The Ronson creative flame
Charles Shaar Murray New Musical Express 6 October 1973
Sunday night at the Chateau d'Herouville, and Mick Ronson is taking a break from recording his Slaughter On Tenth Avenue album to discuss various matters concerning the future of humanity and various similar subjects. As we fade into the conversation, he's answering a question about whether this is the first of a series of solo albums.
"Yes, otherwise there'd be no point to it. I wouldn't do it just to do one album. I never really thought about it that much, you know. It's come quicker than I thought, which is probably why I've only written three numbers for this album.
"I wouldn't write a stack of stuff for the album and record it simply because it's my material. I don't care who wrote the number. As long as I present it properly, that's all I'm interested in.
"But I will write more numbers, and on my next album I'll have more of my own numbers and on the album after that...I'll be five things, singer, guitarist, producer, arranger and composer. There's a lot of ground to cover, and I'll be into doing it. That is if I can do it
I'll just keep going."
To this day, I still haven't heard Ronno singing anything but backup and harmony. "I'm very curious as to how your voice is going to sound," I asked.
"So am I," responded the ebullient Mr. Ronson.
"I'm not the best of vocalists - there's a lot of good vocalists around. But I'm certainly better than a lot of 'em. And I'm going to get better as I get more experience as a front man.
"I've been practising a lot by myself. When me and David (Bowie) sing together we sound very much alike. I'll sound like David on some parts, but at other times I'll sound like different people.
"But I'll be singing well, or else I wouldn't be singing at all. I don't want to be doing anything unless it's perfect. I don't want any rough edges. It'll sound rough - but gutsy and tight, but not so tight it's as tight as Yes, where every note's been worked out. Every single note, so that they become like computers on stage."
Obviously the album will be finished and issued before Ronno takes the Spiders back on the road. Would he have rather played a few dates before recording?
"I really don't mind which way round it is. I know what I'm doing on stage, and I know what I'd be doing in the studio. I know what you mean about getting used to the numbers, but that's a pretty good thing anyway.
"When we get out on the road, the numbers are gonna sound different. They're going to sound even fuller than they do already. They'll be heavier and more exciting than they are now. They always are when you play 'em on the stage, anyway.
"If people buy the album and like something, then when they come to see us on the road, they'll say 'The album's great, but wait until you see 'em on stage.' That's why I like Jeff Beck on stage. He really seems to put a lot into it, whereas he doesn't really seem to do it on record.
"It's a nice surprise when you go and see somebody and find that they're even better live. Hang On To Yourself was very bouncy on the record, but when we did it live it was really grinding, very heavy. Really chunky."
Talk drifted to the Hammersmith live album, currently in the mixing stages. "It really is live," said Ronson. "There's been no going back and redoing it in the studio. A lot of groups take the tapes into the studio and then strip it and start correcting the mistakes. They might put a fresh guitar solo on or something."
Now back to Ronson's own plans:
"I ain't gonna go on the stage in the silk tights. Against David's lightness I was always the heavy one. They'll all be natural things - you could call it choreography on stage I suppose. Obviously I'm gonna work. There'll be some theatrics involved - just a little touch.
"There's going to be a touch of everything. I love being on the road. It's good fun. I enjoy playing to people, I love playing on a stage. Not all the time, though, I couldn't do it all the time.
"Some groups never give themselves the time to be creative, and they have to play all the time because they need the bread. When I was on the road with Dave, and we looked as if we were enjoying ourselves, we really were.
"If we'd carried on playing on the road for the next two years and we'd been playing that same stuff, it would've been so forced.
"But we're going to enjoy playing, and changing the set around here and there. And the audiences are gonna enjoy it too. All the time, we're gonna be fresh, and we'll learn things. The more we play the more we'll learn."
Is Ronson expecting any wild scenes of teenage hysteria at his gigs?
"I don't know. Anything. I'd like people to appreciate the music, and I'd like them to appreciate the show, and I'd like people to leave thinking that it was really good. I'd enjoy seeing young chicks swooning at me feet same as I'd like to see a college audience standing up and clapping for ten minutes.
"At the concerts, I reckon there's gonna be a very mixed audience. There's going to be a lot of young chicks there, and there's gonna be a lot of college-type boys. That's going to be nice. I hope some mums and dads come. I don't care who comes as long as they enjoy it, and I'll make sure that they will.
Much of what Mick Ronson says above could well open him up for charges of egotism when laid out in cold (or lukewarm, even) print. That impression is somewhat unfortunate, since Mick Ronson is a long way from being a compulsive trumpet-blower. Indeed, in many ways he's almost too wary of limelight to be a rock star.
The thing is that he has considerable pride in his own abilities as a craftsman, and once he's well into discussing his own work, he sees no reason to get too coy and modest about what he considers to be some sort of achievement.
The trouble is that his conversation tends to give rise to misinterpretation. He's not a particularly verbal guy, and you never find him elbowing his way into a conversation or being the life of the party. Quite possibly, he felt slightly inhibited when he was part of the Bowie roadshow. Certainly, he was polite and cordial to anybody who approached him, but he didn't exactly work overtime to attract attention to himself.
Basically, he's a very hardworking musician. He's really happy when he's working on his music, and is unwilling to engage in any of the full-tilt ligging which characterises many off-duty superstars. Ronson is very professional, very unpretentious.
One thing that fools a lot of people is his accent. He's from Hull, and he's got a very strong accent, thick almost to the point of self- parody. Many people, especially people from London, have been so trained by Northern comedians, that anyone who really talks like that gets branded as a joke right from the start.
When the person concerned particularly is unused to speaking for publication, he may well find himself satire-fodder.
Another problem is that somebody who only recently emerged from under the wing of a well-known act is generally regarded with some suspicion. As has been already pointed out, Ronson's contributions to Bowie's work have been much underestimated, and the true extent of these contributions probably won't become apparent until the album's out and Ronno's on the road.
Okay, so is Mick Ronson going to be a star? Personally, I don't think that he'll have any major problems.
His work with Bowie has already gained him a sizeable following, judging from our mail. It's some time since we last received a request for nude shots of him, but the sentiment probably still exists. He's a good-looking guy, he moves very well on stage, and he plays great.
In addition to that, he's got considerable imagination as an arranger, and he's capable of organising excellent music and getting the best out of musicians. The new album shows his abilities in that direction more than adequately.
What's still in question is his abilities as a vocalist, lyricist and front man. On the Bowie shows, he showed a lot of stage presence and considerable abilities to work an audience. However, he was definitely working behind Bowie, and it still remains to be seen whether he can be a convincing frontman. Personally again, I think he can.
What it really comes down to is his voice. If he turns out to have a distinctive and exciting vocal style, then the world will be his oyster. If not, then he'll have to concentrate on his playing and live show.
Still, I'm sure he's going to work hard on his vocals. Finally, a lot depends on his composing. His melodies are interesting enough, but let us hope that he's going to come up with some strong lyrics.
It's certain that the venues of the new tour will be carefully selected, the album well-packaged and the show pretty luxurious. Tony Defries is not exactly renowned for skimping on anything, and so if Ronno blows it, it's going to be definitely his own fault.
In Mike Garson, Aynsley Dunbar and Trevor Bolder, he has a fine backup unit, so it simply comes back to himself. He's got a ready made following and the potential to attract a whole bunch of people who were never really into Bowie to begin with, so the lad should do well.