TOMMY – A Bluegrass Opry by The Hillbenders

Forty-seven years ago today saw the release of Tommy, the first and – to my mind – still the best rock opera recorded by anyone, and that includes Quadrophenia which runs it a close second. There have been many subsequent interpretations of Tommy, including three – Lou Reizner’s orchestral LP, the film soundtrack and the stage musical – in which The Who, or individual members of the group, took part, not to mention live versions, or extracts thereof, released by The Who themselves, on Live At Leeds, re-issues of Tommy and various other live albums. I’m sure there’s many more versions out there that might not have come to the attention of The Who though I’ve yet to learn about Tommy – The Ballet, but it’s not beyond the realms of imagination to visualize a line of rake-thin tu-tu clad ballerinas pirouetting around the deaf, dumb and blind one leaping across a stage in tights.
A couple of weeks ago I came across a poster for a bluegrass version of Tommy to be performed live by an American quintet called The Hillbenders at the Union Chapel in Islington in North London. I took a picture of the poster and posted it on FaceBook which prompted FB followers to steer me to a CD which has actually been on release for just less than a year now, so I’m a bit surprised I hadn’t found out about it before. I’ve been playing this on and off for a couple of weeks now, on the iPod and in the car and once I got over the shock of listening to Tommy without any drums, I’ve concluded it’s definitely a worthy addition to the Walker family.
The cover is an almost true facsimile of Mike McInnerney’s original blue cover for The Who, except that the cross-cross lattice on the front is made from what looks like wood, as befitting this acoustic recording. Within the lattice are the five members of The Hillbenders, guitarist Jim Rea who also arranged the piece, mandolin player Nolan Lawrence, dobro player Chad Graves, banjoist Mark Cassidy and stand-up bass player Gary Rea. All five handle the vocals, sometimes individually, sometimes as a choir. They are based in Springfield, Missouri.
The five clearly revere The Who as the arrangements hardly vary from The Who’s original. There are 23 tracks, one less than The Who, ‘Underture’ presumably omitted because they felt unable to do it justice without drums and, in any case, the basic score is the same as ‘Sparks’. Elsewhere, it’s uncannily similar to the Tommy we know and love, from the ‘Overture’ to ‘getting the story’ at the end of ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’.
In many respects the stand-up bass makes up for the lack of percussion, though I think someone taps the body of an acoustic here and there, and I found myself warming to the two instrumentals – ‘Overture’ (taken at a frantic pace) and ‘Sparks’ as much as anything, as well as the dobro/banjo solo in ‘Acid Queen’. Guitarist Jim Rea follows Pete’s lines closely, on acoustic of course, and the rapidly picked banjo throughout seems perfectly natural once you’ve got your head around the fact that this is a bluegrass interpretation. The guitar/banjo opening on ‘Pinball Wizard’ is particularly effective. Towards the end, as one of the quintet offers up Roger’s ‘See Me Feel’ plea, it verges on the operatic, and when all five chime in on the closing lines – ‘Listening To You’ – the banjo speeds up like an express train.
Dedicating their record to ‘the power of The Who’, The Hillbenders are clearly in awe on them and their Tommy is without doubt a respectful tribute, in homage to them if you like. On the internet I spotted a picture of Pete with the five guys so we can assume the creator of Tommy has given them the green light. They’ve done him proud.


TONY BARROW - PR To The Beatles

Rather late in the day I discovered this morning that Tony Barrow, one time Beatles Press Officer, died last weekend, aged 80. I knew Tony well during my Melody Maker years, though by this time he’d long since moved on from the Fab Four – a term he coined, incidentally – and was running Tony Barrow International (TBI), a PR firm housed in an office block in Hanover Square, just off Regent Street. Among his clients were The Kinks, Deep Purple, Cilla Black and, once he’d shaken off the other three, Paul McCartney, with and without Wings.
Born in Crosby, near Liverpool, Tony was part of the inner circle of Beatle advisors from the very beginning, along with Brian Epstein, George Martin and music publisher Dick James (and roadies Neil Aspinall & Mal Evans), though his position was eventually usurped by the more urbane and whimsical Derek Taylor whose lively imagination and droll humour was more likely to appeal to JPG&R when they ceased to be Fab.
Famously, Tony wrote the sleeve notes for the first three Beatles albums and various concurrent EPs and though his words seem a bit cheesy nowadays they nevertheless convey the breathless enthusiasm of the first flush of Beatlemania. A trained journalist, Tony reviewed records for the Liverpool Echo under the pseudonym Disker, and he also wrote sleeve notes for artists signed to Decca Records, for whom he helped arrange The Beatles’ ill-fated audition on New Year’s Day, 1962.
Mark Lewisohn’s outstanding Beatles biography Tune In contains a lovely fly-on-the-wall account of Barrow’s first meeting with The Beatles in November 1962 in a pub near EMI’s London HQ at Manchester Square. First Paul comes to socialise, taking drinks orders but paying with Epstein’s money, then George takes a keen interest in what Barrow might do for the group and finally John remarks: “If you’re not queer and you’re not Jewish, why are you coming to work for Nems?” Ringo appeared too withdrawn to join in the conversation. “All the traits that came out at that initial meeting were consistent with what followed,” observes Tony.
By the time I got to know Tony Barrow he was an established, slightly old school PR, a bit of a veteran on the pop scene, the publicist for various US musicians when they toured the UK and few odd bods like Victor Borge, the Danish comedian and pianist, and Tom Paxton, the American folk singer. He seemed to have a foot in two camps, the traditional showbiz end of the market, acts like Cilla Black, and the rock world, exemplified by Deep Purple and The Kinks, though they were both handled by his assistant Marion Rainford who fixed up the first interviews I did with both these bands. Tony himself handled McCartney/Wings until Paul switched his business to Tony Brainsby who was a bit flashier. Also, TBI was superbly efficient and each Monday morning, news day on MM when I was the paper’s News Editor, I would receive in the mail a typed report on grey headed paper of all the activities that TBI’s acts were undertaking.
This job brought me into contact with all the rock and pop PRs operating in London in the early seventies, some of whom were younger and trendier but rarely as business-like or reliable. Tony’s only rival in this strata of the industry was Les Perrin, who’d snatched up John, George & Ringo and who also handled the Stones. Like Les Perrin Associates, TBI was an incredibly professional, well run set-up and even though the boss was occasionally prone to a drop more of the hard stuff than was good for him – a trait he shared with many in the PR trade – I liked him a lot.
For years and years I received a Christmas card from Tony, long after I’d left MM. He retired to Morecambe where he lived until his death last Saturday. RIP old mate.


MILES AHEAD - Film Review

Back in the autumn of 1970 the phone rang on my desk at Melody Maker’s offices on Fleet Street and, to my surprise, on the other end, calling from New York, was Miles Davis, asking to speak to Chris Welch. I passed the phone to Chris who took it with a look of apprehension, like the protagonist in ‘Worried Man Blues’.
“We spoke for quite a while,” confirms my old friend and colleague. “Miles was upset at my review of his performance at the Isle of Wight festival which I thought was embarrassingly awful. Terrible jazz rock made worse by his posing as a rock star. I was cross with Miles because his real music was so much better. But I never expected him to read MM. After a long complaint, he said, ‘I’m going to leave CBS’.”
I was reminded of this strange exchange last night as I watched Miles Ahead, the quasi-biopic of Davis directed by Don Cheadle who co-wrote the screenplay and takes the starring role. Miles never did leave Columbia, or CBS as the label was known in the UK. But he did have his ups and downs with the label, as the film makes abundantly clear.
Judging by the wardrobe, the film is set in the mid-1970s although there are flashbacks to the 1940s when Davis was in his pomp and courting the gorgeous dancer Francis Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), the muse he clearly still adores. Thirty years on and Davis is a reclusive, drug-addled nowhere man, a volcano of fear and paranoia who answers a knock on his door from Rolling Stone writer Dave Brill, played occasionally and, I thought, inappropriately, for laughs, by Ewan McGregor, who is seeking an interview. Thus ‘Dave’ finds himself caught up in the crazy world of Miles Davis, in which guns and car chases play an important role in their quest to track down a tape recording of recent sessions that Columbia wants to release and which, with Dave’s connivance, has been stolen from Davis’s apartment.
        All of which is exciting to behold and mixes plenty of drama into a movie that I thought would be more biographical than it was. I don’t know how much liberty has been taken but since I never encountered a Rolling Stone writer called Dave Brill during my stay in New York, which coincided with the period in which the ‘reality’ part of the film is set, I am assuming this story line is pure fiction. Nevertheless, I’m inclined to trust the authenticity of Cheadle’s top-class portrayal of the great trumpeter, a performance that dominates the film in every aspect. Davis was a proud but difficult man, barely in control of his life, brought down by heroin, racism and the certain knowledge that the music he made after the mid-sixties wasn’t what his audience wanted or appreciated, a dilemma that has almost certainly led to problems other star musicians have faced when that star begins to fade. All of which might suggest that Davis is a violent brute but this doesn’t stop us rooting for him as he chases his tapes through the mean streets of New York, gun in hand and sidekick Dave at the wheel of his speeding Jaguar.
        While this aspect of the film seems a bit too much like every other cops’n’robbers movie, it is counterbalanced by some outstanding musical scenes, either in a studio or on stage, almost all of which are from the earlier period, and in which Cheadle as Davis is joined on stage by a host of illustrious jazz musicians. The continuity between the two eras shifts cleverly as scenes are juxtaposed on the crash of a cymbal or the blast of a trumpet, the only issue with this being that – his receding hairline aside – the young Davis doesn’t seem to have aged anything like 30 years by the mid-1970s. Nevertheless, Cheadle’s portrayal of Miles as the fighting underdog, smoking incessantly, barely audible in his hoarseness, desperate to prove he’s not a has-been, is immensely powerful.
        In the end the tape is retrieved but I won’t spoil the fun by saying what it sounds like. Sufficient to say that my old pal Chris Welch was probably lucky that in 1970 the real Miles Davis was calling him from New York and not a pay phone in Fleet Street.



STAIRWAY TO THE HIGH COURT - Part 2, The Mary Poppins Connection

I have been shown a copy of the deposition signed by Jimmy Page in relation to the lawsuit over ‘Stairway To Heaven’ that I wrote about here last week. It is dated February 24, 2016, not long ago, and although the other two surviving members of Led Zeppelin are mentioned Jimmy seems to be the only member of the group to have been asked to give evidence. In a nutshell, he denies completely any suggestion of plagiarism, says he never heard the Spirit song ‘Taurus’ until 2014, states that descending chord progressions like this have been prevalent for years, citing several examples, and shunts into touch any suggestion that because Led Zep were on the same bill as Spirit back in 1968 (once) and ’69 (twice), some cross-fertilisation may have taken place. Fuck off, in other words.
“I composed the music to ‘Stairway To Heaven’ with the intention to create a long work,” he states at the outset, “with multiple different parts that would unfold with increasing complexity and speed culminating in a guitar solo that was preceded by a distinct fanfare, followed by the last verse concluding a climax to the song.” He confirms that Robert wrote the words after he’d composed the music and goes on to state when and where it was recorded, and when it was first performed live. “It was included on the album usually referred to as Led Zeppelin IV,” he adds, thus (almost) giving a name to a record he has consistently declined to refer to by its title since its release in 1971.
“The beginning of ‘Stairway…’ includes a chromatic descending line chord progression and arpeggios, over which I played an ascending line,” he points out, adding that he considers descending chromatic lines and arpeggiated chords “basic skills learnt by a student of the guitar”. “As a guitarist I was aware of descending chromatic lines and arpeggios long before 1968,” he adds, and few would doubt him on this.
To illustrate his point, Jimmy refers to a demo of a track called ‘Spring Is Near’ that he worked on in 1960 for Chris Farlowe, which seems unusually early as JP would only have been 17 at the time and Farlowe & The Thunderbirds were barely past the rehearing-in-mum-and-dad’s-bedroom stage by then. Nevertheless Jimmy’s penchant for hoarding has evidently come in useful as he is able to lodge a pressing of this demo with his lawyer. “The beginning of ‘Spring Is Near’, recorded in 1960, is a guitar playing a descending chromatic chord progression,” he points out helpfully.
This is far from the only example that Jimmy mentions, citing “songs by the Beatles” (he doesn’t say which but I’ll opt for ‘For No One’) and the intro to Davey Graham’s instrumental reading of ‘Cry Me River’ which can be found on YouTube and does indeed feature a few lines that sound a bit like ‘Stairway’. More interestingly, Jimmy cites ‘Chim Chim Chimree’ from the film Mary Poppins as an example of a song wherein the music “is going at a counterpoint, and I used that and similar ideas in my music.” Finally he mentions a session he did in 1968 for a group called Cartoone on song called ‘Ice Cream Dreams’ which also has a descending line. “I participated in that session in the fall of 1968 before Led Zeppelin went to the US in December, 1968,” he adds, stressing the significance that this occurred prior to the gig with Spirit in Denver on December 26, 1968.
If the evidence thus far is designed to demonstrate how the descending figure in ‘Stairway’ is very common in songs, the rest is designed to refute suggestions that Jimmy was aware of Spirit’s song ‘Taurus’, at least until he first heard in in 2014. “I never heard ‘Taurus’ or even heard of it,” he states. “I am very good at remembering music and am absolutely certain that I never heard ‘Taurus’ before 2014. I do not recall ever seeing Spirit perform live. I am absolutely certain I never heard them, or anyone else, perform ‘Taurus’.”
The evidence that follows confirms that Led Zeppelin and Spirit did play on the same bill but Jimmy is at pains to point out that even though this was the case he and the other members of Zep never actually saw them. “Generally, in my experience, when bands play on the same bill, each band or performer used their own guitars, amplifiers, keyboards, drums and other equipment,” he states, clearly believing that whoever is reading this disposition has no knowledge whatsoever of the rock world. “In between performances their respective road crews would set up or dismantle and remove their equipment and that took anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes depending on the extent of the equipment. In my experience the set up interval between bands meant that we did not encounter any other bands entering or leaving the stage.”
A suggestion by the plaintiffs that Led Zeppelin and Spirit were introduced to one another by someone from whom Zep had leased a plane is also kicked into touch. “Led Zeppelin did not lease an aeroplane for touring until 1973, long after the concert in Denver in 1968,” he points out.
Jimmy concedes that he owns a copy of Spirit’s first album but maintains he has never played it. “I have several thousand albums of many different kinds,” he says. “They include albums I purchased, albums people gave me or albums that were simply left at my home. Like a book collector who never gets round to reading the books they collect, I have never listened to many of the albums.” He does not know how the Spirit album came to be in his collection. “It may well have been left by a guest. I doubt it was there for long because I never noticed it before [this litigation].”
Jimmy concludes his deposition by stating that many documents and demo recordings have been lost or stolen over the years – “stolen from my home in the 1980s” – but those that he does still own have been produced for use as evidence in this action. Finally, he alludes to the passing of John Bonham, Peter Grant and Andy Johns (who engineering the recording of ‘Stairway…’) who may have been able to support his deposition.

I am grateful to Richard Morton Jack for sending me a copy of Jimmy Page's deposition.



Like a nasty dose of some STD that simply won’t go away, the issue of whether or not Jimmy Page and, to a lesser extent, Robert Plant, nicked the opening bars of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ from an instrumental by Spirit entitled ‘Taurus’ grabbed many column inches earlier this week, causing Just Backdated to listen very carefully to the music in question. ‘Stairway’ is credited to both Page and Plant but it’s a safe bet to assume that Page wrote the melody and Plant the lyrics, so if culpability becomes an issue then it is Jimmy who is in the frame.
We are concerned with just the introduction to ‘Stairway’, no more and no less, and those in Spirit’s camp will argue that this is its key element, four crucial notes that are nowadays as well known to rock fans as any Chuck Berry intro that took the fancy of Keith Richards. ‘Taurus’ does not open with this melody but reaches it at around the 45 second mark, but apart from this similarity each song thereafter does its own thing, ‘Stairway’ reaching for the heavens as it inflates and develops, ‘Taurus’ noodling along at the same pace throughout, enhanced by strings as it reaches its conclusion but never really working up much of a sweat.
Both songs hover around an A-minor key. The descending sequence of notes on the D-string are identical, no doubt about it. The tempo or meter, too, is identical, ditto the general, slightly medieval feel which is Zep’s case is enhanced by John Paul Jones playing a bass recorder. ‘Stairway’, however, has a simultaneous ascending run of notes on the top E-string and the phrases in each song are resolved differently. ‘Taurus’ seems to hang loosely, while ‘Stairway’ moves down to a D chord, then a slightly discordant F-major 7th, then a G major and an A minor chord, a far more satisfactory and pleasing sequence to my mind. In ‘Taurus’ the tranquil little sequence is repeated several times with pretty much the same feel and intensity while in ‘Stairway’ Jimmy pushes down on the power button as each verse comes around, thus disguising and diminishing the similarity.
‘Taurus’ first appeared on Spirit’s debut album released in 1968, a full three years before Led Zeppelin IV, on which ‘Stairway’ appeared. That Spirit debut album also included the song ‘Fresh Garbage’ which Led Zeppelin covered at the beginning of their career, which proves that Jimmy Page was aware of the album. Also, in those early days before Zep established themselves as a top flight attraction, they were on the same bill as Spirit; among the dates they shared Zep’s first ever appearance in America, at Denver on December 26, 1968. They also appeared together at two festivals in 1969, at Atlanta on July 5 and Seattle on July 27, but I have no way of knowing whether Spirit included ‘Taurus’ in their sets; probably unlikely as meandering instrumentals are hardly festival fare.
The lawsuit has been brought by the Estate of Randy California (whose real name was Randy Wolfe), Spirit’s leading light and songwriter, who died in a drowning accident in January 1997, rescuing his 12-year-old son in the process.
The big question, of course, is why it has taken so long – over 40 years – for the Estate to bring the case. Surely Randy, when he was alive, was aware of the similarities between the two songs and, had he felt sufficiently aggrieved, would have brought the case himself. ‘Stairway To Heaven’ will have generated a tidy sum in royalties but far be it for me to suggest that in the present era, when litigation has become a nice little earner, pecuniary motives are at the heart of this. Many plaintiffs bring a case in the hope that a quick out-of-court settlement will resolve an issue and save high legal costs but Jimmy Page has a deep pocket and I don’t see him capitulating easily.
It’s worth pointing out, too, that descending chord sequences in a minor key such as this are as common as muck. Zep used something similar in ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, which isn’t that different from George Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on The Beatles’ White Album. Jack Bruce once told me that JS Bach was the master of the descending bass line and, were he alive today, might have a case against loads of rock songwriters, not just Procol Harum. On the negative side, it’s also worth adding that Led Zep have a bit of previous in this regard too: ‘Whole Lotta Love’ = ‘You Need Love’ (Muddy Waters); ‘The Lemon Song’ = ‘Killing Floor’ (Chester Burnett); ‘When The Levee Breaks’ = Memphis Minnie; and a hush seems to have settled over ‘Dazed And Confused’ which songwriter Jake Holmes claims to have written (another descending sequence of notes) and which it is believed was the subject of an out-of-court settlement in 2011.
I wouldn’t like to predict the outcome of the ‘Stairway’ issue but if I was on the bench I’d award a small settlement to the Randy California Estate, perhaps 5% or less of the money the song has generated. This judgement is based on the fact that only 50% of the song is the melody (and 50% the lyrics, which is not the issue), and of that 50% only 10% – at the most – can be attributed to ‘Taurus’, the remaining 90% – not least the entire second half of the song after John Bonham comes tumbling in – pure Page/Led Zep.



I have yet to embrace the current trend for expensive heavyweight vinyl but earlier today I felt a degree of warm satisfaction when I encountered a display of vinyl albums in my local Sainsburys, especially since one of the 14 albums on the rack was Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. Personally I’d have gone for Five Leaves Left but I’m not about to quibble over such details since the concept of Sainsburys, of all places, selling a vinyl album by Nick Drake, of all people, seemed truly remarkable. Nick Drake? Mainstream? In a supermarket? Well, knock me down with a ten-ton truck as Morrissey sings on another of the albums I clocked.
The other 13 vinyl albums on display were a bit more predictable though by no means uninspired. Bowie leads the field with three (Hunky Dory, Ziggy & Nothing Has Changed, the most recent hits compilation), followed by The Beatles (Pepper & Abbey Road), with one each from AC/DC (Back In Black), Eagles (Hotel California), Led Zep (IV), The Smiths (Queen Is Dead), Foo Fighters (hits comp), Nirvana (Nevermind), Bob Marley (Legend) and Adele (25), the only contemporary album they’ve chosen to stock. The prices ranged from £12 to £18.
Intrigued by the whole concept, when I got home I googled ‘vinyl records in Sainsburys’ and up came an item on their website that listed which vinyl albums would be stocked: all of the above plus Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, F Mac’s Rumours, Led Zep’s first album and the debut albums by The Specials and Stone Roses. I can only assume that these have already sold out or were deemed unsuitable for Guildford. Interestingly, Hunky Dory wasn’t on the list (thought it was in stock) and I’m a bit surprised that Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon wasn’t there, maybe also Abba Gold or an Eagles hits comp.
A note on their website states that this is a ‘selection of 2016’s best sellers to date’. What they mean, of course, is ‘2016’s best selling vinyl albums to date’. Over in the CD racks a few weeks ago I was staggered to see about a dozen Bowie albums on sale, obviously catapulted into the charts by his recent death, and I’d have thought that Let’s Dance – if it’s available on vinyl – would have been a wiser choice than Hunky Dory if commercial potential is the criteria for selection.
At the bottom of the display, which I really ought to have snapped with my camera-phone, was a 3-speed portable turntable on sale at £80 on which to play your albums. I’m assuming the other two speeds are 45 and 78rpm. Does anyone really play 78s these days?
        Nevertheless, who would have thought that of all the many wonderful albums released by Islands Records during the seventies, the only one that would make it onto the shelves of a supermarket in 2016, in the same format as it was released it in 1972, would be Pink Moon, recorded solo in just two days by a singer songwriter who would be dead two years later – and which was probably Island’s least successful album of the decade.



Here’s a few more bits and pieces from my Who folders.

The Who Generation is a 64-page magazine published by Circus, the US rock monthly, and written by Nik Cohn which is a guarantee of quality of course. It was published in June of 1974 to coincide with The Who’s four nights at New York’s Madison Square Garden and, in fact, because I was living in NY at the time, Circus had called me to ask whether I’d be prepared to write it. Unfortunately my contract with Melody Maker precluded me from writing for other magazines and, in 1974, I felt it unwise to offer my services to what was, in effect, a rival. So I recommended Nik and he did a great job, probably far better than Circus were expecting. I seem to remember Nik taking me for a slap-up meal as a thank you.

I felt no such qualms a year later when I was approached by Penthouse magazine which I didn’t feel was in competition with Melody Maker, even though the sub editors were always on the lookout for a eye-catching picture of an easy-on-the-eye girl singer. Nevertheless, the text in the Rock Superstars Poster mag is uncredited because I wasn’t supposed to be working for anyone else other than MM. What I remember most about working for Penthouse was that they paid really well and the girls who worked on the reception in their Third Avenue offices all looked like centre-spreads (with their clothes on).

This was the programme for the orchestral Tommy at the Rainbow on December 9, 1972. In the cast list inside John’s name is spelt Entwisle, which makes a change from usual Entwhistle misspelling. Originally planned for the Royal Albert Hall, the performance was banned by the general manager who deemed Tommy not to be a proper opera and, in any case, was ‘unsavoury’. Wonder what he thought of Robert Plant squeezing his lemon on the hallowed stage during the Pop Proms of June 1969.

I have no idea where this Tommy The Movie magazine came from, but the 30p price tag seems to imply it came from the UK, which is odd because I was living in NY when the film was released. It’s full of stills from the film including a spectacularly unattractive shot of Keith as ‘the evil and lecherous Uncle Ernie’ and Nora (Ann-Margret) ‘cavorting crazily in a fantasy of melted chocolate’. The text – a prĂ©cis of the film – is uncredited.


THE WHO – Metropolitan Opera House, New York, June 7, 197

Among the other bits and pieces I found in my old folder of Who stuff was this silver programme from The Who’s ‘recital’ of Tommy at the New York Metropolitan Opera House on June 7, 1970, perhaps the most prestigious show they ever did. I wasn’t there, of course, having joined Melody Maker a month earlier, but I picked this up at Bleecker Bob’s record store in the Village for a few dollars when I landed in NY in 1973. The cover was designed by David Byrd and the image of the bloke with his wedding tackle on show is the same as used on the screens during the Who Hits 50 tour currently taking a break between US legs.
For those fans who never grabbed a copy of The Who Concert File, published by Omnibus is 1997, edited by yours truly and designed by Richard Evans, here’s what authors Joe McMichael and ‘Irish’ Jack Lyons had to say about the show:
“The Who kicked off their 1970 American Tour with two performances of Tommy in this prestigious 3,788–seat venue. Gross was $55,000.
“1st Set: ‘Heaven And Hell’, ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Young Man Blues’, ‘The Seeker’, ‘Water’, Tommy (21 songs), ‘Summertime Blues’, ‘My Generation’, ‘See Me, Feel Me’, ‘So Very Long’, ‘Naked Eye’, ‘Sparks’, improvisation, (encore) ‘Shakin’ All Over/Spoonful’, improvisation.
“2nd Set: ‘Heaven And Hell’, ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Water’, ‘The Seeker’, ‘Young Man Blues’, Tommy (21 songs), ‘Summertime Blues’, ‘Shakin’ All Over’, ‘My Generation’, ‘See Me, Feel Me’, ‘So Very Long’, improvisations, ‘Naked Eye’, improvisations, ‘Sparks’, improvisation.
“A Bill Graham/Nat Weiss co-promotion and the last and most famous of the opera house shows, with the tickets being sold at the Fillmore East. Rudolph Bing, director of the Met Opera Company, initially wouldn’t book The Who – he didn’t much like the idea of a loud, rowdy rock’n’roll group at his prestigious Lincoln Center concert hall – but he was invited to listen to the Tommy LP and this changed his mind and the booking was accepted for the loudest and rowdiest rock group of all. The concerts were promoted as being the last ever performances of Tommy. The audience and the Met didn’t mix too well, however, and Bill Graham himself was on hand to quell any potential disruptiveness. Both concerts received standing ovations of over ten minutes and VIP’s present included Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.
“At the first show, every line of ‘Young Man Blues’ was cheered by the audience, as if in vocal agreement with the sentiment of the song. The new song ‘Water’ received its first airing in concert (at least in the States – it might have already been played in the UK). As Townshend commented: ‘In a way we feel that we have to play something new because it’s a special occasion. We haven’t really altered our act radically since the last time we played. This is one that’s appearing on our new album...’ Daltrey sang ‘Water’ with great power and commitment, it being a perfect vehicle for The Who’s onstage style. The highlights of Tommy during this performance (and others) were ‘Overture’, ‘Sparks’, ‘Pinball Wizard’ and the moving ‘See Me, Feel Me’. With the ‘opera’ dispensed with, the band ploughed straight into the frenzied rock’n’roll of ‘Summertime Blues’ and the ‘My Generation’ medley, which included the second new song ‘Naked Eye’. This was still rather rough in its structure, and although Pete Townshend sang the second verse (as on the final recording), the third verse was omitted and it moved into further improvisations.
“As he returned to the stage for a rare encore, Pete joked with an ecstatic Kit Lambert, ‘You really book us on some bum gigs, man!’ ‘Shakin’ All Over’ moved into a bludgeoning riff that became the basis for a wild, improvised instrumental, featuring a drum solo and some impromptu slide guitar playing (with the mike stand) from Townshend, forming one of the most unusual and exciting improvisations that The Who ever played. Pete finally threw his guitar about the stage, before casting it into the audience. It was caught by long-term Who fanatic – and later rock musician – Binky Phillips.
“Phillips later recalled the show vividly: ‘It was the best show I had ever seen. Pete came out there and showed everyone he didn’t give a damn about the opera. They were so violent and vicious. They sounded like the old Who. That was the night I caught Townshend’s guitar, which was the culmination of everything for me... Townshend walked to the tip of the stage with his busted guitar and looked at me as if to say ‘Are you ready?’ I stood up and all my friends stood back. They all wanted the guitar as badly as I did but they stepped back. It was like a Joe Namath pass over the 30–foot orchestra pit. It just fell right into me.’ (from The Who by John Swenson, 1979.)
“The second set was witnessed by many who had been present during the first show and had doubled up on tickets. Prior to Tommy, Townshend explained that the show was hopefully to be the last performance of the work, although he must have had doubts that the act could survive its loss so abruptly. ‘My Generation’ moved from ‘So Very Long’ into a few lines and guitar figures from ‘Water’ before moving into ‘Naked Eye’, and an improvisation which had been released already on Live At Leeds. The band didn’t return for an encore this time, and the discontented crowd wouldn’t disperse until Townshend reappeared alone, to face booing: ‘After two fucking hours, boo to you too...’ and he threw his mike stand into the crowd.
          “Reviews were ecstatic. Albert Goldman said in Life (July 10): ‘Rock music may have reached its all-time peak with the recent performance at the Metropolitan Opera of Tommy... From the moment the boys walked on stage, it was obvious they were determined to give their greatest performance. Flashing their tawdry show tricks, they worked the Met as if it were a grind house in Yorkshire... Having outclassed the competition by miles and miles, The Who ought to be honoured at this point with a splendid award. I propose an architectural competition. The theme? The world’s largest opera house for the world’s smallest opera company.’
Fred Kirby wrote in Billboard (June 20) that The Who were as ‘dynamic as ever... While the two hours stretch may have been too much for many in the audience, The Who continue in a class by themselves when it comes to hard work.’
“Twenty years later, Roger Daltrey rated these two concerts as the finest The Who ever played, though at the time Rolling Stone thought that a rock act playing at the Met was merely a gimmick. Ever the non-conformist, Pete Townshend considered the Met shows ‘dire’.”


THE WHO – Badges & Passes

In that green folder of Who memorabilia was a plastic bag containing lots of buttons and badges and – miraculously – the backstage pass for The Who’s concert at London’s Oval Cricket Ground on September 18, 1971. Signed by promoter Rikki Farr, it’s a bit ‘distressed’ as auction houses describe items that have seen better days, but considering it’s really no more than a flimsy piece of paper it’s done very well to have survived at all. I doubt there’s many more of these in the world. (There's a post about this show elsewhere on the blog.) 
Up to this point I don’t think I was ever given a backstage pass for any Who shows even though I definitely was backstage on many occasions. Security didn’t seem to exist in those days which wasn’t to say that anyone could wander into their dressing room, you just needed to look like you belonged and in you went. It helped if a few people in the entourage recognised your face, of course, which they did after I’d been on Melody Maker for about six months.
          In the days before laminated backstage passes acts on the road issued either stick-on passes, sometimes with your name written on, which you peeled off from backing paper and stuck to your clothes, or buttons like this one below that tour manager Pete Rudge gave me when I went down the East Coast of America with The Who in November of 1971. This was the first time I’d ever visited America – and what better way to go than with The Who touring party.

By the time of the Quadrophenia tour in 1973 they’d moved on to laminates but I seem to have lost my yellow plastic pass with the nuclear warning icon that they used on that tour. I remember having one for the two shows at the LA Forum in November 1973. Nevertheless, along the way I’d picked up these buttons, the ones with the concentric circles – pin-on and sew-on – from around the time of Who’s Next, with the Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy, Odds And Sods and Who By Numbers ones a bit later. Towser Tunes is a bit of a mystery. I think it was a music publishing company that Pete launched in the seventies but why he had buttons made for it is anybody’s guess. The four Who heads are from Madison Square Garden, June 1974, one for each night, and they were the same ones scanned by Richard Evans for use in the booklet accompanying 30 Years of Maximum R&B.

When The Who opened the Rainbow Theatre in London with three straight nights at the beginning of November 1971 its manager John Morris gave me this Rainbow pass which enabled to walk in free to every show there, backstage too. Who aside, this was the bet pass I ever had, and John, an American, became a good friend of mine while he lived in London and ran the Rainbow.


WHO'S LAST - Track listing

Responding to requests prompted by yesterday's post, this brief post details the track listing of the aborted Who's Last double vinyl LP, as given to me by someone from the Polydor Records marketing department in 1983.

Side 1
I Can't Explain
Squeeze Box
Boris The Spider
Fiddle About
Baby O'Riley

These tracks recorded at Charlton (May 18, 1974) and Swansea (June 12, 1976) football grounds. They did not specify which tracks came from which show.

Sides 2 & 3
Sister Disco
Music Must Change
Who Are You
Long Live Rock
Dancing In The Street
Can You See the Real Me

These tracks recorded at the Philadelphia Spectrum on either December 10 or 11, 1979

Side 4
Cry If You Want
The Quiet One
Dr Jimmy
Twist And Shout

These tracks recorded during The Who's final tour of America, November & December 1982 - no further details given.