Music Friday, June 3rd

Mott The Hoople's Stan Tippins on Bowie, Queen and moving on when the phone stops ringing

Music Friday, June 3rd

Mott The Hoople's Stan Tippins on Bowie, Queen and moving on when the phone stops ringing

With a Mott The Hoople convention converging on the Richmond Club in Hereford this weekend, we spoke to the band's original singer - the guy who quit just as the group tipped the brink of success.

Stan Tippins, who'll be performing at the Hereford reunion on Saturday, first rose to prominence with the pre-Mott band The Buddies, even appearing on an Italian equivalent of Top of the Pops.

But as band began to transform into Mott the Hoople, Stan stood down from frontman duties and handed the reigns to Ian Hunter.

But his association with the group didn't end there; he went on to be Mott's road manager working with rock'n'roll's great and good.

Out of everybody involved with Hereford's famous band, Stan's association is the longest - running through The Buddies, Mott the Hoople, the rejigged and renamed Mott (following Hunter's departure), and finally with the group's last hoorah as British Lions. It was Stan who was left at the bitter end.

Looking back on it all he has the consolation of working with David Bowie and witnessing Queen support Mott The Hoople - the only time Freddie Mercury and friends supported another band.

Following Mott's demise, Stan worked as a road manager for a long (impressive) list of class acts: The Pretenders, Lou Reed, Simple Minds, Adam and the Ants, Sade, and Paul Young.

His journey has been a rock'n'roll life on the road, experiencing the highs and lows, and moments most of us can only dream of. Here he takes us through his remarkable story step-by-step.

Tell me about your first band The Storm Raisers. 

We started in 1963. Our first gig was December 6 1963 at The Unicorn pub in Weobley. A very good gig it was too. Sold out. I could not believe it. IMG 2927

I was the lead vocalist - black and white shirt, black leather trousers. I was copying my hero, Johnny Kidd.

Looking back we weren’t very good... we must have been terrible. Anyway they [the audience] seemed to like it.

What were you playing?

A lot of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, that type of music. Pretty good rock stuff. 

In those days you had two stage names - Jet Black and Billy Thunder?

Ed Barnett, the lead guitarist, gave me the name Jet Black.

Then we had a manager that came in and he said ‘Oh no, I don’t like that, why not Billy Thunder? It goes with the Storm Raisers’.

So I was Billy Thunder and the Storm Raisers for a few months, a year or so until it all collapsed.

Then The Buddies came along and asked me to join. Their singer, Les Norman, had left for some reason. Mick Ralphs came and approached me and said, Come and have a rehearsal with my band'.

I think Mick was more or less the leader. He seemed to be organising it.

The Buddies' first gig was in 1964, tell us more.

Yes, 1964.

We could get to about three gigs a week just in Herefordshire going around the village halls, the pubs and the clubs.

The British Legion Club in Leominster, I remember us playing. It was good but we realised after a year or so we couldn’t get any further doing this.

Luckily we had an agent from Dudley-way or Wolverhampton who was interested in us, he said he could get full time professional work in Germany and Italy.

So, we went professional in late September 1965.

Our first gig was in Constance, Germany. I think it was October 5. We played in a club owned by Herr Beck for month. You know the beer? He was one of their gang. One of the sons I think, and he was running this club.

It was fantastic. They'd never had a British band there before.

We played six nights a week, it was hard on the vocals - the boys didn’t know many instrumentals.

But I loved it. We did a few of our own songs, a lot of rock and roll, and the soul stuff. They made us play one or two tracks from the German hit parade, especially for those who came at the weekend.

One of the tracks I hated singing, it was Wooly Bully. I had to sing that, oh my God. But we got through.

At that time it was Mick Ralphs on lead guitar, Cyril Townsend on bass, Bob Hall on drums, a guy from Ludlow. The four of us at that point.

Did Dale Griffin and Verden Allen join The Buddies?

After our 1965 tour of Germany, Cyril Townsend decided it wasn’t for him.

He wasn’t going to enjoy all the travelling so we auditioned Overend Watts from The Soulents, alias The Silence, from Ross.

He was a lead guitarist but I said, 'We need a bass player, how about joining us?’.

He just wanted to go professional. He said, 'I'll change from lead guitar to bass, no problem. The only problem is with my dad. I’ve got this apprenticeship as an accountant and he's not very keen for me to leave'.

I said, 'Don’t worry, I'll come up and see him'.

So I dressed up in a suit and tie, went and told his dad how successful we were going to be. Cyril's dad said, 'Yep, alright’ and let him go.

When did The Buddies become Mott The Hoople?

That was much later on.

In '66 we went back to Italy and made an album with the additional guitarist.

We had two lead guitarists then - one guy called Dave Tedstone, he and Mick really worked well together.

Anyway we were invited over there to make an album, but they said, 'The only thing we don’t like is your name. Do you want to change it to the Doc Thomas Group?’

I think Mick had suggested the Doc Thomas Group as he was toying with changing the name anyway. So he was floating the idea in England about changing the name when this producer came in and said, ‘I can get you a record deal’.

So we made one album as the Doc Thomas Group in Italy. We made it in about two nights cracking.

It was quite a shock that somebody wanted us to make an album and hard work because we made it so quickly. We went back and forwards to Italy, Germany, played in a lot of the German nightclubs where The Beatles went, places like The Star Club.

It was hard work. We were up to 3 or 4 in the morning and they expected you to play set after set. 

Mott Flyer015

And when you got back to England, what happened next?

We were getting regular work around Wales by that point and England, but still we weren’t getting any further.

Mick, who had one or two influential friends in London, was going down to see them saying ‘Can we get any further? We’ve got this small record company in Italy but they have taken us as far as we can go’.

In the end someone from Island Records invited us down to audition.

So at this point, when we went down for the audition, I was getting very unhappy in the band because it was not going the way I was as a vocalist.

The who took the audition was Guy Stephens, he went on to manage Mott The Hoople.

He could see I wasn’t happy and he could see I wasn’t right for the band because he wanted to form his own band and have a singer/songwriter/musician in the band.

I didn’t play anything. None of the band was writing much material.

Mick was writing a song every now and again. So it was decided at that point I would leave and they were then looking for a singer/songwriter guitarist/keyboard player, preferably a keyboard player.

They stayed in London, managed to get a flat.

I was going backwards and forwards, and we then managed to get Ian in.

The band said, 'We want you to stay because you’ve always done the tour managing, the organising. So stay with us and still be part of the unit', which I did.

What was it like when Ian joined? How did the other band member react? 

Ian Hunter 2 Mott The Hoople 1973 2

They didn’t talk to him much because he came in and I seemed to have more repertoire with him than anybody.

I knew he was interested in football, I was interested in football.

None of the others were so we talked about football; he supported Shrewsbury Town and Northampton Town.

I remember saying, 'Why are you supporting those poor teams, why don’t you come along with me and support Hereford United, a proper team.

"We had all the bargy going on at the time. The others weren’t saying much.

"Then we started rehearsing... and everything clicked into place. They got used to him and everything went fine.

Still, your vocal talent was needed on occasions.

It was. Skipping forward, the band got a deal with Island Records and then got on to CBS.

Ian was writing some really good material by then, getting better and better as a songwriter.

Then, of course, Bowie came along with All The Young Dudes. 

Suddenly, I had to perform again. Nobody could seem to hit those high harmonies, so I did them.

Well, sometimes I was doing things backstage - talking to a promoter, doing the accounts or whatever, getting ready to get paid, and the easiest way to do it was to have a microphone set up behind a curtain.

I had my own monitor so I could hear what was going on and, that’s what I did, all the high vocals.

So you rushed to the back of the stage to your mic? David Bowie Early

Just about got there in time.

I did the numbers, then went back to the canteen counting money or whatever.

It was a hairy scary scheme, but it worked.

Apparently several bands that we played with saw what was going on and used to copy us. They used to get other singers in and stand behind the curtains if one or two of their vocalists weren’t up to standard.

I remember Bowie when we did the album.

I was doing vocals, helping in the studio. He turned round to the band and said, 'Hey, would you guys like to make an album with Stan – it would be really good’.

David Bowie saying that was incredible, but nothing ever came of it because he was so rushed in those days.

He couldn’t even finish the Mott The Hoople album because he was into so many things, and he was just making it really big himself.

What was Bowie (who produced All The Young Dudes in xxx) like to work with?

Very easy. It was simple.

He came in and put his ideas in. He was very good.

The only trouble was near the end of the album - sometimes he would be missing for a while because there were so many projects going on and suddenly he would dash back from doing something else, so near the end it got harder.

Do you think he regretted giving All The Young Dudes to Mott The Hoople?

No, I’ve never thought that.

It was a great move for him and certainly a great move for the band because it inspired Ian even more to write.

Is it true Mott were offered ‘Suffragette City’ and turned it down before Bowie offered ‘All The Young Dudes’?

Yeah, it wasn’t quite right for them.

Mott The Hoople were going to break up because, again, there was no record success.

They were touring the country time after time, doing very well on the live circuit because they were a great live band.

But you can only get so far - you need hit records to take you to another level, to take you worldwide.

So there was an article in one of the newspapers saying they were going to break up if nothing happened soon.

That's when Bowie rang Overend and said, ‘Don’t break up, you’re a great live band. I think I’ve got the right song for you’.

He was a big fan of the band. The listened to All The Young Dudes and it clicked. It was right for them, it was right for him.

It got to Number 3. And in those days Number 3 meant something, selling thousands and thousands.

Let's talk about the time Mott played Broadway in 1973 - the first British band to do so and, we're guessing, a crazy time?

It was. We played there night after night.

I remember I'd always go to the gig with Ariel Bender in a limousine, and we'd drape a union jack across the front. It was me, him and a chauffeur driver.

"We would storm up Broadway with all the bells going and all sorts of things, and people looking from on the sidewalks. It was a wonderful feeling.

Ariel B010 2

Stan Tippins (left) with Mott The Hoople guitarist Ariel Bender on Broadway. Photo supplied by Phil John.

So Ariel was a very different guitarist to Mick Ralphs?

Yes, I think they would have worked together actually because Mick was the more subtle one with his lovely licks while Ariel was fantastic on stage, a wild man.

He and Ian Hunter had some great things going on on-stage. Pushing and shoving. He had a big fan club going for him at that time.

Everybody says to me, 'He must have been hard work to look after off the road, going to gig from gig’ but he was wonderful. He was one of those guys who might get drunk but he'd always stay in such a good mood.

Lovely lad. Really nice to handle.

What about the time Queen supported Mott.

All over England they supported us.

It was the only time they ever supported another band.

They came to see us rehearse in a theatre in Acton. They sat down in the seats, I looked at them and thought 'that band thinks they’re good and think they are going to be big'.

They walked in as stars. They looked like stars.

It was a great tour. Freddie was fantastic, what a great character he was.

And then we went to America and they were going to do a big tour supporting us over there. We did a few dates but unfortunately Brian May got glandular fever and they had to cancel and come home. It was such a disappointment because it was going so well.

QueenPerforming1977

At that very early stage when they supported us, you saw Freddie - who was a good front man - and by the end of the tour, you thought 'Yeah, they are going to be big'.

Let's talk about the line-up changes after Ariel left Mott the Hoople.

Mick Ronson was next in. Another nice bloke.

It went well for the short time we had him, but it got a bit vague about what was happening.

There was a little bit of friction going on between various elements in the band. It’s a job for me to remember what actually happened and how it actually finished in the end.

I think it all got on top of Ian. He felt a lot of pressure near the end of Mott, a lot of pressure to write the songs and to keep it going.

When Mick Ralphs was in the band, he would always come up with three or four songs. Ian would do the rest of them but when Mick left it was all down to him. 

After Ian left, Nigel Benjamin joined the band. Young lad, very high voice but the songs were never the same then. They just didn’t get the same success and, sadly, that came to an end.

British Lions was with John Fiddler of Medicine Head.

Again we had relatively good gigs and a reasonable album but after Mott The Hoople with Ian it was hard to get it together, to make it stick and be as good or better.

We couldn’t keep the standard up.

I read in a previous interview that the phone simply stopped ringing, that you were in the office on your own thinking ‘this is the end’.

We had an office in Pete Watt’s house in Acton.

And yes, the phone stopped ringing.

No agents, no record companies, no band, just me finishing things up.

I had a few offers to tour manage - one great offer was from The Pretenders. 

Martin [Chambers] took me down to one of the rehearsals.

Chrissie Hynde looked me up and down and she said, 'Huh. So you’re going to be my bottle cap roadie, hey?’

I thought, 'My god’ but she is one of the best songwriters everm and such a great singer. I loved working with them.

Pretenders Dec 81

I was with them when Brass In Pocket came out until the end of what I'd call the second line-up, in 1987.

After that I got involved with Simple Minds - Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill on guitar.

I did some big tours with them, all over Europe, America. Good times.

Adam and the Ants, I did.

Paul Young, he was a really nice lad to work with.

767px Sade Adu 1

Transvision Vamp.

Probably the biggest act in the end was Sade. She was so big in America. She had such a churnover with audiences. We were playing Chicago and Detroit. She could do 30/40,000 people a night in the indoor/outdoor gigs.

Again she was wonderful to work for and such a good songwriter and a great voice. All in all I was quite lucky.

I did some things with Lou Reed too, I did one tour with him.

How did you find Loud Reed, he always seems to have a ‘difficult’ tag?

Yes. Shall we say it was a difficult tour.

I’ll leave it at that. I didn’t enjoy it.

Jumping ahead to 2009 to the Mott The Hoople reunion tour, you found yourself back on stage?

Yes, we did a week at The Hammersmith Apollo and it was exactly the same thing as the 60s/70s.

I had to do the vocal on all the high parts, and I managed to do them.

I don’t think I was behind the curtain this time!

1280px Mott the Hoople

The reformed Mott The Hoople on stage in 2009, when Stan reprised his role of supplying backing vocals.

Do you have a favourite Mott song?

Still I get goosebumps with All The Young Dudes.

All The Way From Memphis is another one of my favourites, and there was a song called Drivin’ Sister.

And with the Mott convention coming up in Hereford, will you be singing ahead?

Apparently! I’ve been bullied, that’s the only word I can use, into doing some singing by Phil John, who was one of the road crew for Mott The Hoople and Richie Anderson.

I’m supposed to be doing four songs at the end of the night. Whether I can do them or not is another thing. Remembering the lyrics that’s the worst thing.

On the night, there'll be a couple of tracks by the Doc Thomas Group and a Johnny Kidd number we used to do in The Buddies.

Sometimes at those gigs we had to finish the night with a slow number just get rid of the people. So I’m doing a ballad... 

HerefordshireLive vertlogo

For more info on the Mott The Hoople Convention head here

Do you want to write for Herefordshire Live? Get in touch on Facebook, Twitter or say hello@herefordshirelive.co.uk