In the past 24 hours Just Backdated has received its 400,000th hit and, coincidentally, this is my 600th post, all since I launched the blog at the beginning of 2014. As regular visitors will know, I’ve slowed down a bit this past year but, conversely, the frequency of hits has accelerated, so it’s taking less and less time to pile them on.
As ever almost all the most-visited posts relate to The Who, number one still the post about Keith being photographed with John and Paul Beatle in 1974, now on an unassailable 13,896 hits, more than twice the post at number two. Surprisingly, leaping in from nowhere, the current runner-up is the post about Who manager Kit Lambert’s palace in Venice that I wrote in February this year, and which has accumulated 5,409 hits in just over six months. Almost all my Who-related posts have exceeded 1,000 hits, most of them between 2 and 3,000, largely because they’ve been linked on The Who’s own Facebook page. As a result of this the average hits per post (666.66666 etc) is skewed, since the vast majority get far less while the heavy hitting Who posts send the average up.
Not surprisingly, nine out of the top ten posts are Who-related, the exception being the one about Robert Plant visiting Jimmy Page for the first time at his house in Pangbourne in 1968, an extract from Omnibus Press’ forthcoming Page biography that I posted in July and which was shared on Dave Lewis’ Tight But Loose Led Zep page. Other non-Who posts with 1,000 or more hits include a couple on Abba (shared by my Stockholm-based Abba expert pal Magnus Palm on his Abba-related website), and one each on Jimmy Page, The Beatles, Rory Gallagher, Deep Purple, Wilko Johnson, Little Feat, Marianne Faithfull, Jeff Beck and David Bowie.
It is also pleasing to note that my obituary of Graham ‘Swin’ Swinnerton, Slade’s tour manager, has clocked up 1,781 hits, more than all my other Slade posts put together, while posts on Peter Rudge (Who/Stones manager) and Chas Chandler (Hendrix/Slade manager) have also registered more than 1,000. This suggests that Just Backdated readers are as interested in those who manage rock careers as those who actually have them. Similarly, posts about Kit Lambert have exceeded 1,000 and last Friday’s post about Bobby Pridden, The Who’s sound engineer, is already on 1,200 and rising.
Bubbling under the 1,000 mark are posts on Ray Davies, George Harrison, Dennis Wilson, Rolling Stone photographer Baron Wollman and, curiously, the one about the book on the Bradford City FC fire in 1985, the only non-music post to attract much attention.
In August I noticed that I was getting a massive number of hits from Russia and to mark this did a post about the Russian rock book Back In the USSR by Artemy Troitsky that I commissioned and edited in 1986. No sooner did I do this than the hits from Russia stopped, virtually overnight. It was as if I had caught someone snooping and when they were found out did a hasty retreat; quite sinister. Nevertheless, they can’t erase the hits, so Russia takes the Bronze in the Page Views By Countries list after the US (170,151) and UK (89,093). Russia is at 19,465, almost all clocked up in July and August this year, and thereafter it’s Canada (13,911) and Germany (11,063) with the next five (France, Japan, Australia, Ukraine and the Netherlands) all in five figures.
        Once again, thanks to all who’ve visited Just Backdated. At the moment I’m a bit tied up on other projects to post with the regularity that I once did. I have vague plans to combine all my Who posts into a book of some kind, with new material that I’m working on as a sort of summary of my long relationship with them. I have two other books in the works, one a novel, the other a co-author job with an industry figure, and I’m also still editing books for Omnibus Press, among them a definitive account of The Monkees and a book on Prog Rock, with more to come next year including, I hope, books on The Damned, Slade and Steve Howe. Never a dull moment - and what an eclectic bunch.


BOBBY PRIDDEN - Here's To A Long And Happy Retirement

Keith, Bobby & CC, New York, 1971

It has been brought to my attention that Bobby Pridden, The Who’s long lasting, loyal and oh-so dependable soundman is to retire from roadwork on doctor’s orders. It’s a bit of a cliché to describe roadies as the ‘fifth (or sixth) member of the group’, as Neil Aspinall was so described with The Beatles and Ian Stewart with The Rolling Stones, but no one deserves this title more than Bobby as far as The Who are concerned. Like Nell and Stu, Bobby was no mere roadie, of course, and I understand he'll still be on call if needed in the studio.
Bobby’s first gig with The Who was on December 15, 1966, at the Locarno Ballroom at Streatham in South London, and since that night he has mixed the sound from the side of the stage at every Who concert everywhere, year after year, thousands of them. Barring the band, who can’t see themselves anyway, no one in the world has watched The Who perform more often than Bobby Pridden.
Uniquely amongst bands of their stature, The Who insisted that their mixing desk be placed not in the centre of the audience but at the side of the stage, on Pete’s side, so that their athletic guitarist could convey such instructions as he felt necessary to redeem any shortcomings in the quality of the sound; in other words, so that Pete might scream at Bobby if he couldn’t hear himself or his guitar didn’t sound right. No man alive has suffered more abuse from Pete than Bobby and then come back for more, and more, and more. Why? Because Bobby loves The Who more than any of us, probably more than Pete and John, but maybe not as much as Roger and Keith; Roger because he always felt (and still does) that they are his band and Keith because, well, The Who was all he had really.
In The Who Concert File, a book I was pleased to edit and to which I contributed, Bobby describes how his arrival in the Who camp was the result of his friendship with John ‘Wiggy’ Wolfe, another old school Who stalwart who worked for them as tour manager and then lighting designer. “I was going to get a job with The Easybeats and I met John ‘Wiggy’ Wolfe at the station,” he says. “He lived near me. He asked me what I was up to and I told him that I was looking for a gig. He just said, ‘Well, I’m going to the office. Are you interested in a job with The Who?’ So I said, ‘Sure.’ I arrived there and was introduced to several people and then Pete turned up. He said, ‘Ah, so I hear you’re going to be our new roadie’, and he started to poke his finger into my forehead. It was extraordinary.
        “Then one night I went out for a drink with John and Keith, and, according to John, I signed and sealed my employment with them because I bought them all a drink. They thought that was marvellous. They had just finished their second album, A Quick One. We rehearsed for the afternoon and that night they went on stage and I couldn’t believe it; I’d never seen anything like it in my life. I’d always been into music but I’d never seen anything with such energy as this before. Pete came onstage looking very hip. John was well dressed too but didn’t move a muscle all evening. Roger whirled microphones around and Keith’s sticks were going everywhere. At the end they just smashed everything to pieces. I was standing on the side of the stage and couldn’t believe what was going on. There was this pile of broken equipment all over the stage and I thought ‘Oh, my God’. I was in a state of shock. They walked off stage and Roger turned to me and said ‘Bobby, get it fixed for tomorrow!’”
        This baptism of fire was further established a couple of weeks later when, on December 30 at the Baths Hall in Cheam, Bobby had to pay for a new guitar out of his own pocket when Pete’s was stolen backstage. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Occasionally asked to sing backing vocals on stage in the early days as well as mend amps and guitars with a tool kit, glue and soldering iron, Bobby’s true value to The Who came when he was entrusted with ensuring that their amplification and on-stage sound was the best in the business. Elevated from mere roadie to sound engineer in 1969, he became a world expert on stage amplification, always at the cutting edge, and much sought after for his expertise.
As it says in the Concert File, “Unlike a whole legion of heavy metal bands who took their cue from their pioneering ‘bigger-louder-wall-of-Marshalls’ approach, The Who’s sound always had depth, clarity and musical muscle within the decibel output. The skills of sound-engineer Bob Pridden and a commitment to developing and investing in new technology meant The Who always sounded better than all other groups. Significantly, when most established groups were using Marshall amplifiers – which The Who had helped to develop – the band switched to a different system involving Hi-Watt, Sunn and WEM equipment.”
To this end Bobby – nicknamed Ben Pump by Ronnie Lane – designed and maintained a series of state-of-the-art PA systems for The Who, among them the one used at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival which happened to be the biggest available in the UK at that time. It was always a matter of pride for Bobby that The Who sounded better than any other band on the circuit. To him, they were the best and therefore deserved the best equipment. This much was apparent when The Who followed The Faces at London's Oval Cricket Ground in September 1971. “The Faces played a good set,” Billy Nicholls told Faces biographer and Who archivist Andy Neill, “and I thought to myself, ‘This is going to be interesting’. Then the Who came on with their new sound system and it was like someone had notched it up. I remember Rod looking very stone faced because he could tell the difference. The sound, lights, everything was so much clearer and better.”
Nevertheless, to be the best and remain the best is not an easy berth. At Newcastle on November 5, 1973, five days into the UK Quadrophenia tour, Pete famously ran amok when the backing tapes of pre-recorded synthesiser music that enabled them to reproduce the new album as it sounded on record went out of sync. Pete exploded, dragging Bobby out from his mixing desk, smashing his guitar onto the stage and tearing down the backing tapes and equipment. As if this humiliation wasn’t enough, Bobby was also called upon to buy a replacement Gibson Les Paul out of his own pocket the following day. What a relief it must have been when The Who's bank balance enabled them to simply buy new gear instead of having to repair old.
I wasn’t at that Newcastle concert but I was at Madison Square Garden in New York on June 10, 1974, another less than satisfactory show. Again, I chronicled my thoughts in the Concert File book: “The crowd of 20,000 stamped and cheered for 15 minutes but the band did not return for an encore, largely because they were arguing with each other backstage about the concert’s shortcomings. Unjustly, the ever loyal Bob Pridden was the focus of their anger.
“There was a terrible atmosphere backstage… The Who were screaming at each other behind a locked dressing room door. Kit Lambert, who wasn’t often seen at Who concerts by 1974, had turned up unexpectedly, drunk as a lord and demanding to mix the on-stage PA in future, a ludicrous suggestion, and that didn’t help matters at all. Bobby ran out of the dressing room shouting that he was through with The Who, and I ran after him, taking him into another room and spending ages telling him not to quit, and of course he didn’t. He would never quit because he loved them so much. Poor Bob really caught it in the neck so many times. He was the real fifth member of The Who. They couldn’t do without him.”
After that series of Who concerts in New York, the next time I saw Bobbby was on Eric Clapton’s ‘comeback’ tour in 1974. He told me that doing the sound for Clapton was like a holiday compared with working for The Who. At other times when The Who weren’t working Bobby managed John’s studio at Stowe-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire, staying for a while in a cottage on John’s estate. Closer to the bass player than the others, he was distraught at John’s death, numb with grief at his funeral.
I’ve bumped into Bobby many times over the years since those days, and we’ve always exchanged memories and laughs. He’s diplomatic too, never one to utter an indiscretion about his employers, no matter how harshly he may have been treated at one time or another. The fact is, the vast majority of Who shows went off without a hitch soundwise thanks to his presence, dancing at the desk as he adjusted the faders, a bopping elf as recognisable to fans as the opening blast of ‘I Can’t Explain’. His departure from the role he’s created will leave an enormous gap, not just at Petes side of the stage, but in the psyche of the band, especially that fellow who yelled at him so much. It really is the end of an era in the same way that the loss of Keith and John was. Bobby Pridden deserves the gratitude of every Who fan everywhere. The best you ever had.



And now for something completely different…

Every so often I read in the newspapers that far too many people in the UK drink more units of alcohol than those whose role it is to ensure we live healthy (but boring) lives believe we can safely drink. I often wonder what planet these people are from since from my experience most pubs on Friday nights host drinkers who’ll consume twice their entire weekly quota in a matter of hours.
Time was, however, when nobody cared. Indeed, some of those who enjoyed their beer once drank more than their weekly limit in less than an hour, so let’s travel back in time to June 1968 when a party of friends from my home town of Skipton decided to enter one of our number into the North of England Beer Drinking Championship, held that year at Bilton near Hull as part of the local annual carnival. Our hero – let’s call him Brian – was renowned for exceptional feats of drinking, his party trick making three pints of Tetley’s Bitter disappear in 20 seconds, though only if someone else paid for them. I forget now the details of how we heard about this event or even whether it was necessary to register Brian as an entrant prior to the day. But I do remember that about a dozen of us set off in three cars to the port on the Humber Estuary, confident that Brian could hold his own against all comers.
The Championship was decided on the basis of who could consume the most pints of Younger’s Tartan bitter (they were the sponsors; none of that ‘encouraging responsible drinking’ bollocks in those days) in one hour, specifically between four and five in the afternoon. There were about 15 entrants, all of whom sat opposite one another at trestle tables in the open air. The rules were quite simple: the (free) pints of beer were delivered to each competitor by impartial helpers who kept count of the number consumed; vomiting resulted in disqualification, as did spillage.
The Championship had attracted a colourful crowd. There were at least two local wrestlers dressed for the ring, a few rugby players in club colours and one guy who claimed to be a lumberjack from Canada, complete with red checked shirt, coonskin hat and axe, and most but not all the competitors were on the big side, as you would expect.
A key element of the event was betting. Spectators could place bets on who they thought might win, with odds calculated after the first 30 minutes on the basis of whoever was winning at that point got the shortest odds and whoever was trailing the longest. For this reason we encouraged Brian to take it fairly easy during the first half hour, to stay with the field and not try any of his fancy three-pints-in-20-seconds malarkey. We were confident of his ability, and felt that he would be able to reward us all by coming from behind and bucking the odds. Brian agreed this was a sensible strategy.
And so they were off, amidst much shouting and encouragement from a fair sized crowd. At first the pints were delivered and downed remarkably quickly by all the contestants, though the pace slackened off noticeably after the first three or four. At the half way mark Brian was on seven, as were about half a dozen others. Three were ahead, one guy on eight, another on ten and the third, the odds-on favourite now, on 12. All the rest were trailing at the five or six mark and would die away in the second half.
So it was that the odds on the favourite – a curiously skinny chap whose name was Lionel Tutt* – were 2-1, on the two trailing him 3-1, and those with seven pints inside them 4-1. It was at this point that we began to cheer on Brian very loudly and, without a doubt, he did us proud, stepping up his pace while all the rest fell away. Indeed, Brian was the only competitor who drank more in the second half hour than in the first but try as he might he couldn’t catch the leader Lionel who drank less and less but somehow maintained his lead as the clock ticked down towards the hour mark. At the finish Lionel was on 17 and Brian was on 16. I think two others were on 11 or 12, with the reminder of the field in single figures. Brian’s noble sprint towards the end won him many admirers, especially as at the close he was able to stand up and walk – albeit unsteadily – towards us, uttering the immortal words: “Sorry about that lads, let’s go back to the beer tent.”
The winner, meanwhile, was barely conscious, to all intents and purposes carried away by his supporters, unable to stand, let alone head for the beer tent. It was later disclosed that he’d been training on salted ham and dry biscuits for 24 hours before the event and hadn’t touched a drop in all that time. Our pal Brian, on the other hand, had quaffed at least a couple of pints with us in the beer tent before the competition even began. He was also ruing his tactics, suggesting that if we’d encouraged him to drink more in the first half he’d have lifted the trophy.
And so we retired to the beer tent where, to our amusement, a local TV crew had set up their camera and lights in the hope of interviewing the winner. Being as how this was not possible – Lionel really had collapsed in a heap – they opted instead to interview Brian, whom many thought was the moral winner anyway. We all crowded round, grinning inanely.
After establishing his name and where he and his supporters came from the girl from the TV news crew asked him whether he had ever drank so much before. “Oh yes,” he replied blearily. “On my 21st birthday I drank 21 pints, half a bottle of whiskey, half a bottle of vodka and drove home.” **

* If you Google the name Lionel Tutt you’ll find a report of the event from the Glasgow Herald dated June 10, 1968. I take issue with this report insofar as it states the runner-up in the ‘most pints in an hour’ discipline was four pints behind the winner. Brian was only one pint behind Lionel as I recall.

** This was a lie. I don't believe Brian even held a driving licence. Still, it was funny at the time, albeit grossly irresponsible of course.