The Subtle Difference Between Justice And Contempt (Poll Tax Riot 1990)

Image result for poll tax banner25 years ago today, the 31st of March 1990, our crew gathered at Dave & Isobel’s for Saturday breakfast. Isobel is French so there was decent coffee & tasty bread, maybe croissants. They lived in a 10th floor of a tower block on an estate overlooking Kennington Park in South London which that day was one of the rallying points for a march to Trafalgar Square to demonstrate opposition to the Conservative Thatcher government’s plans to introduce the Community Charge. This Poll Tax was a badly planned, ill- judged, unfair & politically motivated attempt to re-organise local government taxation & funding. The Labour controlled councils of urban Britain had become a thorn in Thatcher’s side. Her individualism (“there is no such thing as society”) & her vindictiveness meant that, like the trade unions, this “enemy from within” should be firmly put in their place.

From our elevated viewpoint we could see the streams of people entering the park. This was going to be a big one. Through the past decade we had rocked against Racism & Sexism, shown our solidarity with the miners, our opposition to nuclear weapons, apartheid & to the Falklands War. My friends, like thousands of others, we’re no “whatever it is, I’m against it” Rent-a-Mob. We are politically conscious, concerned that governments which act in our name should be aware of opinions beyond the halls of the Houses of Parliament. It was time to join the throng below & add our voices to an argument that needed to be had.

There is always a good humour to these marches. At one for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament I had missed my friends, hooked up with another straggler & followed the Gay Liberation Front whose “Reagan is the cowboy. We are the Indians” whoops became a rallying cry for our section. This day the sheer size of the turnout was exhilarating. We headed off for the city centre knowing that this would be noticed. It was a slow stroll up to the Elephant & Castle then to Lambeth Bridge. Crossing the Thames we could see the head of  the march at the Houses of Parliament, the crowd got more dense & more vocal, the police presence more visible. On Millbank sheer weight of numbers meant that we came to a standstill.

Our part of the crowd made it to Whitehall, to Downing Street where Maggie lived, the belly of the beast. The black gates had been erected the year before, access restricted since 1982. An anti-terrorism measure perhaps (in 1991 the IRA had to launch their mortars from Horse Guards Parade), an ” erosion of the Englishman’s right to wander at will in Downing Street”, a symbol of the State we were in. There were thousands of us outside the gates & we were going nowhere, there was no room anyway, the road up to Trafalgar Square was rammed. Up the front there was a hubbub & a fol-de-rol, it was expected. Fuck this government & fuck their gates. Anyhow, I had been on this march for 4 hours, we were never going to make the rally & I needed a beer. Four of us split, the others stayed. We knew the score & would all meet up later at the Lemon Tree in Covent Garden for a Saturday night in the West End.

On the Embankment the marchers were avoiding the crush & able to stretch their legs. We headed for the Lyceum on the Strand, a Sam Smith’s pub, a good pint & Mickey’s local from work. We left Downing St at 2.55 p.m. there’s a clock, Big Ben, just over there. When the entrails of the day’s events were examined it was just minutes later that a mounted section of the Metropolitan Police charged down Whitehall in an effort to clear the crowd. I doubt that horses or riders discriminated between anarchists (the few) & concerned members of the public (the vast majority). There was no way to avoid this provocation. The police wanted people to go home & people didn’t want to. A peaceful, well-mannered, very British protest march was about to become something else.

We were in the pub when we heard the first stories of it going off just down the road. Smoke rose from Trafalgar Square while 400 yards away we enjoyed our drinks & planned to rejoin the crowds when we had drunk enough. When that time came we were denied entry to the square by the police cordon around it. This was our city, these cops knew nothing. Mitchell’s girlfriend was working at the Cambridge Theatre on “Les Mis”, we had to get into there to get her out of there. We both knew that the narrow alley at the side of the Lumiere cinema on St Martin’s Lane was likely to remain unguarded. It was…result…we were back on the march which had now become a riot.

We were met by a line of riot-suited & booted police who impolitely told us we could go no further. I replied that the UK was not yet a police state & we, helped by others, waded into them. Not a chance against truncheons & shields but it had to be done. We had only been in the area for a couple of minutes & we had already lost track of each other. It was just me & Aussie Pete now, the other two were big boys they could look after themselves. Up the Charing Cross Road we found that the city had been taken over by the demonstrators. The burning & looting was going on elsewhere, here the police had lost control & the crowd were having some fun with them. A chant of “No Poll Tax” would start on one corner, the Keystone cops charged the chanters who would evaporate before another group took up the mantra just 30 yards away. Repeat until your sides hurt from laughing.

The threat of violence against police & property was around as was the sound of breaking glass, but this was more about walking the way you want to walk in the streets of the country where you live. The Thatcher government had increasingly used the police as a political agency. The sight of cops waving overtime-bloated wage slips at striking miners became a sickening symbol of the divisions of 1980s Britain. Today they were outnumbered & the city belonged to us, bricking a BMW showroom was extreme but it seemed important to be there…Power to the Correct People !

Back at the Lemon Tree there was a celebratory atmosphere as we swapped war stories. Around midnight we walked down Whitehall, deserted except for the police vans. We walked up to those damned gates, still there, but the cops stayed in their vehicles. Maybe they’d made their day’s quota, maybe they were too tired. The next day Mitchell & I joined the tourists & sightseers to check the damage & watch the clean up. Again we wanted to show out, to walk where we wanted to. This was a very British riot. like those in Brixton & Toxteth in 1981 & the disturbances across the country in 2011, normal service was resumed as soon as possible. We don’t really want to be full time street fighters but we do like to make the point that when lines are being crossed we are not to be fucked about or action will be taken.

Of course the breast-beating & the condemnation of violence & lawlessness followed. What could not be ignored was the massive unpopularity of the Poll Tax & the size of the demonstration against it. The Tory Party, worried by opinion polls, made plans to challenge Thatcher’s leadership. All 3 of her opponents were against the  tax & her successor, John Major, abandoned it in his first speech as Prime Minister (Though 2 of my friends still did jail time for non-payment). I know, it’s a pity that she was stabbed in the back by her own party, that we never did get to parade her severed head on a stick around the nation. That day 25 years ago did mark the beginning of her end & I am glad that I was part of that mass protest against her & her shitty ways.


Back To The !!!! Beat (Atlantic Soul)

When it comes to music on TV the British show “Ready, Steady Go” has been #1 in my heart for so long that it now holds the title belt in perpetuity. In 1966, while the just turned teenage me was waiting for the monochromatic Mod Mistress of Ceremonies Cathy McGowan to introduce the latest from Zoot Money & his Big Roll Band, half a world away in Dallas Texas, Bill “Hoss”  Allen, a Nashville DJ, was rolling out some great acts, backed by a great band to make some great music (seems to be an adjective shortage around here). “The !!!! Beat” showcased Soul, Rhythm, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, artists who needed a crossover hit before the networks helped out. The show did this in that new fandangled televisual gimmick…colour.

I’ve mined this seam before both here & there. “There” has a Garnett Mimms clip which, if we could get enough people to watch, could quite possibly bring about world peace. I’m back around “The !!!! Beat” because these nuggets are pure Platonic gold giving  “a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”  Seriously, that good. On the final show of the series, which ran for just one year, Otis Redding came down from Memphis to host & perform on the show. He brought along some of the outstanding Southern Soul acts which the Atlantic label were promoting as an earthier, more raw alternative to the Motown hits.

In 1966 the esteemed critic Dave Marsh listed his favoured songs of the year. After “Reach Out & I’ll Be There” #s 2, 3 & 4 were all by Atlantic artists. “When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge was one of these 3. Just months before the song’s March release Percy was still a part-time singer.His impassioned pleading, backed by the patiently building Muscle Shoals arrangement (no horns until the very end, Spooner Oldham’s perfect organ) was a nailed on, unstoppable hit. Here the horns drive the song & young Percy gives it the full soul belter treatment but he tries a little tenderness & this is how it was done in 1966. Surely there has never been a deeper soul sound at #1 in the charts. “When A Man Loves A Woman” is a classic, has become a standard but no-one has ever improved on this Sledge’s original. (He, unfortunately, gave the publishing rights to a couple of musicians who helped with the song).

Percy kept on chooglin’ with his yelping songs of heartbreak. He got some fine Dan Penn songs to record including the original of the heart-rending “It Tears Me Up”. Like many soul artists Percy re-recorded his catalogue for CD release. I have a feeling that on my Greatest Hits that the drums are not being played by Roger Hawkins, that the Shoals are less Muscular. Now, as a rule, this would, at least, irk my not so inner purist. Y’know’ the songs & the vocals are so good, Percy Sledge never just goes through the motions. It’s a fine, well used collection.

Well ! Just look at these moving pictures of Carla Thomas, the Queen of Memphis Soul. Her Daddy, Rufus, when he was not walking the dog, was a DJ & mentor of local black talent.His beautiful teenage daughter was recording for Satellite Records before it became Stax. It was her Top 10 hit “Gee Whizz (Look At His Eyes)” in 1961, when she was 18 years old, which alerted Atlantic Records to the talent to be found at East McLemore Ave in South Memphis.

“Comfort Me”, a 45 & the title track of her 1966 LP is a product of some of that talent. Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd & Al Bell are the writers. The Stax houseband, the MG’s/Mar-Keys the players &, surprisingly, the backing vocals courtesy of Motown’s Gladys Knight & the Pips. This is a Pip-free performance but it lacks nothing else. This is a Carla Thomas thing, a Stax Records joint, an every which way slice of enjoyable.

The record was not a hit but Carla had a good 1966. Paired with the David Porter/Isaac Hayes team she hit with the  Tamla-ish “B-A-B-Y”. The next year Stax looked to cut into the Marvin/Tammi duet action. Carla made an LP with Otis Redding, “King & Queen”, which is as light, as pop, as anything the label recorded. It stands as an entertaining one-off, the final LP recorded by Otis. The stand out track, “Tramp” crackles & fizzes with chemistry & wit. I loved it on the radio in 1967, still do. Aretha was the undisputed “Queen Of Soul” but when she came to Memphis there was r-e-s-p-e-c-t & fealty to be paid to Rufus Thomas’ little girl Carla.

There is great footage, some of the greatest, of Sam & Dave. Their 2 European tours were filmed, audiences, unused to such uninhibited physical & vocal gymnastics, were transfixed then transported. We know what a great live act the duo were but who knew that their suits were red ? Sam Moore & Dave Prater joined Stax in 1965, Hayes/Porter delivered the tailor-made songs. I’ve checked for their singles discography, the quality keeps on coming right into 1969. ( The 3rd wheel on “I Take What I Want” was Mabon Hodges who co-wrote “Take Me To The River” & “Love & Happiness” with the Reverend Green…bloody hell !). The great house band on “The !!!! Beat!, led by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown raise thir already considerable game. The go-go dancers have an extra shake in their tail feathers. Man, Otis is having to stop himself making the act a trio. It is what these men did.

I bought a Greatest Hits of Sam & Dave which gave me no indication that I was not handing over my hard earned for the Atlantic classics. On my first listen I knew that Booker T & his Memphis Group had not been involved in this CD’s production. In the case of Percy Sledge I could bite it, accept the odd false step. Now I even became convinced that one or other of the most successful soul duo ever could be different blokes. These revisions were cut in 1978. It was the same guys but it was impossible to reproduce the energy, the Double Dynamite of the Stax originals. “Soul Man”, you know it, has a drum track by Al Jackson which convinced me that I was listening to the greatest exponent of the instrument ever. This was missing from my new purchase…I binned it…pronto.

We Still Got The !!!! Beat

Earlier in the year I posted 3 clips from a 1966 TV show out of Dallas Texas. The !!!! Beat captured some of the sensational Soul/R&B artists of the day in wonderful colour footage. I am a sucker for those grainy clips of “Shindig” & “Hullabaloo” but the !!!! Beat went beyond the chart hits of the time, looks as good as a movie & was clearly a wonderful thing. The clips are hidden away on the Y-tube, live or lip-synch they are gems stumbled upon almost accidentally when you are looking for something else. Here’s one I found this week.

Well, Otis Redding in his high-waist trousers, hands over the mic to “Mr” Garnet Mimms, a well turned out young man, who proceeds to deliver his song beautifully & passionately. I’m trying to keep it together here but it’s moving colour pictures of Garnet Mimms…bloody hell ! He recorded in New York with the great Jerry Ragovoy. His weave of uptown polish with a gospel feel was as good as soul got in 1963/4 & when his records caught a wave he would have Top 30 hits. “As Long As I Have You” is a near-perfect record & this one “I’ll Take Good Care Of You”, Garnet’s last Top 30 hit, gives it a run for its money. So, the only thing I know about this man is that he just missed the Soul Explosion because Memphis & Motown carried the swing at that time. That & he has a beautiful voice. In 2007 Garnet returned to recording with songwriter/producer John Tiven who specialized in the re-discovery of soul talents. Garnet was 73 years old when “Is Anybody Out There ?” was released. I have not heard the LP but I’m on it now.

One day I just might begin that magnum opus considering the African-American voice as the major determinant of 20th century popular culture. When (OK if ) I do then this clip of Etta James is one of the first illustrations because it is absolutely blinding. We like to place labels on to the things that come our way firstly to comprehend & then to control them. We can put this into that box & we feel better. Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Rock & Roll, Soul. In “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” Ms James delivers a summation of 50 years of culture, touching all bases & defying categorization. The original 1964 hit was not 3 minutes long. Here we get the extended 12″ version & it is a showstopper.

Etta had a tough childhood, born in Los Angeles when her mother was just 14 & her father never around. She moved to San Francisco & singing was her way out. There was a hit record when she was just 17 & singing with the Peaches. There were solo successes too in the 1950s before the great Chess label signed her with big plans for her future. I don’t know if “crossover” was around in 1960 but that’s what the string-heavy, overwrought ballads Etta recorded were aimed to be. “At Last” is state of the art but a little too smooth. James had strong ideas about her own career path, she also had drug & alcohol issues. That volatility & power needed to get itself into the music. As we can see here she got it right when she let it all out in front of a big old funky band. The following year (1977) Chess sent Etta down to FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. The “Tell Mama” LP made a soul singer out of her & enhanced an already assured reputation. There were some tough times before Etta James was able to enjoy the deserved recognition which came her way in her later life. She won her first Grammy in 1995. She’s a queen.

On “The !!!! Beat” it was not just those latest pop-soul hits. There are forgotten Texan groups covering Motown, there is even a pre-teen James Brown impersonator ! We have to stick with the classics though so…all together…” We may not have a cent to pay the rent but were gonna make it, I know we will”. “We’re Gonna Make It” a song of optimism, of love will get you through times of no money better than … by Little Milton that I have lived with & loved since 1965. James Milton Campbell Jr made records for over 50 years. In the 1960s he was with Chess & for much of the 70s with Stax. There’s a lot of music from this time & much of it is solid blues & soul. He was a big deal, there’s a village in Oxfordshire named after him.

The accepted wisdom is that by 1966 commercial African-American music was a Land Of A 1000 dances, Dancing In The Street. While  Motown & Stax-Atlantic artists were undoubtedly the most visible the R&B, Blues, even Doo Wop & Gospel traditions were not simply abandoned for fancy suits & synchronized choreography. “The !!!! Beat” looked modern & it was ahead of its’ time in that it was programming for a mainly black audience. What made it so great that it avoided the “look at me !” “you’re only as good as your last hit” shallowness of most contemporary pop shows. So we are lucky enough to see a wider spectrum of artists captured in what can be justifiably termed their glory. Praise Jah !

You Can Watch Yourself While You Are Eating (The Beat)

There was less than 3 years between the release of “Anarchy In The UK” & the first single by the Specials ,”Gangsters”, in July 1979 but at the time it did seem that there was a shift in style & fashion by British pop kids. Two Tone was Punk’s little brother. The D.I.Y. ethos of forming a band & even a record company with your mates,  the revival of the 3 minute heroes making classic singles, opened the doors for these young, pork pie hatted, ska-loving bands to charge through. Two Tone’s combination of punk energy & retro-skinhead style caught on big time. The Specials, between 1979 & 1981 had 7 Top 10 records. An inter-racial group, their anti-racism & socially conscious lyrics set a positive agenda in those early years of Thatcherism. Madness, a support on the Specials’ first tour, had 253 hit singles in the UK. (Ah Google it yourself, I’m busy).

Madness were London boys but Two Tone was largely of provincial origin. The Specials were based in Coventry as were the Selector. Up the road in Birmingham UB 40 were learning how to play reggae, former hairdresser & punk Kevin Rowlands searched for some young soul rebels & Two Tone’s Buzzcocks to the Specials Clash were ready for the charts with a blazing debut LP.

The Beat (I refuse to call them the English Beat) nailed the whine and indeed the grine with 2 Prince Buster covers on “I Just Can’t Stop It”. Drummer Everett Morton was not only bang on the ska & the reggae but dragged the young white boys along in an often frenetic & exhilarating rush. Saxa, a 50 year old reggae veteran, already knew how it went. “Hands Off She’s Mine”, “Mirror In The Bathroom” & “Best Friend” were all top notch & sparkling pop songs. The self-explanatory “Stand Down Margaret” nailed their colours to our mast, a fine political statement. “Mirror” is the soundtrack to the great bit of martial nonsense in “Grosse Pointe Blank” between John Cusack (“Lone gunman. Get it ? That’s the whole point !”) & Benny “The Jet”  Urquidez. The whole LP still sounds fresh & young & terrific.

So, the world was their lobster & “Too Nice To Talk To” hit the Top 10 before the release of the 2nd LP “Wh’appen” in 1981.The record was more mature, a little calmer, Ranking Roger stepped forward, there was more variety in the sound & there was still some anger in the lyrics. “Wh’appen” is a good record. But “Too Nice” was to be their last  big hit until an Andy Williams cover was re-released 3 years later. I guess that the Two Toners wanted some more fast ska while pop fans wanted the adolescent angst of “Hands Off” & most wanted it to be kept simple.

The 3rd LP came the next year & I bought it as soon as. “Special Beat Service” was, I think, made with an eye on the US market & it was their most successful there. The reggae tracks are a little short on roots but there are 3 very good singles on there. This track may be the Beat’s finest 3 minutes.

“Save It For Later” is a smart romp of a New Wave pop song. Possibly too smart.When Pete Townshend wanted to cover the song he had to call singer Dave Wakeling to ask him for the chord sequence. “I Confess” & “Jeanette” (substitute Ronette…great rhyme) were similar mid-tempo potential hits. I played this record a lot, I like intelligent classy pop songs. It made the desired impression in the USA, the sleeve is surprisingly referenced in an early George Pelecanos novel (the Nick Stefanos years). However, saying that any band has just 3 LPs in them, the Beat did not go on.

Wakeling & Roger formed General Public & for a time it seemed that they were onto something. The jaunty “Tenderness” got heard & the band were a good night out. I spent an evening in the company of the pair (friends of friends) & they were very nice, unassuming guys. It was thought that Dave was the talent of the Beat. He was the lead singer, the face & probably the lyricist. However General Public made their 3 records and met with diminishing returns. It was the other 2, bassist David Steele & guitarist Andy Cox, the 2 who did the twist & crawl at the back who had been watching & learning. In 1989 their LP “The Raw & the Cooked” as two-thirds of the Fine Young Cannibals did very well for them indeed.

After the break up of the Beat a collection of the hits, “What is Beat ?” was released. The cassette (Ha !) came with a full LP of 12″ mixes & dub versions of the reggae tracks. It is a fine listen, showing the strength of the songwriting. Tracks like “Doors Of Your Heart” & “Psychedelic Rockers” may have not met with commercial success but they sounded & still sound good to me. Top 3 bands from Birmingham ? We got the Beat and 2 more.


We Got The !!!! Beat

In 1966 TV shows in colour were a new thing. The Nashville stations (waiting to see if it would catch on ?) had no facilities for the new technology so a local production company went to WFAA in Dallas to record their Rhythm & Blues  and Soul show. They took Bill “Hoss” Allen, a local DJ with them, hired a band led by bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown & made 26 episodes of The !!!! Beat. The available footage warrants a couple more exclamation marks.It captures some of the great soul artists of the era in unmatched, deserved quality.

First up, Joe Tex, in the middle of 6 R&B Top 40 hits in 1965 & 5 more in 1966 after nearly 10 years of little success. “The Love You Save May Be Your Own” is part of that winning run, recorded at Fame Studios & released on Dial Records. Joe, like many other singers, started the decade in thrall to Sam Cooke. When he found his own voice he wrote & recorded some great Southern Soul tunes. There were the funny homespun wisdom, story song, almost proto-rap, ones (“Skinny Legs & All”) & the soul classics (“Show Me”). His collected singles are all hits, still fresh & a couple of them have been used in Tarantino movies.

Joe had a preacher’s touch about him & became a Muslim. He died from a heart attack at just 47. He said to Peter Guaralnick in “Sweet Soul Music”…”It’s been nice here, man. A lot of ups and downs, the way life is, but I’ve enjoyed this life. I was glad that I was able to come up out of creation and look all around and see a little bit, grass and trees and cars, fish and steaks, potatoes.And I thank God for that. I’m thankful that he let me get up and walk around and take a look around here. Cause this is nice.”…Top man !

I have just found this wonderful clip. Robert Parker started out in New Orleans & played with most of the luminaries of the 1950s from that city. He hit big with “Barefootin” in 1966 but was never able to repeat the success. In the UK this was a major Mod anthem, an absolute dance floor filler. More attention was paid to Robert over here & he often toured over the next years. The self-composed “Barefootin” is irresistible & if you are going to be a one hit wonder then let your hit be this good. It has been covered many times & here is a version by Pete Townshend.

One of the first posts I ever made on this thing featured the other clip of Barbara Lynn on The !!!! Beat. Her performance of the 1962 #1 R&B hit “You’ll Lose A Good Thing”, recorded when she was just 20, is a sublime thing. “It’s Better To Have It”, a hit in 1965, is not as good a song but Ms Lynn is beautiful, elegant, singing & playing like she means it here. In 1965 the Rolling Stones recorded her song “Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’)” & Keef seems to love playing it. man, I love Barbara Lynn.

These clips are scattered around the Y-tube & are not easy to find. The 26 episodes are on DVD in the US &, as you can see, are of a quality that is found nowhere else. Otis Redding came along for one show, Esther Phillips & Little Milton almost made the cut here. If Google can help me with a complete track listing then my search will continue.

Pete Townshend. Life Outside The Who.

Pete Townshend, the Who and the “deaf, dumb and blind kid” were tied together for quite some time. “Tommy” was the cornerstone of their spectacular live performances. Surely Pete tired of reiterating the meaning of his “rock opera” to uninterested journos. At the end of the 60s musicians were now expected to be philosophers and seekers. Some stellar talents died and others became addicted to whatever was available as they tried to break on through to the other side. Townshend hitched his wagon to the teachings of Meher Baba, a spiritual master who had not spoken since 1925. Baba had complicated views on reincarnation and the process of God-realization. His philosophy had been reduced to “don’t worry, be happy”. That Pete was searching was no surprise but there was an earthiness, an anger and a sense of humour about the Who which did not fully convince me that the West Londoner was not still getting wasted on the way.

Musically the group did not make a wrong move in the new decade. Pete’s next concept was “Lifehouse” a more personal project. He worked and worked it but never got it to a place where he wanted to release it. He was to lick his wounds and retreat to his notebooks where surely the story of a fucked up Mod, “Quadrophenia”, must have already been waiting in embryonic form. If anyone was to chronicle this British tribe then it was the original “Modfather”. An interim LP “Live At Leeds” was a blues-rock approximation of a volcanic eruption. The new kids in town, Led Zeppelin, made a big noise but so did these old hands. The “Lifehouse” tapes were used as the basis of a studio album, “Who’s Next”, a collection of such quality few have equalled never mind bettered.

The Who were at the top of their game. They kept busy with “Quadrophenia” (1973) and another LP 2 years later. Pete handed “Tommy” to the idiosyncratic director, Ken Russell. Whatever your opinion of the movie it does have Ann Margret writhing around in beans and chocolate. I’ll repeat that, it does have Ann Margret…ah, you get me. Pete made a couple of records inspired and dedicated to Baba. It was 1977 before a record with his name on was commercially released.

“Rough Mix” was a collaboration with fellow Mod musician and Baba devotee, Ronnie Lane. I was lucky enough to meet Ronnie in the early 70s, he was a lovely friendly man. I should have told him how great his work with the Small Faces, and the Faces, was. I will never get that chance now. The LP is a fine mix of British rock. Pete hung up the power chords and plays more lead guitar. “My Baby” and “Keep Me Turning” are songs good enough to compare with the Who. The demos Pete had made of his hit songs always had a more acoustic feel. For over 10 years these tunes had been put through the Who process, muscles added to the skinny frame. On “Rough Mix” the songs did not suffer from a different approach. The album went down really well round our yard. The full thing is available on You Tube, if you have any interest in the Who it will be 41 minutes and 33 seconds well spent. It will probably not be the last time you listen to it.


The sad but perhaps inevitable death of Keith Moon in 1978 must have initiated a period of re-appraisal for the remaining three members of the Who. The four of them had shared the amazing journey. The chemistry between them made the music greater than the sum of the parts. The Who may continue but it would never be the same. Pete, having his own problems with alcohol, released a fine solo LP “Empty Glass” and in 1981 a new Who album “Face Dances” came around. I went to see the Who a month before this release. It was not some enormo-dome mega gig but in a South London cinema. My musical tastes had changed. I did not listen to the Who so much in those days. The band were absolutely spell binding. Kenny Jones, a fellow traveller of Ronnie Lane’s and John “Rabbit” Bundrick joined the original trio. They had a classic catalogue to select from. Every song was golden, the bond between Daltrey and Townshend astonishing. The intimacy of the relatively small venue allowed us to see Pete at work close up. So that’s how it is done ! It was a stunning gig and my ears rang for the next two days.

The clip I have chosen is from a tour in 1985. The song is a feature track on the 1982 solo LP “All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes” (rubbish title). When Pete toured he did it properly and he assembled an impressive band. Bundrick came along, Simon Phillips is a great drummer and David Gilmour helped out on guitar. It’s a terrific song with the dynamics of a Who anthem but without the windmill chords. A mature Townshend, undoubtedly, he had to strike the poses when he played with the Who but he was 40 now and probably, like all of us, no longer hoped he died before he got old. I selected the later clip because the live footage of the final song is not as excellent as the recorded version. This take on “The Sea Refuses No River”  shows a happy and confident Pete with a fine band to showcase his song.

“Save It for Later” is a song by the Beat (known in the US as the English Beat). From Birmingham, they had hooked up with the Two-Tone bands, groups who were too young for punk and had their own take on pop and ska. I always liked the Beat, they had some good songs. My wife had worked on the design of the first LP sleeve and I spent a pleasant evening with two of them when they were in the band General Public. “Save It” was possibly their best song but there are other contenders. Pete had recorded cover versions before but mostly they were influential songs from his youth. In one instance he covered a favourite song of Meher Baba.

This song by Pete is, I think, little known yet when I listen to it I hear a hit record. He has kept the basic acoustic rhythm which first attracted him and added characteristic Townshend flourishes. It would not be him if he did not stretch his music towards anthemic. The killer touch in this version is the work of piano player Nicky Hopkins. He fills out the sound so beautifully as he had done for years on LPs by the Who, the Beatles, the Stones and a hundred other albums you like. A girlfriend once had to sort out a Japanese visa for Hopkins, on tour with Art Garfunkel. She told me she expected his C.V. the next day and I said she was in for a surprise. She was more than impressed when she saw his history.

I make no great claims for the continued relevance of Pete Townshend in his later years. He can play the Olympics or the Superbowl with his singer and it is songs from 40 years ago that the audience want to hear. From 1965 to 1975 he consistently produced songs that defined the times and that have survived the changing times. That is enough and I love this version of “Save It For Later”