"You ain't got the weight to hate"
While Mick Ronson will always be most closely associated with David Bowie, thanks to his status as Chief Spider and that iconic Top of the Pops performance of “Starman”, he arguably had a more equitable collaborative relationship with former Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter. It’s sometimes forgotten that Ronno did serve as Mott’s guitarist for a few short months, resulting in the awesome “Saturday Gigs” single, before both he and Hunter left Mott and started work on what would become Hunter’s eponymous solo debut in 1975. In truth, Ian Hunter was a collaborative work between the two, however management / record label complications meant that it was released under Hunter’s name only and that Ronson would appear sporadically on Hunters albums as both co-producer and guest musician, with the only time they would receive equal billing being 1989’s Y U I Orta.
For Hunter himself, following his well-received debut, his solo career had been patchy, but by 1980, his career was on the upswing again. While many of his peers had been dismissed by Punk’s movers and shakers as irrelevant has beens, the likes of the Clash’s Mick Jones had expressed a fondness for Mott the Hoople’s proto-punk racket, and by extension, Ian Hunter himself. 1979’s You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic had been his best received album since his debut, and still stands the test of time as his most accessible offering, so despite all the odds, Hunter’s status was at its highest point since his Mott the Hoople days when Welcome to the Club was released in 1980, and the fact that he had Ronno back by his side only added to the sense of occasion.
Welcome to the Club opens with a beefy cover of “F.B.I.”, Ronson’s love of The Shadows (who, with their simple and direct riffs, were an unlikely influence on punk themselves) being placed front and centre from the off, before Hunter himself hits the stage to lead the band through a rip-roaring version of his biggest solo hit “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”. One of the things about Hunter’s idiosyncratic vocals, is that no amount of studio polish can make them sound anything other than utterly live. Of course, the flip-side of this is that live, he sounds phenomenal, and with Ronno by his side, he raises his game just a little bit higher. True, Hunter’s sometimes cracked voice is not to everyone’s taste, but the fact he only ever sings as if he is utterly invested in every last syllable coming out of his mouth, means that he performs everything with a rare conviction.
Of course, as unique a vocalist as Hunter was and still is, he’s just as celebrated for his songwriting, and Welcome to the Club is a whistle-stop tour of his greatest moments to date. From big Mott hits like “All the Way From Memphis”, to earlier Mott classics like the full-on rock tilt of “Angeline” and “Walking With a Mountain”, to the more contemporary solo work like the heart breaking “Irene Wilde”, the indignant “Standin’ in my Light” (truly one of the stand out tunes of his career) and the anthemic “Cleveland Rocks”, Hunter’s deft way with a lyric is celebrated, as is his way of covering the songs of others and making them his own. Of course, it is well known that Bowie had donated “All the Young Dudes” to the struggling Mott the Hoople, but less better known, but just as important to Hunter, is his own personal debt to Sonny Bono, whose “Laugh at Me” was covered on Mott’s debut, and is resurrected to splendid effect on Welcome to the Club.
While the original version of Welcome to the Club came on double vinyl, the final side displayed four new songs. They’re fine, but there’s no true stand out moment. Instead, it’s probably just best to enjoy the three sides of rip-roaring live rock and roll greatness, which celebrates one of the finest talents of his generation charging headlong into the 80s with his great friend and iconic guitar slinger by his side, and a red hot band behind them. As heavyweight as Ian Hunter’s reputation as one of rock and roll’s timeless greats is, you only really gain full appreciation of what a unique and special talent he is on the live stage, and if you’re not lucky enough to witness the man himself in the flesh, then the three live sides of Welcome to the Club are all the evidence you need that he deserves to be celebrated up there with the very biggest names in rock music.