18.12.19

TWO LOVE AFFAIRS THAT ENDED IN TEARS: PATTI SMITH & ME, IAN HUNTER & ME



Elsewhere on Facebook the illustrious music writer Allan Jones, a former colleague of mine on Melody Maker, posts LP sleeves of records he and others generally credit as being among the worthiest of the worthy. The other day he posted Horses, Patti Smith’s debut album with its famous Robert Mapplethorpe cover shot of Patti in a white shirt, loose skinny black tie and black jacket slung casually over her shoulder. A classic shot for a classic LP.
         Unfortunately, whenever I see this LP cover I am reminded of my big fall-out with Patti. Around the time it was released, in November 1975, I wrote an admiring profile of Patti for MM after interviewing her and her guitarist Lenny Kaye, a friend of mine, at a rehearsal studio on New York’s Westside. It was amongst the earliest coverage she received in the UK music press. Unfortunately, about a week later the Soho Weekly News, a downmarket competitor to the Village Voice, published some topless shots of Patti with cheesy captions written in the style of girly mags like Penthouse and Playboy. Patti, as you would imagine, was livid, and the whole lurid business was the talk of the town in rock circles.
         As Melody Maker’s New York correspondent I was obliged each week to write a news column, a mixture of facts and gossip about what was happening in the rock world in the Big Apple, and I felt duty bound to mention the vexed issue of Patti and the topless pictures. She saw my column and wasn’t amused. The following month we collided with one another at an aftershow party in the Plaza Hotel following a Black Sabbath/Aerosmith concert and she let me have it with both barrels.
         In vain did I try to explain that I wasn’t endorsing the actions of the Soho WN but that it was my job to report everything, good and bad, that occurred in the NY music world. Patti wasn’t having it and she never spoke to me again.
         Situations like this pepper Allan Jones’ hilarious memoir Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down, published in 2017 and reviewed elsewhere on Just Backdated. They didn’t happen that often with me but something quite similar, also involving my New York news column, occurred early that same year with Ian Hunter.
         I loved Mott The Hoople, recognising in them an agreeably laissez-faire attitude towards their calling, a genuine attempt on their part to do away with the barrier between them and their fans, and a welcome men-of-the-people disposition that contrasted quite sharply with the behaviour of too many acts a bit further up the ladder than they were. I saw Mott perform a few times and most of their concerts ended up with dozens of fans joining them on stage, just dancing and fooling around, thus further eroding the distinction between them and their followers.
         I described such scenes in Melody Maker after a show at the Fairfield Hall in Croydon in September 1970: “I doubt whether the hall has ever seen anything like the excitement that Mott The Hoople conjured up on Sunday,” I wrote. “With little more than an encouraging beckon from Ian Hunter, Mott’s pianist and singer, over 100 excited fans leaped up on to the stage to dance along with the group during their finale, a medley of rock and roll songs of the fifties.”
         And again, at the Royal Albert Hall, in July 1971: “Their concert last Thursday, although not a sell-out, produced the nearest scenes to Beatlemania I have seen this decade. Before they play a note the devotees – whose average age is around the 16 mark – rush to the foot of the stage and remain there until the last note of the last encore.
         “Mott are musically sound, but by no means brilliant. They are exciting to watch and for the most part rely on raw rock, foot stamping and hand-clapping to lift the roof. They also thrive on a certain amount of self-pity and in return receive the adulation of the converts.
         “Ian Hunter, their shaggy-haired leader, is the classic anti-hero. ‘Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath are on page one of the papers. We’re on page nineteen, but that’s where we belong,’ he shouts — and the cheers raise the roof. ‘Tony Blackburn says he’ll shoot himself if our record is a hit,’... more cheers... ‘There’s more here than they had for Grand Funk you know’... more cheers... ‘These instruments aren’t ours, we’ve got no money at all’... and so it goes on.
         “The finale is the inevitable ‘Keep-A-Knocking’ with clapping, stamping and audience participation at its best. Musically it’s pretty disastrous, but no one cares. ‘We don’t like intellectuals,’ shouts Hunter amidst more cheers and they’re back for another; this time their instrumental version of The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’.
         “The inevitable question must arise... are they Britain’s answer to Grand Funk? From what I’ve heard of them, Mott play better anyway.”
         Hunter’s comment about ‘having no money’ was true enough. Sometime in 1971 I went to interview the group at their communal flat in Earls Court, where all bar Hunter lived in what appeared to be a state of some penury. (Hunter lived in Putney with his American wife, Trudy.) Not to put too fine a point on it, the Earls Court flat was a dump, a real pigsty, domestic maintenance well below acceptable standards. In this respect, the visit was a bit of an eye-opener for me as until then I’d always assumed, a bit naively, that rock musicians who released LPs, toured nationally and made the pages of Melody Maker were probably doing alright for themselves. It was now clear to me that this wasn’t the case at all and, in fact, I probably lived better than they did, well Mott did anyway.
         A short while after that visit I went to watch them recording their Brain Capers album at Island Records’ studios in Basing Street in Notting Hill. Guy Stevens was producing and at one point in the evening a jobsbody who was supposed to be closing the studios for the night came into the control room to tell Stevens and the group that their time was up. Incensed, Stevens wrenched the studio clock off the wall and stamped on it.
         My friendship with Mott The Hoople continued in America where, in Los Angeles in 1973, I saw them play the Hollywood Palladium, a venue ideally suited to their tacky glitz, and only a stone’s throw away from Rodney Bingemheimer’s decadent English Disco, a magnet for glam rockers like Mott. After the show some of them ended up swigging beer in my suite at the Chateau Marmont. Ian Hunter was not among them but their tour manager, Stan Tippins, whom Hunter had long ago superseded as the group’s lead singer, brought along a free-spirited, immodest girl that he intended to marry, or so he said. No sooner had Mott left LA to continue their US tour, however, than she was out on the town again, behaving nothing like a betrothed fiancĂ©e.
         The following year I interviewed Ian Hunter at his home in Connecticut and while there he gave me a signed copy of his book Diary Of A Rock’n’Roll Star, one of the first ever books by a rock’n’roll insider to tell it like it is and not how the PRs of this world would prefer it to be told. I remain an admirer of the book.[1]
         


Unfortunately my friendship with Hunter was not to last. In the late spring of 1975 I was still in the US, now in New York, when Hunter and Mick Ronson, formerly David Bowie’s guitarist and right-hand man, formed the Hunter-Ronson Band. I saw them play at the Felt Forum in New York in early May and wrote a complimentary review. They were then scheduled to undertake an extensive tour of the US but most of the dates were cancelled “because of Ian Hunter’s illness”, according to a press statement from their PR.
         It was Ian Hunter’s misfortune that at the time I was in the midst of a fairly casual but nevertheless pleasant between-the-sheets relationship with a girl named Karen who worked for ABC, their US booking agency.[2] One night she was over at my flat when she spotted the press release relating to Hunter’s ‘illness’ on my desk. She read it and scoffed, telling me that the real reason their tour was cancelled was because Hunter-Ronson hadn’t sold enough tickets in Middle America to make the trip worthwhile.
         The next day I confirmed what Karen had told me by calling box offices in Memphis, Atlanta and elsewhere, inquiring about ticket availability as if I was a punter. “Are there any tickets left?” I asked. “We’ve only sold 23,” they said at the Memphis 2,000-seater. It was the same elsewhere and, indignant that the PR had lied, I duly reported the cancellation of the tour in my New York News column in the following week’s Melody Maker. “Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere,” I wrote, “The Hunter-Ronson tour was cancelled through lack of ticket sales and not because Ian Hunter is ‘ill’.”
         Hunter evidently read this report. Two or three weeks later I bumped into him at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village. He certainly didn’t look ill to me, even though this was at a time when the cancelled tour would have been taking place. Quivering with rage, he accosted me, implying that I had somehow betrayed our friendship. I thought for a moment that he was going to hit me. I pointed out that I tried to report the truth in MM, not recycle PR bullshit. Hunter didn’t deny that the dates were cancelled through lack of ticket sales but he seemed to think that I, and by extension Melody Maker and the rest of the music press, existed simply to further his career and that we should ignore anything that reflected unfavourably on him. The argument raged but remained unresolved.
         Ian Hunter and I never spoke to one another again after that night. If we had I’d have told him that the reason I relayed the real cause the cancellations in MM was not out of malice but because I felt he’d betrayed his man-of-the-people image by lying, or at least condoning the lies perpetrated by his PR.
         I rest my case.




[1] Foolishly, I lent this copy of Hunter’s book to Julian Cope who in 1993 approached me to publish his autobiography Head On. He never returned it.
[2] A further adventure involving Karen can be found here: https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2013/12/steve-syler.html




2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say. Rodney Bingemheimer - what a great name!

Chris Charlesworth said...

For many years he was known as the Mayor of Sunset Strip!