Hunter Ronson walking on gilded odds:
just two boys in a rather spectacular band
Rosalind Russell • Disc • 29 March 1975
The spectacular concept of Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson fronting their own super group officially began in Sheffield last Thursday, at the start of an extensive British tour. Two major artists on two different labels, attempting to beat the business odds with the sheer weight of their need to combine forces. Hunter on CBS, Ronson on RCA meaning their music will possibly never exist under the proper dual album. It will be a series of solo albums in disguise. 'We'll be separated by the CBS/RCA split', explained Hunter, 'but that doesn't bother us. It means we get two limousines at the airport instead of one. They take Mick aside and say: 'You know, you're better than him', and they take me aside and say, 'you're better than him', and so on. We don't mind. I don't give a ... about companies. I've got my album out and as soon as we do Mick's, the Hunter/ Ronson effort will be complete - I guess we're the only band in the middle of RCA and CBS.' Ronson commented on the group side of the situation: 'When Ian's singing, it's like Ian's band. When I'm singing, it's like my band. I think by the end of the tour it will come much closer together. We're not trying to cash in on keeping things going on as before.'
Mick Ronson's rise to fame has, not to put too fine a cliché on it, been meteoric. Brought out of obscurity in Hull, he was projected into the limelight of Bowie's Spiders From Mars.
He emerged more and more during his time with Bowie as not so much a backing musician as an invaluable leading light.
So it came as a shock to hear he was to join Mott the Hoople, just as Bowie had reached the peak of worldwide acclaim. Why did he leave?
'I never left really,' Ronno told DISC. 'After the British tour it was decided that David wasn't going to play any more. The only plan we had was to record the Pinups album. Then we all went on a bit of a holiday. Then I thought I'd do a bit of recording as well. It was just for fun really. So then I started this album Slaughter. We just sort of drifted apart. When David decided he was going on the road again, I was going to be doing some concerts and finishing off in the studios. So I never went to America with him. We didn't fall out or become enemies or anything.'
It must have been a difficult decision to make - to turn down a tour with Bowie who was, at that time, the hottest property in the music business.
'I would have liked to play in America with David. I like Dave a lot, we're still good friends. Dave is very clever you know, I always respected him. I guess I owe a lot to him. When he asked me if I would go to America with him and I said no, it was only because I had one or two things to do myself. At the same time, I was thinking, would I really like to go with him? Then the feeling of guilt came into it. You think, you owe this person something, you don't kick it all back in their face. It was hard for me to say no. But he understood why. Anyway, we plan to play again. Live - not on an album. We don't have any immediate plans but I can see it coming off - why not? I think he would like it as well. I don't see it as any big deal, just really nice. Just for fun. If you have a good thing going, you just don't let it all go. I think there was still a lot going there. I think a lot of people learnt from them days.'
Did Ronno think he may have brought a very strong Bowie influence to Mott, and now to the new Hunter/Ronson band?
'Well, probably,' he said. 'There have to be influences from both sides. I can't say no because the only person I've ever been with who has been successful was David, right? So it would be silly for me to say no. Whatever I did there, happened.'
How did Ronno and Hunter team up first of all. What is the story behind this alliance, which came as such a shock at the time?
'When I was recording my album Play Don't Worry, I'd had a bit of bother. I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I think I was at a bit of a loss because I didn't have any band. Then Ian started coming down to our house and he says to me 'Do you want to join Mott?' and I says 'no'. But then I thought it was a pretty good idea. Then I thought, why not? The only thing I'd decided up until then was that I wanted to get a band. I thought, if I join Mott it makes things much easier.'
'If I joined a band already been in the business a long time and they'd had a lot of troubles. They'd got in this semi-secure position and I don't think they wanted to take it any further. I don't think they wanted to gamble any more. I think that's why Mott split. We'd had one or two problems in Europe. Mott as a band was all involved in the business. If one person said no, it was no. No majority decisions. I could understand why they got into that position. They'd been in a lot of debt and had got themselves out of a lot of debt. It caused problems to the group as they got back on their feet. Once they did get back on their feet and were well in the clear, there were certain people who didn't want to leave go of any of the money; who didn't want to speculate on anything.'
'I'll tell you what - the only reason they were doing tours was because they wanted to pay their wages. You can't do tours for that, can you? But it was no fun. I didn't see one of the other people on the road. They never used to speak to each other hardly. It was ridiculous.'
With the new Hunter/Ronson band, things, I'm assured, are vastly different. But the thing that puzzled me was the release of separate albums from Ronson and Hunter. Why didn't they bring out a joint album?
'Well my album, Play Don't Worry came out a while back, and Ian's is only released this week. The thing was, when we were with Mott, Ian and I were sitting in Paris and Ian was really low. He didn't know what he wanted to do. Towards the end of the tour he was genuinely ill. He was a real bag of nerves; he didn't know if he was coming or going. So he decided to make his solo album. He deserves it. It should be his picture on the front; he wrote the songs so he should have his own album. I think a band album would have been too difficult to work out as I'm with RCA and Ian is with CBS. The contract problems would have been too great.'
Hunter/Ronson include three old Mott numbers in their present set. Were they worried that comparisons might be drawn between the two bands?
'No, I don't think there is any comparison. Mott the Hoople is here. I think Ian was Mott. He wrote most of the songs; shouldered most of the responsibility; he was the one pulling most of the weight. if you saw photos of Mott, it was Ian's photo you saw.'
Now that Ronno is away from the shadow of Bowie (although he managed even then to maintain a light of his own) and is sharing the front man position with Hunter in the new band, did he feel he had more say in the music?
'I'd agree we're 50-50. But I really don't have anything to say. If it is me doing the song, I think it sounds completely different to when Ian is doing a song. It will take time before it all merges together.'
At the moment, going by the gig at Aylesbury, Hunter and Ronson look quite spectacular onstage. Even in the short time they have been working in this unit, they seem to have worked out a system of letting each have his part of the set.
'I think it's nice to step down a bit and build yourself back up again. It gives you something to fight for, doesn't it?'