Ian Hunter and the Rant Band @ Town Hall, 25 June, 2017

I first saw Ian Hunter play live in 1999 at the Robin 2 in Bilston. That solo gig coincided with a Mott the Hoople convention there, but it would be a few years before the band officially reunited. My abiding memory of that night are tearjerking versions of ‘Michael Picasso’, ‘Irene Wilde’ and ‘Saturday Gigs’ where the crowd screamed “We do!” with all their hearts; and standing next to a very drunk Ariel Bender in the toilets as he struggled to remain upright whilst urinating. He did eventually gather himself together and was welcomed on stage later in the night to play alongside Ian, but playfully tried to barge Ian from centre stage so he could take the spotlight. There is a great article about that gig here (http://www.hunter-mott.com/tour/reports/19990417.html)

It is a very different night tonight at the Town Hall. Firstly, and sadly since then, we lost members of the original Mott line up as well as Mr Bowie himself, and secondly and significantly, this tour is very specifically named Ian Hunter and the Rant Band. He is not so much distancing himself from Mott, but clearly stating, this is him and his own band.

Of course there is a smattering of Mott songs played, but in the main this is a showcase for Ian’s longstanding talent for writing great songs. The set includes tracks from his entire career, which is now into almost 50 years, but most interestingly is a focus on newer material from his most recent albums ‘When I’m President’ and last year’s ‘Fingers Crossed’. Initially I admit to being a little disappointed about this, especially with memories of that ’99 gig still fresh in my mind (despite it being 18 years ago!), but in the cold light of day I can see that Mr Hunter is a man of great integrity. Many others of his generation would be more than happy milking the nostalgia cow, but Ian Hunter continues to write great songs and perform them with the same aggression and energy as he always has.

This is clear right away as the first half dozen songs are performed with little or no break — no introductions or pleasantries just bam.. bam.. bam.. bam. The Rant Band perfectly compliment Hunter’s acoustic guitar and ragged vocals: vocals that have actually not changed that much at all — they were rough and Dylan-esque in 1969, and despite years of use and misuse, they are now still unmistakably Hunter. When Ian moves to the piano, and the chords from the intro to ‘All the Way From Memphis’ ring out, there is no doubt that although it is a mighty long way down the dusty trail, Ian Hunter still rocks like a young man despite being 78 years old.

Mick Ralph’s lead guitar parts are gloriously recreated by Mark Bosch on his stunning six string razor (a Les Paul of course), which screams in his hands. Ian Hunter had a knack for choosing great lead guitarists throughout his career and Mark Bosch is no exception. His lead breaks are wondrous and technique flawless. The guitar hook intros from ‘Roll Away the Stone’ and encore ‘All the Young Dudes’, are faithful to the original but still contain Bosch’s personality. He is a revelation and I can’t believe I have not heard of his work until tonight.

Ian Hunter, for all his legendary status, still has an air of one of the boys. Okay he still has long(ish) curly hair and never takes his shades off like a rock star, but he has a knack for writing and performing songs that speak directly to your average working class person. A fine example of this is the first encore, Hunter’s recent touching tribute to Bowie, ‘Dandy’, which although overuses Bowie song titles a little too much, ends with a line about catching the last bus home, that sums up Ian and his fans perfectly: Bowie will take a limo to bigger and better things, we humbly wait in the bus station. I love that about Ian Hunter. He influenced a generation of bands who in some cases went on to greater success (The Clash and Oasis), and in some cases ripped him off completely (I’m looking at you Noel Gallagher for stealing his songs and Liam for nicking his vocal style), but still he carries on proving he is an original by writing better and better songs, where many others dried up a long time ago.

Highlights for me tonight are ‘Standin’ In My Light’ and ‘All American Alien Boy’, however, the new tracks, which I confess I do not know as well, sound every bit as strong as Hunter’s archives. It really is a blast from start to finish. I admit to feeling a little disappointed by certain omissions in the set list (I so wanted to hear ‘Saturday Gigs’, ‘Ballad of Mott’, ‘You Nearly Did Me In’ or ‘Apathy 83’), but when your back catalogue is as impressive as Ian Hunter’s there are only so many songs you can fit into one night. Ian is quoted as saying his favourite album is always the next one, so he never needs to look back and I can’t wait for his next instalment.

Reviewer: Alan Neilson

Photo courtesy of PR.

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