(Post by Alan Fairley, of Edinburgh – February 2021)
There can’t be too many people who have set out planning to attend a T Rex concert only to have ended up at a Mott the Hoople gig but that particular quantum leap was one which I experienced as 1971 drew to a close, and one which, in musical terms, proved to be a seminal moment in my life.
Both myself and my long term school friend James Meldrum had recently scaled (metaphorically) the stifling walls of Bearsden Academy to embark on our respective career choices. James had headed off to Portsmouth to join the Royal Navy while I merely made the 15 minute walk over Pendicle Road to start my job in the less exotic environment of Bank of Scotland’s Bearsden Cross branch.
James and I had bonded over the years due to our communal interest in football and music and it was around this time that the latter was, within our respective psyches, beginning to vie for attention with the former. As James’ first shore leave approached, he called me and suggested getting tickets for the T Rex gig at Greens Playhouse which was coinciding with his period of leave. I dutifully hopped on to the No13 bus from Maxwell Avenue to Renfrew Street and legged it along Sauchiehall Street before heading to the oasis-like ticket desk which lurked in the dark corners of House of Clydesdale only to be told that T Rex was completely sold out. Deflated, but determined to avoid a wasted journey, I asked the salesgirl what other shows were on around that time. She handed me a list and three words jumped off the page – Mott. The. Hoople.
I didn’t know much about them. I’d read in the Melody Maker that they did a great live show and I’d seen them once on Top of the Pops performing their spectacularly unsuccessful debut single Midnight Lady. I duly purchased the tickets and recall vividly the seat numbers -D7 and D8. Four rows from the front, the nearest I’d ever been to the gargantuan Playhouse stage.
The gig itself was amazing. We didn’t know any of the songs but they all sounded great, the fans rushed the stage toward the end and the cops were called in as the management clearly feared a riot. No Neanderthal Rock Steady stewards in these days as Glasgow’s finest restored order – but only after the band had completed no less than three encores.
From then on, Mott became my favourite band and I saw them again a few months later at the Kelvin Hall. By this time I had acquired my first proper girlfriend, Marion, who I had met at the Christmas dance in Bearsden Burgh Hall (no disco thankfully, just a couple of great live bands one of which featured recently departed Marmalade guitarist Hughie Nicholson).
Pretty, intelligent, sensible and a lover of classical music, Marion, a former Hillhead H.S. pupil was the polar opposite of me and it was probably a serious error of judgement on my part by taking her along to the Kelvin Hall show. Our contrasting reactions to the entertainment on offer merely accentuated the vast cultural chasm which existed between us and it was no real surprise when she gave me the Spanish Archer not long afterwards.
I addressed the disappointment of being issued with the Red Card from Marion by immersing myself further in music, forsaking the questionable delights of following Partick Thistle by spending my Saturday afternoons browsing through, and usually purchasing, albums from the city centre record shops such as Listen, Bruce’s and 23rd Precinct. I also became a regular patron of Greens Playhouse, checking out any acts I thought would be worth listening to and I scoured the music papers diligently every week to check when my favourite band would again be touring.
Thankfully their next visit to Glasgow coincided with James’ shore leave and this time we had front row tickets – a first for us both. The fourth Mott gig I attended occurred after Greens had morphed into the Apollo following a major aesthetic overhaul, something which had also happened to the band itself. Gone were the five working class lads from Hereford, a quintet to whom their fan base could easily identify. Instead there was glitter, peroxide, suits and platform boots as the long waited Bowie-influenced chart success of All the Young Dudes had propelled the band into the Glam Rock genre.
(Speaking of genre propulsion, the support act on that occasion was a relatively unknown outfit called Queen who, at the end of the tour, released their debut single Seven Seas of Rye. To quote Charlie Nicholas, ‘the rest is geography.’)
Mott split up shortly after that gig, around the time that I moved to Edinburgh and met the girl of my dreams, rapidly finding myself struck by the triple whammy of marriage, mortgage and children resulting in my obsession with music soon giving way to the new responsibilities which altered my outlook on life.
Mott’s lead singer Ian Hunter toured extensively thereafter but I was in my 40s by the time I saw him on stage again. The venue was for the gig was…er…’The Venue’, an imaginatively named building tucked away in a cobbled street within the dark confines of Edinburgh’s Old Town. After the show I hung around, along with a few other ageing fans, at the stage door hoping for a glimpse of, or even a chat with, the man himself.
A burly roadie then appeared and announced that Ian wouldn’t be seeing anyone.
My subsequent anger, fuelled by the casual dismissiveness of my own loyalty, exploded as I responded with-
‘Tell him if it wasn’t for us, he’d be working in a f***ing factory’.
I only realised the misguided nature of my knee jerk reaction when this behemoth of a roadie advanced angrily in my direction but the situation was resolved when Hunter quickly appeared, shaking hands and signing autographs for his small band of admirers.
I saw him in concert maybe a dozen times, in three different countries, after that, the two most memorable being when I was reunited with my old pal James (after a gap of almost 40 years) at Londons’ Shepherds Bush Empire and another in the picturesque enclave of San Juan Capistrano, California, the last gig I attended with my wife Pamela, who passed away three months later.
The subsequent Mott the Hoople reunion shows came and went amidst much hype. I attended the London and Glasgow events but by then they had become akin to a tribute band and I realised that the magic of 1971 had gone forever.
The band, and its members, provided me with some great memories over a period of almost 50 years —-and all because T Rex had been sold out.
As they say in France, ‘je ne regret rien’