John talks about Quadrophenia.
John Entwistle is a happy man! He enjoys a reputation as one of the world’s finest electric bass players, he’s had a decade of success with the Who, and he enjoys all the luxuries of super-stardom. He’s also lucky enough to have the steadying influence of his wife, Allison, and baby son Christopher, to keep him on an even keel.
He’s always been thought of as the strong, silent member of the Who’s line-up (hence his nickname ‘The Ox’) but still waters run deep and Entwistle’s enormous talent has only recently begun to surface.
It all started some two years ago when he was pressured by friends into making a solo album which was entitled Smash Your Head Against The Wall. It continued through Whistle Rymes right up to his rock and roll album Rigor Mortis Sets In. Now, rather than rest on his laurels, Entwistle is preparing for the next two years of his career – which will be busier, more demanding and therefore, more satisfying than anything that has gone before.
He’ll be getting his own band, Rigor Mortis, on the road. Making at least two more solo albums, plus one with the band, doing session work, producing, supervising the enlargement of his West London home, breeding carp (their fishpond has to be enlarged, too!) and on top of all this he’ll be touring, recording and enjoying his time-honoured role with the Who.
Ask him why he’s doing all this and he’ll reply with a quick shrug of his shoulders: ‘I’m not content with just being known as the Who’s bass player – there’s still a side of me that wants to play classical and brass material.’
It seems that his colleague in superstardom, Pete Townshend, has the same sort of ideas regarding classical and brass music. John described for us how Quadrophenia – the Who’s new ‘concept’ album due out about November and written entirely by Pete – has been shaping up.
‘This album has been a lot easier for me,’ he said. ‘There aren’t any of my compositions on it because Pete had written too much material. Each number is important to the story line, which is about a little mod and all the things that go through his head.’
The Who, if you remember, were spawned and rose to stardom in 1964 from among the ranks of West London mods. Beginning life as The Detours, they changed their name to the High Numbers and finally became the Who. They were the darlings of a whole sub-culture that thought of red socks, hush puppies, parkas, blue-beat hats, chrome-laden scooters, mohair suits and their very own band, the Who as ‘flash, very flash.’
‘Quadrophenia has been much easier for me because I’ve had a free hand as to what I play on bass,’ continued John. ‘In the past the arrangements of each number have been set. For instance, if you get a number like Happy Jack, where the bass line is dunk, dunk-dunk;’ that’s the nearest I can get to putting John’s impression of a standard bass line into words, ‘you can’t really stray away from that.’
‘That’s not to say that I’ve never had any freedom, but if the bass line conflicts with the rest of the number it shouldn’t be done. At no time has Pete ever told me what to play but, as a bass man, I’ve obviously been dictated to by the format of the number.
‘The new material from Pete, however, has given me more opportunity for playing the bass part that I actually want. I’ve been able to put all those little embellishments in.
‘I think this represents a basic change in the direction of Pete’s writing. The songs are longer, but I think the main point is that the chord progression of each one doesn’t happen so quickly, so one has more time to explore. Instead of playing half a bar in C and then going to G, the new stuff will have, perhaps, a whole bar in C to play around with.
‘He’s writing in a more classical style, too, and I had to play an awful lot of brass for the album,’ said John.
‘There’s about seven numbers with huge, 14-piece brass parts on them,’ he continued, ‘that I arranged and played myself. Pete gave me a completely free hand because he knew where he wanted the brass but he didn’t exactly know what he wanted.’
Townshend’s and Entwistle’s relationship is so close that Pete can send John into the studio after having only briefly explained what is required. Entwistle then proceeds to deliver the goods. It’s a relationship which has developed over a 10-year period, during which the Who have been through everything, sometimes individually, but for the most part together.
‘In the parts of Quadrophenia where Pete knew exactly what he wanted, he put on horn sounds with a synthesizer,’ said John, ‘so, as you can imagine, the album is quite orchestrated. There’s brass, synthesized strings, flutes and things like that.
‘It’s taken us a couple of months to make the album and we did most of the backing tracks using Ronnie Lane’s mobile studio (see April edition of Beat) which we situated at the Who’s new studio in Battersea.
‘Our studio was completed by the time we’d done the backing tracks and we used it to put on the overdubs. Ronnie’s studio worked fine for us, me in particular, because I like to get all the backing tracks out of the way.
‘The way we work is to make sure that the backing tracks stand up on their own and then we use the overdubs to provide colour. It hasn’t always been the same. On previous occasions where we’ve got a poor backing track we’ve tried to make the number work by doing overdubs.
‘We learned our lesson the hard way; we need to work out good backing tracks for stage use because that’s where the Who really gets off.
‘The important thing about the new album, however, is that people shouldn’t approach it in the same way they approached Tommy, because it’s not like Tommy.
‘Quadrophenia is altogether more believable than Tommy because it deals more with everyday life. I’d call it a period, historical opera, although I don’t like the use of the word opera, especially when the storyline is about the scooter mods.’
When the album has been released, the Who will take Quadrophenia on the road or, as is more likely, parts of it. The rest of the Who’s stage act on their forthcoming European, British and American tours, will be used to provide John Entwistle and Roger Daltrey with the opportunity to perform some of the material from their respective solo albums. The band has seen such a growth in terms of output from its individual members that it’s hard to compile a truly representative stage act these days.
‘After two years of hardly any stage work, I’m sure we’re going to enjoy ourselves immensely,’ said John. ‘We thrive on work anyway, and I’ll most likely find that it’ll be a lot easier to write material between playing the live dates. If I’m up on stage and I think of a good riff, then it could easily develop into another number for me.
‘This next two years will be the busiest period in my life. I’m excited and I’m worried all at the same time. I’m worried, or should I say concerned, about the time factor.
There’s such a lot to do and between it all I’ve got to find time for a holiday. I’m sure I’m going to need one, it’s either that or a nervous breakdown!’
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