September 25, 2020

’73 Melody Maker Interview with Pete Townshend

Pete talks about Quadrophenia

PETE TOWNSHEND has – as exclusively reported in MM last week – eclipsed Tommy with his brilliant new opera. Today he talks to CHRIS WELCH about how the massive project began.


PETE TOWNSHEND is a ‘happy, almost relieved man today. The advent of "Quadrophenia," means that at last the Who can follow up their triumph with "Tommy," and it has also bound tine group together again as an entity in the public eye.


In the last couple of years its members — Townshend, Daltrey Moon and Entwistle — have become involved in various solo projects and seemed in danger of drifting further apart.


It’s as if they have taken faltering steps away from the parent body, with varying degrees of success now to return to their alma mater, and get down to the hard business of making Who music.


The group, born in the age of Mods and television’s "Ready, Steady, Go," are now ten years old, which is about nine years longer in existence than most predicted back in those heady days of ’64.


"Quadrophenia" is a kind of culmination of musical progression and a bow to their roots. Once the feared rebels of nock, the Who are now so thoroughly respected, that, as Pete says, old ladies stop him in the street, where once even hard core mods held him in awe. But of course, the Who can still pack a musical punch as well as cause bouts of mayhem.


Pete was in fine form, as he talked about their new double album, its effects on the Who the phenomenon of the Mods, and even such ancillary subjects as Eric Clapton, and Pete’s role in his career, this week.


In the bedroom of his Twickenham home, ‘neath a tasteful portrait of his guru, Meher Baba, Townshend showed that he is still one of the most stimulating and intriguing .spokesmen in rock.


MM: Not many had expected the Who to attempt a full-scale follow up to "Tommy" in terms of a concept album.


TOWNSHEND: Well the funny thing about it is I’ve really tried to avoid doing anything that followed "Tommy" in kind, in structure, doing something as a concept, if you-like, with a direct story. Almost unconsciously, it came out that way.


MM: You had started on another album just before Quadrophenia?


TOWNSHEND: Yeah, Yeah. We finished an album with Glyn Johns working at Olympic, and we in fact produced songs like "Is It In My Head," and "Love Rejgn On Me," "Relay," and a few other things, enough for an album. We put a rough assembly together, and it sounded like a shadow, if this is possible, of "Who’s Next." And I thought at the time, and Glyn was courteous enough to agree, although it did mean scrapping all his work, which was pretty amazing, to scrap the album as such and put out odd singles. I also thought it would be better to work in another studio with another engineer and again Glyn was very nice about that. We’d put in a fantastic amount of work together and it was pretty much an exhausted relationship at that time.


When this fell through in May ’72, I said we needed an album, and couldn’t put off doing something that was going to last. You know, we couldn’t keep treading water and I had this idea for a project for a long time and it really came out of the Who been going for ten years and lots of backward looking and I thought it would be nice to have an album that encapsulated everything the Who had ever done, with a big sort of flourish, so we could really start afresh.


I suppose to do what David Bowie’s done, not with "Pin Ups" but with cutting his career short in a far less impulsive way, but to do it in a considered way so that when "Quadrophenia" is out and it stands on its own, we’ve really got a strong foundation to build from. Stuff like Keith being in films, me, John and Roger doing solo albums and perhaps association with Eric, it all tended to weaken the Who in the public eye.


And really there was no problem. It just meant we would be freer within the framework of the Who to have something big solid and long lasting. So I really wanted to get to grips with a double album and something which would take over our stage act. The real surprise for me was the amount of energy John Entwistle put into it. In the past John’s always been as much a quiet one in the studio as he is on stage. The experience he’s had in arranging stuff on his own albums, and zest and energy at the recording sessions was incredible.


He worked like 14 hours at a stretch on each number, multi-tracking horns. His attitude to Who music has really matured. And that’s why there aren’t any Entwistle compositions on this album as such because his energies went elsewhere.


MM: Were you worried about the prospect of replacing Tommy?


TOWNSHEND: My problem was severe paranoia. I was very worried about being emotionally and creatively burned by losing a fantastic amount of work in the Life House thing, and putting a fantastic amount of energy into something which was not coming to fruition. So this time everybody was fantastically careful and only did what they knew. Nobody took any chances.


MM: So you’re doing what the Who does best?


TOWNSHEND: Yeah, in a way. What’s good about it is all the energy that will presumably go next year into the making of a "Tommy" film, has all been used up in the "Quadrophenia" project.


MM: Whence came the concept of the new album?


TOWNSHEND: Well it has come out looking more like the story of Mods per se than it really is. It’s the story of a kid, and as you said. It could really -be -the story of anybody. I hate to say "study" but it’s a series of songs about the frustrations that come with growing up and those most commonly associated with rock, and the morality of the rock audience. At one moment they can go on a ban the bomb march and the next moment they are pouring LSD into their heads.


There’s an incredible set of paradoxes surround the whole generation that we’d stood on the stage and watched go past in the audience. It’s an observation made from the stage. We’re looking down on people from the stage as if we were in a cage. You’re being looked at but you’re also in the best position for observation. From that I got the idea of the rock mirror and the band represented something above the individuals.


It’s amazing the changes the rock generation have gone through, but it’s ended up where the story ends, having gone through a gamut of ups and downs and now verging on middle age and going through a tail-off of all the old adolescent frustrations — but realising that when they tail-away, you’ve still got the same needs and ambitions.


MM: Does the hero of "Quadrophenia " find happiness and wisdom?


TOWNSHEND: No, what I’m saying is that he’s lost the hangup of past fears and anxieties into compartments. He’s not saying any more that he’s got to be tough and a winner, or a dare devil, to earn other people’s respect. He’s just realised the emptiness of those labels stuck on what is just a spiritual desperation which everybody has. In this kid’s case, he’s just going through a speedy maturing process.


It’s not the miracle cure of Tommy, it’s the reverse. He’s being stripped of all excuses, and in the last song "Love Reign On Me" I really wanted to get across that feeling of him being on his knees, but being stronger crying in the rain than he ever was drinking gin, knocking back pills and kicking Rockers, and whatever it was he thought was the meaning to life.


MM: Will performing "Quadrophenia" live on tour present any special pnoblems?


TOWNSHEND: Well, we’re getting Keith Moon rebuilt. We’re getting him a nice new pair of legs. Yes, I think he played well on the album, too. It’s just that he keeps forgetting.


MM: It’s a lot to remember?


TOWNSHEND: He keeps forgetting how to play the drums. We’ll try to do as much of the album or stage as we can. We’ve rehearsed it all and we’ve got some backing tapes. It’s the only way we’ll get the musical impact of the thing.


MM: Did you ever feel affinity with the lifestyles of the Mods?


TOWNSHEND: I never had the same lifestyle. It’s the anonymity that is peculiar to the Mod thing, the secretiveness. I could only ever feel like a Mod when I was off the stage, and mingle with the crowd in Marquee days when you could really get lost.


I used to really like the in-crowd thing about the Who in those days, when you weren’t recognised by all and sundry, and were recognised say once in the completely spare, rather than "that’s the geezer from the Marquee — don’t go near ‘im." Whereas today you get all that "Ullo Pete, see you on the telly stupid big nosed —."


TOWNSHEND: I feel quite keen now to do an instrumental album because I really feel tied down by lyrics. Lyrics come easily to me and work out okay, but musical structure has always been something within the Who that depends on the flourish and the flag waving that is the Who’s sound.


I’d really like to get back down to earth. In the last couple of years, having been with Eric for a while, I learnt that one note played on its own often means a lot more than a dozen. So the idea of a solo thing is quite appealing, but then I’ve. agreed with Ken Russell to do a lot of re-recording the "Tommy" score. I’ll probably get a lot out of my system synthesiser-wise that way.


MM: You mentioned earlier, Eric Clapton’s Rainbow concert. How did you come to help him?


TOWNSHEND: It wasn’t my idea to do the show, it was Eric’s idea. It came about through Bob Pridden, our main road manager, who lives near Eric, and sees him quite a lot. We’ve exchanged "hellos" and "goodbyes," but never ever got together. So I decided to go down and see Eric to revive an old friendship really.


I had a look at his home studio, which I really liked, and he started to talk about these tapes. I asked him what had happened to his last album, and he said: "There it is, over there." And there was this pile of tapes on the floor, and I said "what’s become of it?" and he said he was waiting for Andy Johns to come back to finish it off. But Andy was working for the Stones and consequently inundated, and I started to get down to helping Eric finish it off.


The real point is I don’t think Eric really wanted to finish it off. And a lot of work I did on it was kind of wasted. But he’s now talking about getting it finished. There’s some good material there, but not quite enough for an album, so he needs a couple more tracks. It’s difficult to know from where to draw those tracks. This would be his last studio album, and there’s some really interesting stuff, a kind of cross between Ry Cooder and Stevie Wonder.


I think it was recorded at a period when Eric was doing sessions for Stevie Wonder and it was at a time when although the band was about to split they were playing particularly well. If it was finished it would make a fine album.


Eventually I got worried about it ever getting done, and Eric seemed so lethargic about the whole idea, and one day he just rang up and said: "I’m going to do this gig at the Rainbow, do you fancy helping out? He more or less said "I’ll do it if you do it." It was a schizophrenic turn-around that is so typical of Eric. One minute he can be completely down on something, and then he’ll put in a year’s work.


He worked hard on the concert, and although he was surrounded by good, eager, sympathetic musicians, it was still all his songs, and he had to teach us them all. It was two weeks solid rehearsals at Ronnie Wood’s place. Immediately after the concert the Who started recording.


I would have liked to take that show straight to the States, but I was exhausted. There’s still talk, but funnily enough the offers weren’t very good. We got an offer for a 28-day tour for a million dollars, which is pretty pathetic. I know it sounds like a lot of money, but any individual in that band could have gone out and made at least three quarters of that amount.


If a band like that could have been got together for a tour, it would have had a plastic, superstar feel that Blind Faith had and it would probably be better to consider in the future doing two or three gigs in the States at selected places, which would have the sense of occasion the Rainbow had.


We’re .talking about doing it, when everybody’s free. We were going to do it this November but, of course, we’re touring now. Ronnie Wood is so keen to do it he’s refusing to admit to anybody that October and November exist. He’s really excited and he enjoyed the concert more than anybody as Eric is a great hero of his.


MM: But has Eric lost interest in working?


TOWNSHEND: There’s no doubt about the fact that he’s the kind of guy that unless he’s pushed into something or he’s genuinely fired, doesn’t really have the burning ambition to sort of get up and go. A lot of that comes from the fact that the kind of accolades showered upon him in the short life of Cream wore him out. Even today he is still the most highly respected guitar player in the world.


What I’m saying now about Eric is really observation and not from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. All the time we worked together we never had a conversation that revealed his inner thinking. And that says a lot about his personality, I don’t think he wants everybody to know what makes him tick. He’s still an ambitious guy and has a need to be liked and respected.


He’s hurt if he doesn’t top the guitarists’ poll, he’s excited about good reviews, and he’s emotionally involved with his career, and he’s aware of his own image to his public.


But I don’t know…what made somebody like Jimi Hendrix stop working for a year? Somebody you would have thought lived and breathed being on the stage, suddenly just becoming callous. And that show at the Isle Of Wight. When I listen to tapes of that, I can’t believe it. Like he’s deliberately playing incredibly bum notes, terrible solos, and everybody’s cheering, and the more they cheered, the worse he played, and the more he thought, these idiots don’t know what good music is. They’re just clapping a plastic man.


That’s really the tragedy of Jimi Hendrix, and there’s no doubt the death of Jimi had a big effect on Eric. And the last straw was Duane Allman. But I think Eric did the concert to prove that he may be a myth, but he’s still very much alive. I’d like to think all that Eric needs is a good pushing record producer.


That’s not to say for a minute that his management aren’t sincerely interested in him. But Eric still needs someone to push him. He’s just taken a break from a hectic career. The thing is to finish the Derek and the Dominos album, and I’ve Bob Pridden to help out.


If people keep talking about somebody as if he’s dead, then maybe he’ll start to think he is.