The Who – Tommy and Quadrophenia double header!!
Academy Cinemas – June 22nd from 5pm.
English Jake reflects on a lifetime loving The Who
English Jake’s reflection on The Who
“Is Morgan there?” said the voice at the end of the phone. It sounded familiar to me; a voice I recognised but couldn’t place.
“Ah, he’s a bit busy at the moment. Can I take a message?” I said in reply. Morgan was a friend and shared the flat with another one of our friends. I was there, hanging out as usual, probably preparing for a rehearsal or a gig.
“Sure. Can you tell him Pete Townshend called?”
Growing up in West London, The Who meant a huge amount to me and my friends. Bands from our area mattered to us… well to me, at least. The first band I ever loved was The Clash, centred around Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove, just a stone’s throw from where we were growing up, which meant that their songs were literal for us in many ways. As I developed a wider musical understanding other influences appeared on the horizon. Another band I loved was The Jam; powerful, melodic, aggressive, lyrical… everything teenage me wanted. And, as you do, I started to follow the rabbit hole down the musical history and influences of these bands. And there, sitting proud in the centre. The Who. They were from round our way, born at Hammersmith Hospital/ Queen Charlottes Hospital, schooled at Acton Grammar School. Townshend then on to Ealing Art School to learn about smashing things up as an artform. Bush Hall, scene of many of their first gigs was a place I’d passed a thousand times on Uxbridge Road before I realised the significance.
Of course, I’d heard The Who growing up, they were a staple on the radio or parent’s turntables, but generally, it was the later albums we were hearing, Who’s Next and even Face Dances (You better you better you bet ooh eh ooh) and the early singles you heard were out of context and, particularly, out of volume when they were on the radio. But the Who that we ended up loving was the Who of the 60’s… the mods…. the excess… the damage. The first three albums – My Generation, A Quick One and The Who Sell Out remain never-diminishing touch points to me. The singles were also crazy good, and, in my mind, I Can See for Miles is possibly the greatest 45 ever. If you’re not sure, play it loud from a good pressing. That’s the bar, right there.
The Who cut across subcultures too. The mods obviously loved the early stuff, although some questioned Pete Townshend’s art school background, not really a working-class kid. The rockers and metallers loved the stuff like the Isle of Wight show and all the feedback, and the punks, well, the Who and the Small Faces were about the only ‘old’ bands that it was still ok to like. And to cover.
When the love of The Who hit, it hit hard. And it formed a fascinating centre point for a bunch of bands. Senseless Things, my brother’s band, and particularly their rhythm section, Cass Browne and, the aforementioned Morgan, wore their devotion on their chests. Mod target T-shirts, a la Keith Moon, sat proudly under the leather jackets and Damned badges. Between them they spent many years of their teenage lives following the cheeky and destructive path of Moon. Thankfully, both survived in significantly better shape than Moon. My band, The Revs, all boating blazers, mod inspired artwork ended up playing with one foot in the Mod scene, but our hair was always a bit too long for the purists. We did do a decent version of The Kids are Alright though – search it up, pop pickers (and not the later Irish band who took our name)!!
The Who movies affected me quite differently. I watched Tommy as a young teenager after I’d persuaded my parents that a tv in my room was a good idea. The whole movie scared me and left me confused although I quite liked Elton John’s huge boots and know the song Pinball Wizard. Tina Turner as the Acid Queen left me traumatised. So much so, that it took me a few years to be able to listen to Ike and Tina without a sense of foreboding. I went back to the album only a few years ago and it was great hearing it different context.
Quadrophenia came along later for me and it became a staple of late night, post-pub indoctrination sessions for a whole bunch of us. Watching the tragic Jimmy clashing with authority, being roundly dismissed by the beautiful and aloof Leslie Ash, before laughing (quite rightly) at the ridiculously attired Sting, before the ambiguous ending leaves uncertainty about Jimmy’s ending.
So, do yourself a favour, come along and spend some time in the company of The Who’s films. Enjoy the teenage rebellion of Quadrophenia and follow it up with an injection of strangeness and explorations of the psyche with Tommy.
Oh, and I’ll be spinning some records before, in the middle and after… see you there.