the honesty, as shown by encore number When The World Was Round, with its infectious can‘t-get-it-out-of-your head chorus (just ask my daughter if you don‘t believe me).
After that, there was only one possible way to round things off, and with Dudes back in fashion after being included in the movie Juno, he did not disappoint those desperate to hear again a song he probably could and does sing in his sleep.