One of my earliest concerts with Mott The Hoople was at the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden. I hadn't yet become aware of the importance of the backstage pass, so I didn't think twice when I left it in the dressing room and ventured into the press area in front of the stage. The New York Dolls were the support band and I began eagerly taking photos of them with my little plastic Brownie 127 camera, rubbing shoulders with professional photographers with their state-of-the-art equipment. I felt a large hand on my shoulder and turned to see a burly security guard demanding my pass. I said, 'it's OK, I'm a member of the band. I left it in the dressing room'. Seconds later I found myself out in the alleyway alongside a couple of dozen other young people trying to blag their way in by claiming to be friends or relations of the band. I begged the security guard to speak to Stan Tippins our long-suffering tour manager. Growing increasingly desperate and with showtime rapidly approaching I said pathetically, 'Look, we're an English band and you can hear I've got an English accent'. He replied, 'I don't care if you're Winston Churchill - if you ain't got a ticket, you don't get in.' A young David Bowie look-alike believed my story and joined in my protests, perhaps hoping that in return I would get him in as well, but he only succeeded in hardening the security guard's attitude. Eventually one of our road crew happened to come out of the door to get something from a truck. He did a double-take and shouted, 'Mick, what the **** are you doing out here'. It still took some negotiation but I was eventually allowed back in and never again made a move without my precious backstage pass. And no - the New York Dolls photos didn't turn out.
1970s footwear could be quite hazardous. I bought a pair of blue denim platform clogs which were almost impossible to walk in. They're just visible on the right of the pic. I couldn't keep them on my feet and I occasionally fell off them - and it was a long way down! And look at those heels on Ariel's shoes, just next to me. But the one who had the biggest problem with his footwear was bass player Pete Overend Watts, although to describe his magnificent white thigh-length boots as mere footwear is an insult. He had quite a problem bending his knees, which was fine onstage - it gave him quite an imposing appearance as he strode stiff-legged around the stage. But actually getting on and off the stage could be difficult. I remember one occasion when we played a at the Tiger Stadium in Massilon, Ohio. We had to walk up a steep ramp onto the stage and Pete just couldn't get up it - try walking up a steep hill without bending your knees. So the audience were treated to the sight of him leaning backwards and being pushed slowly and very carefully up the ramp onto the stage by two roadies. You can see the long zip on his boot on the photo. At the top of each zip was a metal ring. To get the boots on he had to lie down while a member of the crew pulled the boots on and fastened the zip. Philip John, one of Mott's long-serving and long-suffering roadies, tells the story of how he saw Pete desperately calling to him one night while he was playing. He rushed on stage and found that the two metal rings had become locked together, which meant that Pete couldn't move and was in danger of falling over backwards. Phil had to get down on his knees in front of Pete and struggle for several minutes before he could separate the zips.
On the last night of the five 2009 fortieth anniversary gigs Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, a friend and fan of the band, walked onstage holding one of the famous boots triumphantly aloft over his head.
Dear Pete - now sadly missed. A highly intelligent and hilariously funny man - famous for his brilliant use of the English language. He wrote a book called The Man Who Hated Walking in which he describes walking the whole length of mainland Britain - presumably not wearing those boots. When I spoke to him at the 2009 reunion concerts he was wearing a shirt that said John's End to Land O'Groats. See the pic below with me and Blue Weaver, who played Hammond organ on tour with MTH in 1974 after I left.
One one occasion Mott The Hoople were playing at Ohio State University in COLUMBUS, Ohio. As we walked onstage a member of the band (I forget which one) strode up to the microphone, punched the air and shouted in true rock-star fashion: 'Hello COLUMBO'. Maybe he had been watching the TV detective series in his hotel room.
My career as a rock musician got off to a very inauspicious start. The very first gig I did with a band was in late 1969. One of the band members knew someone in a local church and he suggested we play while the congregation were having sandwiches and soft drinks in the church hall after the harvest festival celebration. Sounded like a good idea at the time - we would get our first outing in front of an audience and they would get something to make the young folk think that church could be fun. Our first song was Martha And The Vandellas' Dancing In The Street and by the end of it that's exactly where most of the audience were. By the end of the second song, a ten minute version of Evil Woman by Spooky Tooth (which contains the line 'evil woman, the devil is a-calling you') the whole congregation had left and we were playing to the cleaner as she swept the floor.
When we approached Bill Leyland of the L.E. Agency to try to get some gigs, he asked us what kind of music we played. We replied that we were a progressive blues band. Well at that point none of that was true - we couldn't play the blues, we certainly weren't making any progress and in fact we could hardly even call ourselves a band, especially after the debacle at the church hall. But he probably had no idea what our genre description meant and, without ever having heard us, he happily booked us for a wedding reception near Liverpool. The aforementioned Luther Grosvenor was partly responsible for Evil Woman being in our set list as I'd seen him play it with Spooky Tooth in London a while earlier, but it's impossible to imagine a worse song to play at a wedding, with it's opening line: 'Woman - when I saw you coming, I should have started running - you evil woman.'
We only had about eight songs which we repeated several times - each time with longer and more inept keyboard and guitar solos as we partook of the free booze we were offered. I spent the last half hour accompanying the father of the bride as he whistled Danny Boy and other mournful dirges into the microphone. Things could only get better. And they did. After some personnel changes we became a pretty good band and we played hundreds of gigs around northern England. The band was called White Myth. That name sounds vaguely racist today, but it was just a random two-word band name - modelled on Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Blue Mink and others. Not a good name though as promoters often misheard it on the phone and printed White Mist on posters.
Jerry Preston (bass), Vincent Crane, MB in France on the Dexys tour 1985. Photo: Penn Pennington
I first saw Vincent Crane when our band White Myth supported Atomic Rooster in Manchester on Dec 9th 1970. He started the set by sitting down at the Hammond organ and slowly cranking up the volume, making it scream and roar at almost unbearable volume as he laid his arms flat across the two keyboards.
We were the keyboard section on the Dexys tour in 1985 - me on the Hammond this time and Vince on piano. We were given lots of space to improvise and I particularly remember us having fun trading piano/organ riffs on the long improvisation during The Occasional Flicker. We became good friends and he used to tell me hilarious stories about his time with Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. I've forgotten most of them but I remember that many of the Arthur Brown stories involving the singer nearly setting himself and the stage on fire.
One story I remember involved a jacket with long fringes, which I think Vince was wearing when I saw him in 1970. It used to look pretty impressive under the lights as he flailed his arms around - we were easily impressed back then! He told me that at a certain point in the set he would take it off and throw it across the stage to a member of the road crew who would catch it and stow it safely away until the next gig. One night in the 1980s at a festival in Yogoslavia he flung it to a new crew-member who caught it, looked at it for a moment - and then hurled it in a graceful arc as far as he could out into the audience. Several eager pairs of hands reached up and it was never seen again. Maybe he thought Vince had intended to throw it out there but missed. The story ended, like many of Vincent's stories with 'of course I had to sack him.'
Woody Woodmansey, Carol Bolton, MB - after his performance of David Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World album in 2015 in London.
Woody had been the drummer with Bowie's band The Spiders From Mars. He joined Dexys at the same time as me, for some of the recording sessions for the Don't Stand Me Down album. We rehearsed for about a month and then went into the studio to record. He used to stay at our flat in Walthamstow, London when the sessions went on too late to get back to his home in Sussex. So we heard lots of stories about his time with Bowie, but unfortunately I can't remember any of them now! One story I do remember comes from his pre-Bowie days in workingmen's clubs in the north of England. As he carried his bass drum into the club the doorman said: 'You want need that big one in 'ere, mate.' After he had set his kit up he was bashing around the drums when the concert secretary came up to the stage and shouted sternly: 'turn them drums down, they're too loud'. So Woody started hitting his snare drum repeatedly, beginning loudly and gradually tapping it more softly while turning one of the tuning keys on the rim of the drum as if it controlled the volume. When he had 'turned the drums down' to an accptable level the concert secretary said: 'right that'll do - now make sure you don't turn them up again,'
During the 1990s I played in piano bars throughout Norway and in Denmark and Germany. I quickly found that the Norwegian version of a piano bar was not what you might expect to find in other parts of the world. Instead of As Time Goes By just about audible above polite conversations and the tinkle of ice against glass, it was Great Balls Of Fire, What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor and especially Rawhide hammered out until my fingers bled, accompanied by hordes of blonde muscular six-foot-plus Vikings belting out the choruses and swinging glasses of beer in time with the music. And the men were even worse! Every few minutes someone would yell: 'Hei, Skaal' and everyone would crash their glasses together in unison. Often I would play from 11pm till 4am. One night n the Gammelbrygga bar in Harstad, a small town two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, I gradually became aware of an argument between a young couple standing by the piano. I knew enough Norwegian by then to discern that she was telling him he had had enough to drink. Finally she took his beer glass away and handed him a cup of coffee. Someone shouted: 'Hei, Skaal' and without hesitating he swung his cup in the air spilling hot coffee over himself, the piano and the person next to him.
An old friend of mine Michael Barnfield, who liked to be called Hippy Mick, told me a story that illustrates the difficulties of becoming a hippy while living at home with your parents. When he attended gigs at venues like the Marquee, the Roundhouse and Klooks Kleek in London back in the 1960s, he would carry a roll of adhesive tape and a small pair of scissors. He used to wear a fringed suede jacket with small Indian bells attached. These would jingle merrily as he walked down the street. His parents, especially his father who had served with the Royal Air Force during the war, strongly disapproved of his hippy tendencies. So when he arrived home in the early hours of the morning he would take the tape out of his pocket and carefully tape the bells tightly to the jacket so they wouldn't wake his parents as he crept back into the house.
Hippy Mick - sadly missed.
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