This page summarises the sessions and 'in concert' shows Mott the Hoople recorded at the BBC. These 'sessions' are studio recordings specially made for the BBC (for radio broadcast) and hence are not normally commercially available. This article lists all the sessions made, and explains the background to why the sessions were made in the first place.
The story behind radio sessions is quite complicated and goes back many years. It stems from something called "needletime", which is the number of hours of records that can be broadcast each day. It was determined by an agreement between the BBC, the record companies and the Musician's Union. It was finally abolished in 1988, but in 1967 (when Radio 1 started) it was limited to just seven hours - shared between Radio 1 (pop) and Radio 2 (oldies).
The way round this was to pre-record music in the BBC's own studios. Since this wasn't regarded as a 'record', it didn't count against needletime. Bands would therefore be invited down to record versions of their songs specially for radio broadcast. At the time needletime was so limited that even established bands such as the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Hendrix, et al, all recorded sessions, but this also provided an excellent vehicle for giving exposure to new/up-and-coming bands, thereby giving listeners the chance to hear bands that perhaps they'd only read about in the magazines.
At the time it was never the BBC's intention to build up an archive of these sessions. After broadcast the tapes would often be erased for re-use, as management regarded the tapes as more valuable than any music recorded on them. A few DJs and producers recognised the value of these tapes, and tried to keep the sessions they viewed as most valuable, but weren't always successful.
Many of these sessions were also made available for export. This was done by Transcription Services (which is actually a part of the World Service, not Radio 1) and they would make complete programmes for export to foreign radio stations. At the time Radio 1 was going out on AM only, so the domestic need for stereo didn't arise, but TS soon acquired a stereo studio to satisfy the American demand for stereo programmes, taking their feed straight from Radio 1's own studios. Often TS would keep their tapes running between takes, thus capturing material missed by Radio 1.
These shows were pressed up on transcription discs. After broadcast these discs would be either shelved or simply discarded, though a handful found their way into the collector's market. These are complete shows, with DJ commentary and links, and so differ from the "virgin" Radio 1 tapes which don't have DJ links on them.
DJs were keen to get the latest "happening" bands onto their show, so whenever a band had a new album or single out, they would be invited in to the BBC studios to record a new session. Often the arrangement of a song would be similar to the record, but these sessions also gave bands the chance to "branch out" and basically have fun. Bands would sometimes also record songs that were not available on record (as we shall see). In some cases BBC session tracks are regarded as superior to the "official" album tracks (Buffin has said that the BBC versions were better than Mott's Island-era albums). Perhaps this is because the whole recording process (equipment set-up, recording, mixing) takes place in a day, and some bands thrive on the urgency that entails.
These sessions are therefore an important addition to the die-hard fan's collection. Collecting tapes of sessions from the early 70's is difficult. Radio 1 shared some (but not all) programming with Radio 2, so some shows used Radio 2's FM frequency, but this was mono (until 1972), and coverage in the UK was patchy. A lot of shows went out on AM only, and reception of AM at night can be pretty poor.
In recent years the BBC has realised the value of its archive, and has sanctioned the commercial release of some sessions. This depends on a number of factors, including the bands, record companies and in some cases management. At one point David Bowie's sessions from 1970-72 (the "Ziggy Stardust" years, relevant to this site because of Mick Ronson's involvement) were to be released on Trident as a 3-CD set, but I think Tony DeFries/Mainman took legal action to stop it (the Trident discs would eventually appear as the unofficial 4-CD The Rise And Rise Of Ziggy Stardust set). The bulk of Bowie's BBC sessions have now, of course, been released officially as a 2-CD set.
Closer to home the good news is that after several years of waiting (we think Island records were the culprit) Mott the Hoople's surviving session tracks have finally been released on the Original Mixed Up Kids CD.
OK, so what did Mott the Hoople record at the BBC? Read on...
Mott recorded their first session for the BBC in February 1970, and not November 1969 as previously thought. The following tracks were aired:
At the time, bands actually had to audition before they could be played on the radio! Fortunately, Mott got a unanimous pass "for this Dylan influenced group". Sadly, only Thunderbuck Ram survives in the BBC's vaults, although there is a tape circulating which contains Laugh At Me which is probably from this session.
Mott's first 'In Concert' appearance was recorded, as were all the others, at the Paris Cinema, Lower Regent Street, London.
There is a tape in circulation, which is from one of the above shows. It is labelled 3-May-70, but I believe it is actually from this show. The tracks are as follows:
Mad Shadows is plugged heavily and was released around this time, which is why I don't think the tape is from the earlier show. Be warned, though - the sound quality is poor as it was an AM recording at night (Radio 1 didn't have its own FM frequency in those days).
Mott recorded their second BBC session early in 1971, Wildlife has just been released, and so four tracks from it made up this session:
Today, only Whiskey Women and Original Mixed Up Kid survive in the BBC's vaults. However, Keep a Knockin' survives on a tape which is circulating amongst fans.
Little is known about this session. The non-LP single Midnight Lady gets an airing, as does Like a Rolling Stone, which was the song Ian auditioned for Mott with, but they never otherwise recorded.
It is a shame that no part of this session survives in the BBC's vaults. An off-air recording (AM - not FM - but still quite listenable) of Like a Rolling Stone does exist, however. DJ John Peel gives some of the background to the track, saying it was one of the first things they'd done together and included it in the session for nostalgic reasons.
Little is known about this concert at the Paris. Brain Capers was about to be released, so tracks from that album probably featured heavily in the set. Buffin remembers that it was "Real live... as it happened, with rioting skin-heads in the audience."
Mott's final session for the BBC, this time to promote the Brain Capers album.
Today, both Darkness Darkness and The Moon Upstairs survive in the BBC's vaults. This version of Darkness... is interesting, as it features Verden Allen on the organ - he declined to play on the Brain Capers version.
Mott's final In Concert appearance for the BBC captures a sparkling performance, which again promotes Brain Capers heavily.
This is the only In Concert show of Mott's to survive in the BBC's vaults. Prior to its official release as part of the Original Mixed Up Kids CD, it had surfaced on the unofficial Sticky Fingers and Hoopling Furiously.
With All The Young Dudes a success, this session was aired as Mott neared the end of their UK tour. This wasn't a real BBC session - it was in fact album tracks remixed from the original multi-track masters.
Today, Ready For Love and Sweet Jane survive on a tape which is circulating amongst fans. A small point to note is the second verse of Sweet Jane - Ian Hunter does not forget the lyrics, they have been surgically removed by a BBC engineer, perhaps because someone misheard or misunderstood a lyric.
Touring the UK (with Lone Star as support) MOTT returned to the Paris Theatre in October 1976 to record this In Concert set, which features songs taken (mostly) from their second LP, Shouting and Pointing.
This concert survives in the BBC vaults, and a handful of transcription disks are circulating amongst collectors.
British Lions had toured the UK supporting Status Quo, and were now touring on their own, promoting their eponymous debut album. They entered the BBC studios to perform three tracks from it:
This session no longer survives in the BBC vaults; and for many years the only known tape in circulation was an FM recording which was made onto a mono tape deck. More recently, it has surfaced officially (in perfect stereo) on the CD issue of the British Lions debut album.
Ian Hunter has never recorded a session for BBC radio. However, two concerts have been recorded by BBC Radio 1 for broadcast, both with Mick Ronson on guitar.
I have heard a rumour that Radio 1 did in fact record one of Ian's shows in 1975, but it was never broadcast. I do not know if this is true, nor if the tapes survive.
Having spent six months touring the States promoting the Schizophrenic album, Ian (with Mick Ronson on guitar) returned to the UK for this one-off show at London's Hammersmith Odeon. The following tracks were broadcast:
This show was also pressed up on transcription discs for export. These discs are different from the above: they omit FBI but include Sons 'n' Daughters. The running order is also different in places. The tapes of this show still exist in the BBC's archive. In the late 1990's it appeared on the unofficial Off The Record 2-CD set. The full show has now been released (October 2016) as part of the massive Stranded In Reality box set.
After an absence of some seven years, Ian returned to the UK (again with Mick Ronson on guitar) for two shows at London's Dominion Theatre, having spent the latter half of 1988 touring the States. He had no album to promote, not even a recording contract, but was trying out a wealth of new material - much of which would be recorded for the YUI Orta album. BBC Radio 1 recorded the first of these shows (it was filmed as well), and the following tracks were eventually broadcast early in 1990 (to coincide with the album's release):
Highlight of this broadcast is Wings, which was demoed for YUI Orta, but never recorded.
This show still exists in the BBC's archive, and was released commercially in 1995 as BBC Live In Concert. This CD includes four tracks (Once Bitten Twice Shy, How Much More Can I Take, The Loner and You're Never Too Old To Hit The Big Time) which weren't broadcast at the time.
I've outlined (above) how much of Mott's recordings survive in the archives, and the answer, sadly, is "not a lot". The rule of thumb for any BBC recording is that not much survives from before 1980, but a lot after 1980 does.
It used to be BBC policy to wipe tapes for re-use after six months - BBC management viewed the tapes as being more valuable than any "pop" music contained on them. This policy was, at times, enforced by management with military efficiency. The producers tried to keep what they viewed as the most important sessions, but were not always successful.
Only a handful of the Mott the Hoople session tracks survive, as I have said. Much rare material, including gems such as Like A Rolling Stone, are long gone as is the British Lions' 1978 session. Ian Hunter's 1979 and 1989 concerts do survive, however. Some tracks also survive in the form of off-air recordings made by fans.
Transcription Services also have a few recordings in their archives - Mott's 1976 concert survives as a transcription disc, but we don't know about the British Lions session. Remember that these were complete shows made for export, which is why tracks taken from them contain DJ announcements/voiceovers. Sorry, but that's all there is left...