The Who is one of the few bands were all the members of the original band made solo albums. With the exception of drummer Keith Moon, who died too early, all the other members have made several solo albums. While waiting for the other members of The Who finishing their film “Tommy”, Bass player John Entwistle were planning a tour. This is a short interview from that period of time.
FIRST NIGHT NERVES, TEN YEARS ON…
or how, in times of beef crisis, SOUNDS/Mike Flood Page Productions offers you a large slice of Ox (cunningly disguised in a mushroom sauce as John Entwistle), co-titled “The Ox Lies Down In Battersea”
Just the day to go see the man who created Cousin Kevin and Uncle Ernie, the Whisky Man and a cast of assorted freaks and casualties. The rain was coming down like it was monsoon season and the streets of Battersea where the Who`s Ramport studios are to be found were awash and uninviting.
Inside the converted ecclesiastical building which houses the studios, Roger Daltrey was picking his way through lunch in front of the TV, Russ Ballard dropped by to see a journalist and the Ox, Mr Entwistle himself was settled into the control booth listening to the playback of some brass tracks he was laying down for the “Tommy” soundtrack.
Unlike my preconceptions he seemed a friendly slightly serious guy. I enquired if he didn`t feel haunted by “Tommy” and keen to see the back of it, but he was unperturbed by its refusal to go away, describing it as “a friendly ghost”.
John has laid down about 95% of the bass work on the album besides the brass, all of which he played except the saxophone parts, and he has a role as, would you believe, a bass player, and one of Tommy`s disciples. But on his mind now is his own project, the Ox.
Originally conceived as a twelve-piece, the group has shrunk to a four-piece augmented by a sax player and two girl singers who will play three British dates before Christmas, around fifteen in January and February before leaving for a twenty city tour of the States where it emerges he has a substantial cult following that has produced sales of around 100,000 a time for his solo albums, and earned him number one bass player title in several polls and even number three in the brass section once.
His most successful albums have been, he admits, the sick ones. “They dribble into the charts for a bit and stagger around for a while.”
His own material on three albums so far and reportedly on the forthcoming Ox album betray a bizarre imagination steeped in a black vision of the world. Did he ever stop to ask himself why he wrote like this. I was keen to know. “I`m gradually getting out of that, I must be getting happier or something.
“That early stuff, I was encouraged by Kit Lambert to write…horrible songs really; songs about people with phobias and hang-ups, about spiders and alcoholics who see imaginary people, and stuff like that.
“My first album was about birth, death, reincarnation, the devil, heaven and hell; and the second solo album was about people with things wrong with them: someone whose wife runs off and commits suicide, and a fellow with a dominant mother, a peeping Tom, someone who finds out his girlfriend is married with three kids to a weight lifter.
“Kit Lambert realised I had an ability…he actually wanted me to write a children`s album…stuff like `Boris The Spider` and `Whisky Man` was appealing to 11 and 12 year old kids.”
He conceded that the “Rigor Mortis” album had marked a move from “Sick subjects to slightly sick things; but the latest album isn`t that black, though it`s still got that black undertone to it.” Some kind of concession to public sensibility I suppose.
“I think the sickest album that could ever be released is the stuff I`ve written with the Who. The `Ox` album released on Bactrack is all my numbers with the Who, and the fellow who actually spliced it together said he felt like jumping out of the window after he finished.”
I asked if that had been his original intention: “It was in those days, but I`m gradually getting out of it now. The Ox album is the most commercial thing I`ve done; it`s quite varied in its music. The whole reason for me forming a band was so that I could get a direction musically, so that I could actually write for that band.
“Our strongest thing at the moment seems to be going into free form stuff – improvising on a riff. Once we start working out our own riffs I shall use them to write new material; in the same way that Pete draws on the Who.”
In some ways it might seem surprising that someone who is a part of a band as good as the Who should ever want to take his own band out on the road, the Ox thinks otherwise. “There`s a lot of numbers of mine that the Who don`t feature on stage, and also a lot of stuff from my solo albums that have never been performed, four albums worth, that`ve never been performed before an audience.”
The amount of stage equipment, especially keyboards that the Ox will have, means there will be one and a half times the amount of speaker cabinets that the Who use. It doesn`t sound a very economic way to tour. “Oh it won`t be economic. I just want to play to the audiences; I`d only have to pay it in tax if I didn`t use it, so why not. Why should the government get it? The audiences can have it instead.”
Rehearsals have been going on for three weeks now and there are only five days left, but John feels confident about the band. He plans to use tapes like the Who onstage for a couple of the new numbers, one of which involves six percussion tracks, and another based around twelve acoustic guitars, both impossible to do on stage.
But tapes present their own problems: “It`s like a deadly perfect musician who plays exactly the same thing every night.” With the Who they found the solution was to use a tape with cue-in clicks through Keith`s headset and for him to cue the group; with the Ox John will do the cues.
He is looking forward to playing two and three thousand seater halls, something the Who can no longer do. Again there is a problem about the likely response. “Why should they be content with 25 per cent of the Who when they can have 100 per cent? Really, you`ve got to make it not 25 per cent of the Who, but 100 per cent of something else.”
This tour is a project John has been eager to do ever since Rigor Mortis and the tour that never came off, but Who commitments have made this the first practical opportunity to do it, and then when the Ox tour is over and the others return from their separate projects in March or thereabouts he`ll be back on the road with the Who, and a new album which Townshend is due to be writing in January and February, everything is planned six months in advance these days.
The Who schedule seems to be fairly light as regards live performance these days, I asked John why: “The main reason we haven`t been doing so many dates is material. We started doing “Quadrophenia” and we found it didn`t work as a work onstage so we picked the best numbers. Then we found that the stage act was exactly the same as the one we`d been playing except for three or four numbers.
The thing is once the Who get tired of a stage act they just don`t want to play it; so it`s really all down to new material all the time. With “Tommy” we spent two years on the road, with “Quadrophenia” it was two months. With the next album we may spend six months on the road or two years.”
John plans that his own immediate next spell of writing will be directed towards the Who, but he also has another more long term scheme up his sleeve which has been fermenting for a couple of years, in between all his other work.
He is very cagey about saying too much: “I`m writing a sort of a…..I`m not gonna call it an opera, `cos it isn`t. It`s gonna be a single album, and the whole album tells a story, a science fiction story. It`ll be very involved. I`m still rewriting numbers from it, though it`s only half written.”
But the immediate future is the tour, his first heading a band, a responsibility he is not too worried about: “After the first gig I`ll be all right. I`m confident the band`s really incredible, but it`s that first gig…I just want to see people`s reaction.” Must be strange, ten years in a top line world beater band like the Who and getting anxious about your first gig, all over again.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Nico, Steve Gibbons Band, Gentle Giant, Hawkwind, David Essex, Bob Dylan, Sweet, Fanny.
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