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Ian Hunter talks Mott the Hoople and David Bowie

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Ian Hunter, former frontman for Mott the Hoople, has enjoyed a solo career since the band's breakup in 1974. Ian Hunter, former frontman for Mott the Hoople, has enjoyed a solo career since the band's breakup in 1974. (photo courtesy of Ian Hunter/Ross Halfinn)

What do you do when you’re one of rock’s most consistent artists and have recorded one of the finest records of your career when few are paying attention? You put it out anyway and hope it finds an audience. 

For Ian Hunter, the iconic former lead singer of Mott The Hoople (1969-1974), “Fingers Crossed” (Proper Records) is the latest evidence that the man somehow keeps improving with age.

Sounding younger than his years, Hunter’s ten hook-laden tracks on “Fingers Crossed” range from the slinky opener “That’s When The Trouble Starts,” to the reggae-flavored “You Can’t Live in the Past” to the closing rave-up, “Long Time.”

The centerpiece of the record is “Dandy,” the song Hunter was writing last January when word arrived that David Bowie had passed. As he explains in the following interview - conducted last week - the song was written from the point of view of an early 1970’s rock fan whose life had been changed by Bowie’s music.

Also just issued is “Stranded in Reality,” a 30-disc anthology box set containing a wealth of rare and unreleased material.

TME: “Dandy” is drawing quite a bit of attention to the new album “Fingers Crossed.” You knew David Bowie quite well and did an amazing job capturing the vibe of the era when he was doing those groundbreaking records and shows.

Hunter: At that time, England was drab and very dull and David was in Technicolor. You went to see David do a gig and it was like another world during that two hours. When you came out, it was back to reality and you caught the last bus home. “The last bus home” is repeated in the song and it’s my favorite line in “Dandy.” I was writing a song called “Lady” when I heard the news that David had passed. I rewrote parts of the song and it became something else. It’s written from the point of view of a fan in 1971.

TME: He was such a fan of Mott the Hoople, he wouldn’t let you break up when you wanted to (laughs).

Hunter: That’s right. We had actually split up in Switzerland and Pete Watts, our bass player, phoned him up for a gig. He wanted to be in David’s band. When David heard that Mott had split, he came to us and said “you can’t split up” and offered us two songs. One was “Suffragette City” which we turned down (it later appeared on Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”) and the other was “All The Young Dudes” which we did and it became a hit.

TME: Mott the Hoople was such an extraordinary band. Were you having as much fun as it appeared?

Hunter: No. (laughing)

TME: I like your honesty.

Hunter: We didn’t have good management and we had a label that wasn’t interested in us so it was very frustrating. The gigs were always great because we could let go, you know? There was a lot of desperation and frustration involved. But there was a lot of passion involved. That’s what’s lasted.

TME: The “Stranded in Reality” box set looks like a goldmine for diehard fans. How did that come about?

Hunter: It’s the work of Proper Records and this guy, Campbell Devine. He’s the one who wrote that book about Mott. He actually came to stay with me for a while. Basically he’s an uber-fan and that’s who the box set is geared to.

TME: Is this material in your archive that you had largely forgotten about?

Hunter: Yeah, he has a way of making you find stuff, you know? Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I had no manager, no label, no nothing. I was just piddling about for my own enjoyment on an old Fostex half-inch (multi-track reel-to-reel machine that records and plays half-inch tapes). There were some good songs from that time and also some that fell through the cracks on some of the albums. They didn’t seem to suit the records at the time but they’re great to hear now. He really did an incredible job with this anthology. It’s very flattering.

TME: It’s limited to only 2,500 copies worldwide, is that correct?

Hunter: That’s right and they won’t change their minds. It’s not like live concerts where they piddle about and sell sections where they’re not supposed to after it sells out. This one really is very limited. There’s 2,500 of them and when they go, that’s it. (Note: The collection is available at www.propermusic.com.)

TME: Will we see you with the Rant Band (Hunter’s longtime backing band) again next year? (The group played the Maine State Pier in Portland in 2015).

Hunter: “Fingers Crossed” is doing really well and we want to continue with it so we’ll start doing shows again in June. Not only in the US, but also Scandinavia, France, England and Spain.

TME: Any chance you might reissue your great book “Diary of a Rock and Roll Star” (Hunter’s as-it-happened chronicle of Mott the Hoople on the road in 1972. The book has been out of print for many years.)?

Hunter: I got the rights to the book back about a year ago. It belongs to me now. We’re getting offers from publishers and film companies who want to do a movie. The thing is, they’re not coming through with what I want. I want it to be in airports because I think it would be a great airport book. Until they give me a guarantee, we’re holding onto it. I’m going to wait until someone with a little weight comes along and then we’ll put it out.

TME: We’ve lost so many great artists in 2016. Please don’t leave us anytime soon.

Hunter: I have no intention of doing that but you never know. I’ve been married to the same lady for 45 years. That has a tendency to keep you straight (laughs). 

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