A good, honest interview the way I like it. This one should be great for anyone interested in this band.
The magic had begun to dwindle… but now we`re shit-hot. We`re back to the stage where we can go anywhere and do a good show.
The Who`s verdict on The Tour and The Album. By Barbara Charone
PETE TOWNSHEND has a point. A very good point. `Where do you fit in magazines where the past is the hero and the present a queen’, he wrote for Roger Daltrey to sing on ‘They Are All In Love’ from the `Who By Numbers’ album. And it’s quite a valid question.
Where do the Who fit? So The Sunday Times safely locks them away in the sixties time capsule, remnants of something that was. In one neatly constructed paragraph they dismiss Pete Townshend as a writer who exhausted his topic after three songs. Jaded disbelievers file the Who under nostalgia, bringing them out of the closet with caution, fondly thinking of them much like you’d look at an ancient family scrapbook. But why concentrate exclusively on the past when the present is just as good and the future could possibly be even better?
Some 70,000 paying customers caught the Who on their recent romp round Britain. Not one of them was an aging geriatric patient bent on reliving youthful memories.
Maybe the kid standing precariously high atop a steel beam at Wembley likes Queen. Maybe he goes to see Status Quo when they’re in town. But right now this kid is imitating every Townshend gesture down to the last guitar swoop and leap across the stage. This kid never saw them at the Marquee or the Scene Club. This kid doesn’t even own a copy of ‘My Generation’ let alone ‘Who’s Next’. But this kid almost falls off his steel beam during the ‘Tommy’ finale. That’s today. Y’see the kids are all right.
With the Who inspiration isn’t rehearsed. Neither are the mistakes. Pete Townshend’s guitar strap falls down during the `Won’t Get Fooled Again’ finale. Roger Daltrey forgets the first verse to ‘Summertime Blues’ leaving John Entwistle a vocal solo. Playing with headphones to hear the ‘Baba O’Reilly’ backing tapes, Keith Moon gives one final percussive assault just after the rest of the band have finished the song. Townshend falls over during some visual acrobatics and Daltrey laughs.
But that’s exactly what makes the Who great. There’s an ominous sense of danger that permeates every concert, that very real knowledge that chaos could break out momentarily. Equipment fails, guitars feed back, tempers flair, the band threaten to break up in the dressing room after a show, disaster lurks overhead. Take the first night of their British tour.
Six thousand pounds had been spent on risers for the equipment and the drums to give the band more room on stage, to heighten the visuals. So there’s Keith Moon playing only to himself because the rest of the band can’t hear. Six thousand pounds and they threw it all away after the show.
“I think the first gig could have blown the whole thing,” John Entwistle admits. “There was absolutely no communication. We were just playing stuff we’d memorised and hoped it fit. The risers cut the band off from each other. It’s always like that. When we haven’t been working for a long time we try to do something new. And every time we do something the whole sound just goes. The times we’ve stuck Keith on rostrums and pulled him off the next night,” John sighs.
“The Who is a band that’s got to hear each other. If we don’t the whole thing falls to pieces. We’ve got to be on the floor with the amps close so we can hear what we’re doing. We’re more confident now because we can actually hear each other!”
Just a few years ago the first night in Stafford could have been the beginning and the end of the tour. Then the Who could have easily locked themselves in their dressing room and battled out the problem. Now they’ve matured because they`re determined to survive.
“We’re a lot more tolerant towards each other now. There’s still flare-ups, arguments, and screaming matches. But at least now we know what makes us tick,” Entwistle slyly beamed. “Now we know we can do a good show. That second night in Stafford cured us all. We just hadn’t done a show like that for ages.”
Prior to this recent period of productivity, the Who had grown collectively disillusioned and depressed over live performances. They had lost the enthusiasm and inspiration integral to elevating a show from the routine to the sublime. Playing five concerts in June of 1974, four at New York’s Madison Square Garden and one at London’s Charlton Athletic ground, the Who despised themselves for mechanically going through onstage motions.
“I nearly walked out of the band after the Charlton show,” Entwistle recalls. “I just couldn’t take it anymore, couldn’t take the lack of enthusiasm onstage. Since `Quadrophenia’ it’s been very difficult. Pete hasn’t wanted to particularly work onstage. He felt he wasn’t giving anything. Now he feels better than he has the last five years.
“Before we all wanted to keep the band together, but now we all want to work. Concerts had become straight Who gigs. We’d come offstage and say ‘Well that’s another one gone’. We`d never say ‘that was an amazing thing you played’. There was absolutely nothing there. The magic had begun to dwindle.”
“It got to the point where it just wasn’t fun anymore,” Daltrey said, echoing Entwistle’s statements. “And if it ain’t fun why bother?”
Yet the fun was a long time coming. A disturbing lack of good times permeated strained atmospheres during the first painful weeks attempting to record what eventually became ‘The Who By Numbers’. Normally optimistic Daltrey became depressed over the recording progress.
“It just got to the point where I began to think that maybe we had done as much as we could within our framework. I kept telling myself that wasn’t true,” he said somberly.
But that tenuous maybe held steady. The Who felt like they had exhausted their framework during the first album sessions. Part of the problem revolved around differing rates of individual growth.
“We found it very difficult to record at first,” Entwistle recalled. “We couldn’t play well together and kept falling back on oldstyle Who playing without trying to put anything new into it. In the end we just had to takea break from recording, do a rehearsal and just jam between numbers to prove we could play again. We took a mobile down to Shepperton which did us a lot of good.”
Even more despondent that the group was producer Glyn Johns who had worked with them laughed. “Who’s Next’ was time however, beginning traumas and problems seemed insurmountable.
“Glyn had to go through a lot in those early sessions,” John admits; “When you get to a session and no one turns up I imagine you get somewhat disillusioned.
“I’ve had more fun making other albums,” Glyn Johns laughed. ” ‘Who’s Next’ was made under more satisfying conditions. This was more of a challenge because the atmosphere was far from relaxed. When they first arrived in the studio they weren’t a band. When they left the studio, they were. The album speaks for itself.”
While the rehearsals proved they could still play well together, the Who almost discarded the album much to Glyn Johns, horror when they heard the final mixes. About to scrap the entire project and return to the studio to record additional tracks, the band realised the problem lay in the album running order and subsequently worked out a more rationale line-up.
“The first album order just seemed to go down and down,” Entwistle said seriously.
“But the second order was like a new album. It’s the type of album we needed after the grandeur of ‘Quadrophenia’. We needed to prove that we`d done something since ‘Tommy’ as it had been regurgitated and thrown up again. We needed another album to let people know we were playing new music.
“Personally I think the next album should be live so people will know that we`re still touring,” he laughed ahout their recent onstage holiday. “We tried to do a live version of ‘Tommy` once and maybe we could include some selections from that. We need some new onstage numbers. We can’t play ‘Summertime Blues` for the rest of our life. But by the time we tour America again in the Spring we should be able to do another live album.”
Although it won’t be included on another live album, much of the new studio album translates easily to stage. Unlike the bulk of ‘Quadrophenia’ with its complex backing tapes, the more basic material from `The Who By Numbers’ finds the group returning to their original format.
“The synthesizer was the one thing I missed,” John admits. “I could have seen it on several tracks. But Roger doesn’t like synthesizers, he thinks they’re fake. Still I like to use them to colour the songs theme.”
Deceptively low profile on first listening, much of the new album is charged with Who aggression and emotion. Several observers have remarked that they wished Townshend had been in a more optimistic frame of mind when writing the songs. Others insist the record is not indicative of group morale and believe Townshend should have released the material as a solo album. These complaints seem equally deceptive as first listenings.
The songs are stuffed with more genuine feeling and emotion than some of the bands better known work. Underneath the disillusion, lies a promising future optimism. Either Townshend writes words the band personally identify with or the band play merely emotionally. Or both.
“In a lot of ways I feel the same as Pete,” John said. “I could really relate to ‘How Many Friends’ and so could Keith. Moony was nearly in tears when he heard that song. Still, before we did ‘Squeeze Box’ and ‘Blue, Red and Grey’ the album had a different identity. Those songs brighten the whole thing up. I was personally more restricted on this album because complicated bass parts didn’t seem to fit so I simplified a lot of it.”
In many ways the cover caricature of the group, drawn by Entwistle, neatly parallels the inside contents. When the Who are apart friction and break-up rumours circulate but when they are joined together, the combination is unbeatable.
“That cartoon of the group has been around for about eight years. The first time I ever drew cartoons was on our American tour with Herman’s Hermits,” John laughs. “Pete and I were doing a comic strip. Pete’s was the Duchess versus Plum. We used to call Roger the Duchess because of his big, floppy hat and fur coat. Bob Pridden (sound engineer) was Plum, scruffy little man. My comic strip was Dr Jekyl and Dr Noom which was Moon, a monster that chased old ladies in wheel chairs.
“When it came round to this cover the band turned to me and said it’s your turn, so I just drew the cartoon updating the clothes and appearances as they have changed. Pete’s used to have more hair and no beard. I changed his nose as well, flattened it up. Roger’s had the same hair with different clothes. Keith’s is more or less exactly the same. Mine’s different cause I drew in an extra scar.” he laughs fiendishly. “Originally I was going to have birth signs with scales but then I thought that was a bit too far but.”
Astrology would have been too cosmic for the Who verging dangerously close to Yes or the Pink Floyd. Instead they stuck to a stark cover to compliment the authentic insides. It is the brute force of the Who that comes through onstage and record whether’s it’s the gentle frustration of ‘However Much I Booze’ or the vulnerable truths of ‘Dreaming From The Waist.’
“Making that album wasn’t easy in any way at all,” Glyn Johns admitted. “Reflecting on it, the greatest thing is that the end result is very healthy. That’s worth it. The Who came out of those album sessions full steam ahead and that’s very important.”
Full steam ahead means that the Who are earning their reputation as rock’s greatest performing band. Revitalised and invigorated, they are not living off the past. They play with a vengeance because they are determined to prove their worth. Even ‘Tommy’ is being done for a reason, not to capitalise on Ken Russell’s Technicolour glory but because they enjoy playing it. The days the Who walked offstage, and said ‘Well that’s another one gone’ are thankfully over.
“Actually it was our idea to do `Tommy’ onstage again. The reason I agreed to it was because everyone expected us to drop ‘Tommy’ from the act because of the film so instead we thought we’d do more of it,” Entwistle said with amused irony.
“We’re determined not to let anything worry us and try to do perfect shows. It’s obviously very important for us to keep the Who going. But I’d like to see the solo careers continue. I missed playing with the Who during the Ox tour but that’s what allows us to bring something extra to the band when we get back together. That’s what helps us grow.
“We haven’t played this well since the ‘Live At Leeds’/`Tommy’ era,” John said proudly. “I suppose you could say we’re shit-hot. We’re back to the stage where we can go anywhere and do a good show. Before we’d just jam at rehearsal or in the studio and it was unbelievable but we could never do that onstage. We haven’t been able to jam onstage since we stopped doing ‘Tommy’. Now, ‘My Generation’ onwards is all off the top of our heads.”
The good shows are paying of with handsome results. Normally cold, sterile and cavernous, the Who transformed Wembley into one giant mass of sweating bodies all moving on the same rhythms. I can`t even remember `Brown Sugar` doing that to people. The kid on the high steel beam nearly fell over. What`s most positive is the future. While fondly paying homage to the past, the Who are impressively saying hello to the present.
As one observer astutely remarked: “They almost look like they love each other.”
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