This picture of Keith, Bobby Pridden and myself was taken by Bob Gruen in New York in June 1974 during The Who’s four-night residency at Madison Square Garden. I’ve written about that week elsewhere on Just Backdated but never really wrote about how, on the Wednesday, I went round to Pete’s hotel in the afternoon to do an interview. He was expecting me but he didn’t answer my knock on his door in the middle of the afternoon. I persisted and eventually he opened it, looking a bit hung over, a bit bedraggled, like he’d just got out of bed. I offered to come back later but he invited me in and went to the bathroom to sort himself out. Then he returned to the suite and ordered a bacon and egg breakfast.
Unusually, Pete was staying at the Pierre Hotel while the rest of the band stayed at the Navarro, their regular berth in NY. Bobby Pridden had hooked up some sort of mobile phone link for Pete to communicate with the others, but there wasn’t much communication until late afternoon and the Wednesday was a day off anyway. I think the Garden had been booked for something else, maybe a Nicks game.
We started by talking about the set the band were playing and it turned out it was deliberately planned for New York even though it was previewed at the recent Charlton football ground concert. "In the last two year we've more or less delegated the responsibility of what the actual songs are going to be to Roger,” said Pete. "We often decide just a few minutes before we go onstage what we're going to do, but I don't have a knack of organising an order that theatrically works.
"It's the same with programming an album, which is one of Glyn John's attributes. Roger just happens to be the best at it in the band.
We decided to include some of the old stuff because we felt initially that a good five or six thousand of the front row seats at the Garden would be old Who devotees who enjoy the old stuff. And I think they did. It was easy to remember how to play the old songs 'cos we played them that many times before. I just picked up the guitar and they seemed to come out."
Surprisingly this was the first time The Who had played the Garden. In the past, said Pete, they've felt it was too big for them to get through to the audiences. He reckoned he knows every fan in the first 20 rows by their first names. "These fans feel that they own The Who. They were there in the front row at the Murray The K Show and now that The Who have reached this stage they feel that as they've been so loyal they have a prior claim to what numbers we're going to play and things like that. New York to us is like what the Goldhawk Club is like to us in England.
"Most of these kids, the ones I've met, seem to have a similar attitude to life. The ones you saw freaking out at the front are the fanatics and they all seem to be deeply intellectual people who are very worried about life. They find the Who to be a kind of gut release which is what I get from the Who, too. They're people from the dead suburbia of New York who need a release from everyday life.
"It was conversations with people like that that made me begin work on Quadrophenia, not just in America but in England, too. Quad was for them pretty directly."
Talk turned to guitar wrecking and Pete's eyes twinkled as this topic was dear to his heart. He'd smashed one on Tuesday, he said, because he was so pleased at the way the show went. "On Monday the thought ran through my head that it had been such a boring day and the least I could do was smash a guitar, but in those circumstances it wouldn't really be right.
"On my first day in New York I felt a great feeling of being back and a great respect and kinship for that audience. I enjoyed Monday because of that but obviously I was upset for Roger who went out there and put his toes on the line showing that he was the figurehead for the group. I sat back ready for a good musical evening because I play better when I don't jump about too much.
"The trouble with all of us in this group is that we have such incredibly defined traditional ways of playing that we tend to be bogged down by them in some senses, but I like to go out and do a solo on single notes instead of the usual routine."
The four Garden shows aside, other activities keeping Pete busy at the moment include the filming of Tommy which he doesn't much want to talk about and the compiling of an Odds And Sods album which will include material that's pretty well known in Who circles but was never released on record.
Many of these tracks came from sessions done with Glyn Johns immediately after the release of Who's Next. Pete thinks it's important that they should be released, more as a collectors' item than the next "big Who venture."
"What I'd like to see happen in the rest of this year is to see the individuals in the band follow their noses. I don't think anybody really realises how much John would like to work on the road with Rigor Mortis and get a gut reaction from the crowd on him and his music.
"Keith has been offered some drummers' dream gigs. He's the only guy who could get Harry Nilsson on the road and that's something that could happen if it was allowed to.
"As far as The Who are concerned, we can really take chances. There's no chance of dissipation of Who energy because there's no way that that peculiar kind of energy can fit in with any kind of anyone else's music.
"I'm sure that Roger will come out of the Tommy movie with a realisation that he has a screen presence and want to do some more acting. Keith loves acting and wants to do some more. That's obvious.
"As for myself I'd like to have first refusal on a few of my songs. The Who always have first refusal on the things I write and my first solo album was, if you like, a bunch of rejects. I'd like to record some songs that would be good enough for The Who.
"Without becoming alarmist about it I guess that I don't get as much out of performing on the stage as I used to. I don't have the same lust for gut feedback that I used to and more and more I want to get feedback from pure music.
"I think The Who are going to have to allow themselves time to breathe without allowing their sense of identity to dissipate. I don't want The Who to end up on stage playing because they have to, but playing because they want to.
"If it turns out they don't want to play together, then I don't think they should, but at the moment we don't play that often and when we do it's because we want to. I can't wait to get back on stage tonight."
Actually it was the next night when Pete got back on stage. I think it was that night that I took him, John and Keith down to the 82 Club where Television were playing. John hated them – not sufficiently professional for him – but Pete was interested in what they were doing. Not sure what Keith felt about them – he was off chasing skirt anyway.
Very interesting what Pete has to say about the New York Who fans (by which I imagine he's talking about Binky Philips and others) because Pete would later accuse them of spoiling The Who for him by yelling "jump! jump! jump!" during these shows, expecting him to be a trained monkey going through the motions. I've talked to one of those Who fans that was up at the front at all these shows and she says emphatically that it never happened. I have to wonder whether Pete (heavily into the sauce during this period) just made up the story as an excuse for his growing problems with The Who caused by the Quad live "failure" and the battles with Roger over dumping Lambert and Stamp from management. As you were there, what are your thoughts?
I believe there was one 'fan' who yelled jump, not several, and he was roundly sat upon by the genuine fans in the front few rows. (I've talked to some about this.) The Monday night show was poor by Who standards but they improved as the week went on. Elsewhere on Just Backdated I've written at length about the New York concerts in 1974 (I went to all four) but I do think Pete was a bit frustrated by the problems surrounding The Who at this time. He and Roger both did interviews with NME around this time and sniped at each other, with Roger accusing Pete of being drunk, and he wasn't wrong.
Was in the front rows for all four shows at the Garden that week, and we all had a smashing time with the band. Pete loves drama, and it seems to fuel the band, This time, the story was about the fans and we ate it up.
Townshend at Television: WOW. :)
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