Recently I had the good fortune to conduct an interview by e-mail with Mott the Hoople pianist, Morgan Fisher. Morgan's career has spanned 32 years, including time with Love Affair (1967-1971), the Morgan band (1971-1972), Mott the Hoople (1973-1974), Mott (1975-1976) and the British Lions (1978-1980). Since 1985, Morgan has lived in Japan and worked as a solo artist. In 1996, he put together an all-star line-up of musicians for the MTH tribute, Moth Poet Hotel. You can visit his website at www.morgan-fisher.com. Many thanks to Morgan for all the years of great music and for candidly answering my questions.
96 Decibel Freaks: You've spent the past 15 years in Japan. While many Western musicians have found great success in Japan, few Japanese artists have found success in the West. Can you recommend any Japanese artists that MTH fans might enjoy?
Morgan Fisher: Well it was slim pickings when I first arrived, but over the years artists here have improved (I mean in rock -- always lots of good traditional music here), so here are a few names.
Heat Wave - played on the Mott tribute album I produced -- a good blend of, er, Van Morrison and Tom Petty shall we say? And of course all those on the Mott tribute have done some good work at times.
Phew - a dark kind of grunge/punk band with a female singer who worked with the German band Can. No longer together, but I bet you can find the odd CD via the net.
Kina Shoukichi and Camploose - the leading Okinawan folk/rock band -- I made 3 albums with them. Ry Cooder recorded with them about 10 years ago too.
Tomobe Masato - the Dylan (or Donovan) of Japan -- a lot of heart and political intelligence.
And all the Japanese artists on "Miniatures 2".
96DF: In 1996 you introduced MTH fans to a number of Japanese artists through Moth Poet Hotel. How did that project develop? Were these bands already performing MTH cover tunes or were you aware of the MTH influence on their work and you asked them to perform the songs for the CD?
MF: Briefly, I had the idea to do a Mott tribute album about three years before we did it -- and it was going to be an international tribute. I spoke to Queen, REM, Aerosmith and Robert Fripp (!) and they all seemed keen, but finally I knew it would be a nightmare dealing with all their managers, etc. I would need a top-class (therefore, expensive) lawyer to do it and didn't know of one. So I let it go. One day I did a Ronno tribute gig with The Yellow Monkey, who are massive here. After the show I casually mentioned the tribute idea to their producer and he was all for it right away -- we soon agreed that it could only be done with Japanese artists. So that is how it happened. All of the bands were Mott fans and a few (like The Yellow Monkey) had already played some of our songs. They all wanted to sing "Dudes" so I said -- right -- you all can -- and they all did -- together! The choice of the rest of the tracks went pretty smoothly -- we recorded quickly -- 2 days per band -- everyone worked hard and a good time was had by all.
[Rich - I have added Ian's comments on this album at the end of this message in case you haven't seen them. Click here to read those comments.]
96DF: Brian May's cover of All The Way From Memphis rocks hard. How did you get him to participate in the project? Obviously, the Queen connection is strong, dating back to your days in Love Affair and MTH. Have you remained in contact with him over the years?
MF: I've known Brian since the Morgan band (the progressive rock band I ran in the time between Love Affair and Mott, 1971-1972). The singer from Brian's old band Smile joined us, which is how I first got to know him, before Queen had formed. Brian was so into the MTH tribute idea as soon as I mentioned it that he went home and started work on "Memphis" at once. When it turned into a Japanese album I felt it was a pity to lose Brian's track, so we asked him if he still wanted to put it on and he said yes. He also put it on his own album. Moth Poet Hotel will probably be out on CD outside Japan later this year -- I can't say yet which record company it will be. [7/25/01 Update: Due to legal issues in securing the release of Brian May's version of All The Way From Memphis, Angel Air will not be reissuing Moth Poet Hotel.]
96DF: Do you collect MTH bootlegs? I ask because Moth Poet Hotel contains snippets of the '74 Santa Monica show and the '72 Philadelphia show (which was not commercially available at the time of the original release of Moth Poet Hotel).
MF: I don't collect them, but now and again people send me tapes. It seemed a good idea to put in a few snippets into the title track. I can't remember where I got these particular tapes -- maybe from Sven Gusevik.
96DF: Specifically, Moth Poet Hotel includes Ian's rap before Marionette and his references to "stages of Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Star Trek turned San Francisco films on a Sunday night". For years, I've tried to figure out what he was talking about. Do you have any insight into these obscure references?
MF: None whatsoever! -- try asking Ian.
[OK, so I asked Ian the same question and here's his response from the January 27, 2001 Horse's Mouth column: R.M. Sorry mate - Morgan would probably know better than me. Morgan responds: I looked at my interview on your home page - had a good laugh at one question where I said "Ask Ian" so you did and he said "Ask Morgan"! I think what you were asking about was one of Ian's stream-of-consiousness babbles that he sometimes did on stage -- they sounded great but don't delve too deep for meaning -- who needs it?!]
96DF: What are your feelings concerning bootlegs? Ian has said that he doesn't mind the older MTH material being bootlegged because it keeps interest in the music alive (Buffin may disagree), but he has maligned the bootlegging of his more recent shows.
MF: I think personal bootlegs don't really harm an artist. What is really bad is if some shady character starts to make money on them and doesn't pay the band. Frank Zappa solved it by releasing his own bootlegs on CD -- and with better sound quality than the pirates. This may well happen with MTH -- I know of one record company boss in the UK who is thinking of releasing Mott bootleg CDs he bought in Japan -- and paying us!
96DF: What do you think of the Napster situation?
MF: In these days of CDRs, people can copy their friends' CDs just like they copied cassettes in the old days. I do sometimes! But encouraging it by making any tracks in the world available online for free is taking it a bit far.
96DF: Have you looked into distributing your music through the Internet?
MF: Not yet -- I need someone to do it for me -- I have no time for it. One day I may set it up, probably as an adjunct to my record company releases. One artist on my Miniatures 2 album is doing a great job of it -- Jane Siberry (who happens to be my favourite Canadian female singer -- no -- delete "Canadian"!). She's at www.sheeba.ca.
96DF: Angel Air has released a number of your previous albums and will soon be reissuing Moth Poet Hotel. Are there any forthcoming Morgan releases that fans should be anticipating? [7/27/01 Update: Due to legal issues in securing the release of Brian May's version of All The Way From Memphis, Angel Air will not be reissuing Moth Poet Hotel.]
MF: Yes, an minute now, Ivories, the solo album I made in '72 when I had my Morgan band. It's pretty experimental and sounds like a surrealist movie soundtrack. When I remixed it in 1984 I added some very interesting snippets of conversation and general mayhem from Mott tours and recordings. I always had a tape recorder going in those days, often when people had no idea it was on... haha!
96DF: Fans have been treated to quite a few rare MTH, Mott and British Lions releases in the past few years. Are there any other treasures left in the vault?
MF: Better ask Dale -- he is in charge of all that. Personally I think he should grab all the MTH bootlegs and release 'em.
96DF: Do you know if the masters for the Uris shows still exist? It would be great to hear a soundboard quality recording of a complete Uris show.
MF: Again -- ask Dale.
96DF: The last few British Lions releases have described an incident with you in NYC attempting to join a punk band on stage. Who was the band and what's your side of the story?
MF: Er, you think I can remember who the band was? The incident has been pretty accurately described -- as far as I can remember! I am amazed how much drink I used to put away in those days, and lived! Turning vegetarian in 1980 (I'm less strict about it now) certainly saved my bacon -- and my waistline.
96DF: Have you read the Campbell Devine MTH biography? Buffin and Overend have clearly distanced themselves from the project. Do you think that the events leading to the demise of MTH were fairly documented?
MF: I don't want to go into too much detail -- the book was a good read and obviously some parts got left out due to lack of space. I didn't feel there was any particular bias on Campbell's part. What I would like to say is that I didn't rip my towel off when confronted by police in my hotel room! I actually turned on the British accent and charmed the police (who had their hands on their guns -- scary!).
96DF: It has been rumored in the past that Ian offered you a place in the Hunter-Ronson Band in 1975, but Mick thought that a clean break from MTH was necessary. Were you ever offered the opportunity to play with Hunter-Ronson?
MF: No, but Ian has since said they, or at least he, did think about it.
96DF: What do you think of Ian's more recent work (e.g., Artful Dodger, OBTS Anthology)?
MF: For me, AD is typical Ian -- warm, intelligent, at times moving -- but the production lacks a bit. OBTS I haven't heard. 'Nuff said. I'm glad for him that he's still doing it.
96DF: What do you think of all of the interest in MTH and websites dedicated to a group that disbanded over 25 years ago?
MF: Of course it's heartwarming and I thank all those who like you are putting so much work and care into it. But I dwell on the past just enough to do the odd interview! For me life is full of unlived possibilities that I want to explore -- it keeps you fresh and creative. MTH was just 4 years (and damn good ones) out of my 32-year career, remember. I do tend to agree, though, that for some reason MTH was and is neglected by the media and so on, when it comes to surveys of the '70s and who influenced who. Anyway, keep up the good work everyone!
96DF: On your website (www.morgan-fisher.com), you have indicated that an Art Gallery will be coming soon. What type of artwork can we expect (paintings? sculptures?) and when can we expect to see it. What artists are you most influenced by? (I'm assuming that a few of the items on the various pages of your website are your work, correct?)
MF: All the artwork on my website is mine. I hope to get the art gallery up in the next couple of months and it will be a mixture of photos (both "art" photos and biographical ones), collages and the kind of abstract images that are there already. I am generally influenced by the abstract art and photography of the first half of the 20th century -- all the well-known names...
96DF: Is there any musician that you would like to have the opportunity to collaborate with in the future?
MF: Yes, several of the artists on Miniatures 2 -- we'll see what happens!
96DF: What can we expect from Morgan Fisher in 2001?
MF: More of the same -- in other words, more changes! [7/25/01 Update: There is a possibility of a Japanese only release of Morgan's work for television and commercials in the Fall of 2001.]
Top photo - taken by Shin Jinushi, courtesy of Morgan Fisher
Other photos - courtesy of Jay Sciascia
Permission to use Ian's quotes regarding Moth Poet Hotel was granted by Trudi. Thanks!
Special thanks to Jay for assisting with some of the questions.
Copyright © 2001 Rich Manson. No part of this interview may be reprinted or quoted without the permission of the author.
Copyright©2000-2001 Richard A. Manson