A lightweight article by Keith Altham with quotes by Roger, John, Keith and Pete.
After six weeks with "the last Schmaltz" it is good to find the Who back in the charts with a new single, "I Can See For Miles," in their old "knockabout" style. It is also good to have Pete Townshend back for interviews, employing his brain like a well-oiled lawn mower that clacks around and around, spitting out ideas and attitudes as it churns up the Scene.
Is there a new approach from the group, perhaps, following their successful American tour and the beginning of what almost unbelievably is their first British tour tomorrow (Saturday) with Traffic?
"Yer, what we’re gonna do is hit ’em wiv it," monotoned Pete, in his voice for swinging morons. "Punch ’em in the stomach, kick ’em on the floor and sock it to ’em!"
But our story really begins (for those who like to site comfortably) in the Who’s London offices, where I met manager Kit Lambert, who shook hands in a detached manner and wandered away to take a phone call from agent Danny Betesh.
Twenty-five minutes later he returned to ask his secretary whether Keith Altham was meeting him here or at a restaurant. Noticing me asleep in one corner, he immediately realized the mistake and banged a fist against his forehead. I was greatly mollified to learn that he recently failed to recognize his own mother as they passed in the street.
We ate an excellent lunch, at which I was under the impression that Pete might appear. "No, rather my fault," admitted Kit. "I forgot to tell him. However, we’ll go down to the recording studio in Kingsway and provoke them there."
It was 2:45 when we arrived at the studio, but no one else had arrived as yet.
"When should they be here?" I asked.
"Forty-five minutes ago," said Kit, resignedly.
Roger Daltrey was first to arrive, wearing yellow sweater, with a large silver cross round his neck on a chain – and trousers as well, of course, as it was a cold day.
Roger said: "The kids in America are very much more together than in Britain. They have something to rebel against. No one wants to be killed at nineteen fighting in Vietnam.
"We’re more a stage group than a recording group…when we play intricate things on stage we explain them…don’t write what I said about Graham Nash…our fans are broad-minded – they have to be!"
John Entwistle arrived with Keith Moon and John said: "Shall we tell him about those school kids who mobbed us in the Blue Boar café on the M1 and began stuffing baked beans and tomatoes from our plates into their pockets as souvenirs? All those meletrons aren’t good for your health." He also did an impression of David McWilliams by holding his nose and singing "Days of Pearly Spencer!"
Keith said to me: "Where’s yer sixpence for yer cup of tea?"
Then hurricane Townshend arrived, rumbling about how he thought it was 3:30pm they were due to start and picked up a packet of sandwiches. "Pig food," he yelled and threw them back into a carton. Pete likes throwing sandwiches.
"See this?" He indicated a suitcase full of tapes. "That’s the Who’s dustbin!"
Eventually the storm subsided and he sat in a swivel chair swinging from left to right as he talked about the new single.
"We were making records for record reviewers before," said Pete. "They were too flimsy, too poignant, too prissy. They were factory-made. We’ve gone backwards in order to go forward.
"The further forward you move, the more you confuse the fans. We wanted to do something that would be unexpected. Something that would demand something of the public. ‘I Can See For Miles’ was the answer."
Then, being Pete Townshend, he neatly injected into his lengthy explanation: "And besides which, we had nothing else suitable to release at the time!"
As an established group, the Who have a hard core of supporters and they might find the tour with the groups like the Tremeloes and the Herd confusing.
"We’ve tried this semi-intellectual approach," smiled Pete. "We did it at the first house of the Saville concert last Sunday and died a death, because we were following an overwhelming act like the Vanilla Fudge. We were like a cream tea!
"Kit was so worried he tried to way-lay all the journalists in a pub over the road so they would only see the end of the show, but we put things right in the second house. We did a Brian Poole routine – Roger split his trousers, Keith wore a Jester’s hat and knocked his drums about and I kept falling over. They loved it.
"I’ll tell you who is going to be big next year. Groups not afraid to make concessions and mock the whole process. The Bonzo Dogs, for instance, and Dave Dee, because he is not frightened of being commercial!
"In the old days an ‘Emily Scruggs’ used to come into a recording studio, bleat into a megaphone and there it was for ‘posterior.’ Now we get all hung up on six track systems, multi-recording devices and electronic side effects. Electronic music is infinite in variety and eventually you’ll lose yourself and everyone else experimenting with it.
"On our next LP, ‘The Who Sell Out,’ we’ve got a number called ‘Rael’ which should have been the next single. It’s all about ‘overspill’ when the world population becomes so great in years ahead that everyone is assigned to their one square foot of earth.
"We played it on stage in Manchester and Scotland and everyone just looked at us with their mouths open – the complication was too much.
"I don’t want to lose personal contact with people. We want to do longer personal appearance spots, for example.
"I’d rather do longer to give the audience time to identify with the group and get involved with the music. We’re deliberately overrunning our appearances at present.
"It’s like reading a Kingsley Amis novel and wanting to meet the author after you’ve read the book. You meet him, say ‘Hello dear’ and that’s the end of the involvement."
And so the mowing machine clacked on with blades awhirling: "Stevie Winwood has a legion of fans; it’s inhuman for him to lock himself away like that in the country and detach himself…I’ve heard all I want to of the Beatles’ last LP; now it’s a memory…people aren’t jiving in the listening boxes in record shops any more like we did to a Cliff Richard ‘newie’…’Paper Sun’ wasn’t a hit record, it was a best seller…’Lily’ and ‘Happy Jack’ had simple tunes people could remember."
"Something you could hum over a lathe," chipped in Mr. Moon.
When last seen Mr. Townshend was leaping up and down the corridor of the Kingsway studios shouting, "I’m beautiful, I’m beautiful," and Mr. Lambert was almost visibly counting up studio costs.