At the height of their popularity in the early 1970s I was not especially interested in Mott the Hoople - although I was intrigued by the name and did like a couple of their records. After watching a TV documentary this week about their career I am no more interested than I was then, although it has induced in me a bout of retrospection. Watching the grey-headed, grandfatherly former members being interviewed at home - two of them drowning in floral-print upholstery and chintzy bric-a-brac, another perching on a firm, shiny leather chesterfield and all of them looking bewildered - it seemed unlikely that they had once belonged to a group with a reputation for extreme hedonism in the grand tradition of rock ‘n’ roll. What were the circumstances in which these young lads from tranquil, rural Herefordshire climbed aboard the roller-coaster of fame and, after a short but exhilarating ride, reappeared years later having acquired no more charisma than your average, bog-standard pensioner? Had they been ill-advised or were they, like so many of us, simply unprepared for what lay ahead?
Towards the end of our schooldays my classmates and I were sent to the Careers Officer for a ritual appraisal of our future prospects. His methodology comprised a cursory glance at our exam results; a single, closed question - “Which of these listed careers would you prefer?”; a brief comment on the answer and not so much as one useful introduction. At the time, given our naive expectations, this all seemed quite reasonable, but I have since pondered the effectiveness of that process. (It should be noted here that parental advice in this matter was, of course, routinely ignored). Perhaps the most obvious shortcoming of the officer’s system was the deliberate limitation of choice. As I recall, his list consisted exclusively of unexciting but securely salaried occupations: there was no category which carried any risk of uncertain income - no entrepreneur, no gambler, no artist, no gigolo and certainly no rock-musician.
Careers Officers of that time were either people of limited imagination or, more likely, were obliged to work within a system designed to ensure a constant supply of suitably qualified and conditioned workers for the economy. This raises the old question of what should be the purpose of education. Let us not forget that the need for an educated workforce is a relatively recent phenomenon, a product of industrialisation and urbanisation. Prior to modern times there was poverty and subsistence agriculture for the masses, wealth and leisure for the land-owning few and a fighting chance of making a living elsewhere for merchants, artists, musicians and others prepared to live on the edge. The only regular career options consisted of managing the affairs of the rich - and these, in any case, were dependent more on patronage than skill. Education for the masses was an economic irrelevance until industrialisation brought with it waged occupations and a demand for new skills.
But the economic cycle has moved on and nowadays industrial production requires fewer people, service industries predominate in our economy and the likelihood of guaranteed, long-term, regularly paid employment is receding. The ground has shifted and Careers Officers – if they still exist - must take a more imaginative approach to their duties. My belated advice would be to drop the word “career” and replace it with the phrase “life-fulfilment”; abandon the title “officer” in favour of “counsellor”; and amend that list of possible careers.
So what happened in Herefordshire schools at the end of the 1960s? Were there no officers to steer the lads into ‘proper’ careers? Or did they, uniquely, have officers who anticipated the trend and included creative arts on their lists? My romantic hope is that the lads needed no advice - that they simply followed their dreams regardless. That gives me a perfect backdrop for listening to All the Young Dudes at volume setting eleven.