Killer Monsoon strikes: Thousands Missing
NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
September 28, 1974
by Charles Shaar Murray
… whose ranks seem to be drawn from those who scoffed when MICK RONSON was mooted as Ariel Bender's replacement in Mott the Hoople (chuckle, sneer). Guess who got it right (cackle, snigger). Anyway, we sent CHARLES SHAAR MURRAY along to the London press conference to
crow find out more about all these goings-on.
YOU CAN practically smell the cigar smoke, drifting regally along the telephone wires all the way from Connecticut. 'We're very pleased,' sez Tony De Fries, his measured tones amplified through one of those cute little squawk boxes, 'to welcome Mott back to the family.' Buffin, resplendent in blue denim with a 'Ronno' badge pinned to his shirt, grimaces elaborately. Tony De Fries goes on to say something about what a Gas It Is that a Great Guitarist is Getting Together with a Great Band and then he hangs up and then everybody starts talking again.
Some press conference already! It was the official if belated announcement of the news that Mick Ronson (a.k.a. 'Ronno' a.k.a. 'Our Michael') had taken the plunge and replaced the departing Ariel Bender (a.k.a. Luther Grosvenor) in Mott The Hoople. I mean, the suspense was unbearable. Had not a Certain British Rock Weekly had not denied that very story on their front page that very day, tipping Colin Blunstone's guitarist for that very gig instead? Had not all official sources been so vehement in their denials that they weren't even admitting to knowing who Mott The Hoople were anyway?
The gaff was virtually blown even before the band breezed in. As well as Bob Hirschman from Mott's management, Mott publicist Brainsby and his staff and a couple of folks from CBS, there was also a representative from RCA and Ronno's ex-publicist Anya Wilson. Things were taken so much for granted that nobody even fell over when Ronno trucked in. Half the people in the room were trying hard to seem surprised, and the rest were trying hard not to.
Ian Hunter is looking quite outrageously smug. That Great Stone Face of his has never been able to hold onto a grin for such a long time before, even though he's swaddled up in a Kensington Market green leather jacket that'd give any concerned sartorialist heart failure. With Ariel Bender zooming off into the twilight, Hunter's pulled off a very definite coup by enticing Mick Ronson to work his matelot T-shirts (and pink chiffon bandanas) into MainMan mothballs.
Ho hum. Mott's Morgan Fisher is still Yahweh's gift to the moustache wax industry, Overend Watts has retired his platform boots, Buffin needs a shave and Ronno's completely revamped his visuals, swapping those golden neo-Iggy tresses for a salt and pepper smoothie job halfway between James Dean and Robert Redford.
Still, you've probably had enough suspense for the day. So if you'll bear with me through a fast dissolve to the kitchen at Chez Ronno (a rhinestoned solar dirigible moored in deep space exactly 23,000 miles over Hull), we'll cut the crackle and start ruthlessly interrogating the principals in this shattering about-face which, for a week at least, is going to be the main conversation piece at all chic rock and roll gathering places, and most likely a profound influence on the entire future course of Western thought etc. etc..
First contestant please. Mr. Fisher, will you please step up to this microphone which we have cunningly disguised as a scale model for one of Tony De Fries' cigars and tell us in no more than 115 words why Ariel Bender fled screaming into the nght?
'It's been in the back of Ian's mind for quite some time. The main things was that Bender as a bloke was unbelievable. He put so much morale into the band, it put us right over the top. When we did the last album, we didn't expect it to be as easy, and it wasn't. When we got back into the studio, there didn't seem to have been much improvement. Eventually we began to realise that it was as a bloke that he was great, but in the studio it was just vey... mmmm (facial expression akin to that of a man whose grandmother has just broken wind in church); and listening back to those live tapes as well...'
Congratulations, Morgan, that was great. One hundred and sixteen words exactly, only one over quota.
(Note to the Serious Reader, whoever he is this week: it says considerable for Ian Hunter's integrity that he was prepared to part musical company with a guy who was rapidly becoming his best friend. There have been times when I have prayed devoutly that a certain well-loved British vocalist would do the same to his entire band).
Anyway, we've just about reached that point in our narrative when it's time to bring Ricky Monsoon himself into this, so...
'It only came up a very short time ago--two or three weeks. Bender was leaving, and I was also talking about getting my own musicians. I was telling Ian about this, and he was playing some tapes that he'd done, and I was playing him the album that I'd done. I kep talking about the different musicians I was going to be getting. Ariel was definitely leaving. Ian cam round, and we were just talking--we weren't gonna team up together, there was none of that--and at about half past one, I said 'Ere, 'ang on a minute--I'm gonna ring up Tony.''
(Note to the Serious Reader--this is where the story really starts).
'So I rang him up and said, 'Listen, Tony--how about if I went with Mott The Hoople? What do you think about that because you know I was looking for musicians anyway, and I wanted to form a band. Ariel's leaving, and I think that it'd be a nice move if I did it.' He said, 'Well, let me think about it,' and right from then'--the rather more intimidating cigar that El Ronnola is puffing upon is waved emphatically through the air--'it was then that me and Ian started saying, 'Nahhh, we gotta do it, we gotta do it.' Then we started talking about it and it was really good.
'The next day I spoke to Tony about it, and he said 'If that's what you want to do, then do it.' And it was easy.'
Caramba! El Ronnola, his is--'ow you say--muy guitarist, hah? Zis should be magnifico, already.
'I played on the new single which we did last week, and that was great too. Went into the studio with a bunch of musicians and played. I'd been thinking about playing with Mott when I came off the road with Dave (Note to the Serious Reader: you know who 'Dave' is, doncha--you little insider, you)--and before I made my first solo album, because we've known each other for some time and I really like the band.'
IT MAY be useful to point out at this stage of the proceedings that Our Michael's involvement in the production of 'All The Young Dudes' was sufficient to convince Ian Hunter to make him (Ronno, that is) responsible for the final mix on the Brtish version.
'It's good y'know, because I can pick up my guitar and really start playing something--without going overboard or anything like that. Do a bit of singing...I'd like to do a couple of my numbers. I'm really looking forward to rehearsing and getting into the numbers. I'm looking forward to turning my amp right up and really playing with a band. That's what I've really missed. I've been listening to Mott's live tapes, hearing the numbers through--though I've only heard 'em once--and thinking, 'Yeah, that bit'll be nice.' I'm looking forward to rehearsing, but one thing I ain't gonna be doing is...I ain't gonna sit down and learn how all the numbers were played before, otherwise I'm gonna start putting similar kinds of breaks in. I want to go into it without knowing what Ariel played or what Mick Ralphs played. I want to play what I think should be there on the numbers, so I don't want to sit down and learn them. I wanna play. I'll just want a number to be played through and I'll pick up on it.
You may get the impression from the preceding impassioned declamation that young Michael is somewhat overjoyed by his new position, where his abilities as a raunchy axeman--as one says in The Trade--will certainly not go to waste. As they did, to a certain extent, in his solo activities.
'Yeah, I know. I kept thinking about it. It kept bothering me, but the musicians weren't quite right. I figured that I should play all the numbers off the album, and the album was a bit of this and a bit of that. It really had no direction. There's more direction on the new album, more direction towards guitar playing. That's why I wanted a group of musicians, because if I sit down at the piano and write a song, it'll come out like a Beatles number or a Roy Harper number, because I like all these different kinds of music. Whereas if you've got a specific set of musicians, what you do is keep them in mind as you're writing because you know what the overall thing is gonna sound like. So you've got some continuity within the music--which is what was lacking before. Being in Mott is good because it's gonna get me into that kind of music--a bit Stonesy--very loose in a way. But there's some beautiful numbers in there which I can also get into melodically.
'I just want to play in a band.'
Paradoxically enough Ronson seems like he's going to be a lot less inhibited in a group context than he was as a soloist, where he always seems somewhat too wary to really get down and play his best.
'Exactly. Also, other musicians in the band have got their own ideas. Like Ian is a very strong person. If he's got a song, he knows how it should feel, how it should be. Then you get Morgan, the keyboard man with all the melodic influences which can add a few extra nice changes to one or two chords here and there. And then there's me, and I'm pretty strong as well because I have my own ideas, and I want them to come across. I also want them to merge with Mott The Hoople now, which is why I don't want to sit and listen to the records and learn the stuff, I'd rather just learn it afresh.'
How about chipping in on arrangements, production and writing?
'Yeah, of course, I'll be doing lots of bits and pieces like that anyway, because anybody in Mott can chip in. I've learned a lot behind the desk and it all helps, you know. I'm not gonna turn around and say, 'Look, I'm the arranger or I'm the producer.' It's a combined effort, which can only make it much better. That's why I wanted to get a really good set of musicians, who've all got their own ideas on whatever they're playing, and who can influence me so that I can pick up on their points of view.
'If it's all down to me and it all depends on me, then I just become too self-indulgent and lacking in any kind of direction. I haven't been trained...I haven't been in it long enough to be able to get up there just on my own, because I'd never really thought that way before. It takes a lot of work to go up there and to be there on your own under your own name--just you. You've gotta be there, you've gotta be constant, you've got to be interesting, you've got to capture 'em all the way down. It's really hard. I stayed away from playing guitar solos on purpose for a while because I--uh--I know a lot of good guitar players. It was also the first time that I'd done any lead singing, and I wanted to try to get that over, so I laid off playing too much guitar. But I'm ready to play now.'
Which, for anyone who heard Monsoon live with Bowie, can be effectively translated as 'Stand back!'
'Six months ago or a year ago I would say things like 'Guitar's not really my main instrument, I'm interest in everything in the music business as much as I am in guitar.' I'd never sit in here and pick up a guitar, never take it out of the case and play. I've got a practise amp, but I never use it. Now I think I will.'
ONE SIDE of this whole Mott / Ronno deal that has caused not a little speculation is how it affects his tie-up with RCA and MainMan, especially since there'd been a few rumours skimming the tequila glasses that all was not--uh--hunky dory with Monsoon's career. How were Mott's management and CBS gonna work things out with MainMan and RCA?
'I'm still with RCA. Yeah, I've done this album for them, and what'll happen is when I do another one--whenever that'll be--I'll just do it and they'll realease it. I don't want to say 'Look lads, I can't make the rehearsal or the session, I'll just whip in and put my bits over the top because I've got to be in the studio to do my own things.' I'll do another solo album after this one, but I'll do it when I've got time.
'I've written more songs for this album--writing my own lyrics now. I've got five of my own lyrics on this one. I couldn't get them together at all for 'Slaughter.' It seemed impossible, but now it's a lot easier. There's a lot of things I want to get into, things like film music. I still want to be involved in everything in every different way musically, but I feel that, for what I'm doing, my best job is being a good guitar player in a good band; a good showman with a decent voice; a good arranger. I just want to do all those things properly.
'I've also written a couple of film themes which I'll record sometime, but I can do that later. I can do that when I'm fifty. At the moment I'm twenty- mumble...' (mucho laughter from onlookers) '...and I want to play some rock and roll. I want to play some guitar. That's what I'm into right now, and I'm more into it than I have been for a long time. Now I'll actually bring home a guitar and sit down and dig it all out.'
Fighting words, Mr. Monsoon. He sits there with his elbows on the table, almost bubbling over before your very eyes. In two years--through the Bowie period and the solo stage--he's never seemed so genuinely enthusiastic, so totally wired up over a new project. It seems that he's found his niche. But is the management thing all worked out to everybody's satisfaction?
'That's all taken care of, no problems there. There've been no disagreements. Both record companies are happy, both managers are happy. I thought we'd maybe have a few hassles, but everybody just says, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah.' It's great for Morgan as well, because he can write out some music...and I'll be able to...read it.'' Euphoria is a wonderful thing. So is champagne. 'None of the others can read music, y'see.'
There appears to be some sort of Fisher-Ronson conspiracy afoot here. Anyway, let's change the subject. What's Trevor Bolder going to be doing now?
'I don't know. I saw him last week, he said that he was all right and that he had a few things to do, but I don't really know what, whether he wants to take up production or get involved in another band or...I know that he was expecting us to get other musicians together and to go on the road--as I planned to do until I joined Mott. He's not really freaked out about it or anything. I mean, when I told him he thought it was good. I'm a bit concerned about Trevor in a way because I want him to be interested in whatever he's doing. If he goes for a job in a band I want him to enjoy it and get off on it. He's a good lad, is Trevor. I've known him a long time.
'I think it's gonna be good right from the first gig. We're only having seven rehearsals, but that's all we're gonna need. I'll soon get into the feeling of those numbers because they're really my type of music. I can already imagine my hands on the fretboard...'
Ummmmm. Supergroups which tend to sound great on paper often turn out to be thoroughly disappointing. Blind Faith are the obvious example to come to mind, and even Beck, Bogert and Appice never really got to be quite as good-as-they-could. However, the mental image of Ronno getting his ass out on stage with Mott The Hoople and really firing from the hip does seem quite startlingly promising.
Ronson's assessment of the flaws in his solo work indicates a considerably higher degree of self-awareness than is customary in rock and roll stars. A tenure in Mott will give him a strong personality with whom he can empathise, whose efforts will complement his. When his considerable talents in various directions can be channelled, he can lend his strengths to the channeller and help them to execute their concepts in ways that they may be hadn't even considered. And, paradoxically enough, he can feel a lot freer and more relaxed about taking his turn up front in Mott than he was ever able to do as a solo artist.
ANYWAY, WE all end up draped all over the living room listening to excerpts from the Next Solo Album, which is appropriately entitled 'Play Don't Worry' and which features a rather aggressive cover shot of Our Michael in Killer Axeman pose. There's a very interesting version of 'While Light White Heat,' incorporating a backing track originally cut by Ronson, Bolder, Dunbar and Garson during the 'Pin Ups' sessions, and a track on which Mick makes his play for the First National Mike Oldfield award by playing everything except the horns.
There's only one thing that still needs to be cleared up: way back in the summer of this year, I did an interview with Ian 'Untah in which he claimed, 'Bender will be here until the end. My entire future's bound up with Bender.'
What about that, Ian?
'Yeah, right,' (nods toward Ronson). Only now my entire future's bound up with 'im.'