September 24, 2020

’69 Melody Maker article about Tommy

Pete discusses a Tommy movie, and the future of The Who.

With The Who’s pop opera "Tommy’ a big success on both sides of the Atlantic, Tony Wilson quizzes Pete Townshend on his cinematic ambitions and the future of the group

The Who’s pop opera ‘Tommy’ will eventually be seen as a full-length feature film.

Already highly successful in record form, with sales figures looking healthy on both sides of the Atlantic, the next move is to create a tangible film role out of the character conceived by Pete Townshend and The Who, and portrayed in their rock opera.

"The film will be made by Universal International," Townshend told me at the Pop Proms at the Royal Albert Hall recently.

"The group will have a hand in the screenplay and the script, but not in the direction.

"We’ll be working with a scriptwriter," said Pete, "but at the moment we have not really got anybody lined up at all. All we’ve got is the budget of a couple of million dollars."

Who would play the part of Tommy? "None of The Who," answered Pete – and added mock-thoughtfully, "Steve Marriott?"

The Who were offered the film after the success of the album in America, where it is still high in the album charts.

According to Pete, the film script won’t be able to follow too closely the action sequences of the album.

"We’ll have to bend it a bit," he said.

"The main thing is to get the basic, simple concept in rock’n’roll high spirits. You couldn’t have some of the visual things on film. Some things, which may seem quite sick, would be encapsulated."

The Who have been featuring ‘Tommy’ as the major part of their act, complete or in excerpts, for some time now, as a prelude to the actual issue of it as an album.

Would the group continue to feature ‘Tommy’ live, or now that it was on record, would they move on to something else?

"We’re not really thinking that far ahead," Pete answered. "We’ve always followed our noses as far as musical policy is concerned. We’ve kept our eye on rock history and we like to learn by others’ mistakes, not ours. Any follow-up will be on an intuitive basis."

How satisfied was Pete with the record?

"Well, obviously not 100% satisfied. The original aim was to record it, and we did what we wanted. That was to make an album that told a story like an opera does, but keeping the rock’n’roll format, which was much harder to do than it looked.

"It was quite a heavy story told in quite a heavy way. The way it worked out actually was like literature. It wasn’t meant to happen that way, but nothing happened in ‘Tommy’ itself that wasn’t to happen."

The Who’s popularity means a big demand for personal appearances, both in Britain and in the States, and the group will be kept busy from now until the end of the year. One of the major considerations is the filming of ‘Tommy’, which they hope will start in the autumn: "What we want to do is to get American money but use an English film crew and do it ourselves."

The group have several major commitments in the USA, including the Tanglewood Music Festival, presented by Fillmore promoter Bill Graham and the composer Leonard Bemstein ("Bemstein likes ‘Tommy"’), with a show that includes BB King and Chuck Berry; and the Woodstock Music Festival, where the line-up is reported to include Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Band, Jefferson Airplane and Creedence Clearwater Revival. In

October, there is a promotional tour with Track Records artists such as Marsha Hunt and Thunderclap Newman, who are currently topping the chart in Britain.

Which presents another worry for Pete, in that he has to think about a follow-up to Newman’s ‘Something In The Air’ hit single.

"Roger Daltrey has a group called Bent Frame that he is producing," added Pete. "We’ll be going over to America more often but for shorter periods, so we can balance it out between Britain and the States.

"And we are also hoping to do a live album sometime in the future, because that’s something we have been asked to do."