‘So Alone’ The Junkie Class of 78

Whatever our attitude to drugs was in the 70’s there was a general consensus that heroin was a bridge too far. We knew it killed people, Janis Joplin, Tim Buckley, the lead singer/guitarist of our favourite local band Meals had been found dead of an overdose. There was a kind of expectation that heroin would inevitable kill you and LSD would make you mad. It wasn’t exactly the truth but if it killed famous people it was likely to finish off us plebs.
There wasn’t a whole lot of older role models to suggest that heroin could be a long term thing and just one look at a dried up junkie like William Burroughs was enough to act as a deterrent.
One the other hand I have always had a weakness for Junkie music. It started with the Velvet Underground through to the Only Ones, even extending as far as the opiated cocoon of Spaceman 3. I don’t know what it is about heroin music that I like, perhaps it’s the constant underachievement that renders Junkie bands relatively unmarketable. You just know that at any point it could just fall apart. It makes there music kind of genuine.
And so it was probably no surprise that in 1978 I became the owner of So Alone, the first and best LP by Johnny Thunders.

johnny thunders
Despite his best intentions Thunders had become punk royalty. He was old enough (26) to have been part of a different generation which had given him a bit of a head start, learning to play guitar in time to join the New York Dolls. This was probably very fortunate as by 1973 Thunders had developed about as far musically as he ever would.
A very significant reason for this was the death in London of the bands first drummer Billy Murcia. Portentously Murcia died when friends asphyxiated him trying to help him recover from an overdose. It was a death that was probably totally avoidable, these were naïve times. Murcia’s replacement was Jerry Nolan, a significantly older guy who became a father figure to Thunders. Unfortunately new dad was an enthusiastic heroin user and very soon Thunders was also hooked.
Unable to fully integrate their interests into the Dolls Nolan and Thunders were first to leave and eventually settled on their own band the Heartbreakers. The band landed in Britain at the end of 1976 like a bunch of latter day GIs. Underpaid under sexed and over here. Instead of nylons and chewing gum they had brought heroin, and Nancy Spurgeon. These were to have catastrophic consequences. Ever since Charlie Parker there has been a confusion between lifestyle and talent. Parker was talented because he had practised a phenomenal amount of hours but there were plenty of lesser players who thought that by copying Parker’s heroin habit rather than his practice regime they would attain his skills. In 70’s Britain New York was as exotic as Mars, these new creatures had landed with their strange ways. Certainly post 76 Heroin started to make its presence felt, certainly among the new generation of musicians in London.
The Heartbreakers managed to shoot themselves in the foot fairly quickly by failing to translate the power of their live performances to vinyl. Quite whose fault it was that their LP LAMF was such a muddy damp squib still rages (it was Nolan !) but one can’t help but feel that if they had all been a bit more together it might have turned out a bit better.
And so, the Heartbreakers were no more but Thunders was still a contender hence his solo record So Alone. And there’s Junkie John on the cover looking all alone and vulnerable bless. The irony being that a Junkie never have to be alone because around the corner there’s a whole lot of potential mates just like them. Thunders has accumulated a load of ‘heavy’ friends many of whom were unaccountably between jobs. Steve Jones, post pistols had been dabbling in the strong stuff, his old mate Paul Cook was along for the ride as was their new best friend Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy. The three of them would soon be recording an uninspired Christmas Single before the year was out, there was a feeling they were coasting a bit, a suspicion that would continue for the next decade or so. Steve Marriott was also present post half arsed reformation attempt of the Small Faces and he was joined by a couple of the Heartbreakers similarly at a loose end. The only people who potentially had a bright future were Peter Perrett and Mike Kellie from the Only Ones; let’s just say they were there for a reason.
Musically it was a mixed bag, Thunders tastes are strictly retro, he hadn’t exactly been burning the midnight oil on the songwriting front but he had come up with something, namely ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Round a Memory’, possibly his best song, poor Johnny, he’s so alone. In fact, Thunders had another song ‘Leave me Alone’ at the end of side 1, there’s a theme developing here! Thunder’s other new contributions were ‘London Boys’ a ranty put down of Johnny Rotten, written in Heartbreaker days , ‘Downtown’ a bluesy groove and ‘Ask Me no Questions which sounds like it took more than 10 minutes to put together thanks to Peter Perrett’s contribution. Finally, there was (She’s So) Untouchable. The sort of song the Stones would start to write in the 80’s which is enlivened to Baker Street proportions by the sax of John “Irish” Earle (who was to do the same thing on ‘Dancing In the Moonlight’ by the aforementioned Lizzy).
With a fairly slim selection of songs there’s space for some covers which actually are the most fun. ‘Give Her a Great Big Kiss’ is the old (i.e. about 15 years previously) Shangri La’s Number. ‘Daddy Rollin Stone’ is a similar pub standard which is great until Steve Marriott starts showing off and ‘Subway Train’ is a recut of a Dolls song complete with sloppy out of tune guitar and Chrissie Hynde on backing vocals.
It sounds like a mess, and it is but I still have a soft spot for the record. Thunders wasn’t a great guitarist or singer but he was great at being Johnny Thunders. The opening track is the instrumental ‘Pipeline’ a tune so simple even I can play it but in the hands of Thunders and the Sex Pistol boys it is a pretty exhilarating noise. On ‘Daddy Rollin Stone’ his whiney sneer completely obliterates Marriott’s soul stylings (Lynott is effortlessly cool on the middle verse). It’s on the covers that you feel that thunders can relax and enjoy himself, there’s more joy on show than you would expect from a bunch of smacked up punks. Producer Steve Lillywhite deserves a lot of credit for shaping what must have been chaotic sessions into a coherent record.
This was the high-water mark for Thunder’s career, he had created a character from which he couldn’t escape. For the rest of his life he would be surrounded by people who wanted to take drugs with him or sell him drugs or use his drugs or watch him OD on stage. There was no way out,its impossible to write anything about Thunders for long without using the word Junkie, his musical legacy is a thin one.
Culturally his impact was more significant, I’m sure the likes of Marriott and Lynott had discovered heroin entirely independently of Thunders but ‘So Alone’ marked a coming together and a coming out of the London community of heroin using musicians. Inevitably it would have it’s consequences, the deaths of Lynott and Marriott, the wilderness years of Perrett and Steve Jones even more tragic was the fate of Heartbreaker’s guitarist Walter Lure who eventually became a stock broker. Heroin doesn’t have to be a life sentence but it certainly screws you up.

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When to Wear the Hat

It was Bobby Elliott who started it all. Elliot was drummer for Shane Fenton and the Fentones who I touched upon in my Alvin Stardust post a few months back. Elliott then joined Manchester band the Hollies just as they started to get hits. He’s a really cracking drummer far more so than the beat group styling of the Hollies would suggest but, if in doubt, just cop a listen to their first hit ‘Stay’ where Elliot is packing a fair punch. I’m sure if he’d have fallen in with Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Beck he would have come forward as one of the very best drummers of the 60’s but he’s stayed with the Hollies all his musical life and played with practically no one else. So reliable is Mr Elliott he’s also been married to bandmate Tony Hick’s sister for just about as long.
But this is about hats.
Elliott was losing his hair big time by his early 20’s, in fact you can date his appearances in the early days by the degree of his comb over. It soon became apparent that no amount of brylcreem would hide the issue indefinitely and so Elliot became the first one to wear the hat.
Initially it was quite a cool John Lennon cap, it looked good, but times move on and he adopted a wide brimmed piece of head gear, it looked like the sort of thing my mum would wear for a wedding but I assume that in 1966 it was quite hip, Keith Richards had been sporting a similar style for a while. I feel unreasonably sorry for Elliott during this period, it didn’t look an easy hat to wear, it had a wide brim and surely was prone to be dislodged at inopportune moments which was not what you wanted from a hat you had to wear. There was also the fact that although it hinted at Carnaby Street foppery the band were having to play cabaret dates in the late 60’s and Elliott had to wear the hat with a frilly shirt which again made him look like my mum at a wedding.

In a further twist, around the time of ‘he aint heavy he’s my brother’ Elliot emerged wearing a full wig as if to try and fool us he had been hiding a full head of hair all this time. I’ve never understood why people find wig wearing funny, it seems quite sensible to me but it must have been hot trying to drum in that mother.

bobby elliott with wig
As follicle related science has developed it’s a lot more possible for rock stars (and world leaders) not to be bald but for the musician strapped for case it’s always been a case of wearing the hat. As with every thing familiarity brings acceptance. We expect to see guitarist Richard Thompson with a beret jammed on his head, it’s been so long we’ve actually forgotten he is bald. Ditto Slash who is apparently sporting a fair bald patch although presumably he could afford some treatment unless he spends all his money on Marlborough’s. Pop down your local to see any bunch of old blokes on stage and note how the hat quota has rocketed, hats are cool thinning hair is not.
Believe it or not, there was a time when rock was a young man’s game apart from Bobby Elliot no one had to wear the hat. Roger Glover of Deep Purple grabbed a hat before hair loss became apparent, fellow bandmate Ritchie Blackmore did the same thing for a while but these days he appears to have more hair than ever, a man with 20 year old hair and a 70 year old face, I’m beginning to reconsider my position on wigs.

There are two acceptable ways to introduce the hat. The first is to dabble with it for a while, put it on, take it off. ‘Look’ this says ‘I don’t need to wear a hat, it’s my choice’. The trick with this approach is to time it so as soon as any thinning is visible the hat is firmly jammed on never to move again. It needs a lot of discipline but also raises the possibility of introducing a toupee by stealth and doing the reverse trick by using the hat less and less.
The other option, which is not always one of choice, is to disappear for a while and return with a hat. ‘Look’ this says ‘I’m back and I’ve chosen to wear this great new hat. The best example of this is Adam Ant who has not only returned with a striking new hat but is utilising the double protection of a bandana.
Speaking of which, lets just pay tribute to the number 1 70’s man with a hat. I speak of Miami Steve Van Zandt. A man so cool that he had a nickname but also a mysterious reason why he had to wear a hat (motorcycle accident scars-so terrible you wouldn’t want to see them honest). Van Zandt is so dedicated I have never seen him without some head covering. Wisely he seemed to have realised the risks with a broad brimmed titfer and has settled down to the more comfortable bandana. Even when he was in the Sopranos he was able to get away with what was almost a comedy wig. Mr Miami is one of those people who just looks so good on stage that it’s easy to forget he actually looks fairly ridiculous. I watched a clip of him being shown round a guitar factor a while back. Here was a tiny portly man in his 60’s wearing what appeared to be a suit made out of carpet, with matching hat naturally. Bet it would have looked great on stage though.

By way of ending lets have a favourite video which I can never use in a 70’s-based blog. It’s Mr Elliott again, great drummer and nice guy who I suspect never gave a shit about his hair (bet it was the manager’s idea) He’s looking very relaxed here.

Today, of course Bobby Elliott is wearing a flat cap in deference to his northern roots

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WHO Month-The Lonesome Death of Keith Moon

September 6th 1978. Paul McCartney held a midnight screening of The Buddy Holly story preceded by a celebrity studded meal at the Peppermint Park restaurant. McCartney now owned the rights to all Buddy Holly songs and was celebrating Holly’s birthday (Sept 7th)
Keith Moon was in attendance, although he had returned to Britain the previous year he had spent a lot of time in the studio and on holiday. Prior to that he had been holed up in Los Angeles and this was a chance to catch up with the London scene. By all accounts Moon was on good form, monopolising the top table with McCartney (both Linda and Paul) and strangely enough TV host David Frost. Moon didn’t appear particularly intoxicated, certainly not by 70’s muso standards. He appeared quite charming and told everyone who would listen how he planned to marry his new girlfriend Annette Walter Lax. Naturally Moon hadn’t discussed this with Walter Lax herself. We can assume he saw the film although its hard imagining the hyperactive Moon sitting through the whole showing.
Returning home (to Harry Nillson’s old flat) around 4.30 he took a handful (yes a handful!) of a sedative called Heminevrin and nodded off in front of a film. Waking at 7 he tried to wake a sleeping Annette to cook him some food. Finding her unresponsive he went and cooked himself a steak then washed some more Heminevrin down with some champagne.
And that was the end of Keith, Annette discovered his body at 4.30 pm

Just as a single event it’s a fascinating insight into what was actually a stable period in Moon’s life. The nocturnal lifestyle, the expectation your woman might spring out of bed to knock you up a meal at whatever time; and the cavalier attitude to drink and drugs.
I don’t really recall that much of a fuss at the time. The band had released their ‘Who are You’ album in the middle of punk. There was so much music going on at the time I needed a new Who album like I needed a Jethro Tull record. I never bothered to listen, in fact it was only during WHO MONTH! that I fired up Spotify for a listen..and what a stinker it is it is one of those rare records that probably sounded bad at the time and sounds just as bad now. The record had been fraught with problems from the keyboard player breaking his shoulder on the way to the studio to Townsend cutting his hands badly after a row with his parents (what a great night in that must have been). The most consistent problem however was Moon himself who seemed to be having difficulty playing drums. He could still go bamdiblamdiblam round the kit like the good old days but things like changing for the bridge and the chorus were alluding him, he needed a lot of supervision For one song (Bloody awful) ‘Guitar and Pen’ Moon had to sit out because he couldn’t get to grips with the 6/8 rhythm.
In short, he had become a liability Daltrey and Entwistle wanted him out of the band, Townsend got around the problem by announcing the Who would not be touring in the near future.
And so, the news that Moon was no more probably came as a shock but not a surprise to the surviving members, I cant help but feel sorry for Entwistle who took the fatal call in the middle of a press conference, returning to the fray he held it together until he asked what the band’s plans for the future were, The bass player broke down in tears, there were no plans, Keith Moon was dead.
It’s easy to dismiss Moon as something of a mercurial savant, a nutter, ‘moon the loon’ the crazy man hotel wrecker of rock. There’s also the darker equally relevant picture of a man who may well have been mentally ill, the man who broke his wife Kim’s nose on at least three occasions. When Kim eventually left and found solace with Ian McLagan Moon hired a heavy to break the Keyboard player’s fingers (Townsend found out and paid the heavy not to). Moon had probably killed his chauffer by driving over him, by the mid 70’s Moon’s carefree life was turning to shit and, most significantly he was heavily dependent on alcohol.
That’s another little snapshot of the 70’s. Mental illness and Addiction were recognised but treatment was in it’s infancy. Moon would occasionally disappear to a ‘health farm’ and come back looking healthier but that was about all the therapy he received. In London there were a plethora of private doctors who would be a lot more generous with their prescribing than your family GP. Moon had been to see a Dr Geoffrey Dymond who had prescribed the Heminevrin. It’s sometime reported that these pills were to ‘cure’ Moon’s ‘alcoholism’ which is nonsense Hemineverin are not used today as they are too dangerous but essentially, they are sedatives which act in a similar way to alcohol. This sort of treatment is usually only carried out in hospitals where everything can be closely supervised reducing the dose over a number of days. If you take a sedative drug with alcohol the risks or overdose are greatly increased. There’s an argument that Dr Dymond was a product of the time, we know better now. There is also a case that he was grossly irresponsible, certainly the Writer Nick Kent alleges that he went to the same Dr when trying to get off heroin, it was only when Kent felt ill did he check the pills and found they were antidepressants (rather than the anticipated opiates) of the same type which had recently led to Nick Drake’s fatal overdose.
There’s a very good case that Moon didn’t have to die that night, the coroner recorded an open verdict which meant they couldn’t make a decision on whether the death was accidental or suicidal. To be honest though the future didn’t look bright. His faithful chauffeur/butler/nurse had quit when things got too tough in LA. No one was really looking out for him now, when drinking heavily Moon would experience seizures on stopping, he was heavily dependent on alcohol, it’s possible he might have got his career back if had stopped drinking altogether but he was only 32 and he would have had the 80’s to get through, it would have been a hard slog.
But, imagine a world where Keith Moon had not existed.
Just play any 60’s Who song through in your head with a normal drum beat, it’s ok but at best it sounds like the Hollies at the worst it sounds like Freddie and the Dreamers. Not to underestimate Enwistle’s bass but it’s the drums that bring these songs alive. Although it’s easy to regard Moon as some sort of drumming freak of nature, he had only had a couple of lessons and he barely practiced, there’s a fully developed style from the first recordings. In the latter days Moon had a huge drumkit, rather than rolling around the kit he would move forwards and backwards almost like a skier. That requires a lot of energy but not loads of skill but if you go back to the My Generation LP there’s a proper drummer on display doing rolls and flams and paradiddles,(and he plays two tracks in 6/8) fast forward to Live At Leeds and Moon is up there with the drumming greats like Mitch Mitchell (don’t get me started on John Bonham !). Post ‘Who’s Next’ Moon had to play along with backing tapes and click tracks, in the 70’s this was a real challenge for the most accomplished drummers but Moon did it, no fuss no bother.
Let no one be in doubt that Moon was a great drummer without that ability he would just be Dave Clarke. Apart from Ringo, no one did more to popularise the drums..ever.
In an ideal world his death would have been the end of the Who (in fact in an ideal world they would have ended before ‘Who are You?’). In fact, Moon’s death solved an embarrassing problem for the band. Kenney Jones had also been present at the final party and was tempted into the group with Townsend’s assurances that this was a new beginning. It wasn’t of course Townsend’s creativity had run thin and he had underestimated just what Moon had brought to the band. I feel for Jones as much as I feel for Daltrey being stuck in the 80’s Who, a band that pleased absolutely no one.
And so, Who Month is over, it’s been a hot one. In the course of my watertight research I came across an accusation that that a fantastic clip of the band playing ‘Wont get Fooled Again’ had the drums overdubbed as they were not up to scratch on the night. As further evidence of Moon’s decline is the fact that he staggers clambering over his kit for the final call. Let’s look again, all I can say is
a) Have you ever tried climbing over a drum it’s difficult !
b) If moon did have to overdub the drums he’s a double genius that’s really difficult!

( unless Kenney Jones did it)

The last time the real Who, the genuine Who, played live was at Shepperton film studios. Their previous gig at Kilburn had been considered a disaster. In fact, what was considered a disaster for the Who would have been a gig of a lifetime for a lot of bands, the clip of them playing ‘Wont get Fooled Again’ started Who month. The band had started a project which was to become most of the rest of their career namely reminding us how great the band had been. ‘The Kids are Alright’ film needed more footage and so the band convened at a more select location at Shepperton to film a live gig. As the band came off soaked in sweat the director nervously approached the band to do just one more number.
And so the band reappeared to perform ‘ Won’t get Fooled Again’. For me its not as a performance as the Kilburn one, the band get a bit lost halfway through but it doesn’t really phase them. There is also a moment when Moon re enters with his famous drum roll which sound suspiciously well recorded after the muddy sound but it’s still bloody great.
And sure enough Moon stumbles into the arms of Townsend who for a moment forgets he’s genius and give the portly little man a genuine hug.
And that was the end.


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WHO Month….LIVE !!

In 1965 my father Colin quit his job for a new one in Aden. Bearing in mind that up to this point we had barely left Norfolk I see in retrospect what a bold move this was. I can only assume that he felt his horizons were limited back home. On my birth certificate his occupation is listed as an artesian well digger, not normally regarded as a select profession. My dad had studied in the evenings at what was called technical college and had gained some qualifications as a refrigeration engineer. With this addition to his CV he was now able to get a government job maintaining equipment for the British Forces stationed at the tip of Saudi Arabia.
My mum along with me and my sister followed him a few weeks later, getting up in the dark and traveling all day and overnight before finally arriving in the heat of a traditional Aden day. To be honest there was not a lot to really recommend Aden which is probably why my father was able to get a job there. Every Aden day was pretty much the same and lasted around 12 hours, there were rock and a few dusty bushes, the only wildlife seemed to be wild dogs and buzzards. The food was frequently stale and many of the locals actually wanted to kill us, my school bus was escorted by armoured cars every day.
There were sweeteners though. Colin was given the horary rank of NCO and that meant we were entitled to a safari holiday every two years, obviously we didn’t stay more than two years but we did have a fantastic holiday a the government’s expense . I also suspect there were certain tax breaks to be had. All of a sudden, we had money. Dad always liked a gadget and Aden was a trading post dealing with all sort of treasures from the far east at knock down prices. And so we soon had radios, cameras, record players and, significantly a tape recorder as well as miscellaneous consumer crap which we duly shipped back to England in 6 big packing cases, for a brief period we were the envy of our street.
After a follow up, less dangerous stay in Germany my parents obviously decided it was time to settle down in Norwich again. The legacy lived on, my mum still has some of the items from our glory years to this day. I had also started the process of appropriation namely a massive German radio and the family tape recorder. My father was quite keen to encourage my use of the latter as it swiftly headed off any requests to purchase records, instead I was instructed to ‘tape it off the radio’
And so, it progressed that one night I was sprawled in front of the television positioning my crappy plastic microphone to capture what was possibly the musical highlight of the year, the Who at Charlton Football Stadium which had been recorded and broadcast. The 70’s were such a drought for live music on television that I had sat though interminable bad bands on The Old Grey Whistle Test just to get my live fix. The prospect of seeing a band I actually liked play live was like having all my Christmases at once.
Its been said many times before but it’s true that the Who were a disparate bunch. Despite three of them coming from the same school there was little in the way a matey good cheer in the band camp. Townsend remarked that he had found out more about John Entwistle from the latter recording a solo record than being in a band with him. Entwistle was a solid grafter, he was in a band, that was his job and he wanted to do it. Daltrey was also something of a pro, his enthusiasm and commitment kept the band going through Townsend’s periods of self-doubt. Moon struggled to find any purpose in life beyond being the band’s drummer. Unfortunately for them Pete Townsend had bigger ideas, films’ multi media, rock operas. One can’t help but feel the pain of the other three when Townsend immersed himself in one of his projects rather than get onstage and be the guitarist with possibly the greatest rock band ever. Whenever his grandiose ideas failed, almost by definition, to be the defining moment in the history of rock, Townsend would return to the stage ever more resentful of his role of entertainer and the restrictions placed on him by his bandmates.
It was in the live environment that the band really shone. Not surprising really given the slog they had put in over the years. By 1974, the Charlton concert, they were possibly at their peak, Moon was still at the top of his game and they were doing enough live concerts to keep fresh. It’s still a shock though listening to an uncensored product such as the recording from the Hull concert a couple of years earlier just what a power trio the musicians are, better than Hendrix, better than Cream and despite what you Americans might feel, better than bloody Rush. The real killer difference for me is Entwistle’s bass playing which negates the need for any other players to flesh out the sound. Also notable is how they like to fall back on the old rockers like ‘Summertime Blues’ or, in the case at Charlton, Mose Allison’s ‘Young Man Blues’, at least three quarters of the band were more than happy to bang away on these old chestnuts. There is another side to the band though that distinguishes them from the heavy metal thunderers and that is the sheer quality of some of Townsend’s songs. A slight but touching and funny song such as ‘Tattoo’ can transform the mood for a while. On ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ from the Charlton gig its all restrained until the hard rock section when Moon explodes into action, almost levitating behind his kit. It was on stage that the Who became one. They were pretty bloody amazing.

Charlton wasn’t their best live gig. It marked the beginning of the period of stadium rock and for someone like Townsend signifies a change of heart from the communal spirit of the hippie rock gig. Being England in the summer is was a bit wet and some of the audience felt the need to introduce a bit of 70’s football violence into the action. It was so good they repeated the experience a couple of years later.
For a 15 year old who would probably never get to see the Who play live (and now wouldn’t want to) this was pretty good, it still is in fact.
Highlight for me is Moon doing ‘Bellboy’ one of the Quadrophenia songs that survived the backing tape cull. In pre wanky in ear monitor days Moon has a huge pair of bins strapped to his ears to hear the click track. Inevitably they will fall off. Also he’s not allowed his own microphone, Daltrey has to wait patiently to pass his to Moon. Some the elementary technology makes it more exciting for me. When, inevitably the ‘band’ re enacted Quadrophenia for the credit card generation Moon was seamlessly integrated into the performance despite being very dead. I know what performance I will return to again and again.

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Who Month. Out of my brain on the 5:15

I was trying to make sense of this Rock thing. By 1973 the world of rock was beginning to really captivate me. It was a journey without a map, all I had was the New Musical Express and late-night radio shows. Occasionally I would catch The Old Grey Whistle Test but that tended to confuse matters as it seemed to feature Californian singer songwriters rather heavily.
As I commented previously, the Who were always around, particularly Pete Townsend who seemed to have a one-man crusade to communicate with as many people in as many formats as much of the time as possible.
And so, it was on one late night show that I came across Townsend talking about his latest ‘project’. It was another rock opera (at this point I hadn’t even got to grips with his first which had recently been remade in some terrible orchestral ‘project’). The star of this new opera would not be Tommy but Jimmy and Jimmy would have four different aspects to his personality which would be represented by the four distinctly different members of the band. Jimmy would not be schizophrenic he would be Quadrophonic which by no co incidence at all was the prevailing audio technology of the day designed for people with more than two ears.
I might have only been an impressionable 14 year old but this was already sounding like complete garbage. Townsend was as usual overreaching himself by creating what was going to be the greatest musical spectacular ever only to have the reality crashing to the ground when it was released to the general public. No wonder he drank!
My schoolmate Phil had an older sister who, every 6 months would buy an album. This would cause us great excitement in our vinyl starved days. You can imagine our anticipation when she brought home the latest double album by the Who, namely Quadrophenia.
Unlike Tommy, Townsend’s second ‘opera’ is actually a pretty good selection of songs, there’s a coherence about the record that Tommy lacked. Apparently, this meant that when they toured the record Daltrey took time out to explain to the audience just what the hell was going on- sounds like fun. Anyway, if you ignore the storyline bollocks and accept there aren’t 4 sides to Jimmy’s personality and the story isn’t that great anyway Quadrophenia is a pretty good album.
Sandwiched between these two events, in my life anyway, was the mighty single 5:15.
This first came to my attention when the band appeared on Top of the Pops (yes they would do that, Fuck you Zeppelin !). With no VCR you had to make the most of these appearances, three minutes or so and they were gone, possibly for ever. The talk in the classroom with my select band of friends the next day was around just how great that performance had been. We had been particularly impressed by Daltrey’s mike swinging which we sought to emulate. By tying a knot in our school scarves, we could stamp about pretending to be Daltrey swinging his mike. Today of course we would have had to undergone a health and safety appraisal but in 1973 we just hoped that we wouldn’t hit anyone tougher than us by accident.


After a couple of years our school appeared seemed to admit that religious education (RE) was a bit of a mistake. We had spent a year looking at bible stories during which our teacher attempted to persuade us that Jesus was some sort of Hebrew Derren Brown rooting the miracles in some sort of grand illusion. For a following year we received weird life lessons which involved the teacher talking about what the hell they wanted to. All I can remember is one day he played January Song by Lindisfarne and on a further occasion he informed us that after taking LSD you never become a car salesman (really!)
Before we could turn to a rational world and drop RE altogether we had to complete some weird community service and were sent out to do ‘good works’. Along with a couple of fellow classmates I was given the addresses of a couple of elderly people and told to go and ask them if they needed ‘anything doing’. At the first address we were informed by an elderly and possible terrified man that he had no use for us. To be fair he was probably less scared than all of us forced well outside our comfort zones and terrified of looking a fool in front of our peers. At the second address, much to our relief, no one answered. We mooched about the streets for a while and went back to school.
Following our failure to engage with the needy our teacher had a bright idea-we could volunteer at the local mental hospital. There was a psychiatric institution quite near who we all called the ‘loony bin’ of course. Understanding of mental health was almost non existent and individuals with all sorts of problems would be incarcerated in huge Victorian buildings (the’ House on the Hill Kevin Coyne was to sing about’). Due to this separation between the well and not so well there was quite a fascination with ‘madness’ Pink Floyd and David Bowie for example were to carve out careers with their own experiences with mental illness.
It certainly seemed more interesting than old people so off we trotted up the hill twirling our knotted scarves and singing the riff to 5.15.
Amazingly we had had no preparation at all for this, we were simply told to go. I can’t remember how we even got in but soon we were patrolling ancient corridors with absolutely no idea of where we were going. Eventually someone who looked like he might have a job there appeared, we explained our predicament and after a bit of sucking of teeth he led us to a ward.
We were greeted by a doctor ‘thanks god you’ve come’ he said ‘we’ve been expecting you, let me show you where you will be sleeping’. We exchanged worried glances as we were shown our quarters. Eventually some had to point out we hoped to be school by 4pm and hadn’t expected to stay overnight. The Doctor was quite apologetic, he had been expecting a group of junior doctors to be arriving. Now this would have been an understandable mistake had it not been for the fact that we were all 14 years old and dressed in school uniform. We began to suspect the lunatics had taken over the asylum.
We were eventually relocated to another ward where we were delivered to another nurse who wore the expression that would become familiar to me over the years which basically said ‘I’ve got enough to do without you fuckers being dumped on me’. Still, like most nurses she was friendly enough, so friendly in fact that she would kiss some of the inmates on the lips if they asked her to. It appeared that we were now trapped in some overheated smoke tunnel. Somewhere in the gloom were various elderly men sat in chairs, smoking was the main activity but some of the livelier inmates had board games. We were terrified, I don’t think we moved further than a yard from the door in all the time we were there despite the nurses attempt to get us to mingle. At various intervals a man would lurch out of the smoke and grab the door handle ‘thank you, I must be going now’ he would tell us. Nurse would then take him gently by the hand ‘it’s not time to go yet Billy’ she would tell him as she guided him back into the gloom pausing only to kiss anyone who need it. Billy was quite persistent but so was the nurse, it seemed to pass the time.
Eventually, realising that she had landed the most useless volunteers ever the good nurse disappeared to actually do some work. We skulked by the door trying to look as inconspicuous as a gangling bunch of 14-year olds wearing a school uniform in a mental hospital could do. Time dragged, Billy appeared ‘thank you, I must be going now’ he said
And then he was gone..
Time dragged, my lungs were screaming in protest, I was to young to have emphysema. We decided it was time to leave and waved the nurse over. ‘Where’s Billy?’ she asked. We had to admit that Billy had left the building as were we, suddenly the Nurse seemed to have something more urgent on her mind, we took the opportunity to depart.
Now, I swear this is true. As we trudged down the gravel path though the ample grounds we caught sight of Billy being pursued by a number of staff, he seemed to be making a good effort to run but I expect it was only a matter of time..
Anyway, we were out, breathing fresh air and tasting sweet freedom.
In the meantime, the Who were struggling to present the grand concept of Townsend’s latest offering. One problem was that Quadrophenia relied heavily on other instruments notably Townsend’s keyboards and Entwistle’s horn parts. Ironically, given the orchestra that now constitutes the band, all apart from Townsend were resistant to other musicians being involved. The solution they decided was to use tapes, that’s tapes not digital samples, what could go wrong?
It was a disaster, the tapes failed to operate as anyone not in the band might have predicted. Playing along with pre-recorded music is one of the most dispiriting things a musician can do especially a band like the Who. One night the ever cheerful Townsend, exasperated by the tapes starting at the wrong or just not starting at all hauled long suffering sound man Bob Pridden over the mixing desk and basically beat him up in front of the audience and then set about destroying the tapes with his bare hands. Eventually a compromise was reached and a lot of the Quadrophenia material was dropped and Townsends grand folly was over.
At least until he revived the show with a stellar array of stars including Garry Glitter.
But let’s not go there….

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It’s Who Month !

It’s July, and here with The Future Is Past It’s Who month. If you like July and like the Who you are in for a great month !

Or perhaps not…

For me the Who are the most frustrating band ever with the possible exception of the Beach Boys, I love the band, I hate the band, it’s complicated.

In my early to mid teens the band were always there for me. My initial favourites, the Beatles were long gone, never to disappoint. The Stones , of course were still alive and kicking although Keith was challenging that definition. But the Stones were aloof, they were virtually American, also they were getting sloppy and a bit crap.

For a teenager from Norwich the Who were more accessible. They lived in Britain and might just pop up on Top of the Pops or The Old Grey Whistle test, the more charismatic members might turn up on a chat show here and there. Most importantly for me was a radio program where each member of the band was given the spotlight for (as far as I remember) a full hour. I would sit in front of the radio holding the mike to the family tape recorder and committing each show to tape. As well as clips of the featured member talking there was also exerts of music from the band’s career (so far).

In the days before I could afford LP’s I suddenly had a plethora of Who related material to listen to over and over again. The Who were a generous band giving us albums, TV appearances, radio shows and even a film, compare this to Led Zeppelin who zealously guarded their treasures. More fool them because it meant that impressionable youngsters like me formed an alliance to the more accessible band, Fuck you Led Zeppelin!

For most of the 70’s I was a big fan of the 60’s. Classic bands and classic singles, it was inevitable that I was going to like the Who just like the Kinks or the Small Faces. With the possible exception of the Stones the Who were the only one of the class of 66 who were still producing some passible material.

Thanks to Radio 1 I became familiar with Barbara O’Reilly, 5:15, Won’t get Fooled Again and Who are You although one of the first tracks I can remember hearing was Squeezebox off Who by Numbers which confused me no end. There was also a suspicion that, although I would never get to see them, they put on one hell of a live show.

Such was our general good will towards the band that my schoolfriend Phil and me decided to go halves on the sheet music to Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy their contemporary greatest hits album. Theoretically we had the means to play all the classic 60’s singles but anyone who has tried to play rock hits from sheet music will know it’s a disappointing experience. Despite this embryonic band get togethers would feature terrible versions of’ I can see for Miles’ or ‘The Kids are Alright’

The final attraction of the Who was that, like the Beatles or the Monkees, each band member had a distinct personality. It’s a cliché but here was a band with a lead singer, a lead guitarist, a lead bass player and a lead drummer. Ordinary members of the public knew their names, even the bass player.

For a few years the Who were with me every inch of the way in my life, wherever I was I was only a few meters from a Who track.

But the seeds for the destruction of that special relationship had been sown. One of my other musical chums Chris had the Tommy album which we would sit and listen to together. I found the ditties to paedophilia as amusing as any 14 year old would have and there was the mighty ‘Pinball Wizard’ of course but gradually it became apparent to me that Tommy was pretty much a crock of shite, a stupid story with far too much padding in the songs.

It had turned Townsend’s head though, no more did he want to make punchy 3-minute singles, Tommy was hailed as a work of genius and Townsend needed to spread his wings. Unfortunately for him he found himself saddled with some of the most distinctive musicians that ever lived. Townsend became sick of writing for Daltrey’s vocal range and having his masterpieces swamped by the most unique rhythm section ever to take to a stage. Instead of being happy to be part of the greatest rock band of the day Townsend just seemed to become increasingly unhappy with the constraints that that placed on him. Unfortunately, Townsend was capable of writing some utter stinkers and this seemed to increase the more self-important he became. Like most of the 60’s icons the well of inspiration has run dry, I’m fine with that, he’s only human but the couple of new tracks that have crept out in the last decade are terrible, please just stop Pete.

Townsend’s problem was partially resolved by the death of Keith Moon. Kenney Jones took over the drum seat on the assurance that a new era beckoned only to find that the band still had to churn out the old hits and Roger Daltrey hadn’t recovered from the fact that it wasn’t Keith on the drum stool. Having seen videos of the 80’s band I can confirm they are spectacularly terrible and it isn’t Jones’s fault as much as an insistence of Townsend wanting to play terrible guitar solos over disinterested backing.

There’s also the issue for me that the Who are still in existence despite the loss of two members, two members in fact who helped make the band unique, two members who it appears were irreplaceable but have been replaced and Townsend is sharing the stage with someone he appeared to despise in the 70’s. I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Daltrey whose reliability and solidarity has kept the band going when other members were decidedly flaky about the whole affair.

So I’m not sure if I have come to praise or bury the Who but I suppose it speaks volumes that to this day the number of Who albums I own is nil.

For some reason via the miracle of YouTube I have been revisiting what little we have of the band at their peak, for such a credible band they were pretty fond of miming but there’s enough surviving to suggest that the band were just absolutely awesome live.

Here they are at their last proper gig. Townsend is pissed off as ever, his amps are playing up, Keith Moon looks like widow twanky and is huffing and puffing behind the drums. Worst of all, as far is Townsend is concerned, is that wanker Daltrey is holding it all together with his usual professionalism.In theory this should be piss poor ,Townsend has already stated on mike there is no point in filming this but as soon as the music starts he is a man possessed.

Despite it all here is the greatest rock band..ever

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Unsung Heroes- The Wick

Here on The Future Is Past we are willing and able to celebrate the achievements of anyone regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation religion or politics. So, taking equality a step further still, this week’s unsung hero is not even going to be a living breathing entity. Instead we are going to celebrate the bricks and mortar rock sensation that is The Wick.

It was all the fault of the Beatles and the Stones of course. Towards the end of the 60’s there was a minor migration of the rock aristocracy out to the country, for some reason Surrey was a popular destination. All of the Beatles, with the notable exception of Paul McCartney had fled the capitol by the time they had split up. Ditto the Stones had already flirted with their own property portfolios. A notable absence from the property goldrush was the Small Faces whose financial situations remained the stuff of nightmares. By the time they had split the members were struggling to afford a bedsit between them.
As far as the 1970’s was concerned rock never sleeps, a couple of years into the new decade and serious money was being made. Some of the musicians had learned form the mistakes of the 60’s and started hiring accountants as well as managers who had their clients’ best interests at heart. The core of the Small Faces had teamed up with ex Jeff Beck singer and bass player namely Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. Within a couple of years the band had moved from grandad shirts to satin jackets, from cannabis to cocaine and from bedsit to mansion.
Stewart was clearly the most bankable asset of the band having a solo career as well as being a major songwriter. Soon he was actively being encouraged to buy expensive cars and bigger houses. A major reason for this was tax, the more you spent the less tax you paid as long as your accountant could write the purchases off as expenses. And so Stewart was soon being advised to sell his expensive house and buy an even more expensive one.
Wood had only a fraction of Stewart’s business acumen but even he was realising the potential of property and turned his attention to The Wick, a 20 room 4 story Georgian mansion perched on Richmond Hill in Surrey (of course). This might seem excessive for someone who has been rootless for most of his life so far but this was the 70’s Wood had money and needed to get rid of it.

The property had previously been owned by the actor Sir John Mills but a couple of hundred years earlier had been home to portrait artist Sir Joshua Reynolds. The cost of the property was the laughable sum by today’s standards of £140,000. Despite this it was still too expensive for a still rising pop star but help was at hand in the shape of fellow bandmate Ronnie Lane who agreed to buy the cottage in the grounds and so offset the total cost. Lane set about building a mobile studio at his cottage while Wood, clearly having a lot more space set about converting the basement of his mansion into a rehearsal and recording studio. Obviously 20 rooms would be excessive for just one person but Ron had his wife Krissie. Krissie had originally been Eric Clapton’s girlfriend before her and Ronnie fell for each other big time. This was the period when free love collided with big business, Ronnie and Krissie were products of their time, she clearly had a thing for rockstars managing to squeeze in a low key affair with George Harrison and actually leaving the Wick for a while to have a relationship with Jimmy Page.
And as for Ronnie Wood…
Wood is actually a very talented guy indeed but for whatever reason he’s best remembered as the person that all musicians form that era love. He was a catalyst or the glue as and when needed. He was great with the two things that musicians loved namely music and drugs, if you loved those things you could be assured of a great time at the Wick.
And so, the stately Georgian pile became a gathering place for the emerging rock aristocracy, Clapton, Bowie, Townsend and most importantly, the Stones. When Clapton emerged bloated and shivery after his heroin holiday it was Pete Townsend who gathered a superstar band to welcome him at a concert at London’s the Rainbow. Wood was in the band and rehearsals were at the Wick. The building was becoming the epicentre for the new generation of emerging millionaires. It was secluded and just enough out of London to allow everyone to go about their unlawful businesses without attracting any unwanted attention. Keith Richards so loved the place that he moved into Wick Cottage. Richards was free to so what he wanted which was mainly to take shitloads of drugs and jam with his new best mate. If he needed to go into the capital he would just drive there in his Ferrari at 90 miles an hour down the country roads regardless of the fact that he had never passed his test. He was immortal.
As might be anticipated life at the Wick was not all sweetness and light. If you didn’t want to talk bullshit all night it could be a dark place. Stewart’s girlfriend at the time Dee Harrington was always uncomfortable there as were drummer Kenney Jones and his missus. Jones being as abstinent as you could be in the Faces didn’t always have a choice about attendance. Wood was soon recording his own solo records there. His albums have a certain charm if you can appreciate groove and feel over substance (which I can). In addition to what might be regarded as more focussed projects there were endless jams. Jones soon began to regret that Wood had his phone number as he was dragged out of bed yet again at 2 am because Keef and Ronnie wanted to play. One night a session was taking place with Mick Jagger on guitar and David Bowie on backing vocals. For some reason Keith Moon was also present but the call again went out to Jones. The hapless drummer was frequently encouraged to play ‘more like Charlie’. Jones pointed out that they wouldn’t call Watts out at 2 in the morning.
The track was taken away by the ever-canny Jagger who stripped it of everything apart from Wood’s 12 string guitar and the drums which Watts felt ‘sounded more like me than I do’. The track was finally released as Its Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It). It’s a track that to me was just too knowing, one of those songs that starts with a title that DJ’s and reviewers were going to love.
But what do I know.
The happenings at the Wick were about so much more than music. It marked a time when musicians could achieve almost unlimited wealth in a few months and could live the life they chose. There was no Twitter or Instagram, what happened in the Wick stayed in the Wick, any memories will be pretty unreliable. And so, they were able to live like the aristocracy of old, they had the money and they could pretty much do what they wanted. There’s no doubting that a good time was had by many, amazingly no one died and new musical friendships were cemented, most notably with Wood and the Stones…this would come in handy.
Ronnie Wood is naturally useless with money although possibly better than fellow bandmate Ronnie Lane. There was no way that Wood was going to hang onto a house that today is worth, well put it this way, the cottage alone was up for 3.65 million a while back. This is the man that according to his next wife Jo blew his kids school fees on a Rolex watch.As might be anticipated his separation from his first wife proved too expensive to keep the property although, in a bizarre twist of fate the house is now the property of a certain Pete Townsend.
Kenney Jones also made good just by virtue of not getting divorced or off his face too often. An 80’s YouTube clip shows him launching a helicopter from the front lawn of his mansion to go and collect fellow(Who) bandmate John Entwistle.

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