More cynical elements feared it could go spectacularly wrong. It would not, after all, be out of character for the band who once sang "you can never grow old" to make a rusty pig's ear of their eternal teenage anthems. But, as Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie, howling in the front rows at his own expense for three of the five nights at London's Hammersmith Apollo, said, "It doesn't matter how old they are; nobody today plays rock 'n' roll like these guys. Maybe the Stones but..."
Over the course of what came to be known as Mott Week, one word repeatedly reverberated across the jungle telegraph: emotional. Speaking as someone who followed the band religiously during its five-year lifespan, that barely describes the waves of unbridled joy which greeted every lurch in Mott's schizophrenic two-hour rocker-ballad rollercoaster ride.
As the slow-building "Hymn For The Dudes" crashed into "Rock And Roll Queen," the band were obviously having a blast. Sprightly septuagenarian singer Ian Hunter strutted around the stage, tempering the old macho stance with humble deprecation and humour, while Overend Watts, a mere 62, scampered around with his Gibson Thunderbird bass like it was 1971, teasing the front rows and striking the bass titan poses which inspired the New York Dolls' Arthur Kane.
Last Thursday's first night nerves and gremlins were obliterated by the sheer disbelieving joy of seeing Mott's original line-up back on a London stage for the first time since 1972 (with The Pretenders' Martin Chambers depping for ailing drummer Dale "Buffin" Griffin). But fluffed endings were small beer in the face of such a triumphant reunion, the brainchild--it transpires--of Hammond organ maestro Verden "Phally" Allen, "the first a**h**e that left Mott The Hoople" according to Hunter.
"That was good, wasn't it?" beamed Phally afterwards. "It just feels great to be doing it again with the guys after so long. I mean, we had to..."
Shows 2 and 3, on Friday and Saturday, saw rock 'n' roll's longest-slumbering kraken wide awake and going hell-for-leather through rockers like "Walkin' With A Mountain" (Hunter brandishing replica Maltese Cross guitar) and "One Of The Boys." Yet it was the ballads that carried the greatest emotional resonance, including "The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople" and an "unplugged"-style stools-out drift through "The Original Mixed Up Kid." The cataclysmic life-reflection of "The Journey" followed a burst of "Like A Rolling Stone" ("My audition song for Mott," revealed Hunter), signalling the singer's switch to electric piano for the final sweep through the glam-era hits.
Most poignantly, Buffin joined Chambers on second drum-kit for the encores, gamely participating in his old mates' reunion. On the first show he was hesitant, but closing Tuesday night's fifth and final show he hammered the tom-toms with a gleeful relish.
"A tad knackered" was a pink-shirted Hunter's verdict on his own performance on Tuesday, although it didn't show as he cackled around the stage gripping his champagne-Red Bull cocktail. Bowie rumours proved unfounded but a choir of band offspring and legendary original Mott singer-turned-road manager Stan Tippins coped manfully with All The Young Dudes and Def Leppard's Joe Elliott grandstanded his way through the second verse. There was an air of "mission accomplished" about the whole night. "It's been a long week; it's been pretty hard, but we've had a great time," declared Hunter during the final bow.
There's no doubt the gigs went better than anyone could have dreamed. While Hunter seemed emphatic when he inserted a curt "There won't be a next time" into "Keep A Knockin'," Phally Allen's been wondering about Glastonbury. Stranger things have happened--as has just been proved--but for now the "goodbye" coda from the closing "Saturday Gigs" still rings around the old Hammersmith Odeon, and the oddly-elevated memories of those lucky enough to witness this most beautiful of reunions.
"Rock And Roll Queen"
"Knockin' On Heaven's Door"/"Original Mixed Up Kid"
"Ready For Love"
Kris Needs was the founder of UK Mott The Hoople fanclub The Seadivers. He is an author and regular contributor to MOJO magazine and MOJO4music.com.