THE WHO - The Oval Concert, '71

On Saturday, September 18, 1971, as you might expect, I was at the Oval Cricket Ground in South London, where at the end of August England had been skittled out for 101 in their second innings, leaving India to win the third Test by four wickets. No one, not even The Faces who went on before them, could skittle out The Who on their 1971 form, and it remains one of the greatest shows I saw.
        Billed as Goodbye Summer, the concert was in aid of Bangla Desh and The Who donated their fee of £9k to the same cause that George Harrison had done so much to promote that year. What made it particularly memorable for me was that I took along my sister Anne, five years my junior, who was visiting London from Yorkshire. It was her first ever rock concert, a pretty impressive start by anyone’s standards, especially as Who tour manager Pete Rudge had given me a couple of on-stage passes and we could stand on John’s side, just a few feet from the Ox in action. Then, moments before The Who were due on, disaster struck: Anne wanted to go to the loo. “No way,” I said. “We’ll never get back to this spot once the show has started.” So I had a word with one of the Who’s roadies, Mick Double I think or maybe Dougal (the crew were all dressed in cricket whites!), and Anne took care of matters behind John’s speaker cabinets just as The Who came onto the stage. The huge roar probably unsettled her a tad as she was pulling up her jeans. 
        Surprisingly, The Who’s set opened with the riff to ‘My Size’ from John’s recently-released solo album which they had never played before (and never did again), and it sounded a bit like a parody of Led Zeppelin. This quickly subsided and the set proper began with ‘Summertime Blues’, quickly followed by John’s steamroller riffing on a full tilt ‘My Wife’. Short, sharp cracks at 'Can't Explain' and 'Substitute' reminded everyone that The Who were once a great singles band, while ‘Fooled Again’ showed how well they’d matured. They were in high spirits, too – at one point Keith played his drums with a cricket bat, and Pete said something about meeting someone at silly mid-on, or was it off?
        All in all, it was a fine, tight show, fired by the kind of nervous energy and casual brilliance that pushed The Who to sublime limits in this era. The big spotlights were turned on the crowd at the end of the Tommy segment… and what a sight it was from the stage, 30,000 fans lit up, roaring along deliriously as Roger sang his heart out – ‘Listening to you, I get the music’ – and what could be better than the sight and sound of the best live band in the world in their home town on a warm evening? Then it was into ‘My Generation’, an outstanding ‘Naked Eye’ before ‘Magic Bus’ climaxed the show. At the end an SG bit the dust amidst raging feedback and Keith walked through his drum kit, scattering them everywhere. Anne turned to me with a look of wonderment. She’s never seen anything like it in her life, and although she’s been to many rock shows since, I like to think that her first concert was her best. 
        Afterwards we went for a meal with the band and Kit Lambert in South Kensington, and Anne ended up sitting next to Pete at the restaurant and they talked together for a long time. Anne was not part of the music business (she was a hospital secretary at the time), and although she loved the show, she wasn’t at all in awe of The Who and treated Pete like any other bloke. He told me afterwards how great it was to talk with someone who wasn’t fawning over him and trying to impress him. For years afterward, whenever I saw Pete, he’d ask after Anne and would ask me to pass on his regards. 
        Yet another reason to love The Who.

I don't know who took this picture but he or she can't have been standing very far from where I was... might even have been right next to me.

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