Chris Welch gives a behind the scenes look at the recording of "Tommy"
Tackling the most serious project of their lives
"That’s a nasty letter. What’s all that about?" inquired a menacing, dramatically dressed Roger Daltrey, clutching a copy of the MM and noting a communication by reader D. Hutchison of Edinburgh expressing the opinion the Who had "sold out" and the " Yanks can have ’em."
Roger looked as though he might rip the MM in half at any instant, dash out into the street and institute a personal search for the author and possibly strangle him with the silver chain he habitually wears at his throat.
Instead he contented himself with growled imprecations, which, had they been audible above the dull thumping of Keith Moon’s nine-drum kit a room or so away, were doubtless of a forceful character.
Pete Townshend and John Entwistle, wearing expressions of aggressive indifference, -; clutch their guitars, and while they would not move from their important tasks in IBC’s recording studios, London, to seek the detractor; should he suddenly appear in their midst by some quirk of fate, there would be no hesitation on their part in breaking instruments over his head, one felt.
The Who’s resentment at such sweeping generalisations can be easily understood when most critics and their fans agree the group are now at an all time peak of enthusiasm, and creativity.
As people, they have mellowed and rounded. Their ability to react to people and situations with lightning speed remains, with sharp eyes and tongues at the ready to encourage honesty, or crucify stupidity.
Their new album, which has been taking up most of the time before their tour with Arthur Brown, which opens tomorrow (Friday), is Pete Townshend’s pop opera, a project he has been talking about for years.
In a break between Pete, John and Keith laying down backing tracks, the entire group and co-manager Kit Lambert adjourned to a neighbouring pub.
"The LP is about a deaf, dumb and blind boy," explained Pete under a glass of some dull English beer, designed to distend stomachs and the profits of the breweries.
I cupped my hands to my ear to hear above the noise of Kit Lambert guffawing at some jest.
"… a deaf, dumb and blind boy who’s maltreated as a youngster," Pete was saying, " who develops his consciousness. When he does get. his sight and hearing back at the age of 22 he becomes a divine, beautiful figure who is idolised by millions.
" But as a kid lots of things happen to him. His homosexual uncle who is supposed to be looking after him rapes him for example. But none of these things worries him too much.
"The music is coming together and sounds very good. We want to try and get it out before Christmas. It’s the most serious project we have ever worked on."
Back in the studio Keith and Pete opened a bottle of wine after a considerable struggle and celebrated with an impromptu dance of glee.
Young technicians controlling the eight track recording machine surveyed the scene in the studio below from their lofty control room with an imperious gaze.
Pete switched from guitar to piano for one track and a most violent, funky touch rather like a cross between Lil Armstrong and Crippled Clarence Lofton, making quite a few 1926 type mistakes into the bargain, causing him to make frequent stops.
"If Pete makes a mistake, carry on so John doesn’t have to keep doing it," breathed the languid voice of the Lord High Controller over mighty speakers.
Later Pete took over the controls to get a satisfactory balance and a good drum sound, revealing his own advanced technical knowledge.
While Pete was fiddling about, John Entwistle, bass player and song writer extraordinary, told me: "I’ve written a couple of the songs for the opera. People might say it’s sick, but it’s not really. It’s got a very happy ending," he added hopefully. "We’ve been recording for about three weeks." Roger is singing the main parts while me and Pete sing harmonies behind him, all the oohs and ahs.
Success in the States has really pulled us together and everybody gets on well with everybody nowadays!"