“We refused to support Ziggy Stardust!”: Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter Remembers David Bowie

“This world was black and white, you showed us what it’s like to live inside a rainbow,” sings Ian Hunter, ex-singer with Mott The Hoople, on his new song ‘Dandy’, a tribute to his one-time collaborator David Bowie. “What I was trying to illustrate was a kid going to see Ziggy or even before that ‘Hunky Dory’,” Hunter explains. “It was drab in England in the early 70s and I think David was the probably the first technicolour artist, going to see him was like going to the movies. Then you came out and caught the last bus home.”

Bowie was a huge fan of Mott The Hoople in the early 70’s, to the point where, hearing that Mott were on the verge of splitting up in 1972, he started trying to give them some of his best songs. Mott turned down ‘Suffragette City’ but preferred a new song Bowie had written for them called ‘All The Young Dudes’. The single became a huge hit and what critics described as “the ultimate 70’s glitterkid anthem”, although Hunter claims Bowie preferred the B-side.

“We did ‘… Dudes’ in two evenings at Olympic and we did the B-side as well,” Ian recalls. “He worked his ass off and we did them both, then sitting there listening to them, he said ‘One Of The Boys’ is the single. ‘No’! He was going ‘the back end of “…Dudes” is boring’. So I went out and did a little rap on the back end and then he was happy, then he thought it was the single. We knew it was the single right from the off.”

Bowie went on to produce Mott’s album, also called ‘All The Young Dudes’. “I remember, we had done the single and he thought he was going to write more material for the ‘… Dudes’ album but he came to see us in a rehearsal room and said ‘no, this stuff is good ,we’ll just go with this stuff’. He could have said ‘well let’s do a couple more of mine’ but he didn’t do that, he went flat out with what we had.”

Looking back at working with Bowie, Hunter remembers a “nice bloke, really generous with his time, as far as my band was concerned, very helpful. He was full on. He was strange, one eye was a bit dodgy, y’know what I mean? You had a feeling he was slightly otherworldly but he didn’t come off that way at all, he was perfectly normal and so was Angie. We didn’t know much about studios. He’d worked with Visconti, he knew how to mic stuff and so did Mick [Ronson, who played on the album]. He learned a lot off them. The studio was a different animal. Before that, when we were on Island [records], we treated the studio more like a gig. With David it was like ‘well, you can do this, you can do that’. It was a learning experience.”

Ian remembers watching Ziggy Stardust taking off from the wings. “He wanted us to open for him. He got Roxy Music to do it but you didn’t do that. David is strict, 45 per cent of the lights, 45 per cent of the sound. You would pass like a mild irritation, so we wouldn’t do it. He was a mover. I thought the band was okay, but the visual was so strong. We’d just come out of flower power and the blues and this was a huge injection. Whereas the rest of us all thought we were flash rockers, this was glam. Ronson looked spectacular, they looked amazing. It really was a night out. He was just a normal bloke [but] he just got so big after a while that everyone thought he’d become extra-terrestrial!”

‘Dandy’ is set for release in September on Hunter’s new album ‘Fingers Crossed’, alongside equally colourful tracks about proto-police force The Bow Street Runners and Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. On the same day, Hunter releases a huge 30-disc retrospective collection ‘Stranded In Reality’, featuring 454 tracks. “I viewed it with suspicion for the longest time because it sounds like ‘this is it, you’re done’,” Hunter says. “Fortunately I’ve still got this new record with it so I don’t feel so bad about it, but it’s like it’s developed into monster thing now. It’s tons of stuff, it’s everything I ever did plus there’s DVDs and unreleased tracks. My memory’s not great so what was interesting to me, when we played it back I had no knowledge of who was playing it, who wrote it or who sang it. It was just like listening to somebody else’s records.”