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.