1970 – Melody Maker publishes an interview with Pete by Chris Welch. He discusses the future of Tommyand his plans to produce an album by a group formed around his old art school friend Andy Newman.
Will Pete Townshend ever write another “Tommy?” His opera was one of the few worthwhile events in Pop 1969 — a year notable for superficial drama.
It began as an idea four years ago, evolved into a best selling album, voted MM LP OF The Year, and became the basis of a stage act that earned the already legendary Who the title “most exciting rock band in the world.”
“Tommy” received considerable critical acclaim, even from the man from the Financial Times who praised their performance at the London Coliseum, although he drew attention to the fact Townshend’s opera should properly be called a cantata, as it is a choral work.
In fact, such has been the hoo ha about Thomas, the deaf, dumb and blind boy, there is a ver real danger of tedium setting in.
Pete is aware of the problems that face the Who in 1970. He has a heavy burden of responsibility as their main writer. They cannot afford to relax.
Despite a New Year’s Eve hangover, Peter was happy to answer pressing questions at his Twickenham home besides the Thames.
He lives in a house of “second class architectural interest” with wife Karen and baby daughter Emma.
“Don’t take any pictures of me outside the house,” he asked the MM photographer. “We’ve already been cased…suspicious visitors saying ‘good afternoon, er I’m from the Gas Board’.”
Everybody felt rough that first morning of 1970. Pete was sniffing with a cold and Karen was coping with a mountain of socks on the kitchen floor that had to be fed into a washing machine roaring with oceanic fury.
Pete was slitting open the morning mail, consisting mainly of other people’s parking tickets, while preparing tea, bacon and toast.
Beaming from the walls were pictures of a smiling gentleman I took to be Joseph Stalin, one time leader of the Union Of Soviet Socialist Republics, but was advised that it was in fact Meher Barber (sic), Indian mystic, who lived in silence for many years, promising only to speak when he had “the word” for the salvation of many, but unfortunately died before he could make a last utterance of any kind.
Smearing preserves on the toast we contemplated the changing fortunes of other groups and agreed it was sad about the Bonzos and King Crimson.
“But Ron Geesin is planing a 1970 onslaught!” promised Pete. He has long been an admirer of the Scots pianist only rivaled by Any Thunderclap Newman for keyboard wizardry. “Ron has been writing the music for Expo ’80 in Japan, and has many other plans.”
Pete always retains tremendous enthusiasm for people, especially fellow artists. At the same time he is probably one of the most universally respected figures among group musicians.
It is Pete’s qualities as an enthusiast and “doer” that has earned him this respect.
One of the causes Townshend wishes to champion most its hat of Thunderclap Newman, who Pete describes as a genius. And having hard several of the hundreds of tapes that Pete possess of Andy’s work I am bound to agree.
Pete went to art school with Newman, and it was long his ambition to record him. A number one hit single last summer was the result of their first collaboration.
“But I had to go away to America with the Who in the middle of it all and that number one was so unexpected. I never even got to see them play a gig, although I hear it was a disaster and the audiences were fantastically disappointed. Andy enjoyed the tour, but people thought they were going to be a rock group, which wasn’t the idea. I came back from the States and found they had been contracted to make a lot of appearances, so I thought the best thing would be to let the forge ahead. The we found we had to take them off the road.
“We want them to concentrate on recording, bu Jimmy badly wants to work and make appearances so he is going to form his own group while remaining with Thunderclap, to do an album and singles. Jimmy will go on the road and may record on his own as well.
“Of course, financially it didn’t do them any good at all, despite having a number one single. There was nothing to follow it up and I feel very guilty about it.”
As Baby Emma had apparently had a surfeit of Thunderclap Newman, the tape machine was allowed to skim silently to a halt, and Tommy reared his head.
“So much has been written, said and done about it, that it is beginning to be a pain in everybody’s ass. But there are still people who want to heard about it in Europe, but we definitely won’t exploit it any further than that and the film we are making which is based on the ideas that went into Tommy.
“We are very excited about the film and as you know our managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp originally came out of the film industry and I’ve got a lot fo friends in the young area of filing.
“The quest is — what is the film going to be about, now that the album has been milked to death already?
“There is a single coming. We’re going to record it next week and probably have it out in January. I’ve got a demo I can play you, which I have got to play to the group to famillarise them with its subtleties!
“It’s strange…it’s only recently that we have sounded really good to listen to. We’ve always been a dynamic basic group – ‘a lot of meat and potatoes and not much else. Kit Lambert was furious when he spent months capturing our dynamics on ‘Tommy’ then we went out and played it six times better than we had in the studios.
“I very much enjoyed our ‘Tommy’ tour although I felt uncomfortable every night when we went on stage, because we play at such a fantastic pitch now and it was so loud in those theaters which seemed so little after the States, that you couldn’t really hear it.
“I felt nervous every night until the audiences warmed to us and I would go on thinking: ‘This is going to be a dud,’ especially at Bristol when there were a couple of kids in a box chucking things at us.”
Is there a danger that the Who have played all their aces after such extensive touring and intensive exposure?
“Not really. A lull is inevitable. There will be a quiet period for the group as far as the public will be concerned. But the success we have had will make us work harder. We will be taking our stage show to a higher standard of professionalism. Not in a James Brown sense, with tow drummers — one is enough KEITH! But we’ll use more dynamics and not just put on two hours of noise.”
Pete was noticeably playing more and better guitar in recent years, I observed.
“It’s just that the vehicle is changing. It comes from constantly improving relations with the group and the fact we are playing more music with feeling and less like a machine. We are ALL playing better.
“There is still one thing though…I’d like to see the Who play really new music. It has always been a bit of an ideas machine. The rock opera was a machine idea.”
The new single being planned by Pete already has a different approach and feel from anything the Who have done before.
“It’s a bit of a boogie for the Who,” said Pete clipping the “boo” short, American fashion. “There is a bit of Taj Mahal in the bass and drum rhythms. But it might not sound like this in the end. It depends on what Kit suggests.”
Called “The Seeker,” Pete’s new song rocked along with an unusual pulse, and featured on guitar, bass, drums and vocals, on P. Townshend, producer extraordinary.
“Really I do the demos for my own amusement. I play Kit the whole demo so he gets an idea of the song and I just play the guitar and vocals to the group. It’s best to let them get their own ideas for backing. For example John came up with a bass idea on ‘Pinball Wizard’ that I really liked.”
Will Pete ever write another opera?
“I’ve got ideas for one. But a lot of my ideas will be channelled into the film. We’d like to do an album of songs next — other people’s songs. Then there are plans for a ‘live’ album. Bob, our roadie, has been recording us on gigs with tow mikes and a small machine and he has been getting some incredible results.”
Pete played a tape fo “Young Man Blues” featuring Roger Daltrey’s most bluesy vocals and Keith’s tearaway drum breaks, recorded in America.
“This was the night Bob Dylan was in the audience and we didn’t know ’till afterwards. And we were all tired and bored. We didn’t play very well, but the recording quality was good because Bob uses a simple system. If you have mikes all over the stage, you end up with mud.”
“The Seeker” is a good title for Pete’s latest tune. Although it has a country flavor, it sums up Ou Man In Pop who consistently seeks the hard ones and is not content to rest on past successes. As long as he remains active, alongside a handful of other creative people, we can be assured of a vibrant, progressive rock culture.
1973 – Keith appears in Chertsey Court were he pleads guilty to possessing a firearm without a license. The firearm in question is an antique shotgun that Keith says was left at his house by the former owners. He is fined 15 pounds.
1974 – Pete, John and Keith record backing tracks for “I’m Free” and “Pinball Wizard” for the Tommy soundtrack. Pete rejects them because “they came out sounding like a cliche.”
1975 – John Entwistle and his band The Ox play Edinburgh University in Scotland
1994 – Westwood One in the U.S. broadcasts their show BBC Classic Tracks featuring The Who’s songs for the B.B.C.
2001 – Pete releases the 2 CD set Jai Baba on his website eelpie.com
2001 – Pete releases the 2 CD set Jai Baba on his website eelpie.com.
2007 – Pete participates in a demo radio version of his partner Rachel Fuller’s In The Attic. He performs “No Name, No Face, No Number.” Nothing further is heard of the radio version of the show.
2010 – Pete and his daughter, Emma, are interviewed for the Sunday Times