My sincere commiserations to all those Who fans with tickets for the cancelled London O2 shows yesterday and tonight. I am of course thankful now that I went to see them in Birmingham instead of waiting for the London concerts, as I might well have done had it not been for the fact that a couple who are close friends of ours were also driving up to Birmingham (from London) and we decided to meet there, have a meal together before the show and stay in the same hotel. I really feel for all those fans that now have to wait until March to see The Who Hits 50 show, not least because I enjoyed it so much and know everyone else would have done too.
I’m sure Roger was gutted by having to pull out, and Pete and everyone else too. It’s such a high-end show production-wise that it must have been a difficult decision, and I’m absolutely certain the whole band, all eight of them, would have been gagging to perform it in front of a partisan London crowd. I felt in Birmingham that towards the end of the show Roger was saving his voice, especially as it’s such a long set (by anyone’s standards) and The Who’s music certainly calls for a lack of restraint on the part of the singer. Many years ago at a Who fan convention in Shepherds Bush I was amazed that Roger (and John) put a band together for the occasion and at the end of their set, when he looked out over the sea of faces and said, “Thanks for giving us a wonderful life”, it spoke volumes for the debt that Roger feels towards fans of The Who. A few years later he even turned up unexpected with Simon Townshend to play a few songs at another fan convention, which I missed by about five minutes, and I’m hard pressed to think of many rock stars in Roger’s league who’d do such a thing.
Over the years The Who haven’t cancelled many shows and when you consider how many they’ve done – well over 2,000 now I’d reckon (between 1964 and 1966 more gigs than Led Zeppelin, for example, did in their entire career) – it’s a pretty good track record. As far as I am aware illness is the sole reason for the handful of cancellations, and I know I’m not alone in wishing Roger a speedy recovery.
To close on a lighter note, all this reminds me that back in 1975, in New York, I once received a press release from a publicist whose client, a UK act then living in America, had been obliged to cancel a nationwide tour because “the singer was ill”. It was the act’s misfortune that at the time I was ‘seeing’ a girl who worked for their booking agency and she happened to be round my flat one night that same week and spot this press release on my desk. “That’s a load of bullshit,” she said. “The tour was cancelled because they didn’t sell any tickets outside of New York and LA.” Unwilling to take her word for granted, the following day I called two or three venues in the Midwest that the tour was due to visit and, sure enough, after trying to buy tickets I was informed the show had been cancelled because insufficient tickets had been sold. Now certain of my facts, I mentioned all this in my New York news column – only to be confronted by the singer a week or two later at the Bottom Line Club in NY. Quivering with rage, he demanded to know where the story came from but I refused to tell him. “Was it true?” I kept asking but he declined to comment. It also occurred to me that he didn’t look very ill to me. But because it’s the season of goodwill I will decline to mention any names.