Earlier this year Ian Hunter released his first record in four years the excellent ‘Fingers Crossed’ which displayed that the former Mott The Hoople frontman had lost none of his ability to recognise a good tune and coin an interesting phrase. The album really is terrific and still gets regular spins at RGM towers (check out our review of the album here). The announcement of a date at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire had me very keen to pop along and check out the man and his Rant Band in the flesh.
It’s been a while since I’d visited the Empire as most of my Shepherd’s Bush gigs seem to be at the nearby Bush Hall these days and I was shocked to find, looking down, that the downstairs was seated (I was nicely placed on level 1). For those not familiar with the venue Shepherds Bush Empire is an old style theatre with a downstairs floor level and 3 upper balcony levels and I’m pretty sure if memory serves downstairs is usually standing room only but as none of us are getting any younger…..
On arrival I must confess I missed Bolton lads Sittin Pretty who sounded loud, from behind a closed door, but they seemed to go down well with those that caught their (very early) set. Graham Parker was up next performing as a duo with Brinsley Schwarz adding electric guitar and the odd backing vocal to proceedings (Schwarz has worked with Parker for many years on his solo projects and in The Rumour). I will admit to not really knowing the material as The Rumour passed me by back in the day but ‘Hey Lord, Don’t Ask Me Questions’ stands up well as does Parker’s version of ‘Hold Back the Night’ which is still a great pop song. Graham Parker obviously still has a very devoted following and they looked to be having a great time.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Ian Hunter & The Rant Band but I was hopeful they’d be good… and they’d play tracks from the new record (so many acts ignore new material in favour of the tried and trusted). On that first point they weren’t good… they were fantastic and proceeded to play a superb set placing equal importance on material from throughout his lengthy solo career, with a smattering of Mott tunes, and even found time for ‘Sweet Jane’ the Velvet Underground classic in a nearly two hour set. The band took to the stage (they obviously like hats) with Ian Hunter looking ridiculously good for his 77 years with his curly hair and trademark shades they launched into a fitting opener ‘That’s When the Trouble Started’ from the new record. ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’ was next up (which does demonstrate how much great material Ian Hunter has to play with) and the crowd were on their feet thanks to a bloke with a beard who was intent to get everyone up and succeeded (and got a pat on the head from Ian for his trouble later in the set).
The Rant Band are a very fine band with drummer Steve Holley (ex Wings) outstanding and the likes of the very apt ‘When I’m President’ and a storming ‘The Truth, The Whole Truth & Nuthin’ But The Truth’ with guitarist Mark Bosch, who shares guitar duties with James Mastro, adding some really nice guitar flurries and taking a fine solo among many highlights. Bosch narrowly wins the hat of the night award and had the coolest shoes, although I’d be a little worried that Al Capone might send the boys round to get them back. Ian was equally as comfortable with an acoustic guitar as at the keyboard from which he delivered a terrific ‘Fingers Crossed’. The new album was very well represented with personal favourites ‘Bow Street Runners’ which had only recently been added to the set and ‘Ghosts’ while ‘Dandy’ a tribute to David Bowie not only captures the essence of the sadly missed star but also a whole era of music from my childhood.
The great tunes continued with bassist Paul Page getting his 'American Spy' moment in the spotlight while an atmospheric and poignant ‘Michael Picasso’ was stunningly effective before we visited the Mott The Hoople years for a rousing ‘All The Way From Memphis’ and the essential crowd singalong ‘All The Young Dudes’ rounded out a fine evening. As I mentioned at the top of this review I wasn’t sure what to expect from Ian Hunter but I got everything I hoped for and more from an artist who has taken on legendary status especially here in the UK. Recent albums and performances have demonstrated that Ian Hunter is an artist at the top of his game and long may that continue.
Gig Date: 11th November 2016.