“The Pete Townshend Page #3”

February 22, 2010 at 7:13 pm (Music, Pete Townshend, Reviews & Articles)

Written for Melody Maker, Oct. 17, 1970…



Our show at Purley Orchid Ballroom was quite an experience I came closer to complete physical exhaustion than I ever have before at a performance and yet we are playing a slightly shorter show on this tour.

Am I growing old? Will I never live to see Keith Moon’s eightieth birthday party? Not the problem. I just suffered from a cough, but somehow with short breath and phlegm, where there should be air, my leaps and jumps led me to the fading world of fainting schoolgirls. Today I sit and type as a gentler form of exercise, passing out over the keys occasionally, which explains the odd “©£’4?” here and there.

The first two days of the tour were an education for me. I took my Motor Caravan and attempted to gypsy the gigs at Cardiff and Manchester. Defeat bitter on my lips I have to concede that caravan cooked roast chicken in a lay-by off the M5 all on my own is no consolation for a visit to the Blue Boar transport cafe with the lads.

After taking six hours to reach Cardiff I looked in at the Sophia Gardens where we were to perform to find out what time we were due on.

Finding out I had three hours to spare I decided to look for an AA approved caravan park that was close to the city centre according to my map. Off I went, driving for nearly an hour with no success. Eventually I drifted into a friendly cop shop where they gave roe complicated but explicit directions. I followed them carefully and eventually arrived at the site. Checking in, paying my seven and six and getting a set of keys to the bog I enquired how to get to the Sophia Gardens as I would be getting back late – and would the gates he open? “Oh, there’s no need to worry about the gates,” the smiling warden said as I contemplated the last ninety minutes driving. “Sophia Gardens is right next door, in fact you can see it from here.”

Despite this terrible indignity I hurriedly walked off to the gig with me boiler suit under me arm feeling like a local Welsh lad made good, and checked in. The James Gang were about to play and I went to watch. I got as far as their first few bars. The bassplayer’s amp stopped working after he’d played only three notes and the impact of their incredible opener, “Funk 49,” was dampened. I didn’t watch anymore, feeling like maybe I was a jinx, and waited till they came off stage a little disenchanted with the equipment we had lent them. (BLUSH).

At their press reception at the Speakeasy they hadn’t been able to play because of equipment hassles, it really is a pointer to groups that despite financial losses it is worth any amount of effort to use your own equipment wherever you are going to play.

That was well and truly rammed home to us in Australia, where a conscientious promoter spent over £5,000 on gear to keep us happy but forgot about a microphone system. It was so funny, we nearly died.

Back to Cardiff. It goes without saying that we went on and didn’t have any trouble at all. You see, we have a special method for ensuring that our gear is always up to scratch. If it goes wrong we kill the roadie. Seriously, the crowd were incredible. It was the first airing of the now shortened TOMMY in Wales and we enjoyed the show as much as we have ever.

We have deliberately cut down our act to leave us more energy to cope with the most important part of the show. The finale. It doesn’t matter how well you play, if you don’t leave on the right foot you may as well not bother.

I feel this was demonstrated by the way our performance dwindled quietly and ineffectually away at the IOW. We had played far too long, nearly three hours, making it hard for Sly to follow playing to such a weary audience and leaving the stage on an anticlimactic note rather than an excited one.

We did manage to follow Sly ourselves at Woodstock. It was then, as searchlights scanned the three thousand strong audience yelling for more that we knew we would get revenge. Of course, we didn’t really plan it that way but it tends to happen that way with the Who. Instant Karma.

The road from Cardiff to Manchester goes through the most beautiful country in Britain, and it was the happy culmination to a good journey that the show went so well at the Free Trade Hall that night. The.James Gang played a superb set, free from equipment hassles, and their sound men were on top form. They included two acoustic numbers from the James Gang Rides Again album which added fantastically to the dynamics of the evening.

We can tell how the band before us go down by the audience response to our own opening. At Manchester it was just as exhilarating as Cardiff to feel the wave of familiarity and warmth from the crowd as we began. James Gang had clearly done a great show.

The Orchid Purley just wiped me out. Not just the physical exhaustion I talked of above, but also the place and the people. The last time we played there was so long ago I can’t remember, and as we walked through the audience to the stage, surrounded by bouncers, I heard elderly mods asking for “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute” with such zest that I began to believe they were new releases.

From the stage however, the feeling was not one of nostalgia. Things had clearly changed. The crowd was a mixture of neat mohair suits and long shaggy Swedish army coats. The hall from this new aspect, (our roadie had a special ten foot high stage built over the existing one), took on the mood of somewhere like the Chicago Kinetic Theatre, or The Shrine Auditorium in LA. It really was amazing.

None of the psychedelic theatres in the States could come near it for colour. Plastic palm trees and all; it was pure heaven. On the way home, I drove a little bit daft and got stopped by some speed cops.

Pete Townshend

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