I am on a visit to London today, staying in this wonderful city until Sunday, and what better way to celebrate than sharing this article about one of the members of The Who, a band formed in London in 1964. When I`m here I try to make room for some sightseeing at famous places relating to modern rock music history. I have been to Freddie Mercury`s house, went to all the music shops in Denmark Street and bought some rock and roll street wear at Camden Market. I am thinking of going away to see the offices of Classic Rock Magazine where so many of my favourite music journalists have worked. If you have any other suggestions for my visit, please send some words my way! Thank you!
Entwhistle: more rigour than mortis
Interview by Martin Hayman
The other side of the glass window the forgotten man of the Who is pumping out bass notes and a lunatic figure at the piano bashes out “March of the Mods” with a fiendish cackle. This is Tony Ashton, drinker, fun-timer and piano player extraordinaire.
Entwhistle cuts a commanding if slightly impassive figure, burly rather than stout and dressed in his customary slightly sinister black. He cracks into a grin at the antics of his piano player and after a couple of false starts for fits of laughter, the band, boxed off from each other by studio screens, blaps into some hairy rock and roll.
The take done, they stroll back into the control box for refreshments with an air of well-earned satisfaction. Entwhistle exchanges some light-hearted banter with the Who`s “press agent” along the lines of “More rigour than mortis there I`d say, har har”, and plays through a delightful little death song about Rollerskate Kate who met her end in the fast lane of the motorway and has now gone to join the Great Skating Rink In The Sky. Shoop-doo-be-doop.
Yes, it`s the man who brought us well-loved little masterpieces of monstrosity like “Boris The Spider” and “Cousin Kevin”, and he`s doing it again. This new album, which will be the sequel to “Whistle Rhymes” (coming your way on November 3) rejoices in the blood-curdling title “Rigor Mortis” – thus the pun.
It`s a rock and roll album with an updated feel and John`s own extra little something, his brand of black humour, which is quite endearing when you get into it. Assisting at the funeral are the aforementioned Tony Ashton, hammering the ivories, Alan Ross on guitar and Graham. Graham who? “Er… can`t remember his second name. I only met him about three days ago. `Ere, what`s Graham`s second name?” he shouts up at the control room. A voice detaches itself from burble of chatter on the intercom and bellows “Deakin. D-E-A-K-I-N.” He plays drums. “Ah, Right,” says the deadpan Entwhistle.
Alan Ross figured on the last album “Whistle Rhymes” and brought in the drummer from his own group Ro Ro, so there`s already a familiar set-up here. So far they have laid down four of five tracks and they are working fast. It all seemed to be clicking by the spontaneity of the jam they were doing when we arrived – not for the record.
These are early days yet, though, as there`s a lot of overdubbing to do, mostly horns. John himself is quite a dab hand with the horns, and plays a collection which excludes only the slide trombone.
“This one`s more or less a set group,” he says, “there`s piano, guitar, bass and drums and the brass comes in later. This was by way of distinguishing it from the previous effort, which was much more of a fluid band, with odd players popping up on different tracks: John Weider on violin, Peter Frampton on guitar, Jimmy McCulloch on guitar, Neil Shepherd on keyboards.
“I should imagine there`ll be a few guest appearances later on, maybe sort of Moon on congas or something. And I haven`t paid Frampton for the last session either so he`ll probably come, and I`ll pay him for both.”
Did John feel that being with the Who had given him a freedom to get down his own musical ideas which he might otherwise never have had? “Any member of the Who can do a solo album: Roger`s gonna do one, Keith could quite easily do one, producing and playing drums. But as far as I`m concerned, it all depends on where I got to without the Who.
“If I`d been in another group it might have been the same. If I`d never got into a group then most likely I wouldn`t have started composing anyway. Most likely be an amateur French horn player in an operatic society. I did a bit of everything – played Dixieland, modern jazz, brass band, military music – but most of my time I spent in an orchestra. Middlesex School`s Orchestra. I played French horn in it for about two years… I really enjoyed that.”
Not actually one of your Sheperd`s Bush nationalists then? “No, I`m from Chiswick, which is like a gnat`s piss away. The reason the Who say they come from Sheperd`s Bush is because that`s the general circle we were moving around in when we first started playing. Roger lived in Sheperd`s Bush and then moved to Chiswick so really it all came from the Chiswick, Ealing, Wembley area.”
How much of his time did he find was taken up with business relating to the Who? “It varies from year to year. Two years ago we were doing about three gigs a fortnight, playing universities and we would be doing about two four-week American tours a year, plus one English tour and at least a couple of big gigs in Europe, couple of television appearances.
“This year we`ve hardly done anything. We got two-thirds the way through an album concept and scrapped that as an album. The first six months of the year we hardly saw each other. We didn`t work at all. A five-week tour of Europe and two-thirds of an album – that`s all we`ve done this year.
“We had eight months off altogether, and we realised it didn`t really work, that we shouldn`t do it in future, leave it at the most two, three months. I think we`re starting early next year, recording and touring.”
Why had they decided to scrap the five tracks projected for the next album? “Well I dunno whether they`ll turn up as about five `B` sides. I felt that it was too near to `Who`s Next` – a step on, but still too near. Maybe the public wouldn`t have thought so, but we felt we needed another concept album. We`ll be using it as the basis of a new stage act, sometime next year.”
Entwhistle does not regret “the good old days” when the group played small clubs and even humped its own gear. This despite the huge organisational task concerned with setting up a tour. There are twenty-four people on the road for a Who tour, and each venue is visited by the road managers to ascertain whether the hall is suitable.
He doesn`t think of himself as “Mr. Bassman” either, and says that he has his own career as well as that of the Who to think of. Surprisingly, he has built up a following in the States, where his first solo album “Smash Your Head Against The Wall” sold in excess of 100,000 copies. “I wasn`t really concerned with what England thought about it,” he says. “It was an anti-frustration album. It was to stop me getting so frustrated that I left the
Who. I got all the numbers that I`d written in the last four years and put them on the album.
“`Whistle Rhymes` was written in two months as an album, and this one is written as a rock and roll album. The first one just got me out of a rut I was in. I was writing more and more material and there was just no outlet. One Who album a year with two or three songs of mine on it doesn`t get rid of seventy songs, does it, and that`s what I was getting towards.”
What about John`s taste for the bizarre in his choice of themes for songs? “They`re not as obviously bizarre now. I like to think the words are sicker in a more subtle way now,” giving a graveyard chuckle. “I still find it easier to switch words around and write songs about suicide, things like that.
“There`s too many people composing love songs, religious songs and serious things like that. If it`s my bag to write `orrible sick songs which disturb people some way then I`m content that it`s my job.”
But deadpan expressions aside, Entwhistle is not some kind of a death freak. He thinks of his songs as having a humourous content which can be overlooked only at your own peril. It may be a black humour, but death is as natural to yer human condition as is birth. And to laugh at the grotesqueness of life is as realistic as to cry.
“Well you don`t want to make it too depressing, do you, otherwise you`d get people jumping out of the window half-way through listening to my album.”
And I bet Charles Manson never saw the humorous side of death. So as long as Entwhistle keeps laughing, that following of his will never be really morbid.
Finally, did he feel like the forgotten man of the Who at any point? “Well it`s almost become part of the act now, me standing still, hasn`t it? I mean if you`ve got four blokes standing on the wing of a plane going at five hundred miles an hour, and three of them are whirling their arms around, which one don`t you look at?”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Melanie, Roxy Music, Medicine Head, Jimmy Cliff, Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon, Yes, Nick Mason, Steve Tilson.
The original music paper this article came from (pictured at the top) is for sale!
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