Fireworks Magazine Online 41 - Joe Elliott

“I’m trying to create an environment here, through any given opportunity I get, to try and express to anybody that cares to listen, that there is more to classic rock than ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Freebird’.”

Five questions with Joe Elliott - interviewed by Sue Ashcroft, about the new Down 'n' Outz project which pays tribute to music from Ian Hunter, British Lions and Mott The Hoople Extracted from the full feature in Fireworks 41.

Speaking of the Down ‘n’ Outz (the whole reason for the interview after all!), when did you first hear Mott the Hoople? What started it all for you?
It was 1971. I don’t remember exactly what the order was because it’s so long ago, but at some time in 1971 a few things happened. Island Records released some sampler albums. I mean, in this day and age they would just have been given away on the front of magazines, but back then, you had to buy them. You earned the right to play them and, love them or hate them, you spent your pocket money on them. One of the Island Samplers was called El Pea – it had a big pea on the front. It had all the artists of the day represented by one song – Jimmy Cliff, Jethro Tull, Free, Mott the Hoople, Fotheringay – just everybody that was on Island Records. The Mott the Hoople song that was on that album was called ‘The Original Mixed Up Kid’ and I just remember thinking, what a great title. Then, listening to the lyrics and thinking yeah, bit of a loner, bit of an oddball – it was like me at school. It was like they’d written the soundtrack of my then eleven years. It was interesting that writers like Ian (Hunter) probably thought he was the only one, but he was writing that song for all the people who felt like that out there and there were obviously more than him. That’s why songs resonate with people, because they feel something of the song in themselves. That’s why they become their wedding song or their funeral song or whatever. The other pivotal moment was Radio Luxembourg playing ‘Downtown’ – Mott’s cover of the Donny Wooton song. So, every night I’d be under the bed sheets with the radio and my dad would be screaming up the stairs “turn that thing off – you’re supposed to be asleep!”, listening to Radio Luxemburg fading in and out and hearing that song every night once an hour, on the hour.

So, what prompted you to form the Down ‘n’ Outz all these years later?
Well, when Mott decided to reform – which was about a year ago now – of course, I was extremely excited and who wouldn’t be? I was getting hush, hush emails from Trudy and Ian (Hunter) telling me not to say anything, but I was writing back going “Wow, that’s amazing!” and they were saying “you HAVE to be involved, we know that – you’ve been our ambassador for over 25 years” and I said “so, what do you want me to do – introduce you on stage?” and they said “no, I think you need to do something a bit more than that!” It was actually Mick Brown from Jerkin’ Crocus who were promoting the show who, coincidentally looks after the Quireboys, he said “Why don’t you open for them on the last night?” I said “With whom playing? You’re not going to get Leppard to do it!” and he said “The Quireboys will do it!” and I’m going “Are you sure?” and he said “Oh yeah, they’d love to!” I said “What about Spike?” and he said “He’ll be fine, don’t worry.” So, I got talking to Paul Guerin and we just made a plan. I said “I’m going to pick ten songs and I’ll email them to you and we’re going to learn them” and that’s what we did all last summer. We were in various different areas of the world – I was in the back of my bus in the States at every given opportunity, listening to the songs and playing along on guitar and they did the same thing during Quireboys soundchecks. Then Damon (Williams) was never going to play bass, so we got Ronnie Garrity in, who’s from your neck of the woods!

Is there a chance of another album then?
You’re spoiling the surprise now, but when you see the artwork on the sleeve – even the one that’s being given away with Classic Rock, on the chalk board on the back it says ‘Volume 1’ which kind of hints at at least Volume 2?! We’ve talked about it and I’ve kind of got a game plan going on. I think they trust me, that’s the good thing about it – it’s not a solo project, but there’s a leader here. I think they’re willing to say it’s not broken, so it doesn’t need fixing. I’ve been cherry-picking stuff for the next album, which WILL actually feature some Mott the Hoople songs. It’ll also feature stuff from the other 3 bands, British Lions, Mott and Ian’s solo records. There’s a little pot of songs that we want to attack when we get time off and get the chance to do them. In fairness, we recorded while we were rehearsing in Sheffield – we recorded everything we did, so we’ve actually got a studio version of ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ in the can, but that won’t be for the SECOND album, that’ll be for the THIRD album because the third album is going to be not Mott, but stuff from the same era. It’ll be a bit more broad, if you like. By the fourth album – if we stick to this schedule, because it’s just in our heads at the moment, but that might not be for five years. We’ll write our own songs, but they’ll sound similar to the songs that we’ve covered. We’re going to write to order in a certain way, which everybody does. I mean, Johnny Marr writes songs that sound like the Smiths, Angus Young sits down and thinks “OK, I need to write some songs and they need to sound like AC/DC”. What we’re going to do, is sit down and write some songs that sound like Mott and it’s a whole new musical experience. That’s the long term game plan, we’ll see what happens. Every one of these songs is significant in their own way, but it’s not necessarily a lyrical thing like Bob Dylan “the answer my friend is blowing in the wind…” resonated because of a breakup with a girlfriend, it’s musical as much as it’s lyrical. At the time of my life when I heard them there was a lot more innocence in the world and especially in mine. You didn’t have any cares, you didn’t have aching bones, it was summer all year round, you ran off to nightclubs, you went to see bands, you sat in the park listening to Allan Freeman on a Saturday afternoon whilst hiring a rowing boat for 20p for half an hour.

You didn’t have to worry about a mortgage or kids or whatever.
No, your biggest worry was whether or not you had enough money left to buy an ice cream with a flake in it! It’s going back to innocent times, if you like. Yes, you can never capture it again, but I don’t think there’s any harm in looking for the Holy Grail. At the same time, it’s doing that and it’s starting to lean a different way and I notice that, by talking about it all the time, I’m actually leaning towards – not so much the future, but I’m trying to create an environment here, through any given opportunity I get, to try and express to anybody that cares to listen, that there is more to classic rock than ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Freebird’.

Well, while you’re all on a year off, what’s your opinion on the new Thin Lizzy lineup?
I’m biased because I’m friends with every one of them. So – is it Thin Lizzy? By name, yes of course. There are the nay-sayers who’ll say “without Phil Lynnott it doesn’t count”, but it’s better than a covers band. As good as Limehouse Lizzy are, I’d rather see Scott Gorham and Brian Downey doing it. So, I have no objections to them doing it.

Joe Elliott

(photo copyright © Ash Newell Photography 2009)

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