Mott The Hoople frontman Ian Hunter is BACK on the road at 80 | Music | Entertainment

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Mott The Hoople

Mott The Hoople took on the US in 1974. (Image: GETTY)

Hunter grins. “Seventy-nine is murky,” he says, “eighty sounds fresh and clean!”

The tousle-haired rocker, eyes still hidden behind his trademark shades, laughs off any suggestion that the band were part of the Seventies’ glam rock scene. “We were too ugly to be glam!”

They have already toured in the US and now are filling venues in Britain, starting last night in Manchester.

The band’s breakthrough hit came with All The Young Dudes in 1972.

It was written by David Bowie and later performed by him and many others.

Mott The Hoople were held in high regard by other musicians. Queen once played support, the only time they opened for another band.

And Hunter still does plenty of shows. In March he led an all-star jam in front of 19,000 people (and a TV audience of millions) at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame ceremony in Brooklyn.

Invited by fans (and new inductees) Def Leppard, he performed All The Young Dudes backed by the band along with Queen’s Brian May and members of The Zombies.

Mott The Hoople

The band’s breakthrough hit came with All The Young Dudes in 1972. (Image: GETTY)

Since then Mott The Hoople have squeezed in a tour of America’s east coast.

However, despite all this endeavour Hunter remains one who loves peace and quiet at his home in Connecticut with his US wife of 47 years, Trudi.

“I live a quiet life – apart from being on the road,” he says.

“It’s great to live in New York and it’s great to live in London and I did both. But you can’t move, you can’t breathe. I moved out after I was with my youngest son, Jesse, in Manhattan and we saw a guy shoot someone. I tried to cover his face before he saw it.

“That was the moment I thought I’m out of here. I didn’t want my kids growing up like that – that was probably 1995.”

The working-class lad from Oswestry in Shropshire now lives a very un-rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.

“Trudi took me on and she’s really responsible for me being here,” he says. They share “a nice house with five acres”, handy for the business of New York but away from the city pressures. “Time flies,” says Hunter nonchalantly about his pending birthday which will usher him into his ninth decade.

He is a workaholic, both with Mott and with his own Rant Band, even now thinking ahead to his birthday party (“I’ll be doing four nights at the City Winery in New York with the band”).

Far from a fitness freak, he nevertheless does a little preparatory work.

“I feel good but I’m not very good at looking after myself,” he says.

I never thought we were glam, I thought we were flash

Ian Hunter

“You work your way up to it – the voice, the body – for a two-hour show. At my age I do half a day of that boring stuff that no one wants to hear about.”

In the Seventies Mott The Hoople were everywhere you looked, a fixture on Top Of The Pops in wild platform shoes and outrageous clothes, glam, sure, but with the raffish insolence of the Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen.

“I never thought we were glam, I thought we were flash,” says Hunter in the quiet West Midlands twang from his early days that more than half a life in the US can’t dampen.

And, indeed, Hunter’s roots go far deeper than All The Young Dudes, gifted to them by Bowie when, struggling for success, they were ready to call it a day.

“I was a fan first,” says Hunter, whose father was a policeman in Shrewsbury, where they got “free housing, free coal, free electricity”.

He reflects: “I worked in ­factories. I learned how to play bass and joined a guy named Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee who had been Screaming Lord Sutch’s piano player, kinda like Jerry Lee Lewis.

“That’s how I got the bug. We played in Hamburg, all that. Then I played with Billy Fury, Mike Berry, big names. Slowly I just ended up in a band.”

He played his way through the Sixties in relative obscurity till he auditioned for the singer’s job in a band that had sprung out of the backing group for reggae star Jimmy Cliff …and Mott The Hoople was born.

“I was 29 when I joined Mott. These days you’d have to be 21 to get in a band. Someone said, ‘Tell them you’re seven years younger. Say you’ve been in hospital – that doesn’t count.’ So I took seven years off for a while!”

Loud and wild, they got through four albums that inspired the likes of heavy rockers Def Leppard but also a generation of punks, not least The Clash.

“They say we influenced them. I don’t quite know how – maybe it was just that we had the spirit of rock ’n’ roll,” he ponders. We didn’t really have an attitude, we came straight from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee. There was an excitement about us.”

That excitement (which didn’t result in sales at first) is captured in Mental Train, a recent 6CD and book set. But after Bowie’s patronage, the hits kept coming: Honaloochie Boogie, Roll Away The Stone, The Golden Age Of Rock ’n’ Roll.

The current line-up ­reunites a trio from the band’s final album and most successful era – Hunter, keyboard player Morgan Fisher who was in 1960s hitmakers Love Affair, and guitarist Luther Grosvenor, who’d been in folkie band Stealers Wheel as well as rockers Spooky Tooth.

Mott The Hoople took on the US in 1974, the first group to play a week-long season on Times Square.

“We followed Sammy Davis Junior! We had white limos and they played the Wedding March as we made our way through Manhattan every night.”

Hunter went on to solo success, documented on the extraordinary 30 CD set Stranded In Reality. He worked with Bowie’s former guitarist Mick Ronson, with members of Springsteen’s E-Street Band, even touring with Ringo Starr.

Hunter has never tired. His most recent album, Fingers Crossed, with his long-established Rant Band (with a moving tribute, Dandy, to David Bowie) is highly rated – and Hunter bubbles with enthusiasm at the wealth of ­material he’s written for a new record later this year.

His critically acclaimed 1972 book Diary Of A Rock ’N’ Roll Star, was republished late last year – with a foreword by another fan and chum, Johnny Depp.

Has he never been tempted by retirement?

“That would be fatal, I’d just find myself popping down to Walmart!”

Mott The Hoople

The group were the first to play a week-long season on Times Square. (Image: GETTY)

So, is this tour the grand finale for Mott The Hoople?

“Well, I’ve been saying that… but if there was the chance of us playing the west coast of America, and if Japan and Australia came up…”

Meanwhile I ask again how it feels to be singing All The Young Dudes weeks before he turns 80.

Hunter just laughs, and laughs…

* Mott The Hoople’s tour dates on mottthehoople.com

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