Music Wednesday, June 1st Words by: Mark Bowen

On the road with Mott The Hoople: an interview with roadie Phil John

Music Wednesday, June 1st

On the road with Mott The Hoople: an interview with roadie Phil John

Mott the Hoople are quite possibly Herefordshire's biggest musical export and this weekend there will be a 12 hour celebration of the band in music, word, song and film. 

The convention, organised by the Mott Road Crew and Hereford Rocks, will see perfomances by members of the group and conversations with the original road crew and friends on Saturday June 11 at the Richmond Club on Edgar Street in Hereford.

One of the road crew organising the event is Phil John, a former road manager with Mott who later worked with Queen and David Bowie. We grabbed a word with Phil about the highlights of his career as a roadie but to hear more you need to pop along to the event itself which will see Phil and his road crew partner Richie Anderson talk to Andy Gunton about life on the road.

How did you meet Mott the Hoople?

Rich had been working for Ian Hunter and when Mott advertised for a singer/songwriter we took Ian along to the audition. Once the band had started gigging they asked Rich to join them as a roadie. I went along on a number of gigs and as they started to earn more money they took me on as well.

You toured the US with Mott three or four times. What was the high point?

I suppose the high point for the band was being the first rock group to play on Broadway. They did a week at The Uris Theatre with Queen in support. It was pretty good for the crew too as we had no equipment to move or overnight drives for the whole week.

What were the downsides of life on the road?

Downsides in the US were being away from your partner for months at a time, in England everything was still stuck in the 50s, that includes facilities, hotels, vehicles and the attitudes of people in authority. You were considered to be five day wonders who would soon stop messing about and get proper jobs.

Why did you become a roadie?

I disliked all forms of authority, I wanted to rebel, I loved rock music and if you can't play an instrument or sing then being a roadie was the next best thing.

What was the best performance you saw Mott give?

Out of many great shows I suppose the one at The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park where the management tried to drop the fire curtain when we went overtime stands out. A near riot with Morgan's piano wedged under the curtain and the crew and members of the audience helping support it as the band played on. Alternatively playing Greens Playhouse (now The Apollo Glasgow) with the excellent Alex Harvey Band in support. Another riot!

You also worked for David Bowie on the Ziggy Stardust tour. What role did you have?

Mott and Bowie were both managed by Mainman at the time and when Mott were off the road for a break Rich picked up a tour with Black Sabbath and myself and a few other crew members joined the Ziggy Stardust Tour. Initially, having a heavy goods licence I was driving one of the trucks and humping gear then Bob See, the lighting boss, asked me take over as Bowie's spot light operator. This turned out to be quite an involved job as I had to work in close conjunction with his mime acts on stage.

Roger Taylor asked the Mott Road Crew to leave the band and work for Queen (on the tour when Queen supported Mott). How did he try to persuade you to do this?

Actually Queen always appeared totally confident in their beliefs that they were going to be massive and Roger simply said 'leave Mott and join us, we're going to be the biggest band in the world.' Neither Rich or I were convinced of this but by '75  me, Rich and most of the crew were working for them and Mott The Hoople were no more.

You eventually worked for Queen five years later. What was life like on the road with them?

I only stayed with Queen as Roger's drum roadie for a year and Rich looked after Brian for eight years but the big differences were (1) They were totally dedicated to succeed and worked as one to achieve this end (2) They were far more disciplined and organized than Mott , so life on the road was much more formal and regulated and quite some way from the easy going and rock 'n' roll attitude that prevailed in Mott.

Is it true you were present when they were filming the Bohemian Rhapsody video?

Yes I joined them just as the filming was starting. In hindsight it was a pivotal moment in music but from the point of view of the road crew it was a pain in the arse. Filming means take after take and often stopping and starting the whole thing all over again. You just run around getting coffee, cigarettes and food and changing guitars and drums . We all high tailed it up to the 2nd floor where Elton stored his gear and played air hockey until it was over.

To buy tickets click here

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