1. Death May Be Your Santa Claus
2. Your Own Backyard 3. Darkness, Darkness 4. The Journey
9. Midnight Lady 10. The
At the tail end of the 1960s, Island Records was THE record label everyone looked up to with a roster of impressive acts such as Traffic, Free, Spooky Tooth and King Crimson. The AnR man at Island was the gifted, but somewhat eccentric Guy Stevens, who was an integral part of the small, brilliant team that made Island so special during this period.
Work began again on Motts new album in early August. Dale Griffins 1971 diary shows that on the 4th August 1971 Mott The Hoople recorded the epic Ian Hunter ballad The Journey at Islands No 1 Studio with Brian Humphries and Howard Kilgour behind the mixing desk. The following day Mott worked on a track referred to by Dales diary as a Who Rocker. This was a track written by Ian Hunter and Mick Ralphs called Mental Train which would later become The Moon Upstairs On the 11th August 1971 Mott finished recording Mental Train with John Burns as engineer together with a track called How Long? written by Verden Allen and Ian Hunter, which was described in Dales diary as a Chuck [Berry] rocker. How Long would eventually become Death May Be Your Santa Claus. Mott continued to work at Island on the 12th August, overdubbing with John Burns and Howard Kilgour. Other material worked on during this period included Ian Hunters A Year Ago Today and two Mick Ralphs compositions; I Dont Know, and Show Me The Bottle. Plus Around and Around, not the Chuck Berry classic and not much bottle! It was a time of making demo recordings to see what worked and what didnt.
Although Guy agreed to produce Motts new album, he demanded a thousand pounds up front before he would work on the project. Studio time was duly booked, although Islands ever tightening purse-strings meant that the budget to complete the album would only run to a miserly five days worth of recording at Islands Basing Street Studios. After the more methodical approach the band had adopted during the recording of Wildlife, where they built tracks with overdubs, this time Guy wanted the band to record live in the studio; insisting on first takes with the vocals overdubbed later.
The first recording session on the 19th September 1971 passed quietly enough, with little evidence of what was to follow. In fact, Guy didnt even turn up on the first day leaving the band in the capable hands of engineer Andy Johns. The recording of the album continued to progress slowly over the next three days with only a couple of songs completed. With studio time fast running out, something needed to be done and Guy, the master of the vibe, had just the idea to get the band playing with the aggression and energy he desired. John Glover of Island Artists can remember visiting Basing Street Studios shortly after the final session for the album. I clearly remember walking in one Monday morning and theyd finished the album sometime over the weekend and gone totally berserk. Guy always incited them in to being outrageous and the whole place was wrecked.
The completed album opens with ferocious Death May Be Your Santa Claus, which Mott had recorded the previous month as How Long? The song originally started life as A Duck Can Swim With Me underwent a change of title to How Long? before Guy changed it again to Death May Be Your Santa Claus, which was the title of little known art house movie released earlier that year. The song was written by Verden Allen and Ian Hunter. I had the riff and chords, recalls Verden, and Ian came up with the lyrics on it. It wouldnt have happened one without the other. The whole of the recording was nightmarish to me Dale Griffin says.
Andy Johns had a new plan for miking the drums, which involved sitting a BIG Neumann mic over my kit, but dropped very low down. So low down, in fact, that I wasnt easily able to reach left-right or right across the kit, nor to find my cymbals, etc, without one or other of my drum sticks colliding with the BIG Mic. I begged him to change the set-up, but to no avail. At times, I was reduced to just hitting whatever was available to me! Nuts, just NUTS.
Unable to decide between Bizarre Capers or Brain Damage for an album title, Guy eventually went for a compromise suggested by Dale Griffin. The album would be called Brain Capers and the sleeve concept was credited to Bizarre Damage. Guy dedicated the album to one of his heroes, James Dean.
Released on 19th November 1971, Brain Capers picked up a mixed response from the music press. Chris Charlesworth from Melody Maker declared that it was back to rock for Hoople after their comparatively light last album. Charlesworth didnt seem overly keen on the rockier material picking out Your Own Backyard and Darkness Darkness as his personal favourites. Martin Hayman at Sounds thought that the album was a return to the real Mott The Hoople form and that the band had established themselves with more musical confidence.
Looking back Ian Hunter has warmed to the album over the years. You know Brain Capers to me was five days of chaos. I didnt think anything came out of it, but when I listened to it recently, you can actually hear the Sex Pistols loud and clear. I was quite chuffed. I like Brain Capers better than I did. I was very surprised, because I never listened to it for many many years and then the punks starred talking about it. Guy died in August 1981, aged 38.
DALE GRIFFIN, IAN HUNTER, MICK RALPHS, OVEREND WATTS, VERDEN ALLEN