I can’t help myself.
I know I’ve pimped Mott one or two times already but (1) we’re not getting any younger, (2) Mott The Hoople rules, and (3) what’s a couple of posts over fifteen months? Besides, all but one were related to the reunion we thought we’d never see, which some of my friends (who attended) are still jawing about (and judging by the reviews, rightfully so.)
And it’s almost Easter – an appropriate time to Roll Away The Stone.
And do enjoy this great diary from Mott fan John O’Rourke, one of the lucky American blokes who leaped The Big Pond for the event. That great event can be relived via the official live album which can be ordered here.
But to invert a great line, that was now and this is then.
No, today’s time-trip is for a release that popped across my desk a decade ago, just after the luminous box set All The Young Dudes finally saw the light of day but before many more of the live shows officially surfaced. While it wasn’t the pristine capture that people have come to expect, consider the source of the material and the date of the show and be thankful that these gems surface at all. (Be forewarned that it’s for fans with a tolerance for bootleg quality sound.)
Rock’n’Roll Circus is just one of many Mott titles available from UK label Angel Air, who have unearthed and issueed great music for many classic bands. Here’s what I wrote for Consumable Online in 2000…
Recorded at the Civic Centre in Wolverhampton (a favorite venue of many bands of the era), this CD features the classic lineup of Mott The Hoople in April 1972, just after their legendary meeting with David Bowie and his donation of his “All The Young Dudes“. Although that track had yet to be recorded (and the band’s global popularity had yet to explode), Mott The Hoople sounds revitalized and plays this sixty-six minute set with great enthusiasm.
Perhaps that’s why “The Ballad Of Mott” sounds especially poignant here in its rare live appearance. “Just lately we started to do what we wanted to do again”, says Hunter at one point, and you can sense that this almost-defunct unit once again truly believed in themselves and their future.
Like the Stones before them (albeit only once) and Ronnie Lane afterwards, the band headlined a “Rock And Roll Circus“; musical concert as part of a variety/vaudeville format. Knife throwers, comics and animal acts took the stage in addition to other groups, which made life on the road especially chaotic, but also a lot of fun. In the liner notes, the band speaks highly of the late comic Max Wall and dedicates the release to his memory. Ironically, the opening band Hackensack featured future Mott member Ray Majors on guitar in a performance that obviously impressed Buffin and Overend Watts.
The sound quality on Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus is merely bootleg plus, but once your ears settle in, it’s hard not to get caught up in the energy of the performance. Hunter’s voice is in prime form, Verden Allen’s Hammond B3 sounds positively sinister and full, and Mick Ralphs is chock full of spirited leads and chunky rhythms. “Angeline”, later played at a much faster tempo, here retains the spirit of the original, while early staples like “Darkness Darkness” and “Thunderbuck Ram” (with Mick Ralphs’ vocals sounding a lot like Dave Davies) get solid workouts.
Ian Hunter’s “Mr. Bugle Player” admittedly robs “Mr. Tambourine Man” blind (so thoroughly that Dylan’s lack of a co-write is criminal) but gives due props on their blues-based take of “Honky Tonk Women”. Ralphs’ “Until I’m Gone”, the Who-like “The Moon Upstairs” and the manic “Rock And Roll Queen” are standouts, along with the encore of “Midnight Lady”. It’s a great aural snapshot of Mott The Hoople at a critical point in their history. Like all releases on Angel Air, the packaging is outstanding, featuring well-written liner notes and rare photos in the twenty-page booklet.