The Who In South London

It didn’t seem to be the biggest deal when we obtained tickets to see the Who in February 1981. Since Xmas we had been panning for the gold to be found on “Sandanista!”, a dense, sprawling triple LP on which the Clash laid claim to be the Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World, a title previously contended by the, you know, Who. In January Elvis Costello’s lyrical dexterity & developing musical maturity delivered “Trust”, a 5 star collection (out of 5). In the same month David Byrne & Brian Eno were making music for a brave, future new world. “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” would be influential & rarely equalled in the new decade. It was the shock & the shine of this new music that occupied our turntables. Those great Who records, whether filed alphabetically, chronologically or just left where they lie, tended to be at the back of the stack.

 

Image result for the who the clashThe gig was at the Lewisham Odeon, one of the country’s largest cinemas, a stopping-point for the package tours of the 60s but now out of the loop & a little faded. The Who usually played enormodomes or sports stadia so this is better. The biggest gigs in the city, the Rainbow in Finsbury Park, the Hammersmith Odeon, both a fair trek from our South East London manor. Lewisham was a short bus ride from East Greenwich, a night out for the locals seemed to be in order. It was a 7.30 p.m. start, early after a day at work, we didn’t even have time to hit a pub just met up outside the cinema not quite ready to rock. I had picked up a half-bottle of whiskey (& rolled up a bit of the other) to help things along. Dave, good man that he is, had exactly the same idea. Sue, much cooler than us two, was sensibly not drinking for 2…more for us then.

 

 

Related image“Substitute”, “I Can’t Explain”, “Baba O’Riley”, a perfect triple whammy to start. The Who’s more recent output.may not have been the most vital but from their 1965 debut, the aforementioned “I Can’t Explain”, maximum R&B for smashed & blocked Mods, to 1973’s double LP “Quadrophenia”, the kids are not alright, they had been smack dab in the middle of British Rock’s amazing journey. “My Generation” (1965), a confident rebel yell, was one of those significant songs that convinced you that this Beat Boom was for real & not just a passing fad. In 1967 their 45 “Pictures of Lily” made my life so wonderful & then, at the end of the year, the LP “The Who Sell Out” was Pop Art, more relevant to 15 year old me than a Warhol print, an Antonioni movie or a novel by Truman Capote. As the band thundered into their set I realised that while the Who’s records may no longer be at the front of the stack, this group, well I used to follow them back in 65. A long list of great songs, my perfect Who set list, came to mind. This was going to be meaty, beaty, big &…you get me.

 

So there was Pete Townshend, windmilling, power chord  guitar hero, ambitious, a sensitive even neurotic songwriter, still a believer in the redemptive qualities of a great Rock & Roll anthem. Singer Roger Daltrey, the punk with the stutter who became a microphone twirling Rock God. His job was to sing Pete’s lyrics & he made damned sure that he would always have work. John “The Ox” Entwistle, stony faced & stood stock-still, rumbled a bass foundation & just how is he doing that ! Of course, Keith Moon, the group’s extraordinary drummer, had died in 1978. Kenney Jones, an ace Small Face, was an obvious, natural replacement but, well, y’know…Moon was a one-off, we knew that & I’m sure Kenney did too. We got 4 songs from the new, yet to be released, LP, that’s how it went in the early 1980s.  I’d have to dig out “Face Dances” to remind myself how “Don’t Let Go the Coat” goes. “You Better You Bet”…I’ll be singing that for the rest of the day.

 

 

Image result for the who 1981Promotional requirements out of the way the band gave us more of what we had come for. Just the 1 track, the one about pinball, from “Tommy”, the expansive double LP which Pete was happy to call a “rock opera”, a presumption that I was never convinced by (it was still  a great record). “Drowned”, “The Punk & the Godfather” & “5.15” were from 1973’s “Quadrophenia”, a more accomplished concept than the deaf, dumb & blind boy. Townshend was better placed than anyone to document Mod, the most significant British youth movement of the previous decade.

 

There’s a case to be made that Pete’s inability to satisfactorily complete “Lifehouse”,the one between these two big ideas, produced two of the group’s finest records. “Live at Leeds” (1970) may have been a stopgap release but captured the Who as an onstage juggernaut, It’s one of the great live LPs, the best ever according to Rolling Stone readers in 2012, & we were getting a taste of this tonight. “Who’s Next” (1971), with it’s innovative use of synthesizers, proved that Townshend’s pretensions to a wider cultural significance for his group were unnecessary when you were capable of making music as good as this. We got plenty of that one too.

 

 

In 1981 the Who were still a working band, touring every year to promote new albums & consolidating their rep for putting on one of the great Rock shows. They were no longer smashing their equipment but the aggression was undimmed, the power unmatched. “Who Are You”, “5.15” & “Wont Get Fooled Again”, possibly a greater anthem than “My Generation”, were a world class ending to the set. They returned for an encore which included thunderous versions of “Summertime Blues” & “Twist & Shout”. I’m guessing that the PA had been scaled down to suit the venue but this was the loudest band I had ever heard. I had friends who still told of earlier ventures south of the river, great days out at the Charlton football & the Oval cricket grounds, when the Who had rocked over 50,000 people out of their socks. To see the group in such a relatively intimate venue was a privilege. You have got to love the Internets for allowing me to hear this concert again. If you stick with “Twist & Shout” to the end (& you should) you will hear a packed cinema going nuts in appreciation of just the best way to spend 2 hours on a Monday night in Lewisham.

 

 

Image result for the who the clashThe next year the band toured the US with the Clash in support. Apart from showing out at Live Aid it would be 1989 before the next Who tour. By then the 20th anniversary of Pop’s resurgence had come around. VH1, MTV for old people, was launched, Golden Oldies were re-branded as Classic Rock & you could buy your record collection again, this time on shiny, new-fangled CDs. Original Who fans now had kids who were alright without babysitters, teenagers who were fans of the group themselves. The Who kept rolling out, even after the death of John Entwistle, to huge audiences, no longer promoting new music, easily filling long sets with their extensive back catalogue. In 2010 they were the half time attraction at the Superbowl.Pete & Roger played a 12 minute medley of songs that 100 million viewers knew because of some American cop show.

 

Pete Townshend probably didn’t mean it when he wrote “I hope I die before I get old”, we have all said things as dumb as that. He’s 70 now, his group still sell out big venues playing 20 songs & every one a winner. I’m not sure that I want to be there but when I catch them on TV the Who seem to retain a strength & power that has always made them a class act. I was lucky to see them do their big show at a small place. Those stellar records  (particularly the expanded “…Sell Out”), some of them 50 years old, are nearer the front of the stack nowadays too.

 

 

 

 

 

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We Want The Airwaves (Pirate Radio)

Image result for radio london 1966I was only 11 years old when radio stations, operating from ships outside of British territorial waters, began broadcasting non-stop Pop. In 1964 I was already a little obsessed by music, more than just a Beatlemaniac, I found the rush of creativity from young British musicians to be the most exciting Art around. My parents had kindly provided a spanking new Dansette record player for the previous Xmas (to be “shared” with my younger sister. Like that was going to happen !) but my stack of 7″ 45s was small & Auntie BBC, neglectful of a new audience, shackled by a meagre ration of “needle time”, really didn’t get what was going on. Pirate Radio (could they have come up with a cooler name ?) were playing all the hits & more to an audience of 15 million but not in our house. “That’s right kids, don’t touch that dial” was was a rule set by the old folks.

 

Image result for transistor radio 1960sI did get my own portable, transistor radio, a hand-me-down from someone in my large extended family. It was more formal Fifties model than Swinging Sixties & boy, I wish I had it now. Everybody thought that I got a lot of homework from school but I was in my bedroom, somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, listening, more often than not, to Radio London,  “Big L”.Unfortunately the government were having none of this fun & the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act blew the boats out of the water in August 1967. My best friend & I determined to catch as much as we could in that final month. John Peel’s Perfumed Garden show, the only place to hear the new underground sounds, started at midnight. I listened quietly, the radio under the bed sheets, my younger brother asleep across the room, trying to stay awake for as long as possible. Some nights I managed a whole 15 minutes ! On August 14th, after playing “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles, a track you would never hear on the BBC, Big L stopped broadcasting. The #1 on their final Fab 40 was “Heroes & Villains”. We knew who was what.

 

 

It’s tough to select one tune from that pirate period so I’ve gone for something released at the end of 1967. On “The Who Sell Out” the group wanted to make aural Pop Art, fresh, fast, flashy, & fun. They chose to link the songs with Radio London’s jingles, recorded by the PAMS company in Dallas (I’m not sure if they obtained permission) & their own commercials. The concept worked well, “…Sell Out” is my favourite Who LP & just the best way to remember my station of choice from back then. All together now… “What’s for tea Mum ?”.

 

So it was “wonderful” Radio 1, staffed by many former freebooters, its mid-morning/early afternoon shows shared with the less wonderful Radio 2, which the BBC transmitted to an audience with little other choice. Caroline persevered with less resources & an air of resignation, supplies coming from Holland. Radio Luxembourg, around since the 1930s, music-based from 1960, was hardly hip to the trip & never really had been. It was 1973 before the government allowed a network of independent local commercial stations to challenge the BBC’s monopoly. There were still good shows being aired. John Peel found his corner at the BBC, playing an intoxicating mix of the wild & wonderful for over 35 years. The indies often scheduled an evening of off-playlist music while, in London, Capital’s Roger Scott hosted Cruising, a Friday rush hour of energetic American graffiti. The forced cheeriness of the daytime output, with presenters who you suspected didn’t really like music, grated very quickly. We all knew that “the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anaesthetise the way that you feel”.

 

 

PictureAfter I moved to that London I was sure that I would find something interesting on the outer edges of the dial. Some communities did have their own set ups & the change of scenery was refreshing. In 1981 we found somewhere that seemed like just the place to hang out. Initially Dread Broadcasting Corporation only broadcast for a few hours a week from founder Lepke’s Neasden flat. They played the Roots Reggae you wanted to hear & the sound system operators knew how to present it. By 1983 people knew about it & it was a 12 hours a day, 7 days a week operation. The late, live mixes were essential, there were Funk & Soul, Jazz & Soca shows too. DBC really was an upful, vibrant thing, community radio that should have been encouraged but illegal & hounded off the air by the end of 1984. Their big tent at the Glastonbury Festival was my late night venue of choice in the early 1980s. Dancing until the bag of goodies ran out or I fell over, whichever came first.

 

Image result for dread broadcasting corporationReggae stations did reappear but Lovers Rock was carrying the swing, a little too sweet for my taste. It was the new Soul stations. Kiss & Horizon, which caught our ears in the mid-80s. Hip Hop & Electro were bubbling up & these fresh new sounds were what we listened to & bought back then. We, of course, would tape our favourites & I think the DJ at the club in Deptford we frequented lived next door because he would play all our new hit picks at the weekend ! Both stations were very popular & many smaller stations sprung up. The authorities encouraged them to give it up with the offer of a fair hearing at a licensing committee. Kiss FM returned as a legit operation but maybe the era of the celebrity DJ, branding at the expense of the music, didn’t help. Maybe it was just that being legal was not as much fun. Anyway, we were waiting for a pirate TV station, operating from a car driven around the Crystal Palace transmitter. We heard the rumours but we never found it !

 

 

It was later that we had a pirate station of our own operating from our South London flat. On Friday nights a bunch of young anarchists from Camden would call around, the more intrepid of them would take the transmitter to the roof along with a pre-recorded cassette, 90 minutes of subversion. They had to stay up there to swap the tape around half way through. The others sat quietly in our living room, accepting our hospitality of tea & biscuits all round. They were just kids & the most polite anarchists you could wish to meet.

 

One night we had places to go, people to see & left them to their business of smashing the state. On our return in the early hours the gang were still around. The running-dog lackey of a caretaker had put the police on to the renegades. One of their crew had hidden & was now locked on the roof of the 12 storey tower block. We kicked a door in, that either hadn’t occurred to them or was considered to be too drastic & rescued the frozen fugitive with ice forming in his dreadlocks, taking him back to base for more warming beverages & baked refreshments. That was the end of Radio Free Camden. The guy’s name was Fiddler…”Fiddler on the Roof”, you could not make this stuff up, so I’m not.

 

 

When There’s Things To Do Not Because You Gotta (Summer of 66)

The Summer of 1966 is a very strong contender for an inter-equinox/solstice type of deal Hall of Fame. At loosehandlebars we are often caught looking back but none of us have turned into pillars of salt because we are down with Marcel Proust, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” No room for nostalgia here. With an unlikely cultural leap we summon “Dragnet”s Joe Friday,  “All we want are the facts, ma’am”. In that summer I was 13 years old. On the 30th of July England’s football team beat Germany’s 4 goals to 2 to become the Champions of the World. For 2 weeks in July the #1 record in the UK was “Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks.

Image result for the kinks magazine coversThe charts belonged to the Beatles in the Summer of 66. When “Paperback Writer” was released in June the next double sided smash, “Eleanor Rigby”/”Yellow Submarine”, had already been recorded. For the 6 weeks of non-Fab Four omniscience the chart-toppers were Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe, the Troggs & the Kinks. Britpop carried the swing but acts were having to raise their game because the competition was unforgiving. You were only as good as your last single & who wants yesterday’s papers…you get me ? The Kinks had got the hit single thing absolutely down. After “You Really Got Me” 11 of the next 12 45s made the Top 10 (the other reached #11). There are some great songs in that run, “Set Me Free” & “See My Friends” did not match the sales of the big guns but maybe should have. Ray Davies was developing an acerbic, more expansive (did I hear anyone say smug ?) style. “Well Respected Man” was a tentative start, “Dedicated Follower” was just original, funny & brilliant. “Sunny Afternoon” is a multi-layered satire on either the old Imperial aristocracy or the nouveau rock rich & the reaction to Government tax policy. It is a Lovin’ Spoonful song with added cynicism. It is 4 pints in a British beer garden, the dolly birds in their mini dresses. It is languid, lovely & it was everywhere.

There was no cricket season in 1966. Well not until the football was done with. This was the first & the only World Cup to be staged in Britain in my lifetime. It was the first one when TV technology & space hardware meant that the whole world (except the USA) really was watching. My friends & I kicked a ball about all day, new international heroes to admire & to emulate, before watching 2 games in the evening. The first week saw a great victory for Hungary over the champions Brazil. My Uncle Erno, a refugee from the 1956 uprising, was able to show his pride & his enthusiasm for his country for the first time since he fled…splendid. England became the World Champions at the first tournament I had watched so carefully. It seemed to be the natural order of things, Swinging London would surely always be the cultural centre of the world. I wish someone had told my 13 year old self that I should appreciate & relish England’s victory because it would NEVER bloody happen again in my life !

Image result for the who magazine coversThe Who, like the Kinks, were on an inspired run of singles & were reliant on the creativity of a single member of the group. Ray Davies & Pete Townshend were intelligent but fragile talents who did not react well to the demands of their musical partners, business associates & audience. Their respective autobiographies are a litany of complaint, dissatisfaction, even damage when they were living the dream of so many. It may have been tough, it may have been hell but man, it produced a shed load of fantastic, original, world class pop songs. “I’m A Boy” was released in August 1966, the first of a twisted, thrilling trilogy of hit singles. Pete was already beyond his smashed/blocked Mod anthem phase & this clip shows the confidence & talent of the whole band. Not yet the best rock & roll band in the world but maybe on their way. Most of Pete’s work seems to have been part of a more ambitious song cycle. It took some time before he was able to balance the rock operas & the hit singles. “Happy Jack” & “Pictures Of Lily” kept the Who in the Top 10, these strange & wonderful songs of adolescence. I was never dressed as a girl by my mother but…”I wanna play cricket on the green. Ride my bike across the stream.Cut myself and see my blood.I wanna come home all covered in mud”. I was 13 years old & so did I.

Our family holiday was 2 weeks long in 1966. We usually had a week in a caravan (I loved it) but this year we went further for longer & stayed in a B&B. Did we have more money ? I have not the slightest idea ! As the eldest of 5 I had 3 younger brothers to play with/look after. No problem, I loved them then & still do now. My parents arranged for my best friend to join us for the 2nd week as company for me. Y’know I thought that was great then but now…how cool & kind were my folks. Wink & I had a great time. On a rainy day my Dad took us to a snooker hall, a wonderful fuggy place of dim light, green baize, stale smoke. A man’s place. He paid for our game & left us alone to our Fast Eddie Felson fantasies…we loved it. In 1966 there were still illegal pirate radio stations in the UK. Our Yorkshire resort had one moored nearby so reception was loud & clear. In the evenings we took a radio to the cliffs & we listened to a lot of music. Released on the same day as “Eleanor Rigby” & its successor at # 1 was this classic.

Mod was provincial by 1966. Those sharp dressed young men of 1963 inspired by an R&B existentialism were moving from purple hearts to Gold Lebanese, to a new dandyism supplied by Carnaby St boutiques. Out here on the perimeter an army surplus parka, a scooter & a liking for Tamla Motown got you into the club. Hey, it was OK, working class kids still wanted to look sharp, there was still plenty of business for the local tailor, but the first steps from Hard Mod to Skinhead were being taken. In 1966 the Small Faces were absolutely the top Mod band in the UK. They took up permanent residence in the Top 10 with 4 singles & every day of the year they looked as great as this. Steve Marriott & Ronnie Lane learned how to write the pop/R&B belters & “All Or Nothing” was their biggest hit. They were becoming a great band but things were changing by the end of the year.

Image result for small faces magazine coversIn May 1966 the Beatles played their last UK concert. There was anyway, a new generation of young girls looking for their own idols. The Small Faces were all good looking boys, they attracted screaming teenyboppers to their gigs when being heart throbs was no longer quite the thing. There was not a lot of money around, they helped themselves to the best clothes in London, living the life while the bills were sent to the manager. When the band’s parents called on Don Arden he grassed them up about the marijuana habit…oh oh. Keyboard player Ian McLagan got busted which hampered US visas at an important time. The band did get away from Arden. He sent his heavies to dangle one potential suitor from a window but they went with Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham & his new label Immediate. Still no money but still the talent & interesting times ahead.

We were back at school when the Small Faces were at #1. In that same chart was “Land Of 1,000 Dances”, “I Can’t Turn You Loose” & “Working In A Coal Mine”. Soul Heaven…sitting on those cliffs, with my best friend, listening to Wilson Pickett shriek “1-2-3 !” that was great. There have been better summers, great places, great times & people but I doubt that there has been a better soundtrack. The day after my Dad took us to the snooker hall it rained again. He asked us what we wanted to do. We said that we wanted to go back there again. He was not too keen but we said, hey, you pay & leave us to it. It’s said that an ability to play a decent game of snooker is the sign of a misspent youth. Well we were doing the best we could back then.

I Thought I Was The Bally Table King (Pinball)

There are a number of things that I was born at the right time for. There is no element of nostalgia when I remember hearing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, “Good Vibrations” or “Sgt Pepper” on the day they were released. It sure made the 1960s an interesting musical experience. Similarly three of the first movies my wife-to-be and I saw together at the cinema …”Easy Rider”, “The Graduate” and “Midnight Cowboy”. Now I don’t spend too much time checking my footprints (“they are upstairs in my socks”  Groucho Marx) but a twice weekly cinema-going habit in the 1970s meant that you saw a lot of good movies. Then there was the Sexual Revolution, all the women I knew were “on the pill”. Yeah, I would be lying if I said that I did any more than read about that.

Anyhoo…here’s another thing that I thought was golden at the time and is now as obsolete as the video machine.

In the monochrome early 1960s my family went to the same seaside holiday camp. Being the eldest of 4, soon to be 5, children I got to explore the place by myself. The only source of colour around had, of course, a magnetic attraction for my young self. The amusement arcade had a juke box and a pinball machine. If it was my choice, I would still be living there now. I had little spare cash to flash but, like Chance the Gardener, I liked to watch. It was in this neon oasis that I learned how to put the three best records on the juke and how a proper pinball player presented himself in the battle of man versus machine. The designs, the noise, the lights…I liked those too.

“Pinball Boogie” is a song one of our favourite mid-70s bands, Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers, played in a live set which always included imaginative covers. They were a fun band which included a former Resident and a future Attraction. When they whipped out this belter from the 1940s we loved it. I suppose that “Pinball Boogie” can be read as rather clumsy sexual metaphor. “Rattle it and shake it till it gets in the hole”…mmm…it might be worth a try.

The university I attended was an experiment conducted by mad social scientists. A concrete carbuncle dropped into beautiful Constable country and a 1,000 students left to find a way to get along. There were three communal TV rooms (one for each channel !) and little else to divert. There was, however, a bare room containing four shiny new pinball machines. It was time to put those misspent rainy holiday afternoons to good use.

We were competitive and we were pretty good. An etiquette was established. stand away from the table and don’t talk to the guy who is playing. Let him concentrate and don’t give him an excuse when he screws up. It takes more than crazy flipper fingers to get the best out of a table which can be a cussed thing giving you nothing. The ball has to be cajoled with body English (lovely phrase) , careful not to “tilt” and lose it, when you get it right, grokking the machine, the ball will just run onto the flippers and the points will rack up, giving up it’s replays with that satisfying “THWACK !”

We left the campus and lived in a nearby seaside village. In Winter the tumbleweed fluttered along the streets of shuttered chalets  but a small arcade remained open all year round. We knew the machines inside out, playing pinball was what we did of an evening. Good times. On leaving the seaside and student life there were tables to be found in pubs and we would drink in those discerning dives with no thought for the quality of alcohol available. Living in London there were still arcades and from Soho down to Brighton we must have played them all. In a splendid low-life Brixton joint we would play the locals for money, careful not to win big as we lived our Hustler/Cincinnatti  Kid dreams.

“Pinball Cha Cha” is by the Swiss band Yello. It is a song of a man who can only find solace at a pinball table. “It’s just pinball for me. It’s claro que si” (of course). There have been afternoons with just me in the pub and I’m doing the thing I do when I may have been that man playing “the sensational game”. OK, I suppose that I have to do this…

Not too obvious…this is a ready-for-prime-time demo of “Pinball Wizard”, Pete Townshend’s epic from “Tommy”. If I had a pound for every time some wit has said to me, “Oh, you’re a Pinball Wizard are you ?” I would have £15. The machines got more electronic, more complicated. Of course I liked the traditional machines but this was no Fonz fantasy. Bring it on…make the whistles and bells blow and ring until, one day, the machine disintegrates in front of you !

And now the pinball machine has pretty much disappeared. I have even stopped looking in the nooks of the seaside arcades because it’s disappointing that this last refuge no longer comes through. I have had friends who, building their own man-cave, bought their very own tables. It’s cool for a couple of days to get a few games in while the first kettle boils but they are bloody noisy in a confined space and unlimited free games can take the edge off your game. Then, when you have sated yourself, friends arrive and they want to make some noise for a few more hours. It’s just not the same as being down the pub.

So now it’s the X-Box and the PS3, games from the comfort of your sofa and that’s OK. I have done my share of Tomb Raiding. Console Pinball , crazy flipper thumbs ?…Please ! I really enjoyed my pinball days (still think I could kick a machine’s arse, if I could find one). I liked to walk away from a table leaving the free plays for the next player. If you have had the perfect game you will do no better. I really liked the arcade days when a young kid would be watching as you subjugated the silver ball to your will. I would give him the free plays just as the aces I had watched back in the day had given them to me. Pay it forward, yeah.

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”

Peace.

The Who Before Tommy. The Kids Are Alright.

In 1965 I knew about how the Beat from the Mersey tide that had swept us all up was now receding. Those lovable Mop Tops were moving right along. They not only bought a ticket to ride,  they were driving the bus. The London art school boys were tired of waiting and drove pop forward anyway, anyhow, anywhere they pleased. England swings, like a pendulum do . Was I a precocious 12 year old ? I don’t think so. When the Beatles shook the world it was Year Zero for the youth. Something was happening and even if we did not know what it was, the music was telling us about new ways of looking at and thinking about the world. TV, newspapers,our parents, our schools,none of them understood the outer manifestations (the hair, the clothes) . How were they gonna even get near to a rejection of the straight jacket of twisted, hypocritical morality which had prevailed in “Great” Britain from Victorian times until 15 years after the end of World War 2 ? They were not.

Lennon & McCartney started a tradition of young British working class boys going into their bedroom with a guitar and their favourite music emerging with ideas and sounds which would affect the world. This voice had not been heard in their own homes before. Now, if you were any good, your music allowed you to reach millions of people. In 1965 some of those young Brits who walked through the door kicked down by the Beatles were ahead of the writers, the film-makers and the artists when it came to reflecting and anticipating change in the world.

Here are The Who looking bored on the edge of The Serpentine in Hyde Park as they lip-synch a track from their 1965 LP “My Generation”. The early days of the group (as the High Numbers) were a messy energetic mix of R & B, Motown and Surf/Beach Boys covers. This worked well enough in the mod clubs and the West London pubs but when it came to recording they needed their own sound. They found it immediately. The group’s guitarist, just 20 that summer, Pete Townshend showed a facility for song writing, of such originality, that he wrote 7 Top 10 singles from the first 2 LPs. He handed over his lyrics to the singer, Roger Daltrey, while he worked the power chords. Keith Moon was a drummer so unique that his busy but not intrusive style still surprises today. John Entwistle provided a solid bass rumble upon which the power and the fury revolved.

The third single by the Who was “My Generation”, a blistering cry of youth revolt , still regarded as a definitive rock anthem. It established them in the music world and the quality of Pete’s songs ensured their position was maintained and their reputation enhanced. “The Kids Are Alright” was released as a single by a record company from which the group were trying to extricate themselves . It was not a hit because the Who did little to promote the song. No matter, it is an outstanding example of the group’s early work. I could examine the entrails of the song., the pace, the harmonies, the chorded guitar break (hardly a solo) but is the whole which is most satisfying. Townshend had the three minute simple logic of the pop song down. The lyrics hardly match the angst and sexual frustration of other 60s Who singles but the song is a positive one about liking and trusting your friends. You know as I listen to this song I hear the pace and feel of early R.E.M. “Chronic Town” and “Murmur” were a young three piece band making a good noise, making their point and not hanging about. It is never not a pleasure to hear “The Kids Are Alright”.

The Who did not have big hits in the U.S.A. The brilliant run of singles had their champions in the press there but it was not until the tour of 1967 that the group made an impression. The 1967 Monterey Pop Festival was a gathering of the new Californian hippie tribe. It was the Who and the honorary Brit, Jimi Hendrix, who took the power and aggression of the music to an almost logical conclusion and destroyed the instruments they used to make it. Those L.A. hippies had the flowers blown clean out of their hair and the Who were on their way.

This appearance on “The Smothers Brothers Show” helped as well. “My Generation” was two years old but was new to Americans. The band are leaving the young Mod look behind and are in their Carnaby Street finery (and what seems like a layer of pancake make up). To us British it is the Who doing that thing they do. To American viewers it was another example of the strangeness of this new music. The story is that Moon, not wanting to be upstaged by Pete’s guitar smashing act, bribed a stage hand to increase the explosives in his drum kit. The resultant explosion shocked everybody. It is hilarious.

Pete Townshend, from early on, tried to find an effective way of linking his music. The second LP “A Quick One” had a title track that was 9 minutes long and was dubbed a “mini opera”. Released a year before the pivotal “Sergeant Pepper” Townshend was showing his hand too soon. The Who’s audience wanted those three minute vignettes combined with the muscle of the power trio. “So Sad About Us” from the LP and not a single is another Mod classic in the vein of “Kids”. After the Beatles, the deluge. Every band and their uncle were getting it together in the country in search of their “concept album”. The Who certainly delivered with “Tommy” an album that has sold over 20 million copies. In this writer’s opinion the LP before “Tommy”, an attempt at aural pop art with songs linked by radio jingles and ads is a finer piece of work. “The Who Sell Out” (113 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest LPs) is a more successful and fully realised piece of work.

Anyway, what do I know ? By the end of 1968 The Who were a major live act and in December they were guests on the Rolling Stones’  Rock and Roll Circus.This was a TV spectacular/the Stones’ answer to “Magical Mystery Tour”. It was not released at the time. The performance of “Salt of the Earth” is perhaps one reason, Jagger and Richard’s legendary procrastination another. The Who were straight off a concert tour and were fully match fit. Rather than perform anything from “Tommy” they reached back and revived “A Quick One”. They were sensational as you can see in the clip. Daltrey is becoming the master fringed frontman, not yet whirling the mic around. The others are all just so on it.Pete had now perfected the windmill power chord. Moon plays as though he has more than two arms. Entwistle, the rock solid bassist, provides French horn and falsetto vocals as required. Amazing.It may not be the best Who song but it is a great performance. Perhaps the reason for such a delay (it was finally shown in 1996) is that the “greatest rock and roll band in the world” were blown off stage by the Who that night.