"Savage history always passes judgment in due course, and here we are in 2011, still studying Mott The Hoople."
Morrissey, from the liner notes of the new documentary, The Ballad of Mott The Hoople.
For a great many years, the legend of Mott has been handled somewhat roughly by the press, or by scurrilous profiteers willing to commit any piece of tape containing a Hoople or two to a full release claiming the Mott name. There are more shitty live Mott albums, and more hackneyed, near Mott releases than I care to name, or remember.
I will cheerfully admit to looking at Mott The Hoople as family, as something I owned a part of as a youth, given my unwavering love and devotion. The band exemplified the notion of a band as a gang perhaps better than any other in the pantheon of rock. There were nasty fights, and serious disagreements among the band, but that was amongst themselves - when attacked outwardly, they quickly closed ranks and became an impenetrable shield of loyalty and togetherness. Of course, eventually they became victims of a fame they valiantly struggled for, and were torn apart by being overworked, under appreciated, and used up by their handlers. But in between the beginning and the end, they came to personify for the band's legion of fans something bigger than just another group. They were an approachable version of rock's elite - they were superstars without the trappings, a bunch of loveable average Joe's from Hereford. Much like their fans, they came with born to lose tattoos, and two strikes against them.
"There are only two Phil Spectors, and I am one of them." Guy Stevens
The producer had as big a view of himself as he had of the bands he helped create while working for Island records. His skills were completely non-musical, his ability was in creating a sense of event, of getting into the artists brain and compelling them to deliver a performance the artist had inside of himself, but may not have known it - most often in ways that included violence, drinking, drugs, and outlandish behavior in the extreme.
The film captures this magnificently, and from interviews with his widow, the members of Mott, and other witnesses, you are never sure if they were in awe of his talents, or completely in fear of his lunacy. Some may be nonplussed by the amount of time and gravitas the film's makers give to Stevens, but according to every source (including the band), you would never of had Mott The Hoople without Mr. Stevens, he even gave the band their name:
Interviews are liberally sprinkled throughout the film and include such luminaries as Queen's Roger Taylor, Mick Jones of The Clash, and every member of Mott, save for the late Mick Ronson, and the reclusive Peter Overend Watts, who sadly chose to remain silent - a shame, especially given his spectacular performance at the band's2009 reunion shows, and that all the other members of the band give him much credit for being the band's backbone for many years. Watts always expressed tremendous bitterness over Mott's lack of financial success (not undeservedly so), and has stayed off the rock and roll playing field since the early '80s, so I imagine he has earned the right to remain silent.
Bender does the same for this film, as he brings great humor and energy to his reminiscences of his time in the band.
Filmmakers Hall and Kerry have done an amazing job of presenting the story of Mott The Hoople in an extremely fair balance, and with great respect to the legend. They pace the film in a way which feels like the very rise and fall of a band that may never have seen huge success, but has remained on their fan's minds, and turntables for all these years.
For me, the best part of the film is the band's drummer, Buffin, born one Dale Griffin. His demeanor and words express perfectly what the fans have always known. He never wanted to be in any band except Mott The Hoople. For Buffin, the world of rock and roll began and ended with this bunch of ruffians from Hereford, who crossed the Atlantic and saw a few divides, but never quit being the band with maybe the most heart that ever sailed the world's seas. If you can watch Buffin's performance here without getting caught up in his emotions, you're a pretty cold son of a bitch.
The Ballad of Mott The Hoople is a tremendous film for any viewer, but if you're a fan, this is essential viewing that will bear repeated viewings. As a fan, I am thrilled that this documentary got made, and am even more thrilled that it is amongst the better rock docs I have ever viewed.