After Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson left Mott The Hoople, Overend Watts, Dale Griffin, and Blue Weaver settled into Gooseberry Studios in December 1974 to write songs and record demos. Morgan Fisher returned soon afterward, when Blue Weaver accepted an offer to join the Bee Gees. Pete Watts helped finance the group with his songwriting advance, and CBS was sufficiently encouraged by the group's demos to sign them. Auditions were organized in order to find a guitarist and singer to round out the group. One of the first to arrive was Ray Majors, an old friend of the band who answered the ad not knowing it was Mott. At his audition Ray recorded a solo for I'll Tell You Something, and was told six weeks later by Pete that he had the gig. The band didn't announce their new member to the press for a couple months, however.
Recruiting a vocalist did not prove quite as easy. The band auditioned dozens of singers, and listened to hundreds of tapes. Brian Parrish and Peter French were considered, but eventally Southend native Nigel Benjamin was given the chance to replace Ian Hunter. Although there are competing stories, Nigel told NME that his girlfriend had sent an audition tape without his knowledge. Nigel joined Watts, Griffin, Fisher, and Majors only days before they were set to go into the studio to record an album for CBS.
Mott's debut album, Drive On, was recorded during April and May 1975 at Clearwell Castle using Ronnie Lane's mobile studio. Most of the material was written by Overend Watts, who also sang lead on Stiff Upper Lip and Love Now. The self-produced album was released in September 1975, garnering favorable reviews but not catching the general public's attention. The band toured the UK when the album was released, and followed with a two month visit to the USA in November.
For the band's followup album, Shouting And Pointing, CBS brought in Eddie Kramer to produce. Kramer was highly regarded for his work with Jimi Hendrix, but the band didn't have material ready and he lost interest in the project. The bulk of the songwriting chores fell to Watts and Fisher, with a bit of help from Nigel and Ray. The recording was done at Manor Studios in Oxfordshire in February and March 1976, and the album was mixed and released by June. The band once again toured heavily in the USA, and then spent November and December gigging in the UK.
By the end of 1976, it was clear that Nigel and the band could not continue to work together. At one point, the other members of Mott even held a secret rehearsal, with an eye toward repalcing Nigel with Kelvin Blacklock.
[Dale Griffin, to The Outsider] Kelvin Blacklock - he'd followed Mott The Hoople around for years, along with Mick Jones. In 1976, he played Watts and me a demo of a song "he had written" called ‘Wild In The Streets'. We were impressed with the song and the performance. At the time, we were faced with the awful prospect of another tour with the Nigel Benjamin Mott. Watts' brainstorm was to ditch Nigel and bring in Kelvin, whatever the outcome. My sneaky idea, which we adopted, was to say nothing to Nigel, rehearse Kelvin, and then decide. We realized that Kelvin was a talented lad, but a totally unreliable wanker after the first rehearsal.
Publicly, it was reported to the press that Nigel Benjamin left of his own accord in December 1976. In fact, he had quit the band before they even got home from the tour!
[Nigel Benjamin] When we got close to London, I said, 'Let me out here. I forgot to tell you guys, I've moved.' I wasn't anywhere near where I lived, but I just couldn't wait to get out. So I got out of the crew bus, and I took a cab home. I decided I didn't want to get into it with them, so I went to CBS and said, 'I don't know how to handle this, maybe somebody here can do it. But I quit. You tell them.' So I told CBS, and then they dropped Mott off the label, and then they wouldn't let me out of my contract for months. That was how I left Mott.
Dropped by CBS and without a contract, the remaining Motts agreed to back Steve Hyams on a few demos. Steve was an old friend of the band, who had lived at their Lower Sloane Street flat in the early days. Hyams' manager Paul Warden secured financing though Arista, and the group recorded a few demos in March 1977 with Tom Newman at Argonaut, Richard Branson's floating studio on the Regents Park Canal.
Sounds got wind of a potential Mott The Hoople reunion, and in a moment of weakness the group decided to play along. The Rainbow Theatre was booked for a photo sessions and live showcase, during which the band failed to impress either the band or themselves. Half-hearted attempts to find a producer - including a meeting with Frank Zappa - turned up little. The situation was no doubt hampered by the advent of punk rock, and also by Hyams dependence on heroin and subsequent bout with hepatitis. Hyams was eventually offered a solo deal with Arista, and the fledgling Mott The Hoople Mark II was mercifully put to rest. The demos recorded with Hyams remained out of reach until 1993, when the See For Miles label released a CD EP with the unoriginal title Mott The Hoople Featuring Steve Hyams.